War changes things. We all know that, but most of today haven’t lived through a “total war” that really impacts everyone at home, whether we or our family are directly involved in the fighting or not. Most people are very aware of how WWII did this…but most of us don’t realize that the things we’re so familiar with from that war, had their roots in the First World War.
But London, for instance, experienced huge changed when war was declared, and it was interesting to show these through my characters in An Hour Unspent.
|London Blackout – Wiki Commons|
One of the first changes to be put into place was a blackout in coastal towns and London. As early as 1913, Churchill, as the First Lord of the Admiralty, drew up a plan for a blackout in the event of war. For the first time in history, people had to fear enemies coming not just from land or sea, but from the air. Many still primarily feared rockets or missiles that could be launched from naval vessels, but there was (rightfully) a growing fear that aircraft could be weaponized. At the start of the war, airplanes weren’t the biggest threat–they had a difficult time crossing the channel and couldn’t carry much by way of bombs or guns. But zeppelins were a different story.
As a result, eight days after England declared war on Germany, blackout restrictions were put in place. In London, this meant no electric lights were permitted outside. Street lamps were painted over to dim them. Most houses at this time still had the old gas lights installed as well as the new electric ones, and they had to use those after dark, or use curtains to keep the light from shining.
The streets became hazardous after dark. Before, when gas street lamps were the norm, there weren’t automobiles zipping around. The combination of faster vehicles and less light was, let’s say, not a good combination.
So in an effort to keep people off the streets after dark, many traditional nighttime events like operas and plays and concerts were moved up to earlier hours or canceled entirely.
|First Zepplin sighting 1915 – Wiki Commons|
But dimming the lights wasn’t the only step London took to confuse an aerial attack. They knew that a night attack was most likely for zeppelins, and they knew that if they were to come across the Channel, it would have to be on a clear night.
A clear night meant moonlight. And moonlight would reflect most off…water.
Everybody of water in London would become a homing beacon. So they drained the lakes and ponds in the parks, leaving nothing but muddy expanses where once there had been beautiful vistas.
What they couldn’t drain, however, was the Thames. And in the first zeppelin raids, the river was indeed what the airships followed.
By the end of the war, all this was no doubt old hat. But can you imagine seeing one of those drained lakes at the start? How sobering a reminder it would have been that the world had gone mad and that the very skies should be feared? Quite a scary thing. And one my characters had to encounter and combat.
Interesting! I have read some of these things in other historical fiction books before.
I think we have no idea how frightening it really was for people. I know a lady who was in 4th grade in Germany during WWII and said that when she was walking home from school and the bombers flew over, she had been instructed to lay down in the ditch along the roadside for protection. Can you imagine, nine years old and walking home alone from school while a war was going on??? I can't. I just can't. But through your stories I get a clearer picture of what was happening and for that I am thankful!
It is very disturbing to think about life in wartime. I'm afraid, by the end of that war, people were not sobbing over drained ponds. 17 million people were killed, many more wounded and displaced. And it's not like war is a thing of the past. Afghanistan, Iraq, Mexico, Syria, Yemen…
What do you do when a war is on the horizon, when your street lights get dimmed and your ponds drained? Do you continue your daily life as long as possible? Do you and your family move out of the city? Do you try to leave the country?