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War and peace: rationing, the arrival of the Windrush and a Punch and Judy ban

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Jan 1940: Enigma cracked

At Bletchley Park the first breakthrough occurs in deciphering the Germans' Enigma code.

1940: Vera Lynn is the Forces Sweetheart

One of the premiere entertainers of the war years, Vera made her name with songs such as (There'll be Blue Skies Over) The White Cliffs of Dover.

08 Jan 1940: Rationing starts

The government imposes limits on the amounts of food each individual is allowed to buy. "Points" rationing is introduced the following year, where each foodstuff was equivalent to a certain number of points so you could spend your allocation how you pleased. A great deal of ingenuity was needed to make palatable food out of the allowances.

10 May 1940: Winston Churchill becomes Prime Minister

Churchill's rousing patriotic speeches kept the nation's morale high throughout the difficult war years. His speeches are classic pieces of prose. Do you recognise: "We shall fight on the beaches…" and "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few"?

26 May 1940: Dunkirk Evacuation

Downing Street orders rescue of troops trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk. Hundreds of English civilians use their own boats to remove the soldiers. This kind of plucky, can-do attitude became known as "Dunkirk Spirit".

10 Jul 1940: Battle of Britain begins

The battle against the German Luftwaffe for supremacy of England's skies rages until October 1941.

The Spitfire

07 Sep 1940: Start of the Blitz

German Luftwaffe planes begin an intensive night-time bombing campaign on London and the South East. Many buildings are destroyed and lives lost but Londoners pulled together and make the most of life in the air raid shelters. Henry Moore found inspiration for his abstract sculptures in the scenes he witnessed: "I spent the time looking at the rows of people sleeping on the platforms. I had never seen so many reclining figures, and even the train tunnels seemed to be like the holes in my sculpture."

1941: Café de Paris burns to ground

Celebrated central London nightspot the Café de Paris burns down after receiving a direct hit during the Blitz. The band on stage were Ken "Snake Hips" Johnson and his West Indian Orchestra. They were a hugely popular Big Band in the 1930s and credited as being the only ones that could "really swing". Tragically, all the band members were killed in the fire.

15 May 1941: Jet engines blast off

First test flight propelled by Frank Whittle's jet engine takes place.

1942: First Desert Island castaway

Comedian Vic Oliver is the first castaway on Radio 4's Desert Island Discs.

1942: First Famous Five book

The first Famous Five book was published called Five On A Treasure Island, beginning a series of adventure stories for children that have become part of the nation's consciousness.

1942: Oxfam founded

Oxford Committee for Famine Relief founded. Oxfam is a development, advocacy and relief organisation, dedicated to ending worldwide poverty.

1943: Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp

This is the first Technicolor masterpiece by writing/directing powerhouses Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Some see the story as a piece of narrow wartime propaganda but Churchill tries to have it banned. Why don't you watch it and make up your own mind? It features great performances from Deborah Kerr (The King And I) and Roger Livesey.

16 May 1943: Dambusters Raid

The bombing raid on the German Ruhr valley dams uses bouncing bombs to hit the targets. The theme music from the film The Dambusters by Eric Coates is an instantly recognisable piece of English patriotism.

1944: Olivier's film of Henry V

Laurence Olivier exhorts the nation to "Cry, God for Harry, England and St George!"

06 Jun 1944: D-Day landings

Operation Overload swings into action, beginning the Allied invasion of German-occupied France. Hundreds of thousands of troops land in this massive invasion.

1945: Brief Encounter released

Love blossoms in a station tea room in Brief Encounter. Based on the play Still Life by Noel Coward, this film epitomises English middle class restraint. We defy you not to cry as that train pulls out of the station!

A Cup of Tea

1945: Monte Rosa seized at Kiel

The German passenger ship is seized by British forces after the German defeat. She is refitted as a British troop carrier and renamed Empire Windrush.

SS Empire Windrush

1945: Brideshead Revisited published

In some ways a nostalgia feast for the life of pre-war English aristocrats, it tells the story of Charles Ryder's involvement with the tragic Flyte family. Lavishly adapted for television in 1981, with stunning Castle Howard and Oxford as the backdrop, the series is still a benchmark for costume drama.

