Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Blitz: The diary of an air raid

When Paris fell in June 1940, Britain stood alone against Germany. Air attack became the only means to harm the enemy. At first, only German military targets were hit, but with each bomb, the definition grew a little broader: telephone exchanges, railway stations, industrial targets. If workers’ homes were hit, it was a necessary evil.
In September, Hitler gave his reply. If they attack our cities, he said, we will raze theirs to the ground – and the Blitz on Britain began. For the first time in 1,000 years, Britain’s status as an island nation could not protect it. This was an invasion from the air and civilians were the target. By Christmas 1940, people feared that something even worse was coming. It finally arrived on the night of 29/30 December.
This website gives an hour-by-hour account of what happened that terrible night, when German bombers launched their most devastating attack yet on London. This is accompanied by the words of some of those involved in the carnage, computer reconstructions and links to relevant websites and books.29 December 1940: 4pm
Four days after Christmas, on an icy winter Sunday, London is experiencing a lull in the nightly bombing raids for the first time since the Blitz began. The German planes have struck only twice in the past week.
However, at a German airfield in occupied France, the final preparations are being made for an attack that might change the course of the war. The target is London, and in half an hour, the first planes will be airborne.
That evening, the dean of St Paul’s is enjoying the relative calm. After the rush of Christmas services, there is no evensong to conduct, just the nightly ritual of preparing his cathedral for attack. He is tasked with guarding the most highly prized and symbolic target in London: the cathedral dome rising high above the city skyline.Calls to the London Fire Brigade are building an alarming picture. Fire is spreading fast and furiously through the most combustible district of the City. As well as St Paul’s, the area the German bombers are targeting is a maze of narrow alleys that is home to the press, cloth and publishing industries, with five million books stored within its streets.
Two auxiliary firefighters are dispatched to Shoe Lane, an alley just west of St Paul’s. They are some of the new recruits – writers, artists and pacifists drafted in at the start of the Blitz to support the fire brigade. Some of the 1,500 fires that night destroyed Paternoster Row and its immediate surroundings – the centre of Britain’s book trade. Quite a few well-known publishers would later rise from these ashes, including William Collins (now HarperCollins), Hodder & Stoughton (now Hodder Headline), Hutchinson (now part of Random House) and Thomas Nelson, as well as the Publishers Association and Associated Booksellers (now the Booksellers Association). The remains of the wholesale bookseller Simpkin Marshall – which lost four million books on 29/30 December 1940 – would be utilised by Robert Maxwell to form the basis of his decidedly dodgy empire. Many other booksellers and publishers simply did not survive the destruction.
Of the five members of the Feldon family who went into the shelter, only two survived: Winnie and Frederick.
My brother was lucky – he got away without being hit. He was eight years old. He'd never speak about it, what he went through. As he grew up, he was a very quiet lad. He lived on his own, he never had no friends or nothing, you know what I mean? He never said nothing about the war.


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