Sunday, 10 May 2020

Lilliput, The Blitz and Mickey the Midget

Mickey Davies aka Mickey the Midget and a family friend (Author's collection)

Regular readers will remember that this article first appeared in March 2016 and was one of those stories that immediately caught people's imaginations. Therefore, last week I was delighted to receive feedback and a subsequent e-mail from Mickey's daughter, Simone Davies, in which she pointed out one or two inaccuracies which had crept into my original story and also kindly gave some more insights to her late father's life.

The main error was in the spelling of Mickey's surname - I had used three main sources for the article - two pieces by the journalist Ritchie Calder and a further article that appeared in Optical Connections magazine. Two out of the three spelled his name 'Davis' whilst the original Ritchie Calder chapter from his book 'Carry on London!' had what turned out to be the correct spelling of 'Davies.' Unfortunately, I took the majority view and decided upon the wrong version but am happy to correct the spelling. The other main problem was the identity of the lady in the above photo, which again in two out of the three source pieces, identified her as being Mickey's wife, whilst in 'Carry on London!' she was not identified in any way. Simone pointed out that the lady in question was a family friend who just happened to be in the shelter when Calder was visiting. Apparently, at some point she was wrongly identified as being Mickey's wife and the story gained legs. Once again, I am happy to put the record straight. The other inaccuracy that I perpetuated was the question of Mickey's height - the story of him being only 3 feet 6 inches tall is another urban myth that has been repeated over the years, when in fact he was a foot taller than this, so as with the other issues, I've set the record straight below.

With Simone's permission, I'm happy to repeat her email below - it clearly (and rightly) shows the pride in her Dad's achievements and offers some fascinating insights into what sort of man he was:

"Anyway, the lady in the picture was a family friend who happened to be in the shelter at the time when the journalist did the story - when and how she got mistaken for my mother I don't know. Also, my father was about four feet four, not three foot four, which is another error that has followed the story for years. I do have my parents wedding photos but most photos, i.e. the Boys' Club etc., and other bits have been given to my nephew who is now the keeper of all the family photos/papers/history etc.

I was very young when my father died but have loads of really nice and also some funny stories told by my mother to me and my sister of my father, the shelter and both of my parents parts in the war (she was in the Local Control, so sending out Ambulances and Rescue Teams to local bombings.) Also the Boys' Club (which wasn't basic but as you can imagine with anything organised by my father, well equipped and very nice.) His political and social work following the war. His Optician 'Shop' was relocated to his study at our home. He was a very much loved and respected man. His shelter visited by people from American ex-Presidents to Clementine Churchill (all signed his visitors' book) and counted amongst his friends following the war were people from Peter Rowntree to the leader of the Labour Party.

By the way, my father was only 43, not 46 when he died.

I hope these give you a tiny bit more insight into my father's life."

The original article, duly corrected and updated, is repeated below. I'm hoping to receive some more stories about Mickey and his life from Simone and if so, I will make a further update so as to share this information.

One of the many pleasures of my job (if you can call it a job) is that friends and acquaintences often become part of an extended detective network, alerting me to finds they have made that are of interest to my Second World War hobby that has now become a substantial part of my living. Such a find came to light recently, when a friend presented me with a delightful little book called Lilliput Goes to War, an anthology of articles, photographs and drawings that appeared in the pocket magazine Lilliput during the wartime years of 1939-45.

I have to confess to previously being only vaguely aware of Lilliput, as it had gone out of print in August 1960, before I was two years of age!

For those completely unaware, Lilliput was one of the many magazines and pictorials published in the pre television and internet age, when the printed media, along with radio and cinema, were the only forms of mass media available to the public. Lilliput was founded in 1937 by the photo journalist Stefan Lorant as a small format, pocket sized monthly journal of the arts, humour, photography and short stories. Apart from Lorant's own work, it was soon able to attract contributors of the calibre of Ernest Hemingway, Osbert Sitwell, HE Bates, John Pudney, Arthur Koestler, Robert Graves and Walter Trier, who illustrated many of the early covers. The magazine soon gained a reputation for its lively articles, illustrations and photographic jokes, which often took the form of juxtaposed or double photographs with humourous captions. It was also known for occasionally publishing what were for the time, quite daring photographs of female nudes.

In some ways, Lilliput became a victim of its own success, for by early 1939, the print runs had become so substantial that paying for them presented a serious cash flow problem for Lorant and he was simply unable to afford to continue printing the magazine. Fortunately, Sir Edward Hulton, publisher of another of the great pictorial magazines, Picture Post, stepped in and purchased Lilliput, which was able to continue publication with the existing editorial staff.

It was whilst thumbing through this charming anthology of wartime journalism that I happened across an article by the journalist Ritchie Calder about a wartime character called Mickey the Midget. This sparked something in my memory as I remembered reading about Mickey in another work by Calder, a 1941 book called Carry on London! which carried a longer piece about Mickey and his work in organising a shelter in London's Spitalfields Market.

The London Fruit & Wool Exchange Building (author's photo)

Mickey Davies, for that was his real name, was an optician in his late twenties, whose shop was reputedly located somewhere close to Spitalfields, in what we now know as the Borough of Tower Hamlets but which in 1940, formed part of the Metropolitan Borough of Stepney. Strangely perhaps, there are no records in local trade directories as to where this business was actually located but according to Mickey himself, it was destroyed by a German bomb on 13th September 1940. Mickey was only 4 feet 6 inches tall and with a mis-shapen back, hence his somewhat politically incorrect nickname but the destruction of his shop enabled him to devote time to helping those in the Spitalfields Shelter. In addition to his optician business, Mickey was also a local social activist and indeed was later to become a Stepney borough councillor and briefly, Deputy Mayor before his death in the 1950s. His activism was very much geared towards helping people in his local community and in wartime, ensuring that their shelter facilities were safe, sanitary and the equal of anything for those provided to the wealthier citizens of London in the West End.

