Huge raid on London

Fire fighters tackling a blaze in Victoria Street, East London on the night of 10th/11th May 1941

The 10th saw the last major raid during the London Blitz. It was not the last time London would be bombed but it was the end of the major campaign that had started on the 7th September 1940. An especially low tide on the Thames made drawing water for firefighting difficult and there were more fires than usual. Around 1,480 people were killed. There was damage to many important buildings including the Houses of Parliament, but also to thousands of ordinary homes:

Geoff Stanfield then nine, recalls that his family had returned to their home in Barnett, North London. It was these suburbs just as much as the centre of London that lay at risk. This was just one incident from the thousands that night:

The bombing had eased somewhat by April 1941, so we came home. The grass in the garden was waist high and the five sycamore trees were even higher and made for great climbing.

On Saturday, May 10th, 1941, the biggest raid on London took place when Hitler sent over everything. For some reason, we had not gone to the Anderson shelter that night, probably fed up with all the various privations, and also things had been beginning to ease a little. We were bombed at around 11 pm. Four bombs in all; one three houses along from us, one on the allotment at the bottom of the garden and two further away.

The various blasts blew the curtains in and most of the windows out, some ceilings out and plaster came in. My sister and I, who were sleeping in a double bed in a downstairs rear room, were still asleep beneath curtains, dust and plaster etc. Dad had been in the kitchen making cocoa, and finished up amidst all the pots and pans. Mum had been standing in the doorway to our room and was narrowly missed by the front door, which was blown in. I can still smell the cordite, explosions, plaster, dust and fractured sewers etc.

We were dragged out of the house and up the front garden path, and I can remember stooping to pick up a large bomb splinter that had become embedded in the garden gate, now hanging by one hinge: I was promptly pulled away as it was still very hot, but what a souvenir to have had!

We were taken to neighbours for the night and Dad returned to what was left of the house, but it had already been looted, mostly food, but also some cutlery and cut glass. One particular piece was a wedding present to my parents from an uncle who had recently been killed. Dad pulled back the debris-covered bedclothes and went to bed, remarking that Mr Hitler was not going to deprive him of his bed.

Most of the windows were out, the grand piano was covered in glass and plaster as were the pictures and furniture, and about ¼ of the roof was missing.

Read more of this story on BBC People’s War.

The next morning John Colville, secretary to Winston Churchill, recorded his impressions of the impact on Central London:

Sunday, May 11th

I walked out into Downing Street at 8.00 a.m. on my way to the early service at Westminster Abbey. It was really a sunny day with blue skies, but the smoke from many fires lay thick over London and obscured the sun. Burnt paper, from some demolished paper mill, was falling like leaves on a windy autumn day.

Whitehall was thronged with people, mostly sightseers but some of them Civil Defence workers with blackened faces and haggard looks. One of them, a boy of eighteen or nineteen, pointed towards the Houses of Parliament and said, “Is that the sun?” But the great orange glow at which we were looking was the light of many fires south of the river.

See John Colville: The Fringes of Power: Downing Street Diaries 1939-1955.

See also West End at War.

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