Nottingham Hospitals History

Nottingham’s Hospitals during World Wars One and Two, Including Key Events during the Inter War Years


World War One Declaration Time Line 1914

June 28: Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, who was killed in Sarajevo along with his wife Duchess Sophie by Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip

July 5: Austria-Hungary seeks German support for a war against Serbia in case of Russian militarism. Germany gives assurances of support.

July 28: Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia. Russia mobilizes

July 31: Germany warns Russia to stop mobilizing. Russia says mobilization is against Austria-Hungary. Germany and the Ottoman Empire sign a secret alliance treaty.

August 3: Germany declares war on France. Belgium denies permission for German forces to pass through to the French border.

August 4: Germany invades Belgium to outflank the French army. Britain protests the violation of Belgian neutrality, guaranteed by a treaty; German Chancellor replies that the treaty is just a chiffon de papier (a scrap of paper).


When Germany invaded neutral Belgium on the 4th August the UK declared war on Germany. On 5th August, the Proclamation of Mobilisation was made, followed on the 6th of August by Kitchener’s ‘Call to Arms’ (the UK had only a small standing army so immediately reservists were recalled). On August 8th, the Defence of the Realm (DORA) Act came into force. As a consequence this gave the government wide-ranging powers to requisition buildings or land needed for the war effort. The 1914 Defence of the Realm Act also ushered in a variety of authoritarian social control mechanisms, such as censorship. As an example:

"No person shall by word of mouth or in writing spread reports likely to cause disaffection or alarm among any of His Majesty's forces or among the civilian population".

Following Kitchener’s ‘Call to Arms,’ places like the recruitment office in Nottingham’s Trinity Square was busy processing those who had volunteered, whilst the Red Cross immediately appealed for those who wish to volunteer as nurses as they proceeded to set up Voluntary Aid Detachment (V.A.D.) hospitals, the first being at Trent Bridge Pavilion, and to train those who volunteered.

Women who volunteered as V.A.D. Nurses came mainly from middle-class backgrounds who shifted their involvement in philanthropic/charitable work and for some from suffrage activities (the campaign for women’s votes), who had put their  grievances to one side for the sake of the country now at war with Germany.

A collage of vintage nursing recruitment posters, mainly from World War One  

A collage of campaign leaflets and photographs relating to women’s suffrage and the right to vote.

With more and more men volunteering for service on the Western Front in France an Belgium, attracted by better pay, women were required to take the place of men by working in factories , which had been given over to the production of war materials. For example, in Nottingham many factories switched to making respirators, and items of uniform, and new factories at King’s Meadow and Chilwell produced shells.

In May 1915 the ‘War Service for Women Movement’ was set up in Nottingham placing women with various employers. As a consequence, a number of women were employed as conductresses on trams, window cleaners (wearing trousers) land workers, bank clerks, nurses, respirator makers, and crane drivers.

National Shell Filling Factory, Chilwell, Nottinghamshire

Women as window cleaners

Women as Tram Conductors

World War One: A Watershed for Women’s Emancipation

The First World War was proved to be a watershed for women’s rights. For example, in 1918  The UK government passed the Representation of the People Act 1918, enfranchising women over the age of 30 who met minimum property qualifications. Ten years later, in 1928, the Conservative government passed the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act giving the vote to all women over the age of 21. Also, as a consequence of the war, with women having to do jobs that were normally carried out by men, especially in the world of medicine, apart from being nurses, they too were accepted into, what was before the war  the male dominated profession.

Nottingham was no exception, during World War One women as doctors of medicine were  appointed as doctors at the Nottingham General Hospital to takeover from those who, as members of the Royal Army Medical Corps, were posted to run field hospitals on the Western Front and other areas of conflict.

