The Potteries at War
Explore this page to discover some of the ways the local area was affected by the outbreak of the Second World War. Many of the objects shown are also on display inside the Spitfire Gallery.
The Potteries at War 1939-1945
German bombers targeted north Staffordshire due to its steelworks, railways, coal production, and nearby munitions factories. People used air raid shelters in their gardens or communal ones in the streets. Gas masks were carried through fear of a gas attack. Despite this, children from other, more vulnerable parts of the country were evacuated to Stoke-on-Trent and the surrounding countryside.
Many local people served in the Armed Forces, from Dunkirk, to the skies of the Battle of Britain, to the deserts of North Africa. Women served in various organisations such as the British Army’s Auxiliary Territorial Service, Women’s Royal Naval Service, and Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. Some women became pilots in the Air Transport Auxiliary, delivering aeroplanes from factories and maintenance units to the squadrons that needed them.
The Home Front
Civil Defence volunteers undertook duties as air raid wardens, fire fighters and rescue teams on the Home Front. Others joined the Home Guard to train as a defence force in case of invasion. Many women took over jobs in factories and farms that had traditionally been done by men.
Rationing & Restrictions
Rationing was introduced from 1940 to prevent food, clothes and other products running out. Lawns in Stoke-on-Trent’s parks were dug up and turned over for vegetable growing by members of the Women’s Land Army.
Controls were placed on pottery production and some factories were closed or forced to share premises. Only plain pottery was allowed to be made for the home market. These measures saved fuel and labour which were redirected into the war effort.
Many jobs in engineering and coal mining were ‘reserved occupations’. These workers weren’t called up to serve in the armed forces as their work at home was too important. Thousands of miners worked to maintain the country’s coal supply.
The Bank of England and the major Clearing Banks were relocated from London to the ballroom at Trentham Gardens to escape the London air raids. Staff who moved with the bank nicknamed themselves the ‘Outcasts’.
Production of wartime equipment was spread out across the country so that enemy bombing could not disrupt supplies. Local sites included the Rootes factory at Blythe Bridge, producing parts for various Bristol aeroplanes, and the BSA factory in Newcastle-under-Lyme producing Hispano cannon.
Public fundraising campaigns supported many causes, from building more Spitfires, to helping prisoners of war. In 1942, the Czech mining village of Lidice was destroyed by the Nazis. Sir Barnett Stross MP and local miners raised funds to rebuild the community after the war.
Links to even more information about local history and the Second World War:
Blog: Bombing the Potteries
Blog: Personal Stories
Blogs: The Second World War
The War Through Objects
And Second World War-themed family activities:
VE Day Recipes
Wartime Word Search
Choose which exhibit or zone to explore next.