Friday, 15 July 2011

The Pen is Mightier........

A blog of this nature, although we try to be comprehensive and accurate in the subjects covered, cannot compete with the depth of knowledge and sheer detail that goes into many of the books written on the Second World War.

Such books began to appear immediately the war was over and continue to be written to this day. As someone who guides Blitz-related walks around London and as a Blitz-related blogger and writer, I am often asked what books I would recommend to someone starting a wartime library or to someone who has even a passing interest in the subject. Both Neil and I are very careful to add a ‘Published Sources’ footnote to our blog and whilst our articles are by no means a ‘cut and paste’ job, we are always very aware of the work that goes into producing any piece of writing and are happy (and proud) to acknowledge our sources and inspirations.

Therefore, in answer to the oft asked question, here are my thoughts on the very best of Second World War writing. By its very nature, such a list is subjective and I would welcome the comments of our readers as to their favourites.

As can be imagined, many books were written once the Blitz was over and in the immediate aftermath. These books are still of tremendous value, although some of them are written in the style of their time which can sometimes be seen as politically incorrect and were also written at a time when some of the secrets of the war were still to be revealed.

Of books written whilst the war was still in progress, Front Line 1940-41, published by HMSO in 1942 is a remarkable pictorial study of the Blitz which was issued as a tribute to Britain’s Civil Defence services. Probably the best of the contemporary histories is Carry on London! written in 1941 by Ritchie Calder, who wrote for the now defunct newspaper The Daily Herald and later became Science Editor of the also long disappeared News Chronicle. He was also the father of the author and historian Angus Calder, of whom more later. As might be expected, it is written in a journalistic style and concentrates on the trials, tribulations and triumphs of the ordinary people.

Of the books written in the immediate aftermath of the war, easily the best written in my opinion is Westminster in War by William Sansom and published in 1947. During the war, Sansom was a full time London firefighter, serving initially in the Auxiliary Fire Service and later the National Fire Service, who had several close calls, especially on 29th December 1940, when he narrowly avoided being buried by falling masonry on the night the City of London was firebombed. Well qualified to write on his subject, Sansom became a full time novelist, short story and travel writer post-war and this book stands up well to this day.

Specific raids have also been well covered; The City That Wouldn’t Die by Richard Collier, published in 1959 concentrates on the last night of the Blitz – 10th/11th May 1941 – and is written in a compelling style as befits a journalist with the Daily Mail amongst other publications. Collier skilfully selects various participants, both on the British and German sides and follows their stories through this night of nights. Blitz, by M J Gaskin, is a much more recent addition to the ranks of the publications, not appearing until 2005 and covers the night of 29th December 1940, the great fire raid on the City of London and is written in a similar style to Collier’s book, concentrating on the stories of many of those involved during this raid, cleverly interweaving their stories. Margaret Gaskin wrote this book because she was initially puzzled why so much of the history of the City of London was seemingly punctuated by the recurring date of 29th December 1940 and simply wanted to get to the bottom of the story, which she has done supremely well.

Of general histories of the Blitz, there are several that stand out; Backs to the Wall by Leonard Mosley published in 1971 deals with the general subject pretty well and uses the by now tried and tested methods of concentrating on specific people who were involved and following their stories through the war. This is a fine book but suffers, in this writer’s opinion due to the author’s political viewpoint clouding his judgement occasionally. For example, he accuses Lord Alanbrooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, of being out of touch with the situation in London. This is patently incorrect; Alanbrooke was based in London throughout the war and although his job dictated periodic absences, he was well aware as to what was going on and suffered losses amongst his own friends and family during the war. Out of touch he wasn’t! London at War 1939-45 by Philip Ziegler and published in 1995 is a masterful study of life in London not only during the Blitz, but during the war in general and as such grasps the atmosphere of London during this period very well.