During World War One, Nottingham had two female doctors who became noted in their respective fields of medicine.  The first was Margaret Glen Bott, who apart from stepping into the shoes of those who were called up for war service, went on to achieve fame as an eminent Gynaecologist and Surgeon at the Women’s Hospital on Peel Street and Nottingham Children’s Hospital. Apart from being a practising consultant gynaecologist she was also a councillor for the Mapperley Ward.  Apart from her achievements as a consultant surgeon, her lasting legacy, from her time as a councillor, is that of a school in the Wollaton area of Nottingham which bears her name Margaret Glen Bott.

Nottingham’s second female doctor was that of Sarah Gray, apart from first of all being appointed as an assistant surgeon in charge of outpatients, and as an anaesthetist, or  as it was then referred to as, chloroformist, in which she was watched over for a whole year by her male colleagues, when administering chloroform, eager to discover and proclaim some negligence or inefficiency, she went on to become the first female president for 1921-22 of the Nottingham Medico-Chirurgical Society.



As war began, which was to last four-and-a-quarter years and claim an average of fifteen hundred British casualties per day, the Kaiser told his troops; ‘You be home before the leaves have fallen from the trees.’ Almost everybody in Britain, except a few hard-headed realists like Kitchener who was prophesying a long struggle that would only be won with the aid of ‘the last million men,’ appeared to anticipate a brisk, spectacular and triumphant campaign. The worry of the would-be volunteer was that the war might be won before he got to it (Brown, M. 1978, p. 16).

In his euphoric climate Kitchener’s ‘Call to Arms,’ in which he asked for 100,000 men between nineteen and thirty, was soon fully answered. Before the end of August, he had appealed for 100,000 more and raised the recruiting age to thirty-five. By mid September half a million men had been enlisted and the recruitment of another half a million men had been enlisted and the recruitment of another half a million was beginning. And so the high tide of volunteering fervour continued to flow through the winter and into 1915, so that by the time conscription was introduced in early 1916 some two million had taken the Kings Shilling (Brown, M. 1978, p. 17).

Before conscription was finally announced by Herbert Asquith in January 1916, 24,229 men from Nottingham (out of a national total of 2.4 million) had enlisted voluntarily for service with the British Army, 18,527 for New Army units and 5,702 for Territorial battalions.

There were, inevitably, other motives mixed with the patriotic one among those who volunteered. For some it was a chance to exchange the dull routine of their lives for the possibility of travel and excitement (Brown, M. 1978, p. 20). However, believing the war would be a brisk and spectacular  movement of excitement and adventure, as envisaged in August 1914, only lasted a matter of weeks. As early as mid September the order to ‘entrench’  was given by the French Commander-in-Chief, Joffre, and by the winter of 1914-15 a continuous line of trenches ran some 450 miles across Europe from the Belgian coast to the frontier of Switzerland (Brown, M. 1978, p. 64 & 65).


The realisation that the war would not be over by Christmas came when the first casualties from the fighting on the Western Front were transported back to hospitals in the UK. For example, just two months into the fighting saw the first 54 casualties arrive in Nottingham’s Hospitals and funeral take place in Nottingham of Corporal William Stevens, a soldier from Lenton who had died from injuries sustained from fighting the enemy  on the battle fields of Northern France and Belgium.


The two attached videos convey two different meanings of warfare. The above video, a collection of armed forces recruiting posters and posters, urging the country to pull together in face of the common enemy, whist the second video, a collection of artists impressions of life on the Western Front, that the experiences of those doing the fighting is  far cry from the 1914 call to arms conveyed in the first video, thus dispelling the myth the war would be over by Christmas.  

Upon the outbreak of war, 102 beds were immediately placed at the disposal of the military authorities. As an example, the Jubilee Wing at the Nottingham General Hospital was soon full of sick and wounded soldiers.

The Nottingham General Hospital as it appeared in 1913. The Jubilee Wing is the round wards on the right of the picture. Since the hospital’s closure in 1993 the wards have been converted into offices and a Pub/Restaurant.

