History of the World According to the Movies: Part 69 – World War II: The British Home Front

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1942’s Mrs. Miniver is perhaps one of the best known movies set in the British home front during World War II that portrays people having to deal with the conflict at home and abroad. It is part news story and part propaganda so it’s not 100% accurate. Though they didn’t have the worst of it, the British had to deal with nighttime air raids or the possibility of having their house bombed. Still, this scene with Greer Garson and the German soldier is pretty relevant for such instances probably did happen. Also, the German pilot probably wasn’t going to fight again since he ended up a POW for the rest of the war.

World War II brought war in the homes of more people than any other conflict has before or since. Sometimes this consisted of having to dodge bombs and fire or having to deal with being occupied by Germany which presents horrors in of it itself. Of course, the British didn’t have to face the latter (save those in Jersey, and no, not that Jersey) but they still had to fight a war at home with having to adjust to a lifestyle accommodating wartime standards. Everyone had to do their part for the war effort whether it be serving in the armed forces, working in a factory or farm, serving in the Home Guard or other methods. Supplies were rationed, air raid drills were a part of life, sometimes kids were evacuated to the country, and there was always the risk a family could lose everything in a blink of an eye, even their lives, especially during the Battle of Britain. Britain was never more in danger than in the Battle of Britain when the German Luftwaffe tried to invade the country but were ultimately thwarted by the RAF. Later in the war, the RAF would go on regular bombing raids to Germany along with the USAAF forces, which would also bunk in Britain as a home away from home. It was also the time of Winston Churchill who was prime minister at time many would call it’s finest hour. Nevertheless, movies set in WWII Britain do present some inaccuracies which I shall list.

Winston Churchill:

Prime Minister Winston Churchill was a universally beloved leader of the good guys. (Yes, he was a great orator and an effective cheerleader but his popularity didn’t extend beyond a psychological concept like the “rally around the flag” effect that significantly reduces criticism of a character/government post-crisis. It didn’t last since he was kicked out of office months after Germany surrendered. He was also a racist and a staunch opponent of Indian independence or any kind of Indian autonomy {you don’t want to hear what he said about Gandhi}. He also had a militarist streak comparably to an unusually avid Tom Clancy fan to keep fighting WWII as long as he felt like it which made him unpopular with the British military. After Germany surrendered, Churchill ordered the British General Staff to work out a plan to rearm the German forces and launch an invasion on Russia which his terrified subordinates named “Operation Unthinkable.” Even his closest supporters thought this was insane. He also called his Labour opponents, “Gestapo” despite some of them serving key posts in his war cabinet.)

Barnes Wallis:

Barnes Wallis faced bureaucratic opposition in the creation of the Vickers Wellington bombs. (Contrary to The Dam Busters, Wallis never said he had. Also, the targets for Vickers Wellington bombs were already selected by this time. Not to mention, contrary to the film, there’s never been any truth whether bouncing cannonballs were the idea of Admiral Nelson, yet the ideal might’ve originated in the 16th and 17th centuries as the real Wallis once mentioned.)

Barnes Wallis was the chief designer of the Vickers Wellington bombs. (Contrary to The Dam Busters, while he was heavily involved with the bomb’s design which used his geodesic construction method, he wasn’t the chief designer.)

Wing Commander Guy Gibson:

Wing Commander Guy Gibson’s entire crew at 106 Squadron volunteered to follow him at his new command when it came to the Vickers Wellington bomb. (Actually only his wireless operator Hutchinson went with him to 617 Squadron.)

Guy Gibson was congenial, friendly, and gregarious. (Contrary to the Richard Todd portrayal, air crews and ground staff who worked with Gibson said he was a loner, strict disciplinarian, and having little personality. In other words, they saw him nothing more than a pain in the ass.)

Wing Commander Guy Gibson devised a “spotlights altimeter” after visiting a theater. (This devise had been used by RAF Coastal Command aircraft for some time back in the World War II era. Also, the idea for spotlights altimeter was suggested by a guy named Benjamin Lockspeiser when Gibson requested they solve a problem.)

Douglas Bader:

Douglas Bader was a stoic and cheerful man. (Reach for the Sky leaves out that he was regularly accused of being a reactionary racist who thought he should be Prime Minister. Yet, as a man with no legs, he’s a teddy bear compared to Oscar Pistorius.)

Dylan Thomas:

During the war, while his friend William Killick was away in Greece, Dylan Thomas took up an affair with his soldier friend’s wife Vera Philips, who Thomas had known since childhood. (While The Edge of Love implies this, there’s scant evidence on whether there was an affair between Thomas and Vera. Still, Thomas had been best man in Killick’s wedding and their wives were quite close to each other so having Vera move in with the Thomases wasn’t a big deal. Also, Killick returned from the war with PTSD and probably suspected the worst. Still, Dylan Thomas was an alcoholic.)

After William Killick’s violent rampage, Vera Philips persuaded Dylan Thomas not to testify against her husband. Yet, Thomas did so anyway. (Thomas didn’t testify against William. Also, William was acquitted by the jury on the advice of the judge not in defiance of him.)

Vera Philips:

Vera Philips was a glamorous night club singer. (Contrary to The Edge of Love, she was an eccentric sculptor who was trained by Henry Moore. As the real Dylan Thomas said, “Vera lives on cocoa, and reads books about the technique of third-century brass work, and gets up only once a day to boil the cat an egg, which it detests.”)

Battle of Britain:

RAF pilots were mostly British. (Actually, some of the RAF pilots actually were American, Canadian, Polish, Australian, New Zelander, Indian, and Czech.)

