So many couples tie the knot during July to September 1939

During July, August and September 1939 an astonishing amount of marriages were celebrated in England and Wales with 29.3 marriages per 1000 of the population. This was mirrored by similar increases in Scotland which kept separate figures. What on earth made these people get married? If you look at the months before the First World War a similar rise did not occur and it was only towards the end of 1915 that the number of marriages rose to their highest at 22.5 per 1000 population.

14 carat gold wedding rings-unavailable in most war time jewellers
Credit: By Jeff Belmonte from Cuiabá, Brazil (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Reasons why couples were choosing to get married

The feeling in the country about the risk of impending war was heightening; indeed nerves were not settled by the trial black out held in London and the South East on 10th August 1939. It was unsuccessful because a lot of tourists were sightseeing and watching the preparations at 1.30 am in the morning. It did not inspire confidence in those who thought the war could be over soon.  Some people might have brought forward their marriage date having spinster aunts from world war one who had failed to marry before their fiancée left and was killed in action. Many a bride would be making her marriage vows wondering if her new husband would be taken any time soon to fight against the Nazi German enemy. The stigma of illegitimacy was still strongly held and marriage with a husband, albeit absent seemed a better prospect that single parenthood.

The economic climate of the 1930’s which had seen 3 million people unemployed and living from hand to mouth on government hand outs forced some to forget marriage as an option and they certainly did not wish to introduce children into a starving world. A world at war would mean employment for all and a chance to improve your circumstances making marriage a possibility.

The Bridal outfit

For these pre war brides the actual wedding ceremony was the best the family could afford and arrange within short times. For those brides that waited or met their husband during the early years of the war, celebrations for the marriage were curtained by rationing.

Unless the bride could borrow a dress from her mother or another relative she had to use her points to buy a dress- it simply did not go that far and patterns that used a lot of material were banned.  Brides to be scoured shop windows and local papers for used wedding dresses so that they could mark their happy day in style. The young bride would then spend her saved coupons on a “going away” outfit so that she could  look her best with her new husband. Flowers were restricted in supply as most of the land was taken up by food production. Summer brides relied on a few flowers from someone’s garden whilst city brides often begged their green grocer for just a small bouquet.

A war time wedding breakfast

The wedding celebrations were muted and usually just involved close family of the bride and groom only. Visiting relatives were put off by travel problems  and perhaps safety issues. Brides to be were given an extra ration and when added to goods saved over the weeks and to coupons saved by those who were attending the wedding- most managed some sort of wedding breakfast, even if it was at home.

The cake was a major problem. The egg ration was at most 1 egg per person per week and butter was rationed at varying levels from 2 ounces to 8 ounces. Sugar was rationed at 8 ounces a week, so there was little left for baking. Icing sugar was virtually unheard of so war time brides often had their wedding cakes covered with a cardboard sleeve which resembled an iced cake!

A traditional wedding cake(115763)
Credit: By Bachrach44 (Own work) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What would the young women of today do?

Now in an era where marriage seems not so important, I wonder how our young women if faced in similar circumstances would be racing down the aisle in their borrowed finery enjoying perhaps one of the few happy days of a war.