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Living in the 1940s

The first half of the 1940s was absorbed with World War II. The war was a time of worry and heartache for people around the world, but life went on in spite of the senseless, tragic conflict that consumed the lives of so many loved ones, destroyed homes and livelihoods, and scattered families around the globe. Family living in the first half of the decade saw many people face difficulties beyond measure.

Townsville, North Queensland, in the 1940's was a major base and stepping off point for the War in the Pacific. As a little boy I knew that there was something called a war going on, and that my parents were worried about it, but I understood little of it. I accepted the uniforms of the servicemen, the military vehicles, the warships in the bay and the planes flying overhead as a normal part of my life. As far as I was concerned, they had always been there.

How different it must have been for my parents who listened intently to the daily news on their little 1940's radio, and feared for our safety, or for the servicemen who were faced with moving up to the battle zone, where each man had a job to do, and that job was dreadful.

For my part, like all the little boys of my age, I played soldiers, or was the pilot of a Kittyhawk or a Lockheed Lightning, zooming across the sky. Children's toys were almost non existent, except for those handed down from older children, or pieced together from bits of wood, string and nails. We did not experience manufactured toys until after the war. How we used to hover by the window of Doyle's, in Stokes Street, staring at the beautifully made Dinky cars. They were irresistible, if only we could save the few shillings to start a collection.

During the War we had an Air-raid Shelter built in our back yard that was big enough for our family and some of our neighbours, and some soldiers arrived one day and dug two slit trenches in our front yard, where they could mount a Machine-gun. army boys Fortunately we didn't need the Machine-gun, and the Air Raid Shelter was used only on a few occasions, which is just as well as it used to fill up with water during wet weather and could not be occupied for weeks at a time.

My father was a volunteer Air-raid Warden, whose job it was to go out with a steel helmet on, when the Air-raid Siren sounded, and scour our neighbourhood for any sign of light escaping from any of the blacked out houses, and to watch for any explosions or fires. Fortunately, the only two Air Raids on Townsville were by isolated aircraft and caused little or no damage.

There were great shortages of food and other essential commodities for civilians during the war. Rationing was imposed by the Government so that sufficient food and other essential supplies could be reserved for the military. The government issued coupons which had to be presented to the shopkeeper when you were buying things like tea, sugar, butter etc. to prove that you were not getting more than your fair share.

The coupons were about half the size of a postage stamp. They were issued according to the type, 1lb of butter, 1lb of tea, etc., and the number of coupons for each family was allotted according to the size of the family. Without the specific ration coupons, you could not buy the goods you wanted.

Rationing was kept in place for some time after the war. Because of this, a 1940's wedding required special planning. When girls were getting married, friends would save up some of their coupons for the bride-to-be to help her purchase all the extra things she needed for the start of her married life.

While these days just about everybody has a mobile phone, in the 1940s most houses didn't have a phone at all. Neighbours without a phone would come around with sixpence to ask if they might use the phone, and they were never refused. It's funny that they always asked to use the phone, not your phone, almost as if, even though you owned it, it was community property. But that's pretty much how things were in the 1940s. People pulled together and shared what they had, to make things a bit easier for all.

Strangely enough, there was a greater respect and consideration afforded other people from all walks of life. I guess there was a common bond between people who were united against a common enemy. Still there was an importance placed upon formality and good manners that has disappeared today. Men frequently referred to each other as Mister, unless they were close friends, and women spoke of and to each other as Mrs. even when they were friends and neighbours. This formality was not a mark of superiority or inferiority, it was simply a mark of respect.

School Days in the 1940s commenced for most children about age five. I started at the Central State School in 1943, two years before the war ended. The War in the Pacific ended with great relief and celebration. The War was over and the men were coming home. Still there were shortages and rationing continued for several years. My sister and I recall the time when we were visiting Melbourne in 1948, when our parents would stop in front of Butchers' Shops and marvel at the range and quality of the meat displayed in the windows.

After the war the 1940's fashions changed rapidly from dull green and khaki to more flamboyant colours and styles. The cost of living changed rapidly too, as the servicemen and women returned to their civilian occupations or struck out in new directions. The return to civilian life brought about lifestyle changes to many, that they could never have contemplated before the war.

Arriving home from school to find that Mum was out was a pretty rare occurrence for kids right through to the 1970s. Few married women were in the workforce in those days. For most women, the position of housewife gave them complete responsibility for the day to day management of the home. A housewife's activities of daily living included cleaning, mending, cooking, washing and ironing, making clothes for themselves and the children, managing the family budget.

Sometimes there was a cleaning lady to help with the cleaning, or an ironing lady, or someone to help on washing day. In homes where the mother was working, perhaps helping to run a family business, a housekeeper might be engaged to do the housework, or a lady to look after the kids. Managing the home was the Mother's responsibility. The Father worked to earn enough to keep the family. Most families were living on one income. A man's wage was usually sufficient to support the whole family. There were no child minding services and no kindergartens. Parents were responsible for their children, and children were nurtured by family, not strangers.

Family living in Australia in the latter part of the 1940s was pretty easy for most families. Certainly they did not have a lot of money, but having just come through the Great Depression and the Second World War, things were looking pretty good. A time of change was in the air.

You can shop here now for Music from the 40s and 50s, Fashion from the 50s, as well as for Books giving more information about 'Life in the 1940s and the 1950s'.

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