Wounded Soldiers recovering from their injuries on the Jubilee Wing of the Nottingham General Hospital. The soldier laying in the bed on right, note that the bed is shorter, it is probability because he has had his legs amputated or they were blown off as a result of enemy action on the Western Front.

A far cry from the images of  World War One soldiers recovering from their wounds, the  same ward as it appears today, an open plan office!

Circa 1980’s: Thornton House: The Thornton family house on the Ropewalk was given to the Nottingham General Hospital and the Red Cross provided additional equipment and nurses.

The Ropewalk as it appears today after demolition and rebuild. The building on the right is where Thornton House once stood.

Further hospital expansion became necessary, in 1915 temporary wards to accommodate 150 casualties were built on the front lawn of the Nottingham General Hospital. The cost was met by the War Ministry and Mr. William Goodacre Player.

1915: Inside the Temporary Wards

Group photograph of hospital staff, patients and visitors taken on the lawn between the temporary wards and entrance to the Hospital.

1917: Additional Accommodation for 53 Beds. The costs were shared by the War Office and Mr W. G. Player.

1918: Photograph taken outside the temporary ward that was built in 1917.


Military Hospital Bagthorpe General Hospital The Cedars Trent Bridge Forest Fields Claremont School Saxondale Hospital Arnot Hill Park Woodthorpe House

Military Hospital, Bagthorpe

Nottm General Hospital

The Cedars, Mansfield Road

Trent Bridge Cricket Ground

Forest Fields School

Claremont School

Saxondale Hospital

Arnot Hill Park

Woodthorpe House

 To Enlarge Each Image and for More Information, Click on the Photograph

Albert Hall Sycamore School Trent Bridge School

Albert Hall

Sycamore School

Trent Bridge School


Clipstone Army Camp near Mansfield. 356 beds were reserved for wounded soldiers.


The Batley Red Cross Hospital, Derby Road, Nottingham.

Thorney Hall, Newark-on-Trent.

Newark Red Cross Hospital, Newark-on-Trent.

Mapperley Hall, Nottingham (Ancestral home of Ichabod Wright)

VAD Hospital, Eastwood.

Brackenhurst Auxiliary Military Hospital, Southwell

The Cedars, Beeston.

Welbeck Abbey, Worksop (Duke and Duchess of Portland)

Red Cross Hospital, Lombard Street, Newark-on-Trent.

Babworth Hall, Retford.

Sherwood Rangers Headquarters Hospital, 12, Lime Tree Avenue, Retford.

Burgage Manor, Southwell.

Pavilion, West Bridgford.

Arnot Hill, Daybrook (Arnot Hill Park).

9, Ropewalk, Nottingham (Thornton House)

Bowden Hospital, Mapperley Road, Nottingham.

Lamcote Auxiliary Hospital for Officers, Radcliffe-on-Trent


W. T. Rowe J. W. Scott H. Wallace-Smith C.H. Allen W. F. Neil Alexander Moxon Webber Frederick Crookes F. C. Greig




Mention in Despatches

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Nursing Qualification

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Sister Elizabeth Mary Wilson

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In total, around 9 million men lost their lives. However, during the war, 346 British and Commonwealth soldiers were shot on the orders of military top brass and senior officers.

The pretexts for execution for British soldiers had a common theme: many were suffering shell shock and most were deliberately picked out and convicted "as a lesson to others". Charges included desertion, cowardice, or insubordination. Some were simply obeying orders to carry information from one trench to another. Most of those shot were young, defenceless and vulnerable teenagers who had volunteered for duty. They were selected, charged, and subjected to a mock trial often without defence one day, convicted, then shot at dawn the following day.


