Trekking out of town to avoid Air Raids

The buses were full, men and women were walking with their baggage. Some were going to relations in outlying parts, some to shelters, preceded by their wives who had reserved them places, and some to sleep in the open. ‘Anything so as not to spend another night in there.’ Many were trying to hitch hike, calling out to every car that passed; very few stopped. This caused considerable annoyance, especially as many coaches completely empty went by.

The Women’s Voluntary Service was entirely voluntarily but featured heavily in the official response to the bombing. They distributed clothing and bedding to the homeless amongst many other functions, including feeding centres and co-ordinating information about missing people.

From mid November the Luftwaffe turned its attention to Britain’s major cities as well as London. None had been immune from bombing before but now there were large scale raids aimed at reducing whole cities to ruins, to ‘Coventrate’ them, as the Nazi propaganda boasted. Coventry gained attention as being the first but most major provincial cities suffered in the following months.

Now began the mass movement of people out of cities at night, with people seeking shelter anywhere, even sleeping in the open – ‘Anything so as not to spend another night in there’. Southampton had been the subject of devastating raids on the 23rd and again on the 30th November and 1st December. The phenomenon of ‘Trekking’, as it became known, did not feature in the weekly Home Security situation report to the War Cabinet, which merely commented with respect to ‘Morale’:

Illustrative of the general morale in cities suffering from intensive attack, on the morning after two nights’ raids at Southampton only one dock worker failed to turn up for duty.

TNA CAB/66/14/3

Independent observers recorded things differently:

Throughout Monday there was apparently a large unofficial evacuation. Two people spontaneously compared the lines of people leaving the town with bedding and prams full of goods to the pictures they had seen of refugees in Holland and Poland. Some official evacuation took place on the Monday, but at the Avenue Hall rest centre a group of fifty waited all the afternoon for a bus to take them out; the warning went when there were still no buses, and all of them went out to shelters without waiting any longer.

On Monday evening from about 4.30 onwards a stream of people were leaving the town for the night. When Mr. Andrews left the train at the docks, he was impressed by the seeming deadness of the town; there were no cars, and hardly any people except those that had left the train with him. But farther out people were moving. The buses were full, men and women were walking with their baggage. Some were going to relations in outlying parts, some to shelters, preceded by their wives who had reserved them places, and some to sleep in the open. ‘Anything so as not to spend another night in there.’ Many were trying to hitch hike, calling out to every car that passed; very few stopped. This caused considerable annoyance, especially as many coaches completely empty went by.

Trains leaving were full of women and children; many had little baggage, as if they were coming back next day. The next day many returned after the night, but more were intent on getting out. In some neighbourhoods whole streets had evacuated, most people leaving a note on their doors giving their new address; one such notice read ‘Home all day, away all night’.

Leonard England, Mass Observation report on an air-raid on Southampton, 4th December, 1940

Dealing with Incendiary bombs in Surrey

One fell in a garden four houses away. They are small magnesium and carbide bombs about 2 feet long and 2 or 3 inches wide. A small fin of alloy one end enables them to fall straight down when the basket containing them explodes in the air. There must be hundreds or even thousands of these small bombs alight around us tonight. The place was like fairyland. Luckily no material damage was done.

incendiary-bombs-poster

Incendiary bombs
Incendiary bombs that fell on a road in London. Most bombs just burst into flames but a small proportion had a delayed explosive charge which was designed to deter people from handling them.

In Britain the Blitz continued unabated. After Coventry the Luftwaffe began extending its campaign to other major cities around the country. Liverpool suffered its first major raid on the night 28/29th but this did not mean that everywhere else was quiet.

Bombing tactics called for a combination of ‘high explosive’ and ‘incendiary’ bombs. Both the Allies and the Axis forces would experiment with different combinations of the two types of bomb, looking to find the maximum destructive effect. The hoped for scenario was that, once the explosives had blasted buildings apart, fires would be started in the wreckage by the incendiary bombs.

