The period between 1939 and 1959 saw major changes in the lives of the people of Wales and the rest of the world. Many international, social, political and cultural changes occured during this time that would have a dramatic impact on people’s lives for decades.
The Second World War was the bloodiest conflict in history, and it affected people on all continents. It was a global war of a kind never witnessed before or after. By the end of the conflict, it is believed that approximately 70 million people had died, most of them ordinary people who did not take part in the fighting.
At the end of the Second World War, the Cold War started, and many countries became part of powerful alliances. On one hand was the communist block, under the leadership of the Soviet Union, and on the other hand, were the capitalist countries led by the United States of America. China also played an important role in the Cold War, and at various times was an ally of the Soviet Union, befriended the USA, and then followed its own path, totally ignoring other countries. The Cold War affected countries across the world, from Europe to Asia, and from the Middle East to Latin America.
The Cold War was fought in many different ways, varying from the support of different countries, or groups within countries, in wars, to challenging other countries across the chessboard. Military alliances were formed, countries spied on each other, a psychological and ideological war was fought, there was an arms race, a race into space and a fight for technological supremacy.
The Second World War and the years thereafter was a period of great social change. During the war, security and rationing measures were introduced, and although rationing continued for nearly a decade after the war, a consumer culture developed during the 1950s. A number of large department stores opened, and the increase in hire-purchase led to an increase in the number of people who owned amenities such as vacuum cleaners, televisions, radios and washing machines for the first time.
The 1950s saw a huge increase in the number of people watching and owning a television, and by exploiting the success of cinema during the Second World War, Hollywood films and American mass media culture became more familiar and popular in Britain during the following years.
The lives of a great number of women changed dramatically during the Second World War because this was the first time many of them had left home to work. By the 1950s it was much easier for women to be accepted in the workplace, but they were still expected to get married and have children rather than develop their careers.
The period between 1939 and 1959 was also one of great political change. A National Government had ruled Britain between 1931 and the end of the decade, but in 1940 a coalition government under the leadership of Winston Churchill came to power to lead Britain through the war years.
After the war, the Labour Party led a majority government for the first time in its history, and there followed a period of great change as Labour nationalised some of Britain’s main industries. During this period, the relationship between the individual and the state changed significantly because the Labour Government of 1945 responded to the Beveridge Report by introducing a Welfare State that included health care, education, housing and national insurance.
Although the Conservative Party came to power in 1951 and ruled Britain until the end of the decade, and beyond, there was no extensive programme of privatising industries that had been previously nationalised, or any significant effort to dismantle the Welfare State.