I've noted that for the past two days two major London papers — The Times and the Daily Mail — have not led with the bombing of the city. I don't have today's Mail to hand, but it's the same for The Times today ('Fresh R.A.F. blow at Berlin', etc). But here is a provincial newspaper (albeit one with national influence), the Manchester Guardian, concentrating almost exclusively on the pounding the capital is receiving (5). I'm not sure what to make of this, or indeed whether to make anything of it all. Is it a liberal vs conservative difference (let's think about the wounded rather than focus on revenge) or a regional vs metropolitan one (Londoners don't need to be told what they are experiencing)? Or just small number statistics?
Anyway, London has now had four nights of 'indiscriminate' attacks ('the enemy has now thrown off all pretence of confining himself to military targets'), last night's still ongoing as the Guardian went to press.
During the nine-hour on Monday night bombs were scattered at random over London. Fires were started near St. Paul's and St. Mary-le-Bow, and only the tireless work of hundreds of firemen saved these famous buildings. Bombs fell on a maternity hospital, a children's hospital, a nurses' home, a Poor Law institution for the aged, and workmen's cottages.
The casualties in the Monday raids are not yet known. Those for Sunday night's ten-hour raid amounted to 286 killed and about 1,400 seriously wounded.
The German press is now openly describing the bombing of London as a reprisal. BZ am Mittag said:
Germany has also thrown a new bomber into the fight, a 'modernised version' of the Dornier 215, a 'fast, long-distance bomber monoplane'. It is faster than the old Do 215 and has an extra gun turret, and formed the bulk of the German bomber force on Monday night. About three to five hundred bombers are being used in the 'attacks on London and other British cities' (and it is not just the capital which is being attacked: page 3 features some photos of 'Air-raid damage in the North-West', though some of it is described as only 'slight').
In an article called 'Sheltered life', M.R.H. (a woman, I think) writes of the absurdity of the air war:
Time after time [...] one overhears, in shops and streets and houses women saying to each other, some wearily, some bitterly, some wonderingly, "It's a silly game." Sometimes they add, "It doesn't make sense, all of us going into holes and shelters because a few men have been given bombs to play with."
M.R.H. finds hope in the very fact that people feel that, by virtue of actually experiencing them, they have permission to cut such great events down to size:
A great many, ignorant of social and historical forces and convinced of the impotence of the ordinary person to influence these, have in every generation lamented over what the world was coming to; now that they are all able to see and hear what it has come to, and discover with surprise that they themselves can diagnose the essential silliness of the catastrophe, it can seem that the outcome of a sense of individual power to shape our common ends may accompany a new realisation that the making of history is a job for common people who have ceased to be an indifferent majority indefinitely content to play "Follow my leader."
Such grand dreams of people power are very far from the mind of a northern clergyman writing to the editor as Shelter Marshal (8), reflecting his volunteer ARP job:
On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays numbers of drunken men and women, as well as lads, stagger in and out of shelters. Fights, quarrels, bad language, the deliberate damaging of sandbags are the result. Men and women stupified with drink insist on leaving the shelters, often to collapse outside, sometimes injuring themselves so severely that police, A.R.P. wardens, and shelter marshals have to render first aid in the open and expose themselves to unnecessary danger.
Though Shelter Marshal does have some reforms in mind himself:
Unless the Government is prepared for a drastic limitation of drinking hours, as well as for the imposition of much more severe penalties, the only remedy seems to be that the police should have the power to eject drunken people from shelters and the shelter marshals authority to exclude them.
It might be tempting to write him off as a wowser, but he has a point: if drunken behaviour is disturbing the equanimity — and perhaps the morale — of shelterers, then it needs to be minimised. Yet surely shelters are for all, not just the sober, and just because some people are having fun — or drowning sorrows — on a weekend in wartime, does this mean they are not entitled to what safety there is to be found?
This post is part of an experiment in post-blogging the Battle of Britain, the Blitz and the Baedeker Blitz. See here for an introduction to the series.
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