Second World War: Life on the Home Front

Excerpt of printed page from the Dilys Powell Papers, 'What to do about Gas' instructional leaflet. British Library, Add MS 87692.
Dilys Powell Papers, 'What to do about Gas' instructional leaflet. British Library, Add MS 87692.

We hold a range of archive and manuscript resources relating to the Home Front in Britain during the Second World War

About the collection

The British Library holds a significant amount of manuscripts relating to life in Britain during the Second World War (1939-1945). Relevant material is scattered throughout many different collections, and can be found in several series.

Persistent themes include air raids and gas attacks, theatre productions, the internment of refugees fleeing Nazi persecution, politics and military matters, and wartime poetry and literature. Other important themes such as evacuation, conscription, and conscientious objection are also present throughout the collections.

Relevant large collections providing a range of information include the papers of Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, authors Phyllis Bottome and George Bernard Shaw, Admiral Sir Roger John Brownlow Keyes, poet Meary James Thurairajah Tambimuttu‎, and the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company Archive.


Highlights include:

  • Leaflets and pamphlets on air raids, gas attacks, and evacuation in the papers of Dilys Powell.
  • Air Raid Warden ephemera.
  • The diary of Konrad Eisig, a German Jewish Refugee.
  • Unpublished wartime poems of Eleanor Farjeon.
  • George Orwell’s notes for lectures he gave to the Home Guard.


What is available online?

The Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue contains catalogue entries for material related to the Second World War.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

Registered readers can request specific items to the Manuscripts Reading Room from the Archives and Manuscripts catalogue. However, be aware that much material is not held together and will require ordering of items separately.

A small number of items may require a letter of introduction. Use the online catalogue to find out whether access conditions apply. 

What is available in other organisations?

The Imperial War Museum and National Archives hold a significant amount of material relating to the Second World War.