I’ve spent the last week or so working on tabulating British armed service and civilian casualties over time during the Second World War, as a means of getting to grips with telling the story of the war as a whole. Quite aside from the depressing nature of the topic – I do feel a bit like Brian in the clip above – it’s not easy: getting hold of good consistent data is hard, not least because the different services defined casualties in different ways, and the files at the PRO are often frustratingly incomplete. But I still think it’s a worthwhile project, and one that I’ll keep posting on as I work at it. When I’ve got the tables sorted out, I’ll get the QM History Dept to put them up on its research webspace.
Here’s the easy bit of it – there is a Home Office file that details civilian casualties by month. So here, to compare to Brett’s First World War equivalent, are those figures as a graph.
Here, killed is those killed outright or died of wounds, and seriously injured entails admission to hospital. Whilst this doesn’t give a day by day account, which even if I had the information would probably be too complex graphically, it does show the concentration of British civilian casualties in the winter of 1940-41, with a second bulge when the V weapons started to hit in 1944. In between those, it could be argued that more civilians were killed each year in traffic accidents than by enemy bombs (the document in which I found the Vice Chief of the General Staff making that just that argument is worth a post in itself). Looking at it quickly now, I wonder whether we can draw any conclusions from the small number of children relative to adults?
What working on all these figures – but particularly the service ones – has made me realise is just how politicised the issue of casualties was, internally and externally. I’m toying with the argument that this itself explains some of the differences between published sources for the two wars. What I want to do when I’ve got good national figures up is to compare these to the experience of individual civil and military communities.