April 2, 1949 was a significant day if you were a Londoner. Difficult to imagine, but London had been under black-out/dim-out conditions since September 1939 – almost ten years, almost five since the war was over. This episode of the BBC North America Service program London Letter, author John Connell talks about the emotional affect this blackout has had on the city and on the nation as a whole. The resuming of brightly lit signs and shop windows, starting on the evening of April 2nd was seen as finally returning to normal; that the war was indeed over. But the Black Out and its continuation until 1949 was more than just “forgetting to turn the lights back on”, it signified that Britain was going through a deep economic crisis and that continuing black-out and dim-out conditions was more of an economic consideration than a defense precaution.
Those of us in America tend to forget that World War 2 had long-lasting and profound affects on Europe; that the process of building and recovery was no snap of fingers. The devastation of some of the great cities in Europe would take years and even decades to come back to anything resembling normal. It was a constant reminder of the horrible toll war takes on the people living through it. The economic damage was severe, and in some cases, permanent. With natural resources either gone or slow to return to normal, Britain was faced with shortages. And so putting wartime restrictions into peacetime austerity was necessary. But this only served to further damage the morale of a nation trying to bring itself emotionally back together, particularly in Winter months when daylight was short and nights were insufferably long.
So the overall effect of turning the lights back on at night was symbolic, but also a psychological lifting of spirits and morale.
As a reminder, here is that talk by John Connell, given on March 23, 1949 for the BBC North America Service.