The great bombings of London

The great bombings of London

  • Citizens of London sleeping in a metro station during the German bombing raids in September 1940.

  • Prime Minister Winston Churchill visits bombed out neighborhoods in London

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Title: Citizens of London sleeping in a metro station during the German bombing raids in September 1940.

Author :

Creation date : 1940 -

Date shown: September 1940

Contact copyright: Heritage Images / LeemageAgence Leemage, 7 Rue Maître Albert 75005 Paris

Picture reference: 0430000088

Citizens of London sleeping in a metro station during the German bombing raids in September 1940.

© Heritage Images / Leemage

To close

Title: Prime Minister Winston Churchill visits bombed out neighborhoods in London

Author :

Creation date : 1940 -

Date shown: September 1940

Contact copyright: Farabola / LeemageAgence Leemage, 7 Rue Maître Albert 75005 Paris

Picture reference: FARA05150

Prime Minister Winston Churchill visits bombed out neighborhoods in London

© Farabola / Leemage

Publication date: May 2018

Historical context

Pictures of the Blitz

These two photographs date from September 1940, the day after the first major German bombings that hit the English capital.

Produced by journalists or even by private individuals, the innumerable photographs of London taken on this occasion have had varying degrees of success: some are taken up by the press and have a national or international distribution while others do not go beyond the family circle or the audience of a neighborhood. That they capture a moment of the "daily" life of the inhabitants in these particular conditions (such as London citizens sleeping in an underground station during German bombing raids) or a more political and official moment (Prime Minister Winston Churchill visits bombed out neighborhoods in London), these images shape the consciousness and representations of the populations, playing a definite role for the rest of the conflict.

More directly, they also show the terrible effects of Blitz - from the name of the campaign of occasional raids led by the Luftwaffe on the United Kingdom from September 7, 1940 to May 21, 1941 –000 which hit London on several occasions (September 7 and 15, 1940, October 10, 1940, May 10, 1941 in particular) but also Coventry (14-15 November 1940), Manchester (22, 23, 24 December 1940), Liverpool (1er to May 7, 1941) or Birmingham (May 21, 1941), involving extensive material damage, 3.75 million people displaced, 14,621 dead and 20,292 injured, most of them civilians.

Image Analysis

London under the bombs

Placed at the end of the quay, the photographer of the first shot plays with the perspective drawn by the rails, the platform and the tunnel for the composition of the shot. Along the length of the platform, Londoners of all ages and genders can be seen lying on sheets and blankets that they took with them. Some indeed seem to be sleeping (the young woman in the foreground), while others, more rare, stay awake (the man looking at the lens). Here and there, we see a few more substantial personal effects, such as a suitcase or a shopping bag. It is difficult to read the time on the clock or to decipher the name of the station in question to give more precise factual information about the episode in question.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill visits bombed out neighborhoods in London is distinguished first by the gutted building which occupies a good part of the image (left). Whole sections of the building collapsed, reduced to bricks and pieces of wood, leaving the gridded reinforcements of reinforced concrete dangling and useless, bare and rather sinister. Other typical houses of the city have remained perfectly intact, highlighting the destruction as though by contrast. Leading a delegation of a few, Prime Minister Churchill is easily recognizable in profile. Elegantly dressed and hated in black, cane in hand, serious expression, severe bearing, he gazes ahead, absorbed, and sees the extent of the damage.

Interpretation

Stand up

The two images tell us something about the reality and the consequences of Blitz. While the second testifies to the destruction, the first illustrates one of the ways the locals are dealing with the situation. Thus, from the first bombardments, metro stations were used as makeshift shelters. While the image obviously has an astonishing character since the elements of usual city life are diverted from their "normal" use, such an image becomes quite common during enemy raids. We can note the impression of calm and - relative - organization that emerges from this image. Here, no panic or mess, no overcrowded wharf, but well-aligned citizens who have taken the time to pick up some business and a general attitude that seems almost peaceful. While the Nazis rightly intend to use the bombardments to traumatize the inhabitants and force the English authorities to demand peace, it is indeed British "phlegm" that seems to prevail. A more or less legendary “stoicism”, in any case self-celebrated by the parties themselves and their leaders for the purposes of mobilization.

Churchill's photograph has a more immediately political significance. Embodying the Nation, the head of government who promised blood and tears before the victory marks the stage of his presence, dignified and severe. In these "dark hours" he does not shirk and stands there, resolute, in a way in the heart of the battle and alongside his constituents, urging them by example to stand up against aggression. If his visit therefore has a concrete utility (being aware of the destruction, providing support to the victims), it is above all a message sent to his fellow citizens and, more broadly to the whole world (including the Nazis): never surrender, Britain will not surrender.

  • War of 39-45
  • ruins
  • bombing raid
  • Churchill (Winston)
  • city
  • Luftwaffe
  • London

Bibliography

BEDARIDA, Francois, The Battle of Britain, Brussels, Complex, 1996.

BEDARIDA, Francois, Churchill, Paris, Fayard, 1999.

CHURCHILL, Winston, Their Finest Hour, London, Penguin, coll. "The Second World War, Volume II", 1949.

From LESPINOIS, Jérôme, «1940-1944: The Battles of England », History Folio, Paris, Gallimard, 2015.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "The great bombings of London"


Video: Bombing Raids World War Ii 1940-1945