The Ingenious Reason Farmers Painted Stripes On Their Cows During the Blitz

Photo Credit: Imperial War Museums / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Imperial War Museums / Getty Images

While facing the Blitz during World War II, British farmers resorted to an unusual and creative tactic to protect their livestock and the public from potential accidents: they painted stripes on their cows. While this might seem like a peculiar approach, it actually served a practical purpose.

Shown above is a female farmer from Essex, who’s painting her cow with white paint. While this act helped protect the animal, the stripes were primarily added to prevent the cow from becoming a major hazard during the air raids that occurred during the Blitz from September 1940 to May ’41.

Beginning on September 1, 1939, blackouts were imposed across the United Kingdom, to try and minimize the number of targets identifiable to Luftwaffe bombers flying overhead. Citizens had to keep their windows and door cracks covered, so light wouldn’t seep out.

Outside of the home, traffic and street lights were fitted with special covers, so the beams were directed toward the ground. Special wardens were also tasked with monitoring their area, to ensure residents were properly following blackout protocol.

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Overall, the practice led to many dangers, including increased crime. The primary problem, however, was that people struggled to see where they were going while driving. This is where the striped cows came in. Worried their livestock might meander onto the road during a blackout, farmers used the white stripes to ensure they were visible to those traveling with limited light.

This certainly made for a unique sight on Britain’s roadways.

Rosemary Giles

Rosemary Giles is a history content writer with Hive Media. She received both her bachelor of arts degree in history, and her master of arts degree in history from Western University. Her research focused on military, environmental, and Canadian history with a specific focus on the Second World War. As a student, she worked in a variety of research positions, including as an archivist. She also worked as a teaching assistant in the History Department.

Since completing her degrees, she has decided to take a step back from academia to focus her career on writing and sharing history in a more accessible way. With a passion for historical learning and historical education, her writing interests include social history, and war history, especially researching obscure facts about the Second World War. In her spare time, Rosemary enjoys spending time with her partner, her cats, and her horse, or sitting down to read a good book.