Monarch – George VI
Prime Minister – Winston Churchill (Coalition)
The 1943 news headlines continued to be dominated by reports focusing on World War II as it continued to ravage the world. The widespread destruction caused by this devastating war was the topic of most 1943 news headlines. It was during this year that Germany faced their first major defeat at Stalingrad, the allied forces achieved victory in North Africa, and Italy surrendered. Find out more about what happened in 1943 with an original newspaper. Other captivating headlines during this year include tales of an uprising in a Polish concentration camp, the massive famine in Bengal, and the official end to the Great Depression in the United States.
Constantly under threat of attack, the London of 1943 was a dangerous place to be. However, this was also a time of social change as more women began to enter the workplace and the capital became more culturally integrated — paving way for the London that we live in today.
1943 the race riot of Bamber Bridge, in Lancashire
Bullet holes found in the wood surrounds of the NatWest Bank in Bamber Bridge, in Lancashire in the north of England, in the late 1980s led to the rediscovery of an event that saw some of the few shots fired in anger in England during World War II, which had been largely forgotten. These were not shots fired by invading troops, but by American GIs against their own military police.
Intrigued by his discovery, Clinton Smith, the black British maintenance worker who discovered the holes in the woodwork, asked locals how they could have got there. He was told that they were the remnants of the Battle of Bamber Bridge, when black American troops stationed in the town faced off against white US Army military police on the night of June 24-25, 1943.
More a mutiny than a battle, it led to the death of Private William Crossland in nearby Mounsey Road, and four other injuries to black American soldiers in a five-hour confrontation which spread from the thatched Olde Hob Inn at one end of the town to the Adams Hall army camp, where from early 1943 the US Eighth Army Quartermaster Truck Company, a black company apart from a few white officers, had been based. The event was officially downplayed, in order not to undermine morale on the home front, but the events of that night led to the conviction of 27 black American soldiers.
The whole incident is typical of the clashes on and around bases in Britain between black and white American troops – 44 between November 1943 and February 1944 alone – where the intrinsic racism in a segregated army led to confrontations. This was especially the case in a foreign setting where the black soldiers saw around them a very different reality from that they faced at home – a non-segregated society where they were welcomed as fellow fighters against fascism, rather than tolerated hod-carriers for the war effort as they were generally treated by the US Army.
That evening in 1943, black troops and white locals were stretching out “drinking-up time” in a pub at the end of the evening. Words were exchanged, and military police arrived and tried to arrest Private Eugene Nunn for not wearing the proper uniform. But they faced new solidarities: a white British soldier challenged the military police: “Why do you want to arrest them? They’re not doing anything or bothering anybody.”
The incident escalated into a fist fight and the military police were beaten back. When they returned with reinforcements to meet the group, now returning to camp, a battle developed in the street. Shots were fired, and Crossland died with a bullet in his back.
When rumours spread at the camp that black GIs had been shot, scores of men formed a crowd, some carrying rifles. The arrival at around midnight of more military police with a machine gun-equipped vehicle convinced many of the black soldiers that the police intended to kill them – and they drew rifles from the stores. Some barricaded themselves into the base, others tore off back into town, leading to running shooting battles in the streets.
Many of the black American troop standing up to the military police that febrile night were no doubt influenced by news filtering through of race riots in Detroit on June 20, where defenceless black men were attacked by racist police, responsible for the deaths of 17 of the 25 African-Americans killed.
The village that time forgot
Residents of Imber, near Warminster in Wiltshire, were evacuated in December 1943 during World War II when US troops needed the space to prepare for the D-Day landings.
The abandoned village, on Salisbury Plain, is now used as a training site for the Ministry of Defence, as residents were never allowed to return.
But it is open to the public over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend with dozens of intrigued locals visiting the uninhabited village.
The village’s pub, manor house and cottages have become derelict shells over the past 70 years and Imber’s most defining feature now are basic, custom-built houses used for army training.
And while Imber has no electricity or running water, the village’s Grade I Listed 13th century church is in full-working order.
St Giles Church, which comes under the Diocese of Salisbury, underwent a £300,000 restoration in 2008 as part of a national project by the Churches Conservation Trust.
