London – V2 rockets add to misery of cold Home Front

A war artists impression of a V2 being launched during the amphibious assault on Walcheren island on the 1 November 1944, with HMS warspite bombarding German positions.

War Artist Stephen Bone’s impression of a V2 being launched during the amphibious assault on Walcheren island on the 1 November 1944, with HMS Warspite bombarding German positions.

It might well appear that the war must surely end soon but in Britain, and in London in particular, there was no sense that the war was ‘winding down’. When the weather was cold the shortages of fuel became very apparent, and the rationing of food and clothing was still very much in force. The constant threat of the V2 rocket – explosions were going off all over London at random times – exacerbated the general war weariness.

The government was doing its best to keep the V2 threat as quiet as possible (to deny the Germans intelligence about where they were landing) and there were minimal reports in the local press. There was no warning of a V2 hit – suddenly houses and people were obliterated. The risk might not appear to be very high – ten V2 rockets had fallen on London on the 27th January – but it was nevertheless an ever present threat.

George Beardmore was a housing officer in Harrow in north London, responsible for rehousing those who had been bombed out amongst other responsibilities. He also felt a keen responsibility for his wife and two young daughters, which no doubt affected his apprehensiveness:

28 January, Sunday

We are suffering, here at home, the worst period of the war. We are all — all of us, at the office, in the shops, and at home — weary of war and its effects. Intense cold has arrived (my feet at this moment are resting on a hot-water bottle and the panes are frosted over) with snow, ice, hail, and sudden clashes of thunder that go to make the illusion that we are on the Russian front.

The V2 rockets also help the illusion. Four mornings in succession they have woken us up — not bangs so much as prodigious muffled explosions which resound in all quarters at once, reverberating for about ten seconds. The blast is upon us before we know it, blowing out curtains, rattling doors, and doing its usual trick of jolting up the loft trap-door. Well, trap-doors can be put back into place, so I don’t grumble, or try not to.

At 4. a.m. yesterday one landed on the fringe of a spinney on Stanmore Common. I inspected it in the line of duty, the usual crater as big as a room with felled trees pointing outwards from it, like a small-scale meteoric crater in Siberia. The nearest houses (well-to-do) had ceilings down and windows caved in and rows of fluttered tiles. ‘Fluttered’ means that for five seconds or more they are jerked up by blast with the result that when they fall back again they either shatter or are displaced.

No casualties, thank heavens, and not much damage otherwise. The fright that it caused was out of all proportion.

Gas and electricity are cut off at times but so far not in Harrow. Potatoes are scarce. Coal and boiler-fuel also. By this I mean that we do a vast amount of scheming and worrying to obtain these things. I should not like to add up the number of fruitless expeditions I have made in the search for paraffin.

On my rounds, when I see a queue of people with cans outside an ironm0nger’s, I make it my business to hurry home and fetch our cans and join ’em. Owing to these endeavours we have not so far run short of our creature comforts. But Mrs Amos next door looks pinched and half-starved.

The Russian winter offensive has brought their armies to within a hundred miles of Berlin. The German fronts are closing in — Upper Silesia, for example, is in Russian hands, while all East Prussia, hotbed of German militarism since Frederick the Great, and for all I know earlier, is only waiting for the coup de grace before it capitulates.

As I read of Germans working with pistols on their desks, of German refugees being ordered off the roads, of German evacuees riding back to safety on the buffers of railway-carriages, of German towns and villages being razed — I remember the machine-gunning of Canadian prisoners after Dieppe, our own Hampden Road bomb when the air was full of feathers from mattresses and housewives were screaming, the Lublin Castle tortures — yes, and Anthea wrapped in shawls because of the cold waking up to wail when the Stanmore rocket fell.

Snowflakes are falling although the sun has been trying to bore a hole through the snow-clouds. Jean is just hurrying outside to put the stove on in the Shelter before returning Anthea to her nest of shawls in the dining-room, while Victoria, her head full of the Primary School she has begun to attend, sits on the hearth-rug rattling her beads and marbles about on a tray and saying: ‘Now, I Want all Junior Mixed on this side, please.’

And here I sit with a dressing-gown over my clothes writing about them.

See George Beardmore: Civilians at War: Journals, 1938-46.

During the war only ten V2 rockets landed in the London Borough of Harrow, yet the looming threat was all too evident even in this borough, which was way down the list of those most affected. For those living in Croydon (141 V2 explosions), Wandsworth (122) and Lewisham (114), the top three boroughs, the ‘sense of fright’ must have been even harder to deal with.

British newsreel telling the story of the Battle of the Bulge, being shown in cinemas at about this time:

Large swathes of London were still bomb sites from the earlier blitz. The destruction around St Paul's Cathedral caused by  air raids on London is softened by a heavy dusting of snow. A mobile crane and truck can be seen at work to clear up some of the debris.

Large swathes of London were still bomb sites from the earlier blitz. The destruction around St Paul’s Cathedral caused by air raids on London is softened by a heavy dusting of snow. A mobile crane and truck can be seen at work to clear up some of the debris.

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