The British  Army’s use of capital punishment on active service between 1914 and 1918 then turn’s out to be the norm for armies of the day. Indeed, it can be argued strongly that the death penalty was used only in a minute percentage of cases. During the period 4 August 1914 to October 1918, there were approximately 238,000 courts martial resulting in  3,080 death sentences. Of these only 346 were carried out, which break down into the following categories of offences on active service:

Mutiny                                                           3

Desertion                                                   266

Cowardice                                                    18

Disobedience of a lawful order                    5

Sleeping at post                                            2

Striking a superior officer                           6

Casting away arms                                       2

Quitting post                                                7

Murder                                                        37

Of the two main military offences, there were 551 courts martial for cowardice, with 3.3 per cent resulting in execution; and there were 7,371 for desertion of which about (records differ) 3,000 resulted in sentence of death, of which 266 were executed (3.6 per cent of the total tried). No fewer than 5,250,000 men served in the British Army in the First World War of whom 750,000 were killed and 1,5000,000 wounded.

These statistics show with lucid clarity just how sparingly the final sanction of military law was employed by a massive army fighting for its life. The question then remains: how and why was it used; and was it successful as a disciplinary policy (Corns, C. & Hughes-Wilson J. 2002, p. 103, 104).



The "Lost Generation" was the generation that came of age during World War I. The term was popularised by Ernest Hemingway, who used it as one of two contrasting epigraphs for his novel, The Sun Also Rises.

Unlike in successive wars that were categorized by a different set of class values, the First World War in Europe had heavy involvement of upper and upper-middle class young men, many of whom never returned home and those who were lucky enough to come back, found themselves in difficult situations as they tried to grapple with their experiences and “shell shock.”

This does not simply refer to the massive numbers of casualties across class lines or the population loss that occurred; rather it refers to the more specific condition of a European loss of the future intellectual elite.

Although ever war death was wasteful, the deaths of thousands of educated and privileged young men brought about what was called a ‘Lost Generation’ of future politicians philosophers, and poets who never had the chance to fulfil their promise.”

Nottingham’s World War One Roll of Honour

5,370 men from Nottingham lost their lives during World War One.

By 1921 the city’s General Hospital was still treating 18,400 disabled servicemen.

2,500 children from the city lost fathers during the conflict with many thousands more left grieving for brothers and other relatives.



Sir Harold Gillies, the father of Plastic Surgery, was a keen follower of the French Maxilla Facial Surgeon Hippolyte Morestin.

Harold Gillies, Queen’s Hospital, Sidcup, Kent.

The Queen's Hospital opened in June 1917 and with its convalescent units provided over 1,000 beds. There Gillies and his colleagues developed many techniques of plastic surgery; more than 11,000 operations were performed on over 5,000 men (mostly soldiers with facial injuries, usually from gunshot wounds).

Hippolyte Morestin

Henry Tonks, FRCS (9 April 1862 – 8 January 1937) was a British surgeon and later draughtsman and painter of figure subjects, chiefly interiors, and a caricaturist. He became an influential art teacher.

He became a lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1916, and worked for Harold Gillies producing pastel drawings recording facial injury cases at the Cambridge military hospital in Aldershot and the Queen's Hospital, Sidcup.

Henry Tonks, FRCS


1919 – 1920: The first Annual Report of the Ministry of Health

No report of the Administration of the Poor Law during the past year and those directly preceding it would be complete without reference to the part played by the Guardians during the war. When accommodation of all kinds for war purposes became imperative, Guardians rose to the occasion by providing, which have been valued beyond calculation? Difficulties accommodating their own poor were inevitable. These difficulties were surmounted in various ways and always and un-grudgingly, the staffs often, in fact in every case, working under great difficulties. Fortunately the normal population workhouses had been, and was being, much reduced a circumstance which greatly aided and determined the accommodation which could be made available and placed at the disposal of the military authorities.

Much might be written on the subject, but a brief survey must suffice. The Guardians of the Parish of Nottingham at once place their separate infirmary at the disposal of the War Office. This large infirmary, built some 24 years ago, had accommodation for 750 patients, and could be described as thoroughly up-to-date with every appliance, which could be required, an excellent operating theatre and x-ray apparatus, and generally a model hospital in every respect. At first the guardians handed over 500 beds, and subsequently, notwithstanding the difficulties of providing for their own inmates, more and more accommodation was given until not only 750 beds all handed over, but one detached block of the workhouse was also offered and made use of during the emergency of March 1918.