However, in this writer’s opinion the best of these ‘general’ histories is The Blitz by Constantine FitzGibbon, first published in 1957 and which remains a magisterial piece of work. FitzGibbon was a well known novelist and historian who had previously written an account of the attempt on Hitler’s life, so was well qualified to write this history. It is supremely well-written and contains some of the best personal accounts of various incidents, known and lesser known. The illustrations by Henry Moore also add a touch of class to this wonderful book.

Another general history, this time of the Battle of Britain, The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood with Derek Dempster and first published in 1961, remains a valuable chronicle of the Battle of Britain. The Battle is viewed on a day-by-day basis, detailing the actions, participants and captures well the cut and thrust of the battle for the survival of this island. The organisational detail of both RAF Fighter Command and the Luftwaffe, together with the stories of the personalities and equipment used makes this a fascinating publication. An updated and illustrated version of this book was released in 1990 which takes into account many of the 'Ultra' secrets which could not be mentioned when this book was first published.

Many social histories of the ‘Home Front’ have been written. In this writer’s opinion, Angus Calder, son of the aforementioned Ritchie is the writer of two of the best books on the subject, The People’s War published in 1969 and The Myth of the Blitz published in 1990. Don’t be put off by the title of this latter book; this is in no way a revisionist work and Angus Calder is not a debunker. As he explains in his own introduction, he doesn’t use the word ‘myth’ as if exposing lies, as does one particularly forgettable book on the subject (that Calder refers to but which I will not do the honour of advertising) but rather re-examines already known facts and looks at the whole event in a rational manner, whilst at the same time reminding us that the Blitz wasn’t just about cheeky, salt-of-the-earth cockneys taking Hitler’s worst on the chin (which they actually did surprisingly often) but was also about looting, road accidents, official incompetence and the general effect on the British people, as well as how this period is portrayed in films, for example. As for The Myth itself, as Calder himself points out, it still holds true as London did survive as did the majority of Londoners without becoming gibbering wrecks.

Many companies and organisations published war histories and some of these are surprisingly interesting and well-written, mainly because the bigger organisations were able to commission first rate authors to write these histories. War on the Line published in 1946 and written by Bernard Darwin is a history of the Southern Railway during the war and although the Southern covered a vast area of Southern England from Dover to Padstow, London features prominently within its pages and includes some fascinating personal accounts from railwaymen and women of the time. London Transport at War, originally published in 1946 as London Transport Carried On and written by Charles Graves covers the story of London’s buses, trams and tubes through the wartime years and again, contains some very good personal accounts as well as being very well illustrated. It slightly glosses over the initial difficulties caused by the tubes not being originally made available as shelters but since the book is an official history written just after the war, perhaps this can be forgiven.

There have been many biographies have been written about the personalities involved during the Blitz and the Battle of Britain. Vincent Orange has written two excellent biographies of the leading RAF protagonists of the Battle of Britain; Dowding of Fighter Command is an honest and well written account of the ‘Father of Fighter Command’ whilst the simply titled Park is a biography of Sir Keith Park, the head of 11 Group, Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain and the man who was aptly christened ‘The Defender of London’ by the Germans of all people. It tells the story well of the jealousies and in-fighting within the RAF that was to lead to the dismissal of this wonderful man shortly after the Battle's conclusion but who was later to mastermind similar victories in Malta and later in the Far Eastern theatre against the Japanese.

So many books have been written about Winston Churchill, it is impossible to mention them all here. In my opinion, the best of them for sheer depth of research is Martin Gilbert’s voluminous biography Winston S Churchill of which Volume Six: Finest Hour 1939-41 published in 1989 extensively covers the Blitz period. An altogether easier to handle work on the great man is Churchill by Roy Jenkins published in 2001. This book covers the whole of Churchill’s life but there is a lengthy chapter on his Premiership during the Second World War.

