Wednesday 2 May 2012

A Day in the Life - A Wartime Housewife

Whilst wandering the web I came across the Imperial War Museum's photographic archive, which as you might imagine is packed to the brim with wonderful old images, I thought I would share with you a couple of posts of my favourite sets as they are rather interesting and give a little insight into life on the Home Front during WWII.

First up is the story of Mrs Olive Day. During the war The Ministry of Information's photographic department were commissioned to create information and propaganda photographs, this particular series follows Mrs Olive Day over the course of one 'typical' Saturday in 1941

Mrs Olive Day wakes up at 7am at her home in Drayton Gardens, South Kensington. On the bedside cabinet, her gas mask, torch and a book are ready, in case a quick dash to the air raid shelter is required in the night.
Mrs Olive Day opens the curtains of her bedroom in the basement of her South Kensington home. Unfortunately, as the glass has recently been knocked out of the windows by a nearby air raid, Mrs Day cannot see outside, as oiled linen has been stretched across the windw frame in place of the missing glass. Her cat 'Little One' watches her from the bed.
Mrs Day makes her bed in the basement of her South Kensington home before leaving for work. The top floor of her house is no longer in use.
Mrs Olive Day enjoys tea, toast and the morning papers at the breakfast table in the centre of her South Kensington sitting room. Behind her, evidence of air raids can be seen in that two panes of glass are missing from the window and have been replaced with boards and the other panes have criss-crosses of tape on them to prevent the glass from shattering, should the area suffer another air raid.
Mrs Olive Day collects the milk and newspapers from the top of the steps leading down to the basement of her South Kensington home. The buckets that can be seen on the street at the top of the steps contain sand and water and are provided in case of fire bombs.
Mrs Olive Day rolls away a rug that was on the staircase of her South Kensington home. All carpets have been removed and asbestos laid in their place, in an attempt to combat fire bombs. Behind her, part of the window has been boarded up, with the rest of the panes have criss-crosses of tape across the glass.
Asbestos! If only they had known it was as dangerous as the bombs!
Mrs Olive Day spends half an hour or so on the housework before she leaves for work. Here we see her polishing the bannisters. Above her head, we can see a large patch of missing plaster on the ceiling, caused by a nearby air raid.
This photograph shows how large sheets of asbestos have been laid on the landing at the top of Mrs Day's home to try to prevent fires from incendiary bombs from spreading to other parts of the house.
The top floor of Mrs Day's South Kensington home is no longer in use. Here we see an empty room with a bowl on the floor to catch any drips of rain water that may come in through the bomb-damaged ceiling.
Mrs Day points to a hole in the ceiling where a fire bomb recently came through into her South Kensington home. Scorch marks can be seen on the ceiling next to the hole.
Mrs Day stands alongside a hole in the floor which was made by a fire bomb before the fire was brought under control. This area of the house does not have asbestos sheeting on the floor.
Mrs Day clears the grate in the sitting room of her South Kensington home. She is careful to sort the cinders from the ash, so that the cinders can be re-used in the grate and so that the ash can be added to the garden as a fertiliser.
What amazing Giraffe!!! (and can you spot Olives mystery man?)
Mrs Day separates cardboard and tin from her household rubbish, ready for salvage, outside the basement of her home in South Kensington, London.
Mrs Day makes up a bunk in the air raid shelter in the cellar of her South Kensington home. The bunks are kept ready in case any night raids force her to spend the night in the shelter. The bunk will hopefully mean that she spends the night in some comfort!
A striking portrait of Mrs Day and her cat 'Little One'. 'Little One' is wearing a NARPAC collar. According to the original Ministry of Information caption, the National Air Raid Precautions for Animals Committee was "an animal lover's voluntary wartime organisation that ensures that, should he stray in blitz or black-out, he will be returned safely to his owner".
I love this photo! How Cute is 'Little One'!