The Guardians at Leicester, within a few days, agreed to place their infirmary at the disposal of the War Office. This infirmary is entirely separate and distinct from the workhouse and situated just outside the city boundary at North Evington. Though Smaller, it is very similar to the Nottingham Infirmary, and accommodation in pre-war days some 500 patients, but, as at Nottingham, no doubt owing to the fact that all patients were one sex, a large number of military patients were accommodated.

1925 Nottingham City Hospital: The operating Theatre referred to in the first Annual Report for 1919 of the Ministry of Health





Architects Robert Evans and Sons drawing of the expansion of the Nottingham General Hospital

Ropewalk Wing W. G. Player Ward Jubilee Wing Pay Bed Wing

Ropewalk  Wing

Jubilee Wing

W. G. Player Ward

Pay Bed Wing

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Casualty Dept

Casualty Department

Operating Theatre

Operating  Theatre



November 1919: An extension sub-committee was formed with Mr W. G. Player as its Chairman..

1922: The Extension Committee reported that the new Nurses Home will be: “A dignified and worthy memorial to the heroic dead, and a distinct ornament to the City.”

In the same year £92,000  was raised. At the outset, the fund had risen by accrued interest to £103,000, which amongst other things enabled the boundary wall on Lenton Road to be built.

Apart from donations from local industries, the British Red Cross gave £15,000. The Duke of Newcastle gave plots of land to the value of £3,320. A grand bazar raised £6,835 towards  furnishing the home. Once the building work was finally completed it was formally opened by the HRH The  Prince of Wales on August 1st, 1923.

Opening of the Memorial Nurses Home by the Prince of Wales 1st August, 1923

1923: Lenton Road

Nurses Home & Albert Ball War Memorial, Nottingham Castle

Circa 1920’s Nursing group photograph outside the Memorial Nurses Home

Memorial Plaque above the entrance to Memorial Nurses Home/Royal Standard House

War Memorial on Lenton Road



Ellerslie House Home for Paralysed Soldiers and Sailors was set up in 1917; was purchased by the 6th Duke of Portland and donated to a committee established to provide long-term care for back and other paralysing injuries among ex-servicemen.

Designed by City Engineer and Surveyor T. Wallis Gordon, the war memorial and memorial gardens were built on the Victoria Embankment after the First World War. They are built on land donated by Sir Jesse Boot, the founder of Boots the Chemist, to the Corporation of Nottingham in 1920. The land was to provide open space and a memorial site. Work first started on the gardens in 1923 when on the 1st of August, HRH The Prince of Wales laid the Foundation Stone. The war memorial and gardens were eventually opened to the public on the 11th November 1927.

The Memorial Gardens as it appeared in 1927

During World War One 5,370 men from Nottingham lost their lives, of those deaths 334 died in Nottingham’s Hospitals, mostly from the Military Hospital Bagthorpe (Nottingham City Hospital) of which 0ver 100 names are inscribed on the Screen Wall of the World War One Memorial in Nottingham’s General Cemetery. To find out who those names are, and the memorial to them, click on the photograph below, which is of the World War One Memorial.



Muniich Agreement

‘This is Peace in our Time’

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3 September, 1939: Britain Declares War On Germany

To hear the complete BBC broadcast by the British Prime Minster, Neville Chamberlain, declaring war on Germany, click on the disc icon.



Named after Sir John Anderson, Home Secretary. Designed to accommodate up to six people, the government supplied them free to low income families and later sold to others. 1.5 million Anderson shelters were distributed in the months immediately leading up to the outbreak of war. When production ended 3.6 million had been produced.