There is one other book which does not really fit any of the above categories, such as they are and which goes to prove that Blitz Walking is nothing new. This book is called simply The Lost Treasures of London and was written by William Kent in 1947 when the Blitz was still very fresh in people's minds. It is a wonderful little book which consists of a series of walks through London linking those buildings, the treasures of the title, which were destroyed during the Second World War. William Kent's narrative vividly describes what was lost and when this occurred. It is beautifully illustrated and gives a startling insight into the London that might still have been had it not been for the intervention of Hitler and his Luftwaffe.

As has been mentioned earlier, this selection of books is very subjective and is certainly not exhaustive; when one has a library of over 200 books on the subject of the Second World War, of which a large proportion cover the Battle of Britain and Blitz periods, it is difficult if not impossible to mention all of them, save for presenting them in an uninspiring list but hopefully the above will give a good idea as to what to look out for. Some of the older books are now quite rare but given a bit of detective work and trawling of the internet, it is usually still possible to pick up most, if not all of the books referred to without costing a King’s Ransom.

There are many, many other fine pieces of writing, both old and new on the subject which have not been mentioned here due to the constraints of space but as mentioned earlier, I'd love to know your favourites on the subject.

Books referred to above:

Front Line 1940-41 - HMSO 1942

Carry on London! - Ritchie Calder, The English Universities Press 1941

Westminster in War - William Sansom, Faber & Faber 1947

The City that Wouldn't Die - Richard Collier, Collins 1959
Blitz - MJ Gaskin, Faber & Faber 2005
Backs to the Wall - Leonard Mosley, Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1971

London at War 1939-45 - Philip Ziegler, Sinclair Stevenson 1995
The Blitz - Constantine FitzGibbon, Macdonald 1957

The Narrow Margin - Derek Wood with Derek Dempster, Tri-Service Press 1990

The People's War - Angus Calder, Jonathan Cape 1969

The Myth of The Blitz - Angus Calder, Jonathan Cape 1991

War on The Line - Bernard Darwin, Southern Railway 1946

London Transport at War - Charles Graves, Almark Publishing 1974

Dowding of Fighter Command - Vincent Orange, Grub Street 2008
Park - Vincent Orange, Methuen 1984

Winston S Churchill, Volume 6 Finest Hour 1940-41 - Martin Gilbert, Heinemann 1989

Churchill - Roy Jenkins, Macmillan 2001

The Lost Treasures of London - William Kent, Phoenix House 1947

Friday, 8 July 2011

Dr Carrot, Potato Pete and Making do and Mending

Today, in 2011 after 66 years of peacetime and with fewer and fewer survivors of the wartime years to tell us about it first-hand, it is easy for us to look back upon those times with a certain amount of bewilderment at the way things were done in wartime London and the manner in which Londoners conducted themselves and to make comparisons with today's capital city.

For example, with an almost complete lack of private motoring, the general public were far more reliant on public transport than today; bus services especially, were hard pressed and could be few and far between, even in central London. Despite all this, Londoners queued patiently for their bus and woe betide anyone who tried to barge their way to the front. Compare this behaviour with the rugby scrums that pass for bus queues today!

In 2011, recycling is back in fashion. Quite rightly, people are being urged to save their waste paper, glass, tin cans and all manner of other refuse for re-use. Despite post war complacency, when society became increasingly 'throw away' in it's outlook, we are becoming all too aware of the finite resources of our planet and the urgent need to recycle and re-use our precious raw materials. In 1941, this need to recycle and re-use was even more urgent but for somewhat different reasons. Then, as now, we were a nation dependent on international trade but in 1941 shipping shortages were becoming acute due to the German U-Boat menace; raw materials could not be relied upon to be imported in sufficient amounts for use other than in war production, so 'Make-do and Mend' became one of the catch phrases of the day. Waste of anything could not and would not be tolerated. Everything, but everything was re-used, whether it be waste paper, glass, timber, rags, metals and even waste food which was 'recycled' for use in feeding pigs. Today, the recycling message hasn't hit home with everyone yet, although things are improving. Once again, we have a long way to catch up with our counterparts of 70 years ago.

