HEROES OF THE HOME FRONT COMMEMORATED ONLINE
Records of 60,000 British civilians killed during WWII digitised – Ancestry.co.uk
* Deaths of civilians, civil defence and merchant seamen all detailed
* 40,000 victims of The Blitz listed in historic archive
* Actor Leslie Howard killed when his passenger plane was mistaken for Churchill’s
Ahead of Remembrance Day, Ancestry.co.uk has today launched online the UK, WWII Civilian Deaths, 1939-1945 collection, listing the thousands of British citizens killed on the ‘Home Front’ during the Second World War.
The records, originally compiled by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, list almost 60,000 members of the British Commonwealth and Empire who were killed as a result of enemy action whilst going about their everyday lives or while at their posts as members of the Civil Defence Services.
The majority of the names listed were civilians killed in the aerial bombings by the German Luftwaffe (air force) as it attempted to bring Britain to its knees. These attacks on British cities, which took place from September 1940 to May 1941 are known collectively as The Blitz and led to around 40,000 deaths.
Nearly half of those killed in The Blitz (17,500) were Londoners, but several other cities were also badly hit, with Liverpool next worst off in terms of civilian deaths (2,677) followed by Birmingham, Bristol, Hull, Plymouth, Coventry, Portsmouth, Belfast and Glasgow.
Among the 59,418 names listed in the records is James Isbister, considered the first civilian casualty of WWII on home soil. He was killed in March 1940, when German bombers attacking Scapa Flow Naval Base, Orkney, jettisoned their remaining bombs over civilian territory as they fled back to Germany.
Hundreds of British civilians lost their lives before this point, most commonly in sea disasters when civilian ships hit military mines during the early months of the war. As the war progressed deaths at sea became all the more common, with thousands lost, as Germany used submarines to sink merchant ships in an attempt to restrict supplies to Britain.
More than 2,300 Civil Defence Service members also gave their lives whilst on duty, including air raid wardens, home guard, and members of the Women’s Voluntary Services.
One of the most notable names in the collection is actor and star of Gone With The Wind, Leslie Howard. He was killed in 1943 when the civilian airliner he was travelling in to Bristol was shot down. Historians have since suggested that the Luftwaffe may have attacked the non-military plane because German Intelligence believed Prime Minister Winston Churchill to be on board.
Before the war it was feared a sustained campaign of aerial bombings would lead to more than 600,000 deaths and as a result the 1937 Air Raid Precautions Act forced local councils to make provisions for defence. These varied from a widespread imposed blackout of all lighting from public and commercial buildings to the construction of bomb shelters and provision of gas masks.
The government also implemented widespread evacuation of major cities, with Operation Pied Piper responsible for the relocation of more than 3.5 million people - mainly urban children moved to safer homes in rural areas.
Several other famous names of the day can also be found within the digital records, including:
- Albert Dolphin – Dolphin was working as an emergency hospital porter at what is today New Cross Hospital London when a bomb hit the kitchens of the building. A true Home Front hero, Albert rushed to the aid of a nurse trapped in wreckage and protected her as a damaged wall gave way. He was killed saving her life and was posthumously awarded the George Cross for his bravery.
- James Baldwin-Webb MP – Baldwin-Webb, MP for The Wrekin in Shropshire and one of the most famous civilians of the day, was lost at sea. In September 1940, whilst travelling to Canada to fundraise for the Ambulance Corps, his liner SS City of Benares was torpedoed by a German submarine. He stayed aboard the ship to assist women and children onto lifeboats before going down with the ship.
- Arthur Bacon – Bacon was a popular footballer, playing as a striker at Reading, Chesterfield and Coventry City – scoring 71 goals between 1923 and 1935. After his footballing career he served as a Special Constable in Derby where he was killed in 1942 (aged 37) during an air raid.
Miriam Silverman, UK Content Manager, from Ancestry.co.uk comments: “As we approach Remembrance Sunday, it’s important to not only remember those heroes who served and died in conflict but the thousands of ordinary people who lost their lives in Britain and the Commonwealth whilst battling to keep the country running at a very difficult time.
“This collection gives people the chance to find out about any Home Front heroes that might be in their family tree, and adds to the millions of military records available on Ancestry.co.uk from the past 100 years and more.”
Ancestry.co.uk is providing free access to 3.6 million military records between 8th and 12th November, including WWI Service Records 1914 – 1920, WWII Army Roll of Honour 1939 – 1945, Navy Medal and Roll Awards 1793 – 1972 and Victoria Cross Medals 1857 – 2007. To search for the war heroes in your family tree, visit www.ancestry.co.uk/start_military