Those who took charge of their nation’s destiny played pivotal roles in the outcome and procedure of the war: Britain’s Winston Churchill with his iconic cigar and poignant, motivational speeches; Adolf Hitler whose rhetoric enamoured not only his own nation, but also foreign powers; and Josef Stalin whose Red Army made for a terrific friend or foe. There was the founder of fascism, Benito Mussolini; de Gaulle whose inspiring leadership from overseas contributed to the triumph of the Free French; and of course Franklin D. Roosevelt, who led the United States from its isolationist stance to active participation in the war.
Men and women from both Axis and Allied countries joined the armed forces. While a lot has been written about each country’s servicemen and women, we have only recently had revealed to us the full extent of some people’s role in the secret services, such as those who worked so hard to break the German codes at Bletchley Park, the brave and unsung heroes and heroines of Special Operations Executive (SOE) and other undercover networks.
On the Home Front, women played a vital role in the manufacture of munitions and war supplies. They undertook work in factories and shipyards taking the places of the men who left to join the war. Images of such women were used to encourage others to join the war effort. In the United States the song ‘Rosie the Riveter’ lent a glamorous edge to this dirty and often dangerous work. In Britain, war artist Dame Laura Knight painted ‘Ruby Loftus Screwing a Breech Ring’ in 1943.
Thousands of women enlisted as nurses and served on the front lines. Thousands more joined defensive militias and in the Soviet Union they were able to join the Red Army itself. In the United States over 400,000 women joined the military but were not allowed to go into combat.
World War II affected the lives of people around the world. From those who survived the horrors of combat or imprisonment to those who found a place in the workforce, life would never be the same again.