Incendiary bombs that fell by themselves could be dealt with relatively easily, if they could be reached before they started a major fire. Because speed was of the essence in this situation the public were actively encouraged to watch out for the bombs and to deal with them directly themselves.

R.T.A. Northrop describes how hundreds of incendiary bombs fell near Epsom in Surrey:

29.11.40

Last night raiders went over London to Liverpool which was heavily bombed. The last day or two London has had a few daylight warnings each day. Tonight’s warning went about 6 p.m. and raiders came over in large numbers. About 9.30 p.m. I went along the Spinney to borrow a tin hat to wear on patrol (home guard) when 2 or more incendiaries fell.

These bombs consist of hundreds of small bombs which scatter over a large area. These scattered over the Downs up to Tattenham Corner Station including the fields adjoining the rear of our garden (Headley Drive area). One fell in a garden four houses away. They are small magnesium and carbide bombs about 2 feet long and 2 or 3 inches wide. A small fin of alloy one end enables them to fall straight down when the basket containing them explodes in the air. There must be hundreds or even thousands of these small bombs alight around us tonight. The place was like fairyland. Luckily no material damage was done.

At the time we could have read a newspaper so bright was everywhere and above the German plane was circling looking for a good place to drop his H.E. bombs. Luckily he realised that nothing was important here and flew away. Some of the small bombs exploded within 30 seconds or more of burning. The visible result from a distance was a shower of fireworks, but anyone trying to put out a bomb like this would get hurt. Later on I heard of a fellow with severe head injuries by one of these explosive fire bombs.

Shrapnel was falling everywhere and aeroplanes were passing over continuously. Saw many flares over direction of Epsom, Ewell, Sutton, Banstead and Croydon, most of which were shot down.

The following day he went out with his 5 year old son to collect the fins from burnt out bombs. His full account can be read at BBC Peoples War.

 

WRNS AT WORK. 1940, At a Fleet Air Arm Station, the Fire Fighting Squad. Using the stirrup pump on an incendiary bomb.
WRNS AT WORK. 1940, At a Fleet Air Arm Station, the Fire Fighting Squad. Using the stirrup pump on an incendiary bomb.

First night of Southampton Blitz

You could see the whole of the city of Southampton from the hill and if there was a raid it looked like dozens of vast red fans over Southampton. I found that very frightening and I was glad to be in the shelter. If in the day time there was raid and we hadn’t time to get to the shelter, my mother used to push us under the stairs.

Ruined Southampton street after the blitz
Southampton was targeted as an important industrial centre, not least the Supermarine Spitfire factory, as well as being a major port.

Coventry became notable for being one of the first large scale raids on provincial cities and towns. It was the first where, outside London, there was widespread damage caused by a firestorm conflagration. Yet other cities would suffer comparable, if not worse damage. During the Southampton Blitz the city suffered similar casualties to Coventry but over a much longer period of time.

The 23rd of September was not the first time that Southampton had been bombed but it was the first major raid. It would not be the last. There was another huge raid on the 30th November which would bring such widespread devastation that there was no water to fight the fires, which burned out of control. German bomber pilots returning to hit the city again on the night of the 31st could see the flames as they crossed the French coast. There were over 1500 air raid alarms and 57 significant bombing raids on Southampton during the war.

Stella Green was eight years old at the time of the November 1940 raid:

Our house was on a hill overlooking Southampton. If “things were quiet” as my mother said, we went to bed in our own beds. Then, if the siren went, we had to get up and go to the shelter in the garden taking our little attaché cases. We were put to bed in the bunk beds. You could see the whole of the city of Southampton from the hill and if there was a raid it looked like dozens of vast red fans over Southampton. I found that very frightening and I was glad to be in the shelter. If in the day time there was raid and we hadn’t time to get to the shelter, my mother used to push us under the stairs.

Read Stella Green’s full account on BBC People’s War.

A short documentary about the Blitz on Southampton during the Second World War, 20th June 1940 – 15th July 1944 is available on Vimeo..

