Outbreak and the early days
This country is at war
The declaration of war with Germany on the third of September 1939 did not come as a surprise to the people of Britain or show them unprepared. For a number of years the country had been preparing to defend itself in the event of a war. In 1939 the Government’s immediate fear was for the country to be hit by mass air raids and gas attacks. In Southampton barrage balloons were raised into the sky and anti aircraft batteries were quickly organised to defend against this. There had already been a trial blackout exercise in Southampton as early as 1937 as part of the coastal defence measures planned, this was imposed and light leakage was checked by vigilant air raid wardens patrolling the streets. Preparations were made to protect the public buildings by using bags filled with sand that were then stacked against the walls. Public shelters were created and Anderson shelters given out to homes with gardens. Throughout Southampton’s history the port has always been an embarkation point for troops departing for war. This was no different during World War Two. At the outbreak of war the docks shipped out the British Expeditionary Force and their supplies. The BEF was a home based regular army that was created to enable Britain to respond quickly, the force was sent over the channel to support the French army against the German invasion.
The phoney war is a phrase that refers to the time directly after war had been declared with Germany and lasted from September 1939 until May 1940. The expected mass fighting and air attacks did not initially occur, an all out war had been expected and in reality nothing really happened those first eight months. In April 1940 German troops invaded Norway and Demark and moved towards Northern France entering the country in May and began forcing the retreat of the British and French troops back to the town of Dunkerque and the surrounding beaches. What occurred then was the rescue of some 300,000 soldiers from the British Expeditionary Force and the French army by the British Navy and a flotilla of support vessels that volunteered or were commandeered for the task.
During this period an evacution programme had begun, when the expected bombing didn't happen many of those who had been in the first wave of evacuations from key towns and areas returned to their homes despite government adverts urging them not to. Southampton's children were amongst the first to be sent away and many did return only to be evacuated a second time when the phoney war was over and the real one began.