Bombing – and machine gunning of civilians

People sheltering from bombing

A man and woman asleep under blankets in the tube tunnel.

People sheltering from bombing

Elephant and Castle Underground Station Shelter: An Elephant and Castle platform crowded with shelterers, some resting against the stationary London Transport train.

People sheltering from bombing

Liverpool Street Underground Station Shelter: A group of men occupy their time by playing a game of draughts on the station floor.

The ‘Blitz’ had begun with the bombing attack on London on 7th September, when the London docks had been the prime target. Arguably this was a strategic target, even if many civilians had been killed. As the bombing campaign continued it became increasingly clear that Hitler’s “terrorangriff” was exactly that – a ‘terror attack’ designed to intimidate civilians. This week there were widespread reports of the machine gunning of civilians.

Alongside the war artists recording the impact on people, the Ministry Of Information was employing noted photographer Bill Brandt, later recognised as ‘Britain’s most influential and internationally admired photographer of the 20th century’. He had already pioneered a technique of using photographs to document society. In November 1940 he made a series of studies, in different locations around London, of how people sheltered from the bombing. More of his artistic work can be seen at the Bill Brandt Archive.

From the Naval Military and Air Situation for the week ending 7th November 1940, as reported to the War Cabinet:

Other Damage.

105. Bombs have been dropped on three nights in the grounds of Buckingham Palace, causing damage to the Royal Mews. Lion House, Holborn (occupied by the Ministry of Labour), Apsley House and the Naval and Military Club in Piccadilly and the Edinburgh Zoo all suffered damage.

106. Damage to house property in London has been less than in previous weeks but is still more extensive than in the provinces. The South-East towns (especially Ramsgate), Birmingham, Coventry and East Scotland (particularly Aberdeen) have received most damage, but a serious degree of damage has also been reported from Hull, Maidstone, Ashford, Luton, Boston and from a number of Home County areas, particularly Essex.

107. Police stations have been hit at Kilburn, where 25 casualties were caused, and Dover; fire stations at Poplar and Bromley; A.R.P. service premises at Bexley, Dover and Finsbury. Though several civilian shelters have been damaged, casualties have in no case been heavy.

108. Machine-gunning of villages, small towns and railway stations has been a prominent feature. Fifteen instances were reported on the 3rd November, eight on the 31st October and five on the 4th November, besides scattered incidents on other days.

109. There were no serious incidents reported from Hospitals or Schools although they sustained a considerable share of the enemy’s attacks.

Civilian Casualties.

110. The approximate figures for the week ending 0600 the 6th November were 399 killed and 1,102 in total of which London suffered 253 killed and 497 injured. This represents about half the total number of casualties for the previous week in London; in the provinces, however, while the number of deaths is about half that of last week, the total of wounded has increased from about 400 to 600. In no town outside London did casualties exceed 100, the highest provincial death roll being at Fraserburgh where over 28 were killed.

Southwest London Garage Shelter, Pimlico: People bedded down for the night next to garaged cars.

Southwest London Garage Shelter, Pimlico: People bedded down for the night next to garaged cars.


111. For the first time since intensive bombing was started the total number of U.X.B.’s remaining for disposal has sunk below 3,000. Of 2,740 remaining 488 are in London.

Morale and Civil Defence Operations.

112. The courage of people in the country as a whole remains at a high level. To this the Civil Defence Services have contributed by their efficiency and sympathy.

113. Civil Defence work has not been so arduous as in previous weeks but adverse weather conditions have made the fall of bombs more difficult for wardens to locate and have hampered rescue and repair work

See TNA CAB/66/13/15

Produced by the British Government in October 1940, ‘London Can Take It’ is narrated by American journalist Quentin Reynolds and pays tribute to London and its people during the Blitz on the capital.

The film’s huge impact at the time, especially in the USA, makes it historically one of the most important of the Ministry of Information’s wartime films.

People sheltering from bombing

Nine members of the eleven-strong O’Rourke family of St James’s Road, Bermondsey, sleep under a blanket in an air raid shelter under the railway arches, probably at Dockley Road, Bermondsey in November 1940. St James’s Road joins onto Dockley Road at right angles, so the shelter is very close to the family home.

People sheltering from bombing

A small group of shelterers knit and read the evening newspaper in this small section of an air raid shelter under the railway arches, somewhere in South East London. Makeshift beds have been constructed from crates and planks of wood. This photograph was probably taken in November 1940.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

tabgilbert November 8, 2010 at 2:12 pm

Thank you for taking the time and effort to do this. Wonderful design and format. Perfect for a quick history lesson. It is much appreciated.

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