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"THE RESCUE" - 1855

"THE RESCUE" - 1855

July 18, 2005


The London Fire Brigade - along with brigades in other parts of the U.K. - provided heroic service during World War II, particularly during the German "Blitz" of 1940-1941 as well as the ``buzz bomb'' and rocket attacks of 1944-1945.

The Blitz - the deadly aerial bombardment of London - started Sept. 7, 1940 and ended May 15, 1941. At one point Hitler's bombers dropped their fiery payloads for 57 consecutive nights, incinerating vast areas of the city.

The V1 flying bomb and V2 rocket attacks in the closing days of the war were just as deadly, though the damage was more concentrated. The ``V'' in German stood for Vergeltungswaffe - translated as "Reprisal Weapon."

``Hitler expects to terrorize and cow the people of this mighty city,'' Prime Minister Winston Churchill said. `` Little does he know the spirit of the British nation, or the tough fiber of the Londoners.''

The 1940-1941 raids on London were a part of the Battle of Britain, Hitler's plan to destroy the Royal Air Force in advance of an amphibious invasion. The RAF prevailed, of course, and German ground forces never made it beyond the lightly protected islands in the English Channel.

In that first raid on Sept. 7, 1940, the German's unleashed the fury of their bombers on London's waterfront - from the rum quay warehouses at the West India Docks to the Commercial Surrey Docks and its vast store of lumber. Other industrial targets, such as the gas works and the Ford Motor Co. plant, burned as well.

``Send all the bloody pumps you've got ... The whole bloody world is on fire!'' Station Officer Gerry Knight told the London fire alarm office, according to Paul Ditzel's book ``Firefighting During World War II.''

World War II claimed the lives of more than 300 London area firefighters. The roll of the dead included 10 men who perished when No. 16 station in West Ham took a direct hit on Dec. 8, 1940. The firefighters were getting ready to answer an alarm when their station was flattened, according to Ditzel's book.

Churchill called the firefighters "Heroes with grimy faces.'' Today, a memorial dedicated to all the men and women of the wartime fire service stands opposite of St. Paul's Cathedral, which the fire brigade saved from the flames.

London wasn't alone in the suffering.

The web site of National Museums Liverpool said of the city's ``fire bobbies:''

The Liverpool Fire Brigade, the Auxiliary Fire Service and the Liverpool Salvage Corps were in the front line of rescue work during the Blitz. Although short of men and supplies, they were greatly assisted by volunteer fireguards and firewatchers. Over 100 other fire brigades from as far as the Midlands and London also helped with crews and equipment when needed.

Fire cover

According to the London Fire Brigade web site:

As the shadow of another war darkened over Europe, the Government passed an Act setting up an Auxiliary Fire Service which, when the war came, saw AFS members and regular firefighters stationed together all over London.

Enemy raids on London did not start until the late summer of 1940 and during the winter months their intensity grew nightly. Thousands of men and machines were called in to deal with the fires and cope with the devastation. The reputation of the service was greatly enhanced during the Blitz and Sir Winston Churchill, in one of his famous speeches, dubbed the firefighters 'the heroes with grimy faces'.

In the early stages of the war, the Government, realising the importance of a unified firefighting force throughout the country, made emergency provisions for a National Fire Service and this came into being on 18 August 1941.

In Greater London, the separate brigades were formed into a single Regional Force, divided into five and later four Fire Forces. In 1943, Major Frank Jackson, the man who had directed the Blitz campaign, retired and was succeeded by Mr Frederick Delve, later knighted, a former Chief Officer of Croydon.

There was far less bombing in the city after the NFS came into being but, when a short series of heavy raids happened in 1944 followed by flying bomb and rocket attacks, the service again found itself at full stretch.

At the end of the war, plans were made for a peace time service and it was decided that the brigades could best be run by Counties and County Borough Councils. A big 'split' came on 1 April 1948. A major benefit gained from the war was the introduction of new national standards in such matters as ranks, badges of rank, hose couplings, terminology, drills and training.

May 10-11, 1941

The German raids of World War II claimed the lives of 327 firefighters serving in the London region - members of both the regular and auxilary fire services. Another 3,000 London firefighters suffered serious injuries. (More than 1,000 firefighters died across the United Kingdome during the war, including London's losses.)

Many of the fire service casualties occurred on May 10-11, 1941 - perhaps the worst night of the blitz. (The Germans abandoned the bombardment four days later, in part because of the fierce British resistance and the need for air cover for Hitler's invastion of Russia. But raids on London and other cities continued for the duration of the war.)