The shelter in question was located beneath the London Fruit and Wool Exchange in Brushfield Street, Spitalfields. The interior of this building has now sadly been demolished to make way for a new development as part of the area's gentrification but the facade still remains. The original market building comprised a cavernous basement, which was capable of holding some 2,500 people in relative safety, although in practice, over twice that number frequently crammed into the space. 

To begin with, conditions were appalling, with almost non-existent sanitation, no proper bedding (people initially slept upon bags of rubbish) and minimal lighting. The floors soon became awash with urine, faeces and other filth. Mickey Davies was appalled by what he found and by the apparent lack of interest, or at best, will from the authorities to get things better organised. Davies was highly intelligent and more importantly, a superb organiser and he quickly became invaluable to the shelterers and a thorn in the side of the local authority in his efforts to improve the conditions for those using the shelter.

Firstly, he set about improving the sanitary conditions in the shelter as well as providing education about hygiene and establishing disease prevention practices in the shelter. He then began to get shelter users themselves to provide First Aid and Medical supplies by organising collections to purchase what was needed. Trained in First Aid himself, he then persuaded local Stretcher Parties to give up their off duty time to tend to the sick and injured in the shelter. He also built up a card index system recording the medical history of each person using the shelter and created what he called a "Passport to Health" amongst the shelterers. Using his many contacts in the profession, he also procured the services of a GP to visit the shelter every night. Proper steel bunk beds were also installed, which ensured that shelterers could get a decent night's sleep.

Lilliput Goes to War (author's image)

He also negotiated with a local Marks & Spencer branch to donate food in order to run a canteen in the basement, the proceeds of which were used to provide free milk for the children using the shelter. Under Mickey's stewardship, the Spitalfields Shelter was transformed and became a coherent community in it's own right, with his medical innovations pre-dating the introduction of the NHS by some eight years.

According to Calder, Mickey's form of common sense community socialism was seen by some, including some of the 'casual' (i.e. non regular) shelterers themselves as "Communism" and these concerns were raised to Calder, himself a sometime user of the shelter. When told that there were "Communists" amongst the Shelter Committee, he replied that "There may be bigamists amongst them for all I care!"

Calder's point being that the accusations of "Communism" were not only absurd but also irrelevant. Provided the shelter was being run correctly and was an improvement on what went before, which it certainly was, then any such accusations could rightly be seen as being largely based on petty jealousies touted by some in local government who should have known better. To be fair, others in government and local government never really regarded Communism as being a realistic menace at this time and saw these innovations by local people as being healthy manifestations of a community spirit.

Perhaps shamed by the actions of Mickey Davies and many other people like him elsewhere, the government instructed local authorities across the country to appoint official Shelter Marshals to control air raid shelters and to ensure that conditions were improved. On the face of it, this instruction made Mickey redundant but the Shelter Committee were having none of this and unanimously elected Davies as their Chief Shelter Marshal. To his eternal credit, the Civil Defence Controller of Stepney, a Mr Eric Adams, acquiesed to the Shelter Committee's wishes and confirmed Mickey in his 'new' official position, which importantly for Davies, without the income from his now destroyed business, was a salaried position.

Under Mickey's direction, a second canteen was established in the shelter, with all profits being re-invested in improving facilities such as the installation of a better lighting system. The shelter became largely self-policing, with shelterers becoming responsible for keeping their own parts of the shelter clean and tidy and for ensuring correct standards of behaviour amongst the shelter community.

Not for nothing did Ritchie Calder describe Mickey Davies as being "Three feet six inches (sic) of reckless unconcern and tireless energy."

After the war, Davies continued to live in the area and was elected as a councillor of Stepney Borough Council in 1949. In 1956, he was elected Deputy Mayor but sadly died later that same year, at the very young age of 43 before he was able to take up the post of Mayor, which would normally have become his the following year.

Lilliput magazine continued, latterly under the editorship of Jack Hargreaves, later of TV's "Out of Town" and "How" fame, until August 1960, when it was purchased and amalgamated into Men Only magazine, before that particular publication became better known for it's soft porn content.


Published Sources:

Carry on London! - Ritchie Calder, English Universities Press, 1941
Lilliput Goes to War - editor Kaye Webb, Hutchinson, 1985





Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Book Review: The Thames at War, Saving London from The Blitz by Gustav Milne



The Blitz remains a defining moment in the more recent history of our capital city, a time when Londoners found themselves under almost nightly attack from September 1940 to May 1941 and following a welcome intermission in the second half of 1941 and 1942, were once again under fire during the Little Blitz of late 1943 to early 1944 and rounded off by Hitler's so-called "Vengeance Weapons" from June 1944 right up until late March 1945, barely six weeks before the Nazi capitulation signalled the end of the war in Europe.

This new book by Gustav Milne and the Thames Discovery Programme, a community based archaeological project that surveys the Thames and it's foreshore, tells the story of the London County Council's Thames-Flood Prevention Emergency Repairs Service, or "T-F" for short, one of the lesser known facets of London's Civil Defence organisation during those wartime years, which was largely the creation of Sir Thomas Pierson Frank, the LCC's Chief Engineer from 1930 to 1946 - a classic case of "Cometh the hour, cometh the man" if ever there was one.

The River Thames is London's raison d'etre and then as now, feeds a major port, which during the Second World War was the largest and busiest in the