Civilian Morale During the Second World War: Responses to Air Raids Re-examined

Abstract: 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 improved, 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.

Civilian Morale during World War Two: Responses to Air-Raids Re-Examined, (with Jones, E., Woolven, R. and Wessely S.), Social History of Medicine, Vol.17, No.3, pp.463-479, December 2004