Divisional Officer Geoffrey Blackstone - in command of firefighting in the Elephant and Castle District of South London on May 10-11 - contended with broken water mains, burnt hose lines and firefighter casualties, including a direct hit on a pump that killed its crew, according to the Time-Life book ``Battle of Britain'' by Leonard Mosley.

Blackstone recalled:

The stuff was beginning to drop. Quite a lot of it. I soon began to realize that this was a bit heavier than anything we had before. For a time we havd the awful exasperation of lots of firemen, lots of pumps, lots of fires - but no water. Then a water unit arrived, which carried up to two or three miles of folded hose. It dropped a canvas dam and made its way to the Thames near Westminster Bridge. Four lines of hose were laid out waiting for water.

Here was a most disappointing sight. Fires were showering embers onto the hose which was lying flat without water, burning it and charring it so that when the water arrived it would be wasted.

As usual the decision had been made to let certain buildings burn out and concentrate on what seemed worth saving. For some reason the Elephant and Castle pub seemed to have some symbolic value. This magnificent piece of old London stood on a sort of island site in the middle of the six-road junction. I had a sort of urge to save it and perhaps wasted precious water and mainpower on it.

The fireman at the control point in the middle of the circus said, `Cor, sir, what a wind - just our luck!' It was a perfectly still night, but the hot air rising from all the fires around was sucking cool air into the circus so that sheets of newspaper, sparks and burning rags were flying through the air around us.

More than 1,400 Londoners perished on the night of May 10-11. Among the dead, 22 firefighters on Blackstone's fire ground alone; a total of 36 across the city.

Viewing the tarpaulin covering the bodies, the divisional fire officer counted eight pairs of leather boots, which were issued to London's regular firefighters, and 14 pairs of rubber boots, which were issued to the city's auxilliary firefighters, according to Mosley's book.

``You are all equal now, mates,'' Blackstone said to himself.

V1 and V2 attacks

The air raids tapered off until 1944-1945 and when the Germans hurled V1 ``buzz bombs'' followed by V2 ballistic missiles. The V1 was an unmanned aircraft that carried explosives. It fell to earth when its fuel was exhausted. The V2 was a precursor to Cold War-era missiles.

According to the web site "HOLNET - The History of London:"

When people heard a V1 come over, what they dreaded the most was the terrible noise cutting out because this meant that the flying bomb was about to come crashing down to earth. All you could do was dive for cover and hope that the engines had not cut out directly above your head. Londoners called them 'buzz bombs' or 'doodlebugs' after a New Zealand insect.

The first hint of a V2 attack would be the tremendous blast.

Both proved to be deadly weapons.

``At one place, we had to use saucepans and tin baths to pick up the remains,'' according to a firefighter quoted in Neil Wallington's book ``Firemen at War.'' ``I've never seen such sights, either on battlefields or during the worst of the previous blitzes.''

The first of the V1s were thought to be crashed airplanes. But there was no sign of a pilot. The government tried to disguise later V2 missle attacks as ``gas line explosions.'' Londoners became suspicious as the number of ``gas line explosions'' escalated, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill was forced to inform his public of of Hitler's secret weapon.

The deadliest of the V2 attacks on London occured Nov. 25, 1944 at a Woolworths in New Cross. It was the Saturday lunch hour. The variety store was teeming with women and children.

According to the Woolworths Virtual Museum:

Workers from the town hall were hurrying home after collecting their pay packets. Women and children were out shopping to put a little something by for Christmas.

And Woolworths was packed out. Word had got around that the Company had received a rare shipment of a hundred and forty four tin saucepans. Servicemen in uniform queued alongside housewives and pensioners all hoping that they would be lucky.

Suddenly, with no warning at 12.26pm, a V2 rocket hit the centre of the roof of Woolworths in New Cross Road, Deptford. After a moment's complete silence the walls bowed, and the building collapsed and exploded. In the ensuing hours local people helped the emergency services to lift the rubble by hand, and as it cleared the full horror was evident. 168 people dead, customers and colleagues, 122 passers-by injured and just one survivor.

Female firefighters

During the war, women also joined the fire brigade, serving a dispatchers, motorcycle messengers and drivers.

Gillian "Bobbie" Walton Clarke signed up for the auxiliary fire service in 1939 as a driver, according to the BBC. Clarke was 20. In 1941, she was awarded the George Medal for her bravery in a ceremony with King George VI.

