DARTFORD IN THE 1940s AND 1950s
The Second World War of 1939-45 was longer and much more destructive than the First. Total war involved the same sort of disruptions in domestic social life as the conflict of 1914-18, with heavy bombing raids, the evacuation of children to safe areas, and the flying bomb and rocket attacks of the summer of 1944.
The people of Dartford were in the front line when it came to bombing raids. 150 local people were killed, 700 injured and 13,000 homes damaged as a direct result of air raids. Many local men who joined the armed forces were killed and injured. Once again, the women of Dartford went into the munitions factories. Rationing and shortages of all kinds caused hardship. Almost every aspect of daily life was controlled by government regulations.
For many, the victory celebrated in 1945 was a hollow victory. Wartime conditions persisted for years after the war ended. The newly elected Labour government in its 1945 election manifesto had pledged to create 'A Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain, - free, democratic, efficient, progressive, public-spirited, its material resources organised in the service of the British people'. Coal, railways, road haulage, electricity, gas and the Bank of England were nationalised.
Rationing continued long after the war. Basic foodstuffs were on coupons. Clothing was bought using clothing coupons. Tinned fruit and dried fruit were on one kind of points and chocolate and sweets on another. Rations fluctuated but in 1948 the people of Dartford received a weekly allowance (per person) of 13 oz. of meat, 1 1/2 oz. of cheese, 6 oz. of butter and margarine, 1 oz. of cooking fat, 8 oz. of sugar, 2 pints of milk and 1 egg. Controls were greatly reduced in 1948 and again in 1950. Clothes rationing ended in 1949.
The population of Dartford was to greatly benefit from the creation of the National Health Service which came into effect in 1948. Family allowances were paid to rich and poor alike, and most medical treatments were entirely free to everyone. Dartford's hospitals and clinics struggled to meet the huge demand for free services. The employment situation in Dartford improved enormously in the late 1940s. The construction of the Temple Hill Estate provided 1,800 new housing units for local families and in-comers.
The 1950s were a prosperous time for many Dartford families characterised by a mania for modernisation and redevelopment. Between 1955 and 1960 weekly wages rose by 25%. Some were less fortunate. Many of Dartford's young men had to undertake compulsory National Service. They were called-up to undergo basic military training and military service for a period of two years.
Youth culture began to emerge on the streets and in the coffee bars of Dartford. Teddy boys made an appearance on the streets with their own style of fashion and an arrogant disregard for authority. American rock 'n' roll music first hit Britain in the middle 1950's. Skiffle music was popular in the town. There was a significant rise in petty crime throughout Dartford. Townspeople were horrified when local youths vandalised and ransacked houses being built on the Temple Hill Estate, causing widespread damage.
The most controversial debate in the 1950s was over pollution caused by local cement works. At one stage Dartford residents sent 40,000 postcards to the housing minister asking him to solve the problem of dust pollution and contamination. Dartford Council estimated that 40 tons of cement dust were deposited per square mile in dry weather. In June 1955 the Public Health Committee called for a public enquiry into dust nuisance from cement works.