Under the command of Athelstan Horn Popkess CBE (1895-1967), Chief Constable of Nottingham City Police from 1930 to 1959, Nottingham was the first city in the country to have a fire station training depot and the first to develop an Air Raid Precaution (ARP) network. The precautions included 288 public shelters, huge refuges cut into solid rock, 24,000 Anderson shelters, 2,880 domestic surface shelters, and 1,817 communal surface shelters. Caves, some extending from Mansfield Road into Sherwood Street, were also utilised.


With the outbreak of the Second World War the General Hospital became part of the Emergency Medical Service and 75 extra beds were squeezed into the existing wards to deal with the expected flood of casualties.

The General Hospital formed four mobile surgical teams, each comprising a surgeon, an assistant, an anaesthetist and two nurses.




Nursing Auxiliaries Evacuation Map

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For more information about the evacuation of children from Nottingham at the beginning of World War Two, click on this link.



To listen to the British Prime Minister’ Winston Churchill’s Finest Hour Speech given on the 18th June, 1940 in full, click on the disc icon.


Although Nottingham was bombed on only 11 occasions and, 179 people were killed and 350 injured, the worst air raid occurred on the night of 8 and 9 May 1941 when 159 people including 31 children were killed and 274 injured.

University College, Nottingham after the Air Raid of the 8 and 9 May, 1941.

Notice of Evacuation

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To enlarge, click on image


The Morning After the Air Raid

The raid on the night of 8–9 May by the German Luftwaffe’s intended targets were in Nottingham and Derby. The X-Gerät beams set up to cover the Rolls Royce works were detected, and radio counter-measures diverted the attack to the moors north east of the town.

A Starfish decoy fire system located near Cropwell Butler in the Vale of Belvoir confused the aircraft, and many of the bombs intended for Nottingham were dropped on open farmland. Therefore the raids on both Nottingham and Derby did not achieve the intended aims.


Starfish towns were sited miles away from communities and cities likely to come under attack. As soon as the first wave of German bombers lit up or attacked a real target, emergency teams raced to extinguish the flames – then lit the decoy fires.

The aim was to convince the second wave of enemy aircraft this was the target and to fool them into dropping bombs harmlessly onto the decoy site.


Threat of an Air Raid - The Deserted Streets of Nottingham

The Poultry

Broadway, Lace Market



Food rationing began on the 8th January 1940, though the necessary ration books had started to be issued after National Registration Day on 29th of September 1939 (Gardiner, J. 2004, 161).

Every household received a ration book for each member and was obliged to register with a retailer(Gardiner, J. 2004, 167, 168).

This was in order to guarantee supplies; since the shopkeeper receives stock replacements based on number of registered customers he (or sometimes she) had (Gardiner, J. 2004, 167, 168).

Institutions, such as hospitals, boarding schools and prisons, had the aggregate of their inmates calculated and rations allocated accordingly; hotels required guests to hand over their ration books for the duration of their stay, while restaurants and cafes had their rations calculated on the basis of past performance – the number of meals they had been serving before rationing was introduced (Gardiner, J. 2004, 168).


Nottingham General Hospital Egg Week

Nottm Children’s Hospital, Annual Report, 1942


01. Digging for Victory 02. Digging for Victory 2003 Yellow Car Park

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Lister Two Ward, Nottingham City Hospital



Circa 1940’s: Firs Maternity Unit, Mansfield Road, Sherwood, Nottingham

Circa 1940’s: Valebrook Lodge (Sherwood Main Hall, South Corridor)



Lister Two Ward, Nottingham City Hospital



Gover Ford and University Wards were added on in 1943 as was the covered walkway to the nurses homes.

1943: Pearson House, Standard Hill


D.Day June 6 1944

Excerpt from the Chaplains minute book, Nottingham City Hospital

“On Invasion Day, June 6th, Services of Intercession were arranged together with, and taken by Mr. Evans and the Chaplain throughout the week, many of which were well attended.”

Since D. Day, June 6th, the Invasion of Normandy, much of the hospital work has been amongst convoys of wounded men (including a number of Germans), in all between six and seven hundred, and as far as possible, I have had a personal word with each patient.”


