LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Blasted buildings, mangled buses and Nazi bombs from the sky form the basis of a new London exhibition to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Blitz.
A number of London museums are commemorating the spirit of Londoners who endured the World War Two bombing of the British capital by the German Luftwaffe, battling the resulting blazes, rescuing people trapped in their bombed out homes and huddling in underground shelters from Hitler’s bombers.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson marked this year’s anniversary by attending the opening of one of the most important exhibitions, London Transport Museum’s “Under Attack: London, Coventry and Dresden.”
From the volunteer bus drivers trying to navigate pot-holed roads during blackouts, to the women handing out food and blankets to those sheltering in tube stations, the exhibition tells the stories of the people who carried on during London’s darkest hours, the destruction rained down on Coventry and the Allied bombing of the German city of Dresden. It includes film footage, photos, and eyewitness accounts.
“We must never forget the bravery and dogged determination of the men and women who battled to keep London moving in the face of a terrifying and unremitting bombardment which sought to destroy our great city during the Blitz,” Johnson told Reuters in a written statement. “This tremendous spirit and resilience remain at the very heart of the capital.”
Tucked amongst the London Transport Museum’s permanent exhibitions about the humble beginnings of the city’s famous transport system is a room of photographs, film clips, and eyewitness accounts of the aerial assault.
One film clip shows Music Hall performers Elsie and Doris Waters as their popular cockney alter egos, Gert and Daisy, dancing in an underground shelter.
Part of one wall is dedicated to the destruction wrought on the main churches of the three cities being examined, London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, Coventry’s St. Michael‘s, and the Frauenkirche in the German city of Dresden, which was bombed by Allied forces. Only St. Paul’s managed to survive the bombings.
Another section of the show concentrates on the vital role of propaganda. It looks at two photos of food distribution in bomb shelters, one of which features smiling, happy faces, and one which does not. The latter was cast aside, as it did not reinforce the government’s message.
Throughout the whole exhibition, the heart-stopping eerie sound of the sirens can be heard ringing out.
The aerial bombing of London was part of a Nazi tactic called Blitzkrieg (“Lightning War”), known in Britain simply as the Blitz. Its most devastating period was between September 1940 and May 1941, during which time 50,000 bombs were dropped, killing at least 43,000 people.
National monuments such as Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace were damaged during the campaign, with St. Paul’s Cathedral only narrowly surviving.
German Operation Moonlight Sonata leveled thousands of homes, and three-quarters of the Coventry’s vital munitions factories. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda, would go on to use the term ‘Coventriert’ (Coventrated) to imply similar levels of destruction.
Conversely, Dresden, otherwise known as the Florence on the Elbe, was barely touched until the final year of the war. In February 1945, however, it was bombed so intensely by Allied forces that much of its city center was demolished by the resulting firestorm.
Some 25,000 people were killed and 12,000 buildings were destroyed. The necessity of the bombing remains heavily disputed today. Dresden and Coventry were later twinned in 1956 as a sign of post-war reconciliation and forgiveness.
The importance of transport during such attacks is a theme that David Bownes, Head of Collections at the LT Museum, believes is still relevant today.
“This is a story about people like you and I, told from the point of view of the staff and passengers. It’s not about the rights or wrongs of war, or who had the best bombers. You can’t help but look at those images and think about how it would affect you if London was being bombed every night.”
One of the exhibits is a New York Post cover following the July 7th bombings in London in 2005. It bears the word, ‘Blitz’, above that now infamous picture of a mangled London bus.
As part of the exhibition, the LT Museum will also be hosting a series of talks by social historian and author Juliet Gardiner on the transforming experience of the Blitz, film screenings, meet the curator evenings, and family events during the October half-term.
Dozens of other exhibitions and events will be taking place across London and nationwide as part of the commemoration, including a rare trip into the disused Aldwych tube station, where actors will recreate the Blitz experience underground.
Editing by Paul Casciato