Recalling her service on the 60th anniversary of the end of the war, she said:

I was with the fire brigade in London - I was stationed at Dockhead in Bermondsey. I went there as a driver - there were two of us and we drove the station officer wherever he wanted to go. But as soon as I was 21, I put in for a heavy goods licence and passed (and delivered fuel during the raids). We used to carry two gallon tins and filled up the trailer pumps with petrol - we had to keep the pumps going. ... You could hear the bombers, but you just got on with it. If you are going to be killed, you are going to be killed and that's all there is about it.

A number of female firefighters died in the line of duty protecting London. Many others were injured protecting the city.

St. Paul's Cathedral

Nothing was sacred to the German air force, not even St. Paul's Cathedral.

The bombers struck cathedral in central London but the fire brigade miraculously saved it from destruction - a symbol of the British determination to win the war. Today, "The Blitz," a sculpture depicting the firefighters, is the centerpiece of the London Firefighters Memorial in the churchyard.

According to the BBC:

During the Blitz in September 1940 raiders dropped a landmine which lodged beneath the south-west tower of St Paul's. As Winston Churchill had declared that 'the cathedral must be preserved at all costs' every effort possible was made to save it. It took two demolition engineers three days to dig out (a feat which won them the George Cross) and when it was detonated on Hackney Marshes it made a crater 100 feet across.

In December the same year the dome caught fire during a raid and the Cathedral fire watch quickly dealt with it. Another incendiary burnt through the roof and fell inside where it could be smothered safely.

American war correspondent Ernie Pyle witnessed the bombardment:

The greatest of all the fires was directly in front of us. Flames seemed to whip hundreds of feet into the air. Pinkish-white smoke ballooned upward in a great cloud, and out of this cloud there gradually took shape - so faintly at first that we weren't sure we saw correctly - the gigantic dome of St. Paul's Cathedral. St. Paul's was surrounded by fire, but it came through. It stood there in its enormous proportions - growing slowly clearer and clearer, the way objects take shape at dawn. It was like a picture of some miraculous figure that appears before peace-hungry soldiers on a battlefield.

Euston fire station

The web site of the Euston Fire Station, maintained by retired station officer Mick Pinchen, provides a glimpse of the wartime fire service:

Euston, in common with the rest of the Brigade, was allocated a number of sub stations; crewed by AFS, (Auxiliary Fire Service), personnel. Each sub station was given a prefix letter such as U, W, X, Y and Z. During the ‘Blitz’ the St Pancras and Somers Town districts were particularly hard hit due to the proximity of the three main line railway stations and their adjacent goods yards.

On the night of April 16th / 17th 1941 a German land mine was dropped on flats in Pancras Square, Pancras Road. It landed in the courtyard between a surface shelter and the flats; thus the explosion had maximum effect for out of 200 people 77 were killed and 52 seriously injured, (today the site is covered by flats called the Chenies). Other premises hit by mines that night, on what was to become known as ‘The Wednesday’ were Oakley Square and Leake St, the latter damaging the bridge at Kings Cross. St Pancras Hospital was hit and incendiaries started fires at Malet Place, Tottenham Court Road, the Express Dairy Tavistock Place, Aldenham St, Diana Place, Acton St, Euston Rd, Stanley Buildings, and the BMA Tavistock Square.

On February 9th 1945 a V2 rocket exploded on the front of the Presbyterian Hall, Regent Square, where a conference was being held. Several dozen people in the hall were killed along with others walking in the street and in adjacent houses. The bodies were taken to the ARP mortuary in Medburn St. One of the last V2's to fall on London destroyed the Whitfield Memorial Church in Tottenham Court Road on 25th March 1945; thirty five people on the premises being killed and injured.

Supreme sacrifice

More from Euston's web site:

During an air raid during the night of 16th September 1940, District Officer Joseph, 'Toby', Tobias, attached to North Division HQ Euston, was killed whilst directing operations at a large fire in Great Portland Street. Whilst these operations were in progress, the crews were subjected to further bombing and one of these fell on Euston's Turntable Ladder, (TL), killing Fm Thomas Curson and Fm Albert Evans. Other personnel were severely injured. Station Officer Edward Morgan, (73 Euston), took charge, and was later awarded the BEM for his part in this fire.

In fact Morgan was a highly decorated officer being awarded the George Medal, (originally recommended for the George Cross), for the rescue of a woman from a blazing basement during a heavy air raid on the night of 29th/30 December 1940 at 51 City Road. He was later awarded the King’s Police & Fire Service Medal for Gallantry for the rescue of a family from a flat at 34 Ampthill Square on 3rd March 1941.

