London tense as the bombing starts again

Women of the American Ambulance Great Britain wash an ambulance car of the surgical unit to pass the time between call-outs at their depot, somewhere in London.

Women of the American Ambulance Great Britain wash an ambulance car of the surgical unit to pass the time between call-outs at their depot, somewhere in London.

On a busy corner of London's Tottenham Court Road, a soldier and his companion ask for directions from a policeman. Other pedestrians go about their daily business and there is quite a lot of traffic on the road.

On a busy corner of London’s Tottenham Court Road, a soldier and his companion ask for directions from a policeman. Other pedestrians go about their daily business and there is quite a lot of traffic on the road.

19 year old George Metcalfe, a Corporal in the Air Training Corps, sits in the front row to listen to a lecture on Morse code, given to the cadets by Warrant Officer Martin after Sunday morning parade in Norwood, London.

19 year old George Metcalfe, a Corporal in the Air Training Corps, sits in the front row to listen to a lecture on Morse code, given to the cadets by Warrant Officer Martin after Sunday morning parade in Norwood, London.

Life on the Home Front in Britain still meant blackouts, rationing, shortages and many inconveniences. Nothing had really changed in a long time and it was wearing people down. The war news had at first appeared promising, with the landings at Anzio, but now that was starting to look rather worrying. At the back of everyones mind was the thought that the “Second Front” would start soon, and whatever the outcome it would inevitably mean many more casualties.

In London little had been done to deal with the numerous bomb sites, apart from tidying them up. Although there had been intermittent raids on London since the end of the Blitz in the spring of 1941, the Luftwaffe now started making regular appearances in forces – hundreds would die from bombs in the next few months.

Capturing the capitals’s mood with her usual insight and economy was Mollie Panter-Downes, writing for New Yorker Magazine:

January 30th

Londoners, normally as good-tempered a crowd of people as you could hope to find anywhere, are beginning to show the strain of these first keyed-up days of a year which by now every statesman must have hailed as one of fateful decision.

Tired bus conductresses, who have one of the most gruelling jobs on the women’s home front, are apt to bawl out passengers on the least provocation. Shop assistants snap at customers who timidly ask for half a pound of something which isn’t there, and the customers go home and snap at their families.

Naturally, a lot of the native good humor and manners is still around, but the surface impression is that everybody’s nerves are frayed. Possibly it’s the inevitable hangover of the winter’s flu epidemic, plus four years of wartime diet, but it seems more likely to be an inevitable result of simply waiting for something to happen.

The recent night in which London underwent two air raids was certainly the noisiest in months. Plenty of citizens, as their beds quaked, must have wondered if this was the answer to everyone’s question whether heavy raiding is to be expected again. The damage turned out to be nothing much, but the racket from the ground defenses was quite up to standard.

Raids or no raids, people keep on moving back into town. More and more Londoners who left during the blitz are opening up their homes again or trying to find new ones – a firm enough reply to those dark German threats of retribution any day now.

The government recently took some notice of the migration back to London by increasing the amount that anyone could spend for essential repairs from one hundred to two hundred pounds, but since it didn’t also increase the number of men with ladders and pots of paint, the process of putting an apartment messed up by the blitz into livable shape is apt to be difficult.

How newly married couples succeed in fixing up a nest for themselves, even if they find one, is something of a mystery. Most things made of linen require precious clothing coupons, and furniture, either new or in auction rooms, is selling at prices which even the dealers admit are fantastic.

The problem of getting homes and furniture has been called one of the reasons for a sudden and surprisingly sharp drop in the number of marriages — a phenomenon more gloomily attributed by the church to the chilling effect of the usual wartime increase in the number of divorces.

See Molly Panter Downes: London War Notes.

Members of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force and children are amongst those feeding the pigeons in Trafalgar Square in London. In the background, the base of Nelson's Column is covered in War Savings posters and one of the Trafalgar Square lions can also be seen.

Members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and children are amongst those feeding the pigeons in Trafalgar Square in London. In the background, the base of Nelson’s Column is covered in War Savings posters and one of the Trafalgar Square lions can also be seen.

The Home Guard: Photograph contrasting a 1940 Local Defence volunteer with a 1944 Home Guard. Both were members of 32 Surrey Battalion.

The Home Guard: Photograph contrasting a 1940 Local Defence volunteer with a 1944 Home Guard. Both were members of 32 Surrey Battalion.

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