One of the most incredible things to consider and one that is often remarked on by clients when we’re out house hunting in London, is the sudden difference in housing styles in some areas of the city. This is a legacy from WWII and as you make your way around London you’ll be struck by the fact that this was a city that suffered massive amounts of damage during the war. Indeed, it’s hard to reconcile the bustling metropolis of modern day London with the idea of blasted rubble and devastation that must have been the reality for many Londoners during the Blitz. Over a million houses were demolished and close to twenty thousand people lost their lives in London alone.
The first official raids started on the afternoon of 7th September 1940 and lasted till the 10th May 1941. Thousands of children were taken out of the city into the countryside to spare them from the bombing. Of those people that remained in the city, some risked staying in their houses, though the most popular form of shelter was the Underground train stations, with the highest recorded number of people taking refuge in there coming to 177,000 on the 27th of September, 1940. Other safety measures included full blackouts of the city, with every building having to turn out its lights as well as having cars turn down their lights too (with an obvious result of this being an upsurge in traffic accidents).
Winston Churchill was installed as Prime Minister when Germany began its invasion of the Low Countries (Holland, Belgium, Luxemburg, the North of France, etc). Under Churchill, Britain withstood the German onslaught, including the devastating bombing raids of the Blitz of 1940 – 1941. He refused to back down in the face of the threat of German, even in the early days of the war when it was only Britain actively opposing Hitler. His open defiance, popularly captured in his speeches broadcast over radio, helped to galvanise Britain in its refusal to cow to the Nazi threat. His speeches include the famous “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, sweat and tears”, his first as Prime Minister.
It was the this determination which earned him the nickname from the Russians, “The British Bulldog”. When Germany finally surrendered in May, 1945, Churchill famously told a crowd at Whitehall, “This is your victory”, to which the crowd responded, “No, it’s yours”, at which Churchill led them in a singing of Land of Hope and Glory.
The official intention of the raids was to dampen the morale of the British war efforts, perhaps, to push Britain into a state of withdrawal and surrender. Despite Germany’s efforts (and they did score quite a few significant hits during the raids) the attacks failed to lower the output of British industries and with Britain even seeing its war industries expanding as the bombing raids continued.
It’s largely assumed that Germany’s failure in its efforts against Britain came from a lack of intelligence on Britain’s industries and capabilities. Their lack of intelligence meant that they were uncertain of where to direct their attacks and as such, with bombing raids moving too quickly between areas, not enough pressure was sustained on any areas in particular. Without a sustainable, long term strategy, the German Air Command failed to make a difference significant enough to dampen the British war effort.
That said, there were still some thoroughly terrifying displays from the Germans. One attack on the City of London on 29th December, 1940, saw a fire going up, big enough that it earned the title ‘The Second Great Fire of London’, in reference to the large fire of 1666. The end of this raid saw the virtually total destruction of the historical centre of London.
In spite of this campaign of terror, many Britons maintained the practice of their daily routines. So habituated did many become to the attacks that despite, hearing air raid sirens and the imminent threat of bombing raids hanging in the air, they would defiantly carry on with what they were doing. Cases include audiences at cinemas remaining obstinately in their seats even as the war they watched on the big screen was waged outside the cinema.
One rather interesting aspect of the legacy of the Blitz is how its effects can still sometimes be seen in the city. For example, you’ll sometimes see sections of the city where the type of housing can change markedly in an instant, with uniform housing suddenly becoming more modern housing. This is a direct result of the bombing, which saw whole rows of houses taken out by raids while leaving a lucky few standing. Once you’re settled in the city, take a day off, perhaps take a guided tour, and if you look carefully, you’ll see scars of the war that are still with the city after nearly 70 years, and even more signs of the resilience of Great Britain.