A still from camera-gun film taken from a Supermarine Spitfire Mark I of No. 609 Squadron RAF, flown by by Pilot Officer J D Bisdee, as he dived on a formation of Heinkel He IIIs of KG 55 which had just bombed the Supermarine aircraft works at Woolston, Southampton. Tracer bullets can be seen heading towards the formation as Bisdee opens fire.
A still from camera-gun film taken from a Supermarine Spitfire Mark I of No. 609 Squadron RAF, flown by by Pilot Officer J D Bisdee, as he dived on a formation of Heinkel He IIIs of KG 55 which had just bombed the Supermarine aircraft works at Woolston, Southampton. Tracer bullets can be seen heading towards the formation as Bisdee opens fire.

Condor Base at Bordeaux bombed

On the night of the 22nd/23rd twenty-four heavy bombers attacked the aerodrome at Bordeaux; twenty-nine tons of high explosive and two thousand eight hundred incendiaries were dropped. The attack appears to have been most successful. Direct hits were obtained on hangars and barrack blocks, and many aircraft on the aerodrome were seen to be on fire. The hangars on the south-west side of the aerodrome were completely burnt out.

Wellington night bomber, moonlit flight 1940
This study of a Wellington bomber departing for a night time raid
was released to highlight the role of Czechoslovak airmen in the RAF.

The Focke Wolf Condor bomber was operating far out into the Atlantic, capable of attacking ships itself but also playing an important role in spotting for U-Boats. The Empress of Britain  was amongst its victims. From the Air Situation for the week ending 28th November 1940:

A total of 39 day and 414 night sorties were flown by Bomber Command during the week. In addition, a number of bombing sorties were made by aircraft of the Coastal Command. The principal features of the week’s operations have been the concentrated attacks which have been carried out against industrial and communication targets in the Cologne area, and a heavy attack on the aerodrome at Bordeaux, at which the Focke Wolf Condor aircraft are reported to assemble for operations against shipping in the North-Western Approaches. Military objectives in the Berlin area were attacked on two occasions.

On the night of the 22nd/23rd twenty-four heavy bombers attacked the aerodrome at Bordeaux; twenty-nine tons of high explosive and two thousand eight hundred incendiaries were dropped. The attack appears to have been most successful. Direct hits were obtained on hangars and barrack blocks, and many aircraft on the aerodrome were seen to be on fire. The hangars on the south-west side of the aerodrome were completely burnt out.

Night Bombing of Britain intensifies

During the week the enemy made a greater number of long-range nightbomber sorties than during any other week of the war. On the 19th/20th. approximately 500 aircraft were employed; this is the highest number recorded in operations on any night against this country. Attacks also showed greater concentration, and on the nights of the 14th/15th, 15th/16th and 19/20th heavy attacks were made on Coventry, London and Birmingham respectively; 350 aircraft attacked Coventry, under ideal weather conditions, and 340 were used against Birmingham.

A Heinkel He III Bomber undergoing maintenance –
using a captured RAF airfield crane, November 1940.

From the Naval, Military and Air Situation for the week up to November 21st, as reported to the War Cabinet:

46. During the week the enemy made a greater number of long-range nightbomber sorties than during any other week of the war. On the 19th/20th approximately 500 aircraft were employed; this is the highest number recorded in operations on any night against this country. Attacks also showed greater concentration, and on the nights of the 14th/15th, 15th/16th and 19/20th heavy attacks were made on Coventry, London and Birmingham respectively; 350 aircraft attacked Coventry, under ideal weather conditions, and 340 were used against Birmingham.

On other nights fewer aircraft were employed and the bombing was more widespread. Parachute mines are being employed in increasing numbers. During the week about thirty aerodromes have been attacked, but damage was again very small in proportion to the effort expended, though ten aircraft were severely and twenty slightly damaged at Hawarden on the 14th/15th November. At Hythe on the 17th/ 18th a civil flying boat was destroyed and two others damaged.

Civilian Casualties.

72. The approximate figures for the week ending 0600 the 21st November are 1,190 killed and 3,738 injured. Of these totals, London suffered 484 killed and 1,080 injured; Coventry, 380 killed and 800 injured; and Birmingham (with West Bromwich), 228 killed and 802 injured in the three raids.