Villagers were given just 47 days’ notice in 1943 to leave Imber, at which time there were around 152 people living there. They received a letter which instructed them to be out of their homes no later than 17 December 1943.
Despite various legal challenges, locals have not been allowed to return to Imber.
Because the War Office (now Ministry of Defence) had bought up farm land and the land on which the village was bought, this meant residents of the village were only tenants.
Many claimed, however, that they were under the impression that they were allowed to return when the war was over. The only people who are allowed back permanently are the dead – who may be buried in the church.
There have been protests against the evacuation, in January 1961 2,000 people breached security in an attempt to get the village back.
Around a decade later, evidence was heard at the Defence Land Committee concerning Imber’s return but it was decided the land was too useful to the army to warrant it being given up.
Military activity on Salisbury Plain began in 1897 and escalated quickly during the First World War. Troops were billeted at Imber Court in 1916 and some years later the War Office began buying the land.
Around 1939, when World War II began, the United Kingdom imported two-thirds of its food, all of which had to be shipped over oceans teeming with German U-boats. The Ministry of Food did not want to risk the lives of sailors for food that would be wasted, and reducing imports also saved money for armaments. Surprisingly, 60 per cent of Britons told government pollsters that they wanted rationing to be introduced, with many believing that it would guarantee everyone a fair share of food.
Every citizen was issued with a booklet, which he took to a registered shopkeeper to receive supplies. At first, only bacon, butter and sugar were rationed. But gradually, the list grew: meat was rationed from 11 March 1940; cooking fats in July 1940, as was tea; while cheese and preserves joined in March and May 1941.
Allowances fluctuated throughout the war, but on average one adult’s weekly ration was 113g bacon and ham (about 4 thin slices), one shilling and ten pence worth of meat (about 227g minced beef), 57g butter, 57g cheese, 113g margarine, 113g cooking fat, 3 pints of milk, 227g sugar, 57g tea and 1 egg. Other foods such as canned meat, fish, rice, condensed milk, breakfast cereals, biscuits and vegetables were available but in limited quantities on a points system.
Fresh vegetables and fruit were not rationed but supplies were limited. Some types of imported fruit all but disappeared. Lemons and bananas became unobtainable for most of the war; oranges continued to be sold but greengrocers customarily reserved them for children and pregnant women, who could prove their status by producing their distinctive ration books.
Many people grew their own vegetables, greatly encouraged by the highly successful digging for victory motivational campaign. Most controversial was bread; it was not rationed until after the war ended, but the “national loaf” of wholemeal bread replaced the ordinary white variety, to the distaste of most housewives who found it mushy, grey and easy to blame for digestion problems. In May 1942, an order was passed that meals served in hotels and restaurants must not cost over 5 shillings per customer, must not be of more than three courses, and at most one course could contain meat, fish or poultry. This was partly in response to increasing public concerns that “luxury” off-ration foodstuffs were being unfairly obtained by those who could afford to dine regularly in restaurants.
After the war had finished, the pain continued. On 27 May 1945, just three weeks after Victory in Europe Day, rations were actually reduced, bacon from 4oz to 3oz and cooking fat from 2oz to just one. So it is of no surprise that when restrictions were lifted on 30 June 1954, when meat stopped being rationed, people reacted with delight. That December, color returned to the once dull streets of Britain, and shop windows were piled high with sweets.
The sheer joy of this moment comes across in a report in The Times, on 20 December: “The shops display an almost Dickensian abundance of sweets and foods to supplement the turkey and the pudding which are the mainstays of the season’s menu. Besides the usual crop of spaniels, galleons and crinolined ladies, the lids of the biscuit tins sport any number of quasi-artistic designs, from a cross-stitch sampler to a gaudy circus scene”.
1943 UK news and events
1 January – Total ban on civilians travelling to the Isle of Wight (continues until 25 August 1944).
Utility furniture first becomes available.
14 January – to counter a "serious increase" in U-boat operations the Royal Air Force switches its bombing campaign from industrial targets to U-boat bases in France attacking Lorient and Cherbourg-Octeville.
