8th March 1941. Death and Destruction.
In World War II London was the most heavily blitzed city with eighty-five major raids; Liverpool and Birkenhead and Birmingham had eight major raids.(1)
In the evening of Today in 1941 death and destruction was seen over a wide area of London with 129 killed. Buckingham Palace was hit and Barnes and Croydon Fire Brigades reported a new type of incendiary bomb which on impact threw up rockets 200ft into the air.
Liverpool Street Station, Dean Street and Cloak Lane Police Station were hit, but probably the biggest disaster was the destruction of the Café de Palais where 34 died in the basement including the singer ‘Snake-Hips’ Johnson.(2)
After the bombing of the Palace the Queen is recorded as saying, ‘I’m glad we’ve been bombed. It makes me feel I can look the East-End in the face’, though one East-Ender interviewed said, ‘at least they could go back to their roaring fires’. The monarchy wasn’t always as popular as we have been led to believe with booing being noted on their excursions to the East End.
One difference compared with WWI as noted by the Times Literary Supplement in 1942 was the apparent shortage of war poetry, though R.S. Thomas and T.S.Eliot made some amends.
Wartime painting was well represented by Leonard Rosoman (later to design stamps) who as a member of the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) was to record in paint what others were describing in other ways.
Photos of the time sum up the stoicism for example after Holland House, London was destroyed in 1940 records with three gents with trilby hats and raincoat calmly surveying the book shelves; a milkman delivering over bomb debris and bombed-out shops saying ‘Business as Usual.
We tend to overlook the companies responsible for much of the rebuilding of bomb-damaged public buildings one notable example being Mowlems involved in restorations including the Parliament Buildings (Palace of Westminster), Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace. This is not to ignore the valiant efforts made by workers from all over the country drafted into rebuilding of the devastation throughout the country.(3)
Finally as quoted by Daniel Swift in his, ‘Bomber Country: the lost Airmen of WII’ he reminds us of the different perceptions of wartime when Al Alvarez spoke, as a child in north London, that the bombed-out houses were exciting and described the ‘beauty of the debris and tangled rubble’. Children were free to roam and find adventure where they would, war or no war.
(1) Liverpool was to experience extensive bombing in WWII and its resurgence was seen in 1956 when Lord Woolton unveiled the Epstein bronze statue above the main door of Lewis’s restored store after its bombing in 1941. The bronze ’Resurgam’ signifying the rebirth of Liverpool.
The impact on smaller towns would have been relatively greater, but with less national publicity as with the Warwickshire town of Nuneaton which on May 17th 1941, suffered serious damage with 100 killed and much property damage. The area was targeted owing to its being a big munitions area.
(2) One of the casualties of the upper-class gathering was the second wife Patricia of the 2nd baron Cullin of Ashbourne who incurred serious injuries resulting in the loss of legs. Cullin served as a Major in the Royal Signals.
(3) John Mowlem was founded in Swanage in 1822.
IWM.org.uk. Shoe Lane Pic.