Blog City

The London Blitz

A Defiant City

In the Summer of 1940 Britain stood alone against Germany. Her leaders expected an invasion any day and her capital was bombed relentlessly for months. Even after the threat of invasion passed the V-1 and V-2 flying bombs wreaked havoc on London. In all there were over 28,000 civilian deaths in London alone, not to mention the tens of thousands injured and hundreds of thousands left homeless. Yet people found a way to carry on. The British 'stiff upper lip' became renowned around the world as people slept in shelters under German bombs and still got up to go to work every morning, often picking their way through rubble and bodies. This determination and spirit of shared sacrifice made victory all the sweeter when the war ended, paving the way for the creation of the modern social welfare state in which Britons hold so much pride. This is the final installment of a four part series looking at London's turbulent history up to 1945. The Then pictures are courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, while I took the Now photos in January 2015.

Then and Now Photos

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Another shot of the bus that drove into the crater at Balham tube station. .

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During bombing even the most secure of places became deathtraps. On 14 October 1940, a bomb crashed into the road above Balham Tube station, seen here. It caused the roof of the platform to collapse on the heads of the civilians sleeping there, bursting the water mains and flooding the station. At least 64 were killed. Here's a bus that crashed into the crater being hoisted out.

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A German bomb has penetrated into Bank Station in central London after a particularly heavy air raid.

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The London Fire Brigade battles blazes on Queen Victoria Street on the night of May 10. This was the heaviest air raid of the Blitz, the last before the bulk of the Luftwaffe was diverted to the east for Operation Barbarossa. The destruction of water mains in many areas deprived firefighters of the means to combat the flames. On that single night 1,486 Londoners were killed, though this horrifying toll would pale to insignificance beside the casualties of the Allied firebombing of German cities only two years later.

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Here we see the Marble Arch in Hyde Park has also been covered in posters, reminding Londoners to invest in Britain's war effort.

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George Rance changing the weather in the Churchill Bunker underneath Whitehall. George Rance managed the intensely secretive operations in the bunker. Many of the staff would spend days or weeks underground coordinating Britain's global war effort without seeing the light of day. "Windy" was the tongue in cheeck way of notifying the bunkers staff the Germans were bombing London.

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Anti-aircraft positions sprang up all over the city. Here we see Clapham Common has been converted into a military encampment with a battery of 3.7 inch AA guns at the ready. On the right we can see a unit of WACs training.

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East African troops take time off their duties to be tourists in London. A salvation army volunteer is showing them Buckingham Palace. Britain could count on men and women from across the empire to support her war effort.

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To escape German bombs thousands of Londoners slept in tube stations. Here we see sleepers on the platform of the Elephant and Castle station.

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The famous statue of Eros in Picadilly Circus has been removed and the pedestal covered with sandbags to protect it from bomb blasts. London's experience of aerial bombardment in the First World War meant the city took no time in preparing for a second onslaught.

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Led by an honour guard of sailors and high-ranking officers, the funeral cortege of First Sea Lord Sir Dudley Pound leaves the Horse Guards Parade.

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Girls leave their lessons at the Royal Academy of Music in Marylebone.

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Deputy First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Chas Kennedy-Purvis inspects the Admiralty Company of the Home Guards at the Horse Guards Parade.

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The Windmill Theatre, the only one in London to remain open throughout the Blitz, as the "We Never Closed" sign reminds us. Londoners fought to maintain whatever semblance of normalcy possible despite the almost nightly air raids.

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Despite the carnage and destruction people went about their daily lives. Here's a shot of busy Oxford Street, with a man waiting for a bus at Wardour Street Stop.

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Another shot of Oxford Street. It's busier than you would expect in wartime, but compared to the traffic today it looks positively tranquil. The famous Selfridge's Department Store can be seen on the right.

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Traffic leaves Trafalgar Square past the National Gallery. This is from a series of photos created by the government to remind people around the world that life continued in London despite the Germans' best efforts to disrupt it. "London is still London."

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Members of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force feed pigeons in front of a poster-plastered Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square.

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Two Polish pilots stroll through Picadilly Circus. Men and women from all over occupied Europe also came to Britain to continue the fight against Germany, most notably the Poles and the Free French. By 1942 London was home to nine different governments in exile.

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This vehicle is collecting books as part of the Supply Directorate's campaign to rebuild libraries destroyed by bombing. The photo was taken behind the Senate House.

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Victory in Europe Day on May 8 caused a spontaneous outpouring of celebration on the streets of London. Here confetti falls from rooftops onto Davies Street.

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In confetti strewn streets people celebrate the surrender of Japan several months after VE Day, and the end of the Second World War. Nelson's Column can be seen in the background.

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Eager crowds await Winston Churchill's announcement of Japan's surrender just outside Downing Street in August 1945. After six years of war the bombing, the death and maiming of soldiers, sailors and airmen, the thousand wartime deprivations, had come to an end.

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