Enemy action claimed the lives of other Euston fireman. On 30th December 1940 Fm Frank Hurd died from injuries sustained at a fire in West Smithfield. During the night of 17th April 1941 Fm Harry Skinner and Fm Stanley Randolph were both killed fighting a fire in Upper Woburn Place j/o Tavistock Square. Fm Arthur Preece died in hospital from the cumulative effects of firefighting on 21st July 1941, Fm Henry Thornton died on 31st December 1946 from the injuries he had sustained whilst fighting a fire at Starcross St School in July 1943, and Fm Maurice Share was killed on 15th August 1940 by enemy bombing whilst off duty.

Following the outbreak of war in 1939, those firemen who had been regularservicemen, and were subject to Reserve service were recalled to the Colours. Euston firemen Eugene McCarthy and Charles Carr were two suchpeople, both of whom were killed on active service. McCarthy was killed on 24th May 1940 whilst serving as a sergeant in the Welsh Guards during thedefence of Boulogne, and, Carr was killed whilst serving as a sergeant withthe Staffordshire Yeomanry in Germany on 24th March 1945.


Independent - Sept. 29, 2000

From `London: The Biography' - By Peter Ackroyd

It began with attacks upon outer London. Croydon and Wimbledon were hit and, at the end of August, there was a stray raid upon the Cripplegate area. Then, at 5pm on 7 September 1940, the German air force came in to attack London: 600 bombers, marshalled in great waves, dropped their explosive and high-incendiary devices over east London. Beckton, West Ham, Woolwich, Millwall, Limehouse and Rotherhithe went up in flames.

"Telegraph poles began to smoke, then ignite from base to crown, although the nearest fire was many yards away. Then the wooden block road surface ignited in the searing heat," reported one observer. "The fire was so huge that we could do little more than make a feeble attempt to put it out. The whole of the warehouse was a raging inferno, against which there were silhouetted groups of pygmy firemen directing their futile jets," said another. One volunteer was on the river itself, where "half a mile of the Surrey shore was ablaze... burning barges were drifting everywhere... Inside the scene was like a lake in Hell." In the crypt of a church in Bow, "people were kneeling and crying and praying. It was a most terrible scene."

The German bombers came back the next night, and then the next. The Strand was bombed, St Thomas's Hospital was hit, together with St Paul's Cathedral, the West End, Buckingham Palace, Lambeth Palace, Piccadilly and the House of Commons. Truly, to Londoners, it seemed to be a war on London. Between September and Novem- ber, almost 30,000 bombs were dropped upon the capital. In the first 30 days, almost 6,000 people were killed, and twice as many badly injured. On the night of the full moon, 15 October, "it seemed as if the end of the world had come". In those first days of the Blitz, as they saw the German bombers advancing unhindered by anti-aircraft fire, many Londoners feared they were witnessing the imminent destruction of their city.

The earliest reactions were mixed and incongruous. Some citizens were hysterical, filled with overwhelming anxiety, and there were several cases of suicide; others were angry, and stubbornly determined to continue their ordinary lives even in the face of extraordinary dangers. Some tried to be jovial, while others became keenly interested spectators of the destruction around them - but for many, the mood was one of spirited defiance. As one anthropologist has put it, the records of the time reveal "the perkiness, the jokes, the songs" even "in the immediate and garish presence of violent death".

It is difficult fully to define that particular spirit, though it is clear that Londoners made a deliberate effort to seem unafraid, and that this self-control may have sprung from an instinctive unwillingness to spread the contagion of panic. After all, what if this city of eight million people were to regress into hysteria? Instead it was the "calmness, the resigned resolution" which most impressed those coming from outside. One of Winston Churchill's wartime phrases was "business as usual", and no slogan could be better adapted to the condition of the city in the autumn of 1940.

The attitude of self-sufficiency was often accompanied by an element of pride. "Everyone absolutely determined," wrote one observer, "secretly delighted with the privilege of holding up Hitler." There was, according to another, "a strange lightness of heart". Londoners were proud of their sufferings, in the same way that earlier generations claimed an almost proprietorial interest in their noxious fogs. London firemen claimed that half their time was spent in dispersing crowds of spectators rather than fighting the conflagrations.