08 May 1945: Victory in Europe (VE) Day

This marks the end of the fight against Germany and her Allies.

15 Aug 1945: Victory in Japan (VJ) Day

This marks the end of the fight against Japan.

12 Jan 1946: Orwell's perfect cup of tea

George Orwell's essay sets out 11 golden rules for making the perfect cup of tea. You can read it on the Icons website.

A Cup of Tea

1946: Titus Groan published

The first in Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast Trilogy - a masterpiece of modern Gothic fiction. Peake was also an illustrator of The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner and Treasure Island

1947: Punch and Judy ban

Middlesex Council attempts to ban the puppet show on the grounds of its brutality being unsuitable for young children. The ban is swiftly reversed.

Punch and Judy

1947: Northrop Frye's Fearful Symmetry

This essay by the Canadian critic put Blake's reputation as a poet into the ascendant by proving his place in the English Romantic tradition.


1947: Trafalgar Square Christmas tree

The tradition begins of Norway thanking England for friendship during the second world war by donating a Christmas Tree to stand in Trafalgar Square every year

15 Aug 1947: Indian Independence declared

India is split into two countries: India and Pakistan. The Partition forces the largest mass movement of humanity in history (10 million people relocate). Communal/religious violence claims more than one million lives as Hindus flee to India and Muslims to newly-created Pakistan. Immigration to England is greatly increased from these areas.

1948: First Morris Minor Series MM

Quickly becomes a classic English design.

1948: British Nationality Act

This act gave preferential treatment to immigrants from "citizens of the independent Commonwealth countries".

1948: The Great Tradition published

FR Leavis' hugely influential analysis defined the canon of English literature with regard to the novel. Austen, Eliot, James and Conrad were in, Sterne and Hardy were out. Dickens was in (just).

1948: Apartheid in South Africa

South Africa adopts apartheid (meaning "separateness" in Afrikaans) as official government policy. Apartheid consisted of numerous laws which allowed sanctioned racial segregation, and political and economic discrimination against the non-white majority by the white ruling class. Racist beliefs were enshrined in law. News from South Africa had special resonance for Britain as it had only gained full independence in 1931. The system finally came to an end with the first multi-racial elections held in 1994.

14 May 1948: State of Israel declared

Israel is an independent state for the Jewish peoples in Palestine, brought into being by a UN Resolution. For many Jewish communities in England it is what they have been working and praying for. The difficulties surrounding the allocation of land for Israel are still being played out today.

24 May 1948: SS Empire Windrush sets sail

She is carrying 300 passengers below deck and 192 above, from the colonies of Jamaica and Trinidad.

SS Empire Windrush

22 Jun 1948: SS Empire Windrush docks at Tilbury

Welcomed as they first arrived, these immigrants were the first in a wave of migration from the Caribbean to England.

SS Empire Windrush

05 Jul 1948: NHS founded

The National Health Service Act is passed which makes provision for free health care for the nation

1949: Yeovil Town slay Sunderland

The first of Yeovil Town's celebrated "giant killings" in the FA Cup Final. The team from the bottom of the Southern League won 2-1 against Sunderland, who were one of the best sides in the country.

The FA Cup

1949: Orwell's vision of the future, 1984

George Orwell publishes 1984 - introducing the concept of "Big Brother" watching over you all the time.

1949: Wanamaker visits London

The American actor Sam Wanamaker visits London and travels to Bankside to find a monument to the Globe Theatre. All he finds is a bronze plaque on a wall. He thinks Shakespeare and his famous theatre deserve more than this and his plan to re-create Shakespeare's Globe is born.

1949: First heats of Come Dancing on BBC1

Could there be anything more English than ballroom dancing competitions as prime time popular entertainment? The dance is enjoying a renaissance thanks to the TV show Strictly Come Dancing – where celebrities are paired with professional dancers and compete in a series of rounds over a number of weeks, the public voting for who they would like to stay.