Old Market Square, Nottingham

Excerpt from the Chaplains minute book, Nottingham City Hospital

“The special items during this period under review have been the two special thanksgiving services for Victory in Europe, which were held on Tuesday evening, May 8th and Sunday 13th . These were united services arranged and taken by the chaplain and Mr. Evans, and were very well attended and appreciated by the staff, patients and inmates.”


Excerpt from the Chaplains minute book, Nottingham City Hospital

Focusing during the period under review, mention must be made of the special Thanksgiving Services for War Victory (V.J.), which were held on Wednesday evening, 15th August and Sunday morning  August 19th. These were attended by staff, patients and inmates, and an opportunity was thus given for expressing thanks to God in worship for the ending of the war.


The Cold War (1945 – 1989)

The further development of nuclear weapons.

The defeat of Sir Winston Churchill in the 1945 General Election.

Landslide victory by the Labour Party, which gave birth to the Welfare. State.



British politics between 1919 and 1939 was dominated by the Conservative Party, which was in office for six years between 1922 and 1929 and was the largest element both in the post-war coalition from 1919 to 1922. Organised by Lloyd George and in the National Government, it was set up in August 1931 by Ramsay Macdonald to cope with the economic depression which lasted until 1940. The other major pre-1914 party, the Liberal Party, declined in popular support and never formed a government again after the collapse of the Liberal administration in 1916. In its place came a new political force, the Labour Party, which held office briefly from January to November 1924 and from June 1929 until the formation of the National Government. The Labour Party was supported in the 1920s by a smaller socialist party, the Independent Labour Party.

The National Government comprised a coalition of Conservatives, Labour members who supported Macdonald (who were known as National Labour) and Liberals who supported Macdonald (known as National Liberals). The opposition to the National Government was made up of Labour members of Parliament who refuse to accept Macdonald's leadership, and the Independent Labour Party (and, from the 1935 general election, one Communist MP). The 1931 election returned 470 Conservatives out of 615 MPs and the 1935 election 387 out of 615. The combined opposition to the National Government won 56 seats in 1931 and 171 in 1935. The National Government ended in May 1940 when Churchill became Prime Minister and formed a wartime coalition including the opposition Labour Party.



From the founding of the League of Nations in 1920, which Britain played an important part in constructing, British governments were formally committed to working within its framework to ensure that international crisis were resolved through negotiation. In practice Britain played a more detached role during the 1920s and 1930s, and continued to conduct a foreign policy based on collaboration among the major powers. For much of the period Britain hoped to reintegrate defeated Germany back into the international system and was not unwilling to renegotiate aspects of the Versailles Treaty. British governments tended to distrust France and French ambitions in Europe and to collaborate with the United States, which had refused to join the League in 1920. Britain's chief interests were to preserve the Empire and to maintain international peace and a stable international economy. By the 1930s none of these ambitions could be fully realised. The world economy went into crisis, the Empire became a source of growing unrest (in India and Palestine in particular) and the search for International peace was challenged by the Japanese occupation of Manchuria in northern China in 1931, the Italian conquest of Ethiopian in 1935-6 and the rearmament of Germany which Hitler declared in 1935 and made explicit with the re-militarisation of the Rhineland provinces in March 1936. The rise of Soviet power following implementation of the USSR's Five-Year Plans for industrial development (and the large-scale rearmament program that accompanied them) was also regarded by British leaders as a potentially dangerous development. British politicians continued to seek peaceful solutions to all these issues, but from 1934 onwards Britain began its own rearmament, accelerated in 1936 when Neville Chamberlain, then chancellor of the Exchequer, introduced a four-year programme of military expansion, and again in 1938 in response to German expansion in Austria and Czechoslovakia. From 1937 Chamberlain tried to find a way to achieve what he called a "Grand Settlement" of world affairs through cooperation, but this strategy, more generally termed "appeasement", failed to prevent further crisis and led to the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia through the Munich Agreement of September 1938. By 1939 Britain face the paradoxical prospect of having to use war as a means to restore a peaceable international political and economic order.