Unexploded Bombs.

73. The number of unexploded bombs during the week was 801, 363 less than last week. The total remaining for disposal is 2,939, a reduction of 130.

See TNA cab/66/13/37

 

Christ Church, Spitalfields: Shelterers sleep against the white walls of the church crypt – November 1940.
Christ Church, Spitalfields: Man sleeping in a stone sarcophagus in Christ Church-November 1940

Leicester hit by the Blitz

Back at my house we heard a lone bomber approaching. We put in our gum shields (these were rolled up pieces of old innertube rubber) and bombs began to fall. Previous to this I had found events rather exciting (I was 9 years old) but as the bombs got closer and closer, like giant’s footsteps, I suddenly realised that above my head were the gas and electricity meters and I reasoned (in those fleeting milliseconds which felt like minutes) that if a bomb hit the house, even if we were not killed outright, we could be gassed, electrocuted, or burnt alive!

Bomb damage in Leicester following the raid of 19th November 1940.

At the beginning of the war Leicester had been considered a relatively safe location, suitable for the reception of evacuees. Now there seemed to be no part of Britain that was excluded from the danger of the Blitz:

R. E. Sperry was a fifteen year old schoolboy who recorded in his diary that he was practising his French conversation in a town centre cafe until:

Air raid warning sounded at about 7.45pm. Incendiary bombs were dropping all around Granby Street before the sirens went off. Saw terrific fires. All top story of Lulhams ablaze. Went home (i.e. to Kimberley Road) up London Road. I reached the top of London Road/Evington Road when five terrific explosions and flashes were seen over our way. All the way home I saw flashes and explosions straight ahead. After being at home some time, we (i.e. my mother and older brother, my father being a special constable was out on street patrol) went to an air raid shelter (opposite to St. Phillip’s Church, Evington Road). Many bombs dropped within a little way of it. No ack-ack fire – why not?

Later he was to recall

During those closing months of 1940 my diary entries are punctuated with the frequency of air raid warning alerts, mostly in the night hours. The German planes we could hear were invariably heading for other unfortunate targets. Our sleep patterns were of times erratic, yet the old established routine of school life did not allow even the noise and clatter of war to disturb itself more than absolutely necessary.

On the odd occasion when the sirens sounded during school hours, this respite from studies was generally welcomed. We then all trooped down into the relative safety of the musty lower regions of the school building. I must say that we felt it a little unfair when one dedicated master chose to continue the lesson even down there!

His full account is at Wartime Leicestershire where there are other stories of the same night including Terence Cartwright’s. hour by hour account:

12:30pm. Back at my house we heard a lone bomber approaching. We put in our gum shields (these were rolled up pieces of old innertube rubber) and bombs began to fall. Previous to this I had found events rather exciting (I was 9 years old) but as the bombs got closer and closer, like giant’s footsteps, I suddenly realised that above my head were the gas and electricity meters and I reasoned (in those fleeting milliseconds which felt like minutes) that if a bomb hit the house, even if we were not killed outright, we could be gassed, electrocuted, or burnt alive! It was as the explosions got nearer I felt my first twinge of fear! Thankfully, they stopped short. They had fallen a short distance away across the Green Lane Road, damaging houses and Wadkins Eng. Factory.

For more images and contemporary records see Leicester County Council.

Churchill cheered by Greek success

During the past week the force of the Italian attack on Greece has been stemmed, and the Greeks have been able to advance along the whole front. The principal opposition to their advance has been from the air, and dive-bombing and machine-gunning has considerably retarded their progress.

