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Civilian morale during the Second World War: Responses to air raids re-examined

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)463 - 479
Number of pages17
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2004


King's Authors


The impact of air raids on civilian morale during the Second World War has been the subject of much dispute. Official histories concluded that the mental health of the nation may have unproved, while panic was a rare phenomenon. Revisionist historians argued that psychiatric casualties were significantly higher than these accounts suggested because cases went unreported, while others were treated as organic, disorders. Using contemporary, assessments and medical literature, we sought to re-evaluate the psychological effect of bombing. There is little evidence to suggest that admissions for formal mental illness increased appreciably, although a question remains about the incidence of functional somatic disorders, such as non-ulcer dyspepsia and effort syndrome. The fact that civilians had little to gain from hospitalization in part explained why dire predictions of mass air-raid neurosis failed to materialize. In the event, civilians proved more resilient than planners had predicted, largely because they had underestimated their adaptability and resourcefulness, and because the lengthy conflict had involved so many in constructive participant roles.

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