There are other images of those early months. One was of the blackout that plunged one of the world's most brilliantly illuminated cities into darkness. It became once more the city of dreadful night, and aroused sensations in some of almost primitive fear. As one of Evelyn Waugh's characters notes, "Time might have gone back two thousand years to the time when London was a stockaded cluster of huts." Of course, there were some who took advantage of the darkness for their own purposes, but for many the predominant sensation was one of alarm and insufficiency.
The lure of shelter under the ground raised fears that London would breed a race of "troglodytes" who would never wish to come to the surface. The reality, however, was both more stark and more prosaic. Only 4 per cent of the population ever used the London Underground for night shelter, largely on account of the overcrowded and often insanitary conditions which they would have found there. In implicit compliance to the tradition of London as a city of separate family dwellings, most citizens elected to stay in their own houses.

And what might they have seen when they emerged at daybreak 60 years ago this month? "The house about 30 yards from ours struck at one this morning by a bomb. Completely ruined. Another bomb in the square still unexploded... The house was still smouldering. There is a great pile of bricks... Scraps of cloth hanging to the bare walls... A looking glass I think swinging. Like a tooth knocked out - a clean cut." Virginia Woolf's description registers the sensation of almost physical shock, as if the city were indeed a living being that could suffer hurt. The following month, October 1940, Woolf visited Bloomsbury, where she passed a line of people, with bags and blankets, queuing at 11.30am for a night's shelter in Warren Street station. In Tavistock Square she found the remnants of her old house - "I could just see a piece of my studio wall standing: otherwise rubble where I wrote so many books..."

It was remarked at the time that upon everything lay a fine coat of grey ash, prompting comparison between London and Pompeii. The loss of personal history was another aspect of the city bombings; the wallpaper, and mirrors, and carpets were sometimes stripped bare and left hanging in the air of a ruin as if the private lives of Londoners had suddenly become public property. This encouraged a communal feeling and became one of the principal sources of the bravado and determination.

The Second World War also created a climate of care. It became a question of saving the children, for example, by a process of mass evacuation from the city to the country. In the months preceding the outbreak of hostilities on 3 September 1939, a policy of voluntary evacuation was drawn up to deal with the movement of approximately four million women and children, yet the curious magnetism of London then began to exert itself. Less than half the families wished, or decided, to leave. Those children about to be sent to reception areas in the country departed reluctantly; and when they arrived in the country they felt quite out of place. Then, within a few weeks, they began to return home. By the winter of 1939, approximately 150,000 mothers and children had come back; by the early months of the following year, half of the evacuees had made their way back to the city. One described it as "a return from exile".

In the summer of 1940, when the German forces began to conquer Europe, another attempt was made to remove the children, those of the East End in particular. One hundred thousand were evacuated; two months later, 2,500 children were coming back each week. It represents the strangest, and perhaps most melancholy, instinct - the need to get back to the city, even if it becomes a city of fire and death. The curious fact, even during the air raids themselves, was that the children proved "more resilient" than the adults. They seemed to revel among all the suffering and privation. In Watson's Wharf, off Wapping, a gang of children congregated under the name of the "Dead End Kids". They were the unofficial fire fighters of the East End. Dressed in cheap clothes, and split into sections of four, they had iron bars and a hand-truck as well as sand buckets and spades to assist them in their work. They roped in time bombs, and tossed them into the Thames; they carried the wounded away from incendiary scenes. As one witness reported, on an intense night of bombing: "In a moment 10 boys rushed up the stairs, ready, as it seemed, to eat fires." They entered a burning building and emerged, "with the clothes of some... smouldering". Some were killed in the fires and explosions but, when casualties depleted their ranks, others willingly filled their places. It is an extraordinary story that emphasises in poignant detail the hardiness bred within London children.

The bombings of 1940 culminated in the most celebrated and notorious of all raids, that of Sunday 29 December. The warning was sounded after 6pm, and then the incendiaries came down like "heavy rain". The attack was concentrated on the City. The area from Aldersgate to Cannon Street, all of Cheapside and Moorgate, was in flames. One observer on the roof of the Bank of England recalled that "the whole of London seemed alight! We were hemmed in by a wall of flame in every direction." Nineteen churches, 16 of them built by Christopher Wren after the first Great Fire, were destroyed; of the 34 guild halls, only three escaped; the whole of Paternoster Row went up in flames, destroying five million books; the Guildhall was badly damaged; St Paul's was ringed with fire, but escaped. "No one who saw will ever forget", wrote William Kent, "their emotions on the night when London was burning and the dome seemed to ride the sea of fire."

