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.
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.
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.
Sometimes even these 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.
You have all seen big fires, but I doubt if you have ever seen the whole horizon of a city lined with great fires - scores of them, perhaps hundreds.
There was something inspiring just in the awful savagery of it.
The closest fires were near enough for us to hear the crackling flames and the yells of firemen. Little fires grew into big ones even as we watched. Big ones died down under the firemen's valor, only to break out again later.
About every two minutes a new wave of planes would be over. The motors seemed to grind rather than roar, and to have an angry pulsation, like a bee buzzing in blind fury...
Into the dark shadowed spaces below us, while we watched, whole batches of incendiary bombs fell. We saw two dozen go off in two seconds. They flashed terrifically, then quickly simmered down to pin points of dazzling white, burning ferociously. These white pin points would go out one by one, as the unseen heroes of the moment smothered them with sand. But also, while we watched, other pin points would burn on, and soon a yellow flame would leap up from the white center. They had done their work - another building was on fire.
-Ernie Pyle, American war-correspondent
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.
You can have little understanding of life in London these days. There are no words to describe what is happening. The courage of the people, the flash and roar of the guns rolling down the streets, the stench of the air raid shelters.
In three or four hours people must get up and go to work, just as though they had a full night's rest free from the rumble of guns and the wonder that comes when they wake and listen in the dead hours of the night.
At dawn Londoners come oozing out of the ground, tired and red-eyed and sleepy. I saw them turn into their own street to see if their house was still standing.
No one can avoid being impressed by the patience and calm determination of these people who dwell in little houses. This morning Mr. Churchill walked through the East End after a heavy raid. The people cheered him. He said, "They act as though I bring them a great victory." And there were tears in his eyes.
-Edward R. Murrow
London: The City that Shaped the World
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As far as I am aware this project is the first of its kind to focus on Then and Now photography around the world. I am hugely excited to continue expanding the site so that eventually it includes cities, towns and battlefields from across the globe, giving people everywhere the opportunity to better appreciate the history that surrounds them.
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