British pilots were well trained and experienced. (During the Battle of Britain since Great Britain was in a life-or-death situation, the training course for RAF pilots was repeatedly shortened as constant fighting took a death toll on the squadrons. New inexperienced pilots had a reduced life expectancy.)

British pilots usually survived most of their missions. (Most pilots were considered lucky if they survived at least 5 missions. As for bombers, well, the RAF only went on night bombing missions which were very dangerous for British airmen. Out of 100 British airmen sent on bombing raids, 55 usually ended up dead on average.)

It was the fast and maneuverable British Spitfires that won the Battle of Britain. (This is a popular notion you see in movies, recent statistics say that it was actually the Hurricanes that won the Battle of Britain since they were more durable, comprised of 55% of RAF fighters {Spitfires only made up 31%}, easier to land, and simpler to maintain and repair. Despite being slower and less aesthetically pleasing, the Hurricanes managed to shoot down 656 German aircraft while Spitfires shot down 529.)

The Battle of Britain actually swung into favor for the Allies because of the skill of RAF pilots. (Actually it had more to do with German miscalculation at command level than anything. The Luftwaffe already had a disadvantage flying far from home when its pilots were already tired. Also, while British could reload on fuel and ammunition when running low on either or have pit crews to fix their planes, German pilots had to return home, which limited their capacity for engagement. They also had to fly without escort protection. Not to mention, while RAF pilots could bail out or crash land if they were hit, they didn’t have much to worry about since they could be picked up from the sea by the British Coastal Command or could walk or take a train to the airfields. This resulted in a survival rate of 60% of RAF pilots and only 443 lives lost despite 1,220 crashes. Germans had to land on enemy lands and may risk having to surrender even to British civilian housewives like in Mrs. Miniver. The RAF also had radar while the Luftwaffe didn’t. Still, this proves that having home field advantage has significant benefits in this case.)

There was an Israeli RAF pilot. (Israel wouldn’t be a country until 1947 but there was a pilot from Egypt and one from Austria as well as two from Jamaica.)

The RAF No. 188 Squadron existed during World War II. (There was never a No. 188 RAF Squadron at this time, but there has been one in WWI but it has never been re-activated.)

London was bombed in August 1940. (It was bombed in September. Also, aerial battles were often fought in the countryside away from London to stop the German bombers before they hit the city.)

Most of the Battle of Britain was conducted during the night. (It was actually conducted during the day because the planes weren’t able to navigate at night yet. Also, their most likely targets were airfields, since coastal airfields were among the most hammered sites during the Battle of Britain.)

Evacuee Children:

British evacuee children weren’t afraid of farm animals and actually enjoyed the countryside.

If sent overseas, many British evacuee children were sent to the US or Australia. (Most overseas evacuees from Britain were sent to Canada whose contribution to the Allied effort during World War II is usually ignored. Besides, the Blitz occurred during a time when the US was trying to remain neutral and Australia was farther away and near danger itself. Also, there were a lot of things in Australia that could kill you.)

All British evacuee children returned to their parents by the end of the war. (Actually 40,000 British children went unclaimed by the end of the war. It’s possible that a British child may return home and find that Mom and Dad have been killed in an air raid or upped and left. Some who reached adulthood overseas decided never to return themselves.)

The Battle of Britain saw the end of German bombing in Great Britain. (Actually no, but the German bombings were less frequent after that time.)

Miscellaneous:

The SIG stood for Special Identification Group which had German Jews serving with the British. (This is what the SIG was in Tobruk. It was a real organization in Britain but we’re not sure what this group did. In fact, we’re not sure what the initials in SIG stand for.)

US military personnel were executed by US MPs on British soil during World War II. (Yes, there were US servicemen executed on British soil yet contrary to The Dirty Dozen, US MPs weren’t legally allowed to conduct them. Yet, American servicemen could act as witnesses while executions of US servicemen were carried out by British executioners.)

Vickers Wellington bombs were highly effective weapons. (Yes, but unlike its depiction in The Dam Busters, they were almost suicidally dangerous to deploy because they not only required a heavy bomber to fly in a perfectly straight line at treetop height, which would make such planes painfully easy targets for anti-aircraft guns or passing fighters. The British were never able to develop a strong enough casing to withstand ground impact yet light enough to be carried by an aircraft like the Lancaster. Not to mention, the bombs had a nasty habit of rebounding unpredictably when used over even mildly choppy water. Thus, they were only really used for just one specific job of busting dams.)

British women put makeup on their legs when they couldn’t get any nylons. (Sometimes they used gravy.)

British houses were usually destroyed by bombs during this time. (Sometimes they were destroyed by some things like regular fires.)

Wooden “coat hanger” bomb sights were mostly successful. (Actually though the wooden “coat hanger” bomb sights were intended to enable crews to release Wellington Vickers bombs at the right distance from target, it wasn’t totally successful. Besides, while some crews used it, others came up with their own solutions, such as pieces of string in the bomb-aimer’s position and/or markings on the blister.)

The RAF had a 633 Squadron. (Contrary that there’s a movie called 633 Squadron, it didn’t exist, but there was a 613 Squadron though.)

There was a General Mountbatten. (No, but there was an Admiral Louis Mountbatten of the Royal Navy.)

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One response to “History of the World According to the Movies: Part 69 – World War II: The British Home Front

  1. I had no idea that Winston Churchill was unpopular after the war. Did he really want the war to continue? Pretty weird.

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