The British economy was the largest trading economy in the world in 1914 and the third largest manufacturing economy. Britain was also enormously wealthy and supplied a large part of the world with investment credit. In the interwar years, Britain's position declined relatively as other countries expanded trade and industrial output. British trade failed to return to the pre-1914 levels as foreign investment was directed more to the Empire while in the 1920s American loans became the important engine of world economic growth. Britain's major industries (cotton, shipbuilding, cold, iron and steel) suffered heavily in the 1920s and 1930s, resulting in long-term unemployment in particular regions of the country. There was a shift away from exports as the major element in economic growth towards the home market. Falling food and material prices in the 1920s and 1930s meant cheaper imports and rising living standards for those with a job. This in turn fuelled rising demand for new consumer goods such as cars and radios, which became the new industrial leaders. In 1932, in response to the collapse of the world market after the Wall Street crash of October 1929, Britain switched from a policy of free trade in one of protection. The Imperial Preference scheme, which gave guaranteed markets to Empire producers of food and raw materials, gave Britain guaranteed markets for exports. The change meant that Britain suffered less than other economies during the 1930s, and for those with jobs there were rising living standards for much of the decade. In the 1930s the government came to play a further part in sustaining economic revival, particularly through large housebuilding programmes. From 1936 onwards, the economy began to grow in response to a rearmament boom, which created new jobs even in the depressed regions, though at the same time it put pressure on the balance of payments and increased state debt.


1920-21: post-war recession.

1922-6: period of relative stagnation.

1926: short economic downturn.

1927-9: short period of boom.

1929-32: major recession, known in Britain as the "Great Slump."

1932-7: slow economic revival.

1937: brief recession followed by armaments boom.

The economic crisis following the Wall Street Crash, was in truth the worldwide economic and social catastrophe. Though Britain was less severely affected than the German and American economies, trade nevertheless fell by 50 per cent between 1929 and 1933, the output of heavy industry fell by one-third and at its peak in 1932 there were almost 3.5 million registered unemployed and millions more working short-time. The number of people out of work was still around 2 million in 1938. Knowledge of what had happened in other countries was widespread so that the recession was viewed not just as a national disaster but as a possibly terminal crisis of world capitalism. The economic crisis was the greatest single issue facing British society during the interwar years, and became the reference point in the 1930s not just in discussions about economic viability of capitalism but in all the assessments of the future course of civilization.

Overy, R. (2010) The Morbid Age: Britain and the Crisis of Civilization, 1939 pp xvii, xviii, xix, xx, xxi, 68,69  Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RI

To hear PM Neville Chamberlain's speech on his peace negotiations with Hitler from the  27 September 1938, click on the disc icon.

To listen to the British Prime Minister  Winston Churchill’s We Shall Fight on the Beaches speech to the House of Commons on June 4, 1940.  Click on the adjoining disc icon.

To hear the BBC broadcast by H.M. King George V from 3 September, 1939, click on the adjoining disc icon.

“Poems, Rhymes, Riddles and Mottos” written by soldiers recovering in Bagthorpe Military Hospital, Nottingham

To listen to Winston Churchill’s Speech - The German State Has Surrendered on the  8th May 1945, click on the adjoining disc icon.

To listen to the BBC Broadcast's D-Day News Bulletin of June 6th 1944 concerning the D.Day landings on the beaches of Normandy, France, click on the adjoining disc icon.

To listen to HM King George VI’s D.Day speech on June 6th 1944, click on the adjoining disc icon

(20 Aug 1945) Mr Attlee broadcast at midnight the news that victory over Japan was complete.  VJ Day coincided with the Royal Opening of Parliament and the King and Queen's drive to Westminster began the two days of celebrations.  To listen and watch the speech given by the Prime Minister, click on the adjoining disc icon.