Which brings us to rationing. We will explore rationing, not just of food but of petrol, clothing and much else, in a future blog entry but rationing was brought in during wartime as a means for providing fairness in ensuring that what supplies were available could go around to all who needed them. The coupon system worked surprisingly well and although there were cheats who tried to buck the system, the vast majority of the populace saw the common sense and fairness of the system and patiently waited their turn in the queues for food. Some foodstuffs, like eggs, became incredibly rare whilst others, such as bananas and lemons became almost non-existent. What rationing did encourage however, was the need to become as self-sufficient in food as possible. Everyone with a garden or with access to an allotment grew vegetables. Every scrap of land was converted to food growing - even prestigious open spaces such as Hyde Park had large areas given over to food production and the upshot of this campaign to 'Dig for Victory' was that by the end of the war, this country had halved the figure of 55 million tons of food that had previously been imported annually prior to the outbreak of war.

As can be imagined, 70 years ago, there was nothing like the variety of foods available that we are accustomed to today. Foods were seasonal and people were encouraged to make the best of what was available. Lord Woolton was appointed the Minister of Food and in a series of brilliant campaigns, encouraged the British people to use what they had and even had a vegetable based pie named after him. Characters such as 'Potato Pete' and 'Dr Carrot' made frequent appearances in various advertising campaigns extolling the values of these and other vegetables, which could be grown cheaply and easily.

As mentioned previously, there was a 'Black Market' and certain goods could always be purchased 'under the counter' if one had sufficient money or knew someone 'in the know.' Even 70 years on, this writer finds it hard to hide his disdain for people who cheated the system and not only did this but were proud of it. When one thinks of the huge dangers that British and Allied merchant seamen faced in bringing their cargoes through U-Boat infested waters, it is doubly hard not to feel utter contempt for those who cheated the system. The novelist and former Royal Navy officer Nicholas Monsarrat perhaps described it best:

"Petrol-wanglers, like traitors, merit a special hell. Probably enough has been written about the hazards of bringing an oil tanker across the Atlantic, and the fate of the ones who don't make it, to establish the background and impress it on the dullest mind. None of it has been exaggerated: tankers are dynamite, and their crews are heroes of a special quality.

What then, is one to make of people who licence their private cars as taxis, in order to get extra petrol coupons; who obtain additional petrol to go to church on Sunday and then don't go: who drive hundreds of miles to a race meeting already served by special trains: who treat petrol as if could be got from a tap? What sort of men are they? Stupid? Incurably selfish? Traitorous? Do they feel clever when they've got their extra whack? Does it give them a sense of power to know that men, foolishly valorous, have fought and perished in hundreds, just to keep their cars ticking over sweetly? Once again, ten such men are not worth the skin of one of the man who dies for them."

Even 68 years after these words were written, it is hard to disagree with them, especially when one knows that the author saw the sacrifices made by the merchant seamen and their naval escorts first-hand.

Some readers of these writings over the past year or so might think that this writer harbours a secret desire to have lived in the London of 70 years ago. Perhaps surprisingly, this is not so; I am happy to live in the present day and enjoy our rebuilt, vibrant city and to enjoy a rationing free life but perhaps if we could adopt some of the values and courtesies of those Londoners of 70 years ago and combine them with the fruits of their victory that we enjoy today, then maybe London would be a more pleasant place in which to live.

Published Sources:

Backs to the Wall - Leonard Mosley, Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1971
East Coast Corvette - Nicholas Monsarrat, Cassell 1943
London at War 1939-45 - Philip Ziegler, Sinclair Stevenson 1995
London Transport at War - Charles Graves, Almark Publishing 1974

Sunday, 3 July 2011

An Unlikely Hero

As we have discovered already in previous entries to this blog, heroism and heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Just occasionally, somebody emerges that fits the image of the classic, square jawed 'Boys Own' hero but more often than not, heroes look just like ordinary people - for that is the what heroism essentially is all about - ordinary people performing extraordinary deeds.

