London faces up to the ‘Mini-Blitz’

Damage in the drawing room at 10 Downing Street, London, after a bomb had fallen on Horse Guards Parade on 20 February 1944.

Damage in the drawing room at 10 Downing Street, London, after a bomb had fallen on Horse Guards Parade on 20 February 1944.

The Luftwaffe had been making efforts to bomb London in strength since late 1943. Although they never returned to the levels seen in 1940-1941, in February, March and early April they achieved a sustained programme that became known as the ‘mini-Blitz’. Hundreds would be killed, mainly in London. They helped the Nazis claim they were fighting back as city after city in Germany was hit. Yet, apart from widespread damage and casualties, the raids achieved very little and did not disrupt the preparations for D-Day.

The Germans saw their raids as retaliation for the bombing of Germany:

Vere Hodgson was, as usual, recording the effect of the Blitz on central London in her diary, as she had since 1940:

Sunday, 20th

Had a busy week. Awakened by the guns on Friday night. Had not heard the Warning. Stuck it for a bit, but as it was so noisy I hopped out of bed and into dressing gown. The whole sky was light as day, festooned with three magnicent red star flares which threw amazing colours all over Campden Hill. Shots going for the flares — occasionally little bits of them fell off and dropped like falling stars.

Old Dears all assembled on the landing below. Racket increased. My British Israelite, who is a thoroughly nice person, invited me to her window. A great red glow filled the sky as from a fire.

For an hour we hopped to and fro. Once a roar filled the air, and she called: ‘Come away — that’s a bomb.’ I did not seem to be frightened, and I can honestly say I saw it flash down — it seemed to be on N. Hill Gate. Heard some glass go, and thought it was my skylight — but still I did not worry.

Finally we decided to go up on the roof. Very cold as we climbed by the fire escape. Firewatchers were like ants below. White frost on all the roofs, and in the direction of Portobello Road there was the sound of a crackling fire. We knew it was near. Other fires round about. We well deserved pneumonia, but could not resist such an amazing sight from the roof.

We then had a cup of tea, refilled our hot water bottles and returned to bed, but it was long before I slept. Heard the re-engines clanging through the streets. Finally dropped off, thinking — Well, saved again. All felt second-rate next day.

News came of a bomb on the College at Campden Hill, where the Gibraltar refugees live. Also of a bad business in Portobello Road.

Told Miss M. that I had better go and see how was the Morris family, whom we have helped a lot. Donned my snow boots. The stalls were just going up for the Portobello Saturday Market. Morris house was intact, but poor Mrs Morris was sitting on the stairs more dead than alive. She and Ann and the other children had dragged themselves round to the Shelter. Her husband and Jimmy had stayed to watch the house. Asked her if they were cold in the Shelter. ‘Well, really Miss, I was so bad I did not know if I was hot or cold…’

For them all it had been an awful night. Great fires in a timber yard next door to a garage. Petrol had to be drawn off before they could pour water on the fire — for two hours firemen had to watch the place burn before they dare do anything. At 3 a.m. a great cheer went up as the hose began to play.

Further down an H.E. had fallen and many were killed. I penetrated further. Firemen were looking tired and grimy. Hoses lying around and fires smouldering. It was Tavistock Crescent. Saw dozens of children bombarding a burnt-out shop. It was the local Sweet shop and the youngsters were trying to salvage what they could from the mess!

Their school was burnt out. A bonny little girl spoke sadly of the shop. An invalid woman had kept it for years. Now she had lost her home and business at one swoop. Certainly it had been Portobello’s bad night.

Ealing, Acton and Chiswick all had damage. The Old Dears of my flats had been out exploring. Part of Kensington High St cordoned off — a bomb either side of Barkers or Pontings. Auntie Nell tells me that someone on her roof saw a parachutist bale out.

Midday went to St Albans; but made a mistake and took train from King’s Cross instead of St Pancras. Travelled with a weary-looking reman. Had been working all night in Wimbledon, where a Convent had received a direct hit — and rescue men were still digging out the nuns. Such a nice man — had been in the 1940 blitz on the Dock Fires. On one night 300remen werekilled.

He was just going to see his little boy, who was evacuated.

See Few Eggs and No Oranges: The Diaries of Vere Hodgson 1940-45

The Reconstruction of 'An Incident': Civil Defence Training in Fulham, London, 1942 Men of the 'heavy rescue' team are first on the scene and examine a casualty on top of a pile of rubble and debris. The job of the leader of heavy rescue is to ascertain if the damaged building is safe for other members of the emergency services to enter. Behind the men can be seen West Kensington Court, indicating that this photograph was taken on Edith Villas.

The Reconstruction of ‘An Incident’: Civil Defence Training in Fulham, London, 1942
Men of the ‘heavy rescue’ team are first on the scene and examine a casualty on top of a pile of rubble and debris. The job of the leader of heavy rescue is to ascertain if the damaged building is safe for other members of the emergency services to enter. Behind the men can be seen West Kensington Court, indicating that this photograph was taken on Edith Villas.

Also on this day, Leslie Fox, a rescue worker earned the George Cross:

The KING has been graciously pleased to award the GEORGE CROSS to:— Leslie Owen Fox, Deputy Party Leader, London County Council Heavy Rescue Service.

High explosive and incendiary bombs demolished houses and set fire to the wreckage. The walls were liable to collapse at any moment and the entire framework was well alight. Cries were heard from under the debris and Fox, without thought for himself, immediately began to tunnel his way through the blazing ruins.

Debris passed back by Fox was often too hot to handle and his men continually sprayed him with water in an endeavour to keep down the almost intolerable heat from the flames. At great danger to himself Fox shored the entrance to the tunnel, adjoining which was a very dangerous party wall.

After about two hours of very strenuous work and under the most difficult and dangerous conditions Fox located the casualty. Although in a distressed condition he would not allow a relief to take his place and continued rescue operations.

Shortly afterwards the dangerous wall collapsed, blocking the entrance and causing the tunnel to subside. Fox, however recommenced tunnelling, straining every muscle to expedite the work. After a further two hours’ work he had tunnelled 15 feet and was able to clear debris away from the head of the casualty and cover him with some sort of protection.

A Medical Officer was then enabled to enter and administer restoratives to the injured man, who was eventually brought to safety.

Fox performed his duty in a most gallant and determined manner and, by his courage and tenacity, saved a man from what appeared to be almost certain death.

As well as working in a factory and being a member of the Air Training Corps, 19 year old George Metcalfe also spends time as a fire watcher. He is on duty once every ten days, and can be seen here in tin hat and 'Fire Guard' brassard patrolling his 'beat' around Norwood, London.

As well as working in a factory and being a member of the Air Training Corps, 19 year old George Metcalfe also spends time as a fire watcher. He is on duty once every ten days, and can be seen here in tin hat and ‘Fire Guard’ brassard patrolling his ‘beat’ around Norwood, London.

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