I’m not big on reality TV. Truth be told, I’m not too big on reality either. So when Hubs described The 1940s House (a BBC reality series from 2001) I was not exactly enthusiastic. To be honest it sounded a little depressing … just what the doctor ordered, right?
I was hooked within the first half hour.
Imagine you and your family travel back in time to 1939 London. You and your husband share a lovely home with your daughter and two grandsons in a friendly neighborhood outside London proper. In the evenings as you listen to the radio your husband smokes a cigar and plays with the grandchildren while you and your daughter knit or write letters. Life is good.
Then World War II begins and your world changes forever.
You must comply with the blackout every night. This includes either hanging blackout curtains OVER EVERY WINDOW each evening before sundown or building blackout frames which can be fit snugly into the windows and removed every morning. And remember not to open a door to the outside while lights are burning indoors!
Also required was an air raid shelter and victory garden in your backyard. The air raid shelter was delivered to your home in pieces and you had to put it together yourself, including digging a rectangular hole for it about 4 feet deep. And you got to pay for this privilege!
Food is no longer abundant, hence your victory garden. You can buy 4 ounces of ham each week, when it’s available. Sugar and honey are in short supply. You don’t know from one day to the next what the grocer’s shelves will hold. Imagine doing laundry by hand in the kitchen sink with no soap! Or bathing in mere inches of tepid water with no shampoo. And forget about cleaning the floor.
I won’t recap the entire show, it’s much more impressive to experience it for yourself if it interests you. I will say I was blown away by how genuine it was and how it impacted the Hymers family who participated. Many times I found myself in tears – empathy for the women’s struggles, sorrow for the loss of life during actual war time, joyous when victory was announced.
The series finished up by checking in with the family after they’d returned home and I was pleased to see the lessons the family took with them, including the children. This article from prior to PBS’ airing of the show in the states describes it in a little more detail and also interviewed some of the family members again. I loved seeing that the family was still positive about the experience.
On one hand it was a fascinating look into life during WWII. On the other, I’m sooooo glad I didn’t live it. I am so grateful for my washing machine!
And soap! 😀