Stanley Barlow (pictured above) was just such a man. In May 1941, he was a 35 year old newly qualified accountant who was Post Warden of Air Raid Warden's Post D2 in the Borough of St Marylebone in London. This post was located in the basement of the Royal Institute of British Architects' Building in Weymouth Street, just off Portland Place. Barlow had already demonstrated considerable moral courage, when he had taken on a Nigerian law student by the name of 'Sam' Ekpenyon at a time when the attitude of some Londoners towards black people were very different to the accepted norm of today. Sam was the son of a Nigerian chieftain whose story is one worth telling in it's own right and we shall hear more of him later.

To return to Stanley Barlow, it is fair to say that both amongst his subordinate wardens and in his working life, he was respected rather than liked and indeed, his wardens had nicknamed him 'The Fuhrer' behind his back. This would not particularly have bothered Barlow as he wanted results rather than popularity. What his wardens did not know and which possibly would have changed their attitude towards him, was that Barlow beneath his seemingly calm exterior, was a nervous wreck. He had supervised rescue work in New Cavendish Street on 'The Wednesday', April 16th 1941 and as a result of the grisly scenes he had encountered, even the banging of a shutter in the wind on an otherwise silent night had sent him rushing for cover and digging his fingernails into his palms to stop him from screaming out. Today, it is clear that Barlow was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress but in 1941, people were expected to pull themselves together and get on with it, which is just what he did.

In the early evening of 10th May 1941, Barlow was on duty and was engaged in checking the members of a new shift on duty; Sam Ekpenyon was one, Winnie Dorow, a young Jewish tailoress, Annie Hill, who worked at a clothes wholesaler, Charlie Lee, a mechanic, Joan Watson, a hairdresser and full time wardens Jim Grey and Eileen Sloane, as well as many others. The differing backgrounds and occupations of the wardens was reflected right across London and indeed the whole country. It was the task of people like Stanley Barlow to mould these diverse groups of people into effective teams.

When an air raid was not in progress or an alert hadn't been sounded, the wardens had to settle down and play the waiting game. Some would play darts and others card games but there were other mundane tasks to complete as well. For Barlow on this night, it meant checking one of the local shelters where some bunks had been damaged and also to check out a report by a local woman that her Austrian maid had been sending smoke signals to the Germans!

There was also the task of performing the nightly census; this basically meant checking the neighbourhood to see who was sleeping where and to know which properties were occupied in the event of a raid and whether the Rescue Squads would be required to attend in the event of a direct hit on a building in the area. Barlow himself led by example - even on a non-raid night, he would be out on his rounds on and off until dawn, He would check and double check each street, road and mews in his area and being an accountant, he would keep notes and knew exactly who was in which building; something which would stand him in good stead later that night.

Fate would decree that this night would not be a non-raid night; at 11 p.m., the sirens sounded the alert. A big raid was building and had been tracked for some time as the bomber force built up and crossed the Channel coast. The Knickebein guidance beams were fixed on London, so there was no doubt as to where the raid was heading. There was also a full moon - the so called 'Bomber's Moon', so as the sirens wailed most Londoners stoically headed for the shelters and braced themselves for another night in which they and their city would face the worst that Hitler could throw at them.

For Stanley Barlow and his wardens, along with countless other Civil Defence workers across London, taking shelter was not an option; in fact this was where all the training paid off and where all the hours of waiting for something to happen became worthwhile. At the sound of the sirens, Barlow hurried back to Wardens Post D2 and passed two of his wardens, Charlie Lee and Winnie Dorow leaving the Bay Moulton pub in Great Portland Street; he had promised to meet them for a quick one but had forgotten all about it. As he returned to the post, he called out to them that he would make good tomorrow.

In the meantime, the night of May 10th/11th 1941 was proving to be a big raid. The trend recently had been for the raids to get heavier and less localised and tonight was no exception. This raid was affecting the whole of London, already the docks had been hit yet again and the area around the Elephant & Castle was starting to be deluged with incendiary bombs, the intensity of which had never been seen before. It was soon to reach Wardens Post D2.

