6 Lockdown Pastimes From The Second World War

War If you’re getting fed up with the Coronavirus lockdown, spare a thought for those at home during the Second World War. Air raids, separation from loved ones and food rationing put the population under great stress. People could still go out, of course, but the range of entertainment available at home was very limited. How did people cope and occupy their time indoors, or when confined in shelters?


This wholesome image of a wartime family enjoying some ‘downtime’ is typical of those used by the Ministry of Information for public information and propaganda campaigns.


Like today, music in the home was hugely popular, but unlike today it was a more social activity. And as with many other things in wartime, you were often forced to make your own.

Here is seventy year old Mrs Bugler in 1943 entertaining local soldiers with a piano recital at her home in East Dean in Sussex.

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Knitting was another favourite activity. Here, Mrs Irene Stacey (left) and her mother Sarah Jones, knit garments for Irene’s new baby at their home in Bristol in 1942. Her husband was serving in North Africa.
Knitting could also help pass the time in a railway arch bomb shelter like this one in Bermondsey, London, in 1940. This family have made themselves at home, bringing many of their possessions with them. The man behind makes sure the clock is telling the right time.


Many people chose to ‘relax with a cigarette’. Smoking was regarded as a necessity for wartime life, whether military or civilian, and generally promoted to ‘ease anxiety’.

This photograph from 1942 was probably taken for use in an exhibition or leaflet campaign.


There were more active ways of passing the time. Parlour games were a popular distraction, as shown in this image on the left, taken in April 1944. It features Lance Bombardier Jack Grundy of the Royal Artillery, on leave at the family home in Irby, Cheshire. Here, Jack and his friend Bob Milliron from the US Army transfer dried peas between plates by means of sucking through a straw. Jack’s wife Dorothy is the umpire, and other members of the family are avid spectators.

In this thrilling game featured in the image on the right, participants have to pass a matchbox to one another, using only their nose. This image was snapped by Lt. Tenner in April 1944.

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The IWM has examples of more traditional board and card games with which wartime families could while away the time.

‘Vacuation’, described modestly by its makers Pepys Games as ‘the most amusing ever card game’, was based on the government evacuation scheme for children. The cards featured humorous caricatures of children, teachers and householders and the aim was to get rid of all your cards as soon as possible.


And if all else failed… unlike today, the pubs were still open. Alcohol was not rationed but only beer was readily available, and its supply and strength varied considerably as a result of shortages. Here labourer Price Evans sinks a pint in the ‘Wynnstay Arms’ in the village of Ruabon in Denbighshire, Wales, 1944.