In recent weeks I've been looking at London during and after the Blitz. For a decade or more years after the war the city was still scarred by the damage caused by Hitler's Luftwaffe. According to many accounts, you could wander around the city well into the 1950s and still see whole rows of houses missing, their cellars exposed to the sky, tall weeds growing over the rubble. Children were able to pick and eat gooseberries from the bushes that grew on bomb sites. The country was simply too impoverished by the war to be able to afford to start rebuilding.
I came across the video above, of rare colour footage of the effects of the bombing, which includes a few London landmarks as well as Winston Churchill surveying the damage.
A few other stories and images have stuck in my mind during my research, most of them linked to my fascination with the underground. In 1941 a German bomb struck a direct hit on the ticket hall of Bank underground station, killing 57 people.
It must have shaken the public's confidence. The underground's became bomb shelters, a safe haven from the raining bombs above ground. In 1944 the air raid sirens went off in Bethnal Green and the locals started making their way to the shelter in the tube station. All of a sudden there was vast bang, like the sound of an exploding bomb, which created a wave of panic. On the narrow stairs which led to the entrance into the station someone slipped. People poured down, falling over each other, stepping on others, the human instinct to survive trumping all other. 173 people lost their lives, many of them children. The incident was reported, though the severity and the location weren't mentioned to avoid denting morale. Neither was it reported, though it was later admitted, that the bang that created the panic was the testing of a new, secret anti-aircraft gun in a nearby park and not a German bomb.
In 1940, a bomb landed on Balham High Road above the tube station, creating a huge crater into which a bus crashed. The bomb fractured a water main which sent water, sewage and debris cascading down on to the platforms below. In all 68 people were drowned and killed. Those of you who have read or seen the film adapation of Ian McEwan's Atonement will know the incident well.
During the Blitz, even well below ground, you weren't safe.