It was 12.25 a.m. on the morning of May 11th and despite the rumble of bombs and anti-aircraft gunfire towards the east, St Marylebone itself was still untroubled by bombs. Barlow had sent his wardens out on another patrol and Sam Ekpenyon was performing his usual 'lucky charm' act by looking in on shelterers in his area - some of them reckoned his dark skin lucky and wouldn't settle down for sleep until he had looked in on them. Barlow himself was about to set off on his own rounds to check on the Shelter Marshalls when at 12.36 the whole Wardens Post shook as if by an earthquake. Seconds later, Warden Johnnie Noble came sprinting into the Post to impart the terrible news that Great Titchfield Street, the Bay Moulton pub and the Rest Centre next door to it had been hit. Barlow ran to the scene to find it looking like a battlefield and thought of Wardens Lee and Dorow who he had last seen leaving the pub for the Rest Centre. Barlow felt that they must have had no chance so was pleasantly surprised to find Charlie Lee at a First Aid Post receiving treatment. His pleasure was short lived as he also spotted Winnie Dorow lying still in the street, almost as if sleeping. Barlow knew better and gently placed a blanket over her.

As he walked back to Post D2, Barlow began to experience his old fears - would his nerves allow him to get through the night, or would he crack? Barlow drove himself on and soon after 1 a.m. went out on another patrol with Annie Hill, who was one of the few who knew of Barlow's fears and admired this man who fought his fear. As they left the Wardens Post and rounded the corner into Hallam Street, Barlow saw what he thought was a light shining at the top of the tower of the Central Synagogue which straddled the block between Hallam Street and Great Portland Street. Perhaps a careless individual had left a light burning - there would be hell to pay for them if this were the case but as he drew closer, he realised that the roof was on fire and that the incendiary bombs had ignited a gas pipe. Barlow knew from his meticulous notes that fourteen people would be sheltering in the basement and leaving Hill to deal with a shocked and hysterical woman that they had encountered, ran alone to the synagogue.

Across the road in Yalding House, a tenement block with a basement shelter, Sam Ekpenyon had also seen the fire in the Synagogue and sent a report back to Post D2. He had stayed put and as the shelterers felt the blast from another nearby bomb and began to bolt towards the exit, this giant of a man blocked their way and refused to let them out. His calm, assured presence did the trick and the shelterers not only stayed put but began to join in community singing led by Ekpenyon himself.

Meanwhile, Barlow reached the entrance to the synagogue basement only to find it blocked by a huge fall of rubble. Using his tin hat as a makeshift shovel, he clawed away at the rubble to eventually break through and crawl into the basement. He found the shelterers, amongst them Mr and Mrs Roth, the caretakers and began to lead them out through an alternative exit that led into Great Portland Street. He led the men out first, as they were coherent and responded to his instructions. Mrs Roth was almost paralysed with fear and he had decided to return for her and lead her out alone so as not to hold up the rest of the group. As he got the men out, he went straight back into the now blazing building, found Mrs Roth again and began to lead her out. Just as they were nearing the exit, a large part of the roof fell in on them. By this time another warden saw all this happen and felt sure that Barlow must have perished. Nonetheless, this un-named warden sprinted back to Post D2 and called for help.

Inside the synagogue, Barlow was very much alive and shortly after the warden had rushed off to report his probable demise, Barlow had in fact broken through into the street, somewhat singed but still with Mrs Roth firmly in his grasp. He found another warden, Arthur Fayers and sent the party off in Fayers' charge to another shelter for medical attention. Incredibly, Barlow himself went back into the burning building to see if anyone else remained inside. Now though, shortly after re-entering the building for the third time at 1.45 a.m., the whole of the roof fell in on him. Amazingly, he survived this too and scrambled out through a side exit further down the road. Barlow saw rescue workers milling about the entrance but it didn't occur to him that they were in fact, looking for him. Meanwhile, he noticed that 143-149 Great Portland Street, a car showroom, was also ablaze and his memory told him that there were fire watchers stationed here.

