A Glimpse of the Home Front

Our apartment looked out over the Hudson River.

A few days after December 7, the air-raid sirens sounded for the first time in New York City. I stood with my step-father looking out at the river, wondering what would happen. I was eleven, and so scared my knees shook uncontrollably. My step-father was aware that a German air-raid on New York was highly unlikely, though the Japanese had just bombed Pearl Harbor which was 3,000 miles from Japan, so a German air-raid was not out of the question. It wasn’t long, however, before the steady drone of the siren signaled the all-clear. This was the first of many air-raid drills where neighbors donned their white helmets and assumed their duties as air-raid wardens.

The city quickly adopted a wartime footing. Blackouts were initiated. The great white- way went dark. The neon SPRY and Mazola advertising signs on the New Jersey shore, across the river from our apartment, went out.

Air-raid drills were common and, like many other buildings in New York, we had buckets of sand located on each floor ready to cover any incendiary bomb that might fall on the building.

When an air-raid alarm sounded while I was at school, we would be hustled across 13th street to a large building that had been designated as an air-raid shelter to wait for the all-clear.

Rationing went into effect. Meat was rationed most strictly, though “A” stickers for cars tightly restricted the use of gasoline.

Macaroni and cheese was a common meat substitute, and became a routine main course for dinner. We also frequently had kidney stew since kidneys didn’t require many rationing stamps. As it turned out, kidney stew was very good.

It wasn’t long before U-Boats started sinking ships off the coast. Flames from burning tankers could be seen from Long Island beaches.

One of the things that has puzzled me for all these years is why a U-Boat hadn’t shelled New York City. It would have taken only a few minutes for a U-Boat to surface and pump several shells into the city. Manhattan might have been at the limit of the range of a U-Boat’s deck gun, but hitting lower Manhattan would have had an impact early in the war.

The lack of a U-Boat attack certainly wasn’t because of our naval defenses. At this point in the war, privately owned, unarmed yachts had been engaged to patrol for U-Boats along the Atlantic coast. Why New York wasn’t shelled is likely to remain one of the unsolved mysteries of World War Two.

After a few months, convoys would start to form in New York harbor. Fifty ships or so would anchor in the Hudson River as far North as the George Washington Bridge.

There would be tankers, Liberty ships and a variety of different merchantman, including old Hog Islanders. Many of the ships would carry deck cargo: Airplanes, tanks and trucks were often carried strapped to the deck.

I would go to bed at night looking out the window at all these ships lined up and down the Hudson River, and awaken the next morning to find the river empty of ships. They had slipped quietly out to sea to join a convoy headed for Europe.

War Bonds and stamps were sold everywhere, at rallies, post offices and some stores.  People were asked to donate to the war effort in movie theaters. Scrap drives to collect copper, aluminum and rubber were commonplace.

There was a constant reminder of the war, from Movietone newsreels, newspapers and radio broadcasts. There was the article in Life Magazine on how saboteurs could poison the city’s water supply. And, news articles about the spies that had been captured after landing on Long Island beaches.

Movies, such as The Fighting Sullivans, thrust the impact of the war into the nation’s consciousness. Pictures of allied aviators being beheaded by Japanese soldiers and reports of the Bataan death-march served to bolster the war effort.

Guadalcanal Diary had a huge impact on the people back home.

There was also the growing number of blue and gold stars displayed in windows.

People on the home front made sacrifices, but mostly they were inconveniences.

What they did do was go to work to support the war effort by producing the goods that would win the war.

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 Additional TSAugust web sites:

www.TSAugust.org

www.carbonfolly.com

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0 Replies to “A Glimpse of the Home Front”

  1. Even though I was younger, I remember this well from a small farming town in Illinois. We had air raid drills in grade school–eight hundred miles west of New York. For me this was the most exciting time of my life. I feel sorry for the younger generation.

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