17 January – anti-aircraft shrapnel shells kill 23 people and injure 60 during a raid on London by 118 planes; six are reported losses.
20 January – Sandhurst Road School Disaster: a bomb kills 38 children and 6 teachers at a school in Catford, south-east London.
23 January – World War II: British forces capture Tripoli from the Nazis.
11 February – in the Midlothian and Peebles Northern by-election, the radical socialist Common Wealth Party candidate Tom Wintringham comes close to winning the seat.
13 February – Nuffield Foundation established by William Morris, 1st Viscount Nuffield.
3 March – panic at the sound of new anti-aircraft rockets leads to a crush at Bethnal Green tube station, killing 183 people.
4–12 March – "Exercise Spartan", a major rehearsal for next year’s Allied Invasion of Normandy, is staged across southern England.
5 March – the Gloster Meteor, the first operational military jet aircraft for the Allies, has its first test flight, at RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire.
14 March – submarine HMS Thunderbolt sunk off Sicily by an Italian corvette, the second time this vessel has been lost with all hands.
17 March – last church service in the village of Derwent, Derbyshire, before it is demolished (together with Ashopton) for construction of Ladybower Reservoir.
27 March – Royal Navy escort carrier HMS Dasher (D37) is destroyed by an accidental explosion in the Firth of Clyde, killing 379 of the crew of 528.
13 April – release of the Ministry of Information film Desert Victory, which will win this year’s Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
21 April – worst bombing of Aberdeen.
7 May – capture of Tunis ends the campaign in North Africa.
16–17 May – Operation Chastise (the ‘Dambuster Raid’) takes place: No. 617 Squadron RAF use bouncing bombs to breach German dams in the Ruhr Valley.
19 May – Winston Churchill addresses a joint session of the United States Congress.
1 June – BOAC Flight 777, a DC-3 on a scheduled passenger flight, is shot down over the Bay of Biscay by eight German Junkers Ju 88s; all 17 persons aboard perish, including the actor Leslie Howard.
24/25 June – Battle of Bamber Bridge: trouble flares between black American soldiers and white military police stationed in the Lancashire town; one black soldier is killed.
9 July–17 August – World War II: Allied invasion of Sicily.
5 August – North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board established by Act of Parliament.
3–16 September – World War II: Allied invasion of Italy: Allied forces under General Sir Bernard Montgomery land in mainland Italy. On 16 September, the Salerno Mutiny occurs when soldiers of the British Army’s X Corps refuse postings to new units.
15 September – first examples of standard cottages for farmworkers are completed, at Hildenborough, Kent.
11 November – Regency Act is passed allowing Counsellors of State absent during the Sovereign’s absence not to be listed among the appointments; and that the heir-apparent or presumptive to the Throne need only to be eighteen to be a Counsellor.
Total evacuation of an area near Portmahomack in Scotland begins, to make way for rehearsal of the Normandy Landings.
16 November – total evacuation of the village of Imber on Salisbury Plain concludes, to make way for U.S. troop training; total evacuation of part of the South Hams of Devon begins, to make way for rehearsal of the Normandy Landings.
22–26 November – Cairo Conference ("Sextant"): Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Winston Churchill, President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt and Chairman of the National Government of China Chiang Kai-shek meet at Cairo in Egypt to discuss ways to defeat Japan in the Pacific War.
22nd December – Beatrix Potter, British children’s author and illustrator (b. 1866) dies.
26 November – World War II: British troopship HMT Rohna is sunk off the north African coast by a Luftwaffe Henschel Hs 293 radio controlled glide bomb killing 1015.
2 December – First "Bevin Boys" selected from conscripts to work in the coal mines.
Pigeons White Vision, Winkie and Tyke become the first recipients of the Dickin Medal, instituted to honour the work of animals in war.
December – construction of prototype Mark I Colossus computer, the world’s first totally electronic programmable computing device, at the Post Office Research Station, Dollis Hill, to assist in cryptanalysis at Bletchley Park, is completed.
Anne Loughlin becomes the first trades unionist appointed DBE and the first female President of the Trades Union Congress.
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