He charged down the stairs into the basement and found that the three men were in a badly shocked state and had also been cut by flying glass. To make matters worse, the cars stored here were on fire and Barlow had to lead the first two men through this deadly obstacle course to get the men safely out into the street. Once again Barlow returned inside and eventually led the third man to safety, although by this time Barlow felt a strange sensation in his ankles. It later transpired that his rubber boots had begun to melt and fused his woollen socks into a sticky mess. This party of stunned and terrified survivors were ushered to a nearby First Aid Post. Back in the street again, Barlow saw yet another building, Hallam House on fire and once again instantly knew how many people were inside. This time there were fifteen; fortunately thirteen of them had managed to escape by themselves but Barlow went inside the rubble strewn building and using his tin hat once again to scrape a way through, managed to free the remaining two survivors inside twenty minutes.

For the next two hours, Barlow organised a bucket chain of wardens and fire watchers to keep the walls of the buildings adjoining the blazing synagogue cool. His energy was amazing - this quiet man had performed extraordinary deeds; even more extraordinary considering that some of his colleagues thought that he was dead!

Back at Wardens Post D2, Eileen Sloane, who had been left in charge by Barlow, was in despair. Some four hours previously she had received a report that he was buried inside the synagogue and had heard nothing since. The next thing she was aware of was the image of Barlow, who was covered from head to foot in white dust. Sloane was one of Barlow's few close friends and their friendship had been the talk of the post. Upon seeing him, she broke down and cried.

At 5.52 a.m. on Sunday 11th May 1941, the 'All Clear' had sounded. London was a city licking it's wounds, which were grievous indeed. This raid had been the heaviest of the entire Blitz but mercifully, although Londoners were not to know this right now, it was also to prove the last as Hitler, despite the entreaties of his Luftwaffe commanders, decided to turn his attentions eastwards, towards Russia and the promise of lebensraum for the German volk. Despite this, Goering and Sperrle wanted to continue to attack London. Two thirds of the Luftwaffe was to remain in the western theatre but Hitler was having none of it. Unwittingly, and not for the first or the last time, the incompetent 'military genius' that was Adolf Hitler had done his enemies a huge favour.

If he were to have known the havoc wrought in London, he may have had second thoughts. Fourteen hospitals had been hit, fifty percent of London's telephone circuits were broken, twenty Fire and Ambulance Stations were out of action, the Port of London was down to a quarter of it's capacity, 605 water mains were broken, 71 key war production factories were knocked out, 8,000 roads were rendered impassable with rubble and every main line railway station was out of action as were all through rail routes across the capital. In addition, some 155,000 people were without water, gas or electricity on this grim Sunday morning. This was destruction on a scale that London had never seen before, or thankfully, since. The value of the damaged caused was £ 20,000,000 at 1941 values but even this staggering sum cannot cover the human cost. A series of raids on this level would have had serious repercussions indeed and Churchill ordered the emergency services to draw up plans accordingly. The general opinion was that two more raids of this intensity would leave London at a standstill.

It never happened. Apart from conquering his own demons, Stanley Barlow deservedly was awarded the George Medal for his incredible acts of bravery on this night of nights. Amongst the public, the attitudes of Londoners towards their German counterparts hardened noticeably after this raid. When the RAF began plastering German cities later in 1941 and early in 1942, the general feeling was one of wreaking revenge - a revenge which was to be terrible in it's intensity.

Today, thanks to a remarkable find of home movie footage donated to Westminster City Council's archives, we can see Stanley Barlow, Sam Ekpenyon and the other wardens of Post D2 in colour footage. Check out this link to see this evocative footage.

Published Sources:

The City that Wouldn't Die - Richard Collier, Collins 1959

Westminster at War - William Sansom, Faber & Faber 1947