One who walked through the ruins the day after the raid recalled that "The air felt singed. I was breathing ashes... The air itself, as we walked, smelt of burning."

The City had become unfamiliar territory; the area between Cheapside and St Paul'sreverted to wasteland. There were, however, unexpected discoveries. A section of the Roman wall, hidden for centuries, was uncovered by the bombing of Cripplegate. An underground chamber paved with tiles emerged below the altar of St Mary le Bow. Roman relics were found by Austin Friars, one of them a tile with the paw-marks of a dog in pursuit of a cat. The emblematic significance of these discoveries was not in doubt: those who believed that the city's history could be easily destroyed were mistaken - it simply emerged at a deeper level. Over at the Natural History Museum, air damage meant that certain seeds became damp, including mimosa brought from China in 1793. After 147 years, they began to grow again.

Following the great fire-raid at the end of December, the attacks became more sporadic but no less deadly. There were raids in January 1941, and again in March. On 16 April, the city was visited by what the Germans described as "the greatest air-raid of all time"; and the bombers returned again three nights later. More than 1,000 people were killed on each night of the bombardment, which hit areas as diverse as Holborn and Chelsea. Anxiety and loss of sleep marked the faces of Londoners, weariness combining with the destruction to create a light-headedness among the population. "So low did the dive- bombers come," one witness recalled, "that for the first time I mistook bombers for taxicabs."

The heaviest and most prolonged raid of all occurred on 10 May 1941, when bombs fell in Kingsway, Smithfield, Westminster and all over the City. Almost 1,500 were killed. The Law Courts and the Tower of London were attacked, the House of Commons reduced to a shell. The church of St Clement Danes was destroyed, so devastated that its rector died "from the shock and grief" shortly afterwards. It seemed then that the city could not withstand the onslaught for much longer. Yet it was to be the last significant attack upon London for three years.

The German invasion of the Soviet Union had indirectly saved the city from more destruction, and there succeeded a relative peace. The city seemed to resume its normal course, with its postmen and bus- drivers and milkmen and errand boys, but there was the strangest feeling of ennui or despondency after the spectacular damage of the Blitz.

At the beginning of 1944, the bombs returned. But the "little blitz", as it was called, was the unhappy end of unfinished business; there were 14 raids in all, directed against a city that had been wearied and to an extent demoralised by the prolonged and uncertain conflict. Then something else happened. In June, pilotless jet planes carrying a bomb known as the V1, alias doodlebug, alias flying bomb, alias buzz bomb, alias robot bomb, began to appear in the skies above London. They were recognised by the sharp buzzing of the engine followed by sudden silence, as the engine cut out and the bomb fell to earth. They came in daylight, at infrequent intervals, and were perhaps the hardest to bear. Almost 2,500 flying bombs fell upon the capital in 10 months.

And just as their frequency began to diminish, in the early autumn of 1944, Vengeance Two - the V2 - was targeted upon the capital. For the first time in the history of warfare, a city came under attack from long- distance rockets that travelled at approximately 3,000mph. No warning could be sounded; no counter-attack launched. The first one hit Chiswick and the explosion could be heard at Westminster seven miles away. Their power was so great that "whole streets were flattened as they landed". Almost 1,000 of these rockets were aimed at the capital, with half reaching their targets. There were open spaces where streets had been. One rocket hit Smithfield Market, and another a department store in New Cross; the Royal Hospital in Chelsea was struck. "Are we never to be free of damage or death?" one Londoner complained. "Surely five years is long enough for any town to have to suffer?"

The winter of 1944 was the coldest for many years, and the bombs continued to fall. Illness was in the air, along with rumours of epidemics and mounting deaths. Londoners retired to bed without knowing if they were going to rise on the following morning. And then, suddenly, it was all over. At the end of March 1945, a rocket fell upon Stepney, and another on Tottenham Court Road. But then the raids ceased; the rocket-launching sites had been captured. The Battle of London was finally won. Almost 30,000 Londoners had been killed, and more than 100,000 houses utterly destroyed; a third of the City of London had been razed.

On 8 May 1945, there were the usual celebrations for victory in Europe - VE Day - although by no means as garish or as hysterical as those of 1918. The participants were more weary, after five years of intermittent bombing and death, than their predecessors on the same streets 27 years before. Yet something had happened to London, too. In the phrase of the period, the "stuffing" had been "knocked out of it", the metaphor suggesting a thinner and more depleted reality. Certainly it had lost much of its energy and bravura; it had become as shabby as its inhabitants. And, like them, it would take time to recover.