Mrs Day, helped by the female conductor, jumps on the bus that will take her to work. In the background, it is clear that quite a bit of air raid damage has been sustained. This photograph was probably taken on Fulham Road. The tower visible in the background is part of St Stephen's Hospital (now the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital), which was built in 1878 as the Fulham Workhouse and St George's Infirmary.
Mrs Day and colleagues work at one of many filing cabinets in the office. According to the original Ministry of Information caption, Mrs Day works as a 'girl clerk in a war-time organisation' and that filing takes up most of her time. She works Monday to Friday between 10am and 6pm, but that as this photograph was taken on a Saturday, she would be finished by 2pm. But 'if there is a rush of work, she will work Sunday as well'.
After lunch, Mrs Day sets out to do her weekly shop on the King's Road in Chelsea. She walks past several women with prams and a member of the RAF as they queue to the left of a large furniture store. The shop has furniture displayed on the street and the sign on its frontage says 'Antique, Second-Hand and Modern Furniture'. Just above the heads of this group of people is a small sign directing people to a First Aid Post. In the background, other people go about their daily business and buses and cars are just visible in the distance. This photograph was almost certainly taken from a point on the King's Road parallel to Walpole Road and is looking towards Sloane Square: the clocktower and spire just visible in the distance is on a building next door to Peter Jones department store.
Mrs Day stops to look in the window of a shop to see what is available to her this week. The photograph is taken from inside the shop, and Mrs Day can be seen next to the shopkeeper. A group of other shoppers can also be seen. This photograph was probably taken on the King's Road in Chelsea.
A close up view of Mrs Day's shopping basket and gas mask case, which she has taken with her on her shopping trip. The gas mask case has a special pocket which enables it to be used like a handbag. Behind her, the greengrocer arranges his wares. This photograph was probably taken on the King's Road in Chelsea.
A shopkeeper stamps Mrs Day's ration book during her shopping trip on the Kings Road in Chelsea. In the foreground can be seen the tea, sugar, 'national butter', margarine, cooking fats and bacon she is allowed for one week.
Mrs Day says goodbye to the butcher as she leaves his shop, after having bought her meat ration. The window of the butcher's shop has been boarded over after the glass was knocked out during an air raid. The sign in the butcher's window says "Help Win the War on the Kitchen Front. Above All Avoid Waste'. This photograph was probably taken on the King's Road in Chelsea.
Mrs Olive Day opens her window to let some air, and light, into her South Kensington home. The window panes have been replaced by oiled linen stretched over the frame, as the glass was knocked out by a nearby bomb a short while ago.
As well as shopping and a day at work, Mrs Day is also learning to use a stirrup pump in a friend's garden. Mrs Day is pumping the water, whilst another lady directs the hose and a gentleman supervises the proceedings.
Mrs Olive Day shakes her duster out of one of the back windows of her South Kensington home. Every visible window of her house, and of the houses alongside, bears witness to the air raids that have occured in the last few weeks. There is not one window that remains unaffected in someway and all are either fully or partly boarded, have had the broken glass replaced by oiled linen, or have existing glass criss-crossed with tape.
Mrs Day puts her dinner into the oven after a busy day. The Ministry of Food encouraged people to cook their entire meal in the oven as a way to save fuel.
Mrs Day sets the table in preparation for the evening meal in the sitting room of her South Kensington home. She is expecting her naval husband Lt Kenneth Day to arrive home on leave, so the table is set for two and a vase of flowers has been added.
While her evening meal is cooking, Mrs Day settles down on her bed with the evening paper and a spot of sewing. She is working on a balaclava and is accompanied by her cat 'Little One'
Mrs Day runs to greet her husband Lieutenant Kenneth Day at the door of her South Kensington home as he arrives home on leave.
All images and quoted text are taken from the Imperial War Museums Collection Archive

Aaah! A happy ending for our Olive and boy did she have a busy day, interesting that she doesn't have to queue for her rations, perhaps that's living in Kensington, or perhaps it's just for the cameras!  I do like her house coat, though I can't quite work out what the pattern is and her Charioteer eiderdown is rather interesting too!

Wendy x

For More posts from the Imperial War Museum Archive Click the Picture Post Tab at the top of the Page!!


  1. I also love that house dress, it looks amazing. Thanks for this really interesting post. LIke you, I do wonder how much it was staged for the camera but it's such a fascinating look into life at the time. Love the one where she is jumping on the bus!

  2. Fascinating. Thank you for sharing these photos and captions.

  3. How interesting! These images are wonderful! Thankyou x

  4. What a great post! will definately be taking a look at the IWM archives - thank you!

  5. Oh I love the 'Little One'!! Also like Mr Mystery man's shoes! Looks like I have nothing to complain about in I was feeling gloomy before I read this post!! Will now keep calm and carry on! Hope you are having a fabulous week sweety!
    May xx

  6. This is really fascinating. Thanks for sharing, Wendy. I really like her make do and mend dressing gown.

  7. Hehehe I noticed the mans shoe straight off! I take it he was part of the team and not Mrs. Olive Days fancy man! I also want her house coat, day dress, corduroy suit and shoes! Great post, I’m now off to have a nosey!
    Tupps x

  8. That's great! Also isn't the war museum, I haven't been for a long time but I remember it being fascinating!
    Hope you are well. x x x

  9. I can't believe Olive's having an affair with some man with fancy shoes. Poor Kenneth... ;)

  10. Fascinating - love the photos. Imagine being bothered to polish the bannisters of a house that's been firebombed already - I'm such a slattern!

  11. Really interesting - thanks for sharing this. She still managed to be stylish despite everything didn't she?

    K xx

  12. So interesting - thanks for sharing! Am amazed at how much she had time for in one day, but then I guess there was no Facebook/email/etc to waste your time on...

    1. I know, she has one busy schedule! I mean 30mins cleaning before going to work! I can barely get out of bed and get to work on time!

  13. Wow this is really interesting, she seems ridiculously productive compared to me! :)

  14. Thank you for sharing these wonderful and interesting images.Although I was only born in 1961 (only!!)"the war" was often talked about between my parents and both sets of grandparents,all who lived through it either as adults or young children, and consequently it is something that although I have never experienced it myself is at the same time very real and vivid.Both my grandfathers were in the services but my grandmothers were like Mrs Olive Day in having to cope with rationing,air raids and loved ones away whilst bringing up a family and looking after evacuees.Both of my grandmothers had to put up with an awful lot yet I never heard them express bitterness or resentment about the war years and my paternal grandmother had many funny stories to tell that we always loved to hear!

    1. I love that they never expressed bitterness or resentment! I also would love to hear any of the funny stories your paternal grandmother shared with you :)

  15. This was very interesting, and covered a lot of aspects of life during WWII for the well off couples without children in London. One thing I've been wondering about regarding rationing, was not addressed. The officer husband, Lt. Kenneth Day, would not have had a ration book at home, since the way I understood it, the government was feeding and clothing the military members already, and any ration books already possessed when going on active duty would have been turned in. So what happened when said military member came home on furlough? Were they obliged to feed both people, in this case of only husband and wife, on one person's rations? Or was there some other arrangement in place to be sure both were fed adequately?
    Thanks very much for publishing this article, and linking to the IWM site so we can see more!
    🎄 Happy Holidays! 🎅🤶