The funeral cortege of Sergeant John Merifield passing down a street in Athens to the English Church, where he was interred. Merifield, an air gunner serving with No. 30 Squadron RAF, was the first RAF casualty of the campaign in Greece. He was killed during the RAF's first offensive action on 6 November 1940, when Bristol Blenheims of the Squadron were attacked by Italian fighters while bombing Valona airfield in Albania.
The funeral cortege of Sergeant John Merifield passing down a street in Athens to the English Church, where he was interred. Merifield, an air gunner serving with No. 30 Squadron RAF, was the first RAF casualty of the campaign in Greece. He was killed during the RAF’s first offensive action on 6 November 1940, when Bristol Blenheims of the Squadron were attacked by Italian fighters while bombing Valona airfield in Albania.
A column of Universal carriers being cheered by crowds while passing through a Greek town, 15 November 1940.
A column of Universal carriers being cheered by crowds while passing through a Greek town, 15 November 1940.

The British had immediately gone to the assistance of Greece when Italy invaded at the end of October. In part this was following an obligation to neutral countries given in April 1939. Equally Churchill attached a special importance to the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean.

The strategic sensitivity of the region was precisely why Hitler had wanted the area left undisturbed as he prepared to assault Soviet Russia. Mussolini’s precipitate action had been intended to demonstrate to Hitler that he could act independently and successfully. Yet his forces were already facing serious reverses.

The British had limited forces that they could send to help Greece. It was all the more pleasing to discover that they were supporting a determined, and successful, Greek Army. Churchill’s Private Secretary, John Colville, recorded his reaction when he learnt of their successes. At the time a reinforced bunker was being prepared beneath 10 Downing Street:

Monday, November 18th

When I got back to No. 10 Annexe the P.M. was downstairs looking at Intelligence Reports, putting red ink circles round the names of Greek towns and chortling as he thought of the discomfiture of the Italians.

Then, after expressing to me his disgust with Admiral Somerville who let twelve Hurricanes bound for Malta take off from an aircraft carrier too soon, so that eight came down in the sea and were lost, he went to bed and slept until the Cabinet was due.

Towards dinner-time, while I was desperately coping with mountainous papers on my desk, the P.M. appeared and, bidding me bring a torch, led me away to look at girders in the basement, intended to support the building.

With astonishing agility he climbed over girders, balanced himself on their upturned edges, some five feet above ground, and leapt from one to another without any sign of undue effort. Extraordinary in a man of almost sixty-six who never takes exercise of any sort.

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

A stick of bombs falls on the port of Valona in Italian occupied Albania. RAF bombers were contributing to the Greek counter-attack against the Italians.

From the Military Situation report for the week, as reported to the British War Cabinet:

During the past week the force of the Italian attack on Greece has been stemmed, and the Greeks have been able to advance along the whole front. The principal opposition to their advance has been from the air, and dive-bombing and machine-gunning has considerably retarded their progress.

The Greeks hold the heights immediately to the East of Koritsa, and are shelling the town with mountain artillery. In the Pindus sector they have crossed the frontier in several places. In general, the mopping up of enemy stragglers appears to have been considerable, and a quantity of material has been captured, including 35 anti-tank guns with ammunition, and 20 mountain guns.

Mussolini’s dreams of a few quick military victories were rapidly proving to be no more than fantasies. The Italian senior commanders were well aware of the limitations of their forces yet were unable to stand up the the demands of ‘Il Duce’. In consequence, in almost every theatre that they engaged in, the Italian forces suffered reverses and humiliation.

An Italian Fiat CR 42 biplane fighter of 18° Gruppo, 56° Stormo, Corpo Aereo Italiano, which crash-landed at Orfordness in Suffolk during the Regia Aeronautica's only major daylight raid of the Battle of Britain, 11 November 1940. The Italian formation, comprising a dozen BR.20 bombers and their escorts making towards Harwich, was intercepted by Hurricanes of Nos. 17, 46 and 257 Squadrons. The enemy force suffered heavy losses, at no cost to the RAF, and similar daylight raids were not repeated.
An Italian Fiat CR 42 biplane fighter of 18° Gruppo, 56° Stormo, Corpo Aereo Italiano, which crash-landed at Orfordness in Suffolk during the Regia Aeronautica’s only major daylight raid of the Battle of Britain, 11 November 1940. The Italian formation, comprising a dozen BR.20 bombers and their escorts making towards Harwich, was intercepted by Hurricanes of Nos. 17, 46 and 257 Squadrons. The enemy force suffered heavy losses, at no cost to the RAF, and similar daylight raids were not repeated.

Coventry bombed – torn apart by firestorm

When eventually the ‘All Clear’ sounded we emerged and the family from Berry Street returned home. During the night a delayed action bomb had landed in their garden and during the morning it exploded destroying a block of six houses. No trace of the family was ever found.

coventry bombed
Vertical aerial reconnaissance view of the centre of Coventry, Warwickshire, annotated with bombing targets. Photograph taken prior to ‘Fall Mondscheinsonate’ (“Operation Moonlight Sonata”) the heavy Luftwaffe air raid on automotive and aircraft component factories on the night of 14/15 November 1941, which devastated the city centre.
coventry bombed
A wrecked bus stands among a scene of devastation in the centre of Coventry after the major Luftwaffe air raid on the night of 14/15 November 1940.

The ‘Blitz’ had never been confined to London alone, other towns and cities had been targeted even before the capital faced sustained assault from 7th September. But a new level in the intensity and destructiveness of a single raid was reached on the night of 14th November. Coventry was to become a byword for the potential of aerial bombing to destroy whole cities. German propaganda would later threaten to “Coventrate” other targets.

Over 500 German bombers hit the English midlands town in successive waves over the course of the night of the 14th/15th November. The Germans used pathfinder bombers, guided to the city by directional beams that the British were still struggling to disrupt. Once they had marked the target with flares a combination of high explosive bombs and aerial mines broke open many buildings and disrupted the water mains.

When incendiary bombs were added to this mix it was easier for the fires to take hold and soon a self sustaining firestorm erupted, which caused widespread devastation. Around 600 people were killed, an accurate figure was never firmly established.

Alan Wrigglesworth was a schoolboy at the time:

On November 14th 1940 the sirens sounded early and the family went down the Anderson Shelter at the rear of next door’s garden. The exceptions were my older sister who was acting as a messenger and my grandmother who refused and insisted on sitting under the stairs. My father (a veteran of 1918) at the time was on nightshift at the Alvis [works] on the Holyhead Road and had already set off on this bicycle to work.

The German Aircraft were easy to pick out on the moonlit night apart from the distinct sound of their desynchronised engines.

As the raid got worse, my grandmother was persuaded to come down the shelter and our neighbours’ relatives from Berry Street arrived to join us. Around midnight there was a thump on the roof of the shelter and the adults went outside to put out what turned out to be an incendiary bomb.

Meanwhile a stick of bombs fell in the immediate vicinity destroying a block of four houses further down the road and one in the other direction. The glow in the sky and the noise was incredible. The general feeling was that the Germans were aiming for the Admiralty Ordnance Works in Red Lane and Morris Motors at Courthouse Green.

When eventually the ‘All Clear’ sounded we emerged and the family from Berry Street returned home. During the night a delayed action bomb had landed in their garden and during the morning it exploded destroying a block of six houses. No trace of the family was ever found.

See BBC People War for the whole story. Panoramas of WWII Landmarks has some exceptional images of the Cathedral today.

For a comprehensive study of the attack see Coventry: Thursday, 14 November 1940.

UK-FLAG
US FLAG

 

The Coventry raid saw a combination of factors that would be characteristic of other especially destructive bombing attacks later in the war. Almost all of the bombers got through, unhindered by night fighters or ground defences. The attack was accurate and during the early stages hit the electricity and water mains, severely limiting the fire fighting capacity of the city.

The mixture of high explosives and incendiary bombs blew apart and set alight the old wooden buildings in the medieval quarter of the city. Once fires started they quickly developed into a self sustaining fire storm, sucking in air which created winds that spread the flames.

The raid was closely studied by the British. Not for the first time would senior RAF officers console themselves by the thought that the Germans had ‘sown the wind’. They fully expected that in due course German cities would ‘reap the whirlwind’.

After the war, when the British success in breaking the German Enigma Code was finally acknowledged, the myth grew that Britain had advance knowledge of the raid on Coventry. It was claimed that Churchill deliberately sacrificed the city in order to ensure that the secret of the breaking of the code was preserved.

The truth is a good deal more complex but it was never the case that the raid on Coventry was known about well in advance or that a decision was made to leave it deliberately defenceless, see Bletchley Park. Measures to combat night bombing were just not that well developed at that stage in the war.

The ancient Cathedral of Coventry was one of the landmark buildings destroyed. The shell of the building remains to this day as a memorial to the bombing.
coventry bombed
The 14th-century cathedral and surrounding buildings lie in ruins in Coventry, England, on 16 November 1940.

Bombing – and machine gunning of civilians

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.

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.

U.X.B.’s.

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.

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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.

A break in the Blitz on Epsom Downs

Last night was the first time for 57 nights when no air raid warning sounded. It seemed unreal. Bad weather seems to have caused this happy happening. Going to Epsom Downs station everything seemed peaceful and beautiful except for the bomb craters and heaps of chalk. I still arrive in London about 11.00 a.m. and leave about 3.30 p.m. The service is much better now and I arrive home about 5.30 p.m. in time to put up the black out and have tea before the air raid warning sounded. The weather was still bad but plenty of planes seemed to go towards London. One dropped 6 bombs nearby. We heard them whistle down.

Heinkel bomber crashed on English town
The remains of a Heinkel III bomber brought down by Anti Aircraft fire.
It smashed into houses in a town ‘somewhere’ in southern England.

Few people in Britain were unaffected by the Blitz, even though it was concentrated on London at this time. Small towns and villages a good distance from London were not immune from bombing.

R.T.A. Northrop’s diary describes how the war reached Tattenham Corner, Epsom Downs:

4.11.40 Monday

Last night was the first time for 57 nights when no air raid warning sounded. It seemed unreal. Bad weather seems to have caused this happy happening. Going to Epsom Downs station everything seemed peaceful and beautiful except for the bomb craters and heaps of chalk.

I still arrive in London about 11.00 a.m. and leave about 3.30 p.m. The service is much better now and I arrive home about 5.30 p.m. in time to put up the black out and have tea before the air raid warning sounded. The weather was still bad but plenty of planes seemed to go towards London. One dropped 6 bombs nearby. We heard them whistle down.

5.11.40 Tuesday

May (my mother) said a bomb exploded nearby at 3.30 a.m. but didn’t waken anyone else (my cousin was with us). The walk to Epsom Downs in the sun was delightful and the sky clear except for 9 Hurricanes looking for the enemy. Today USA votes for a new president – Roosevelt wins. After tea the warning sounded. A bomb dropped somewhere – perhaps on the Downs. It did not explode being delayed action.

I was on fire patrol tonight. I have just discovered that the six bombs last night fell about 100 yards away from us: one house was damaged – no casualties – and five craters in the fields (diary doesn’t say where!)

Now at 10.30 p.m. planes coming over in large numbers and guns putting up a loud barrage. I see two fires started – one Epsom way and the other Sutton way – both are soon extinguished. At 12.00 the next patrolmen come on. Planes still coming over continuously. Got to bed at 12.30 and the guns are booming away. Large numbers of shells go up at a time.

During the night we are awoken several times by either exploding bombs or shells, we are too sleepy to distinguish. At 4.30 a.m. a loud explosion rocks the very foundations of our house but afterwards discover that it was an AA (anti-aircraft I believe) shell which struck the road and exploded less than 100 yards away.

The damage was inconsiderable. A dent of about 4 to 5 inches in the road and few holes in windows, walls and roofs. Yet the 6 bombs which exploded 100 yards away last night caused almost no sound. In fact we thought they were delayed action and had not exploded.

For more of R. T. A. Northrop’s diary see BBC People War.

bomb damaged London street
A Union Flag sits proudly amongst the rubble in a bomb damaged London street, following an air raid. Ministry of Information Photographer