Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Pop History Moment: The First Night of the Blitz

When it came to villainy, few excelled like the Nazis, and the Blitz was almost* the pinnacle of their savagery; fortunately, the British were at a slightly higher pinnacle of their own at this time, and so withstood what was intended to demoralize them with considerable aplomb.

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The London Blitz - which began on this day in 1940 - eventually lasted six months, stretched through a bone-chilling winter and a sodden spring that was little better, and included at one stretch 76 consecutive nights of bombing in which Londoners of all stripe (or at least those who couldn't afford to move themselves or at least their children to the countryside), huddled in makeshift shelters and Tube stations.

And through it all they could be heard singing: pop songs or hymns, patriotic or propagandist, merry or maudlin...

So many bombs were dropped that nearly seventy years on they're still being dug up; yet casualties predicted to number a million or more, in the end amounted to just over 50,000. Certainly great swathes of the city were left in rubble but in the end many historic buildings were missed or sustained only minor damage. Most famous of these is St Paul's Cathedral, shown above during a particularly fierce firefight in December 1940 which was quickly dubbed The Second Great Fire of London; according to reports, German bombs could be heard bouncing off the dome, which is lead. Still, Sir Christopher Wren's masterpiece - like the nation that housed it - never fell.

It was Robert Davies who ultimately saved St. Paul's from total destruction, defusing a bomb which had struck the church; when the bomb was later detonated it left a hundred foot crater in Hackney Marshes. Davies, understandably, was awarded the George Cross, which was instituted by George VI during the Blitz to award the almost daily occurrences of civilian bravery which were inspired by the Blitz.

*The Holocaust, of course, being the worst.

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Seumas Gagne said...

An unexploded bomb was found in the attic of the house my Mom grew up in the 70's. Nowhere near London, mind you, but still a bomb!

michael sean morris said...

Well, the Luftwaffe bombed all over Britain, especially the east coast, so it's possible. I actually own a vase that was made from a bomb casing.

Rich said...

I've read that Hitler wanted St. Paul's spared, as the Luftwaffe used it's dome as a landmark in navigation on their bombing runs.If people were told today what Londoners went through and suffered with on a daily basis, they'd never, ever believe it.

michael sean morris said...

The Luftwaffe could just as easily navigate by following the Thames on all but the three nights of the New Moon, no matter how low the cloud cover. But opinion diverges on exactly what Hitler's purpose for England following the war was; the loudest rumour is that he planned to reinstate the Duke of Windsor as Edward VIII, although that was a short-sighted plan, since it was obvious even in the 1940s that Wallis had tumbleweeds in her vajayjay.

TheQuestionMan said...

I wonder if they considered camouflaging landmarks and building false one just to confuse them.

Might have been worth it.


Rich said...

oh Wallis Warfield Simpson! one of my all time favorite historical figures. Lord above, the movie they could make about all of HER business! hooo weee!

michael sean morris said...

They've made movies about Wallis Simpson but they weren't terribly realistic; in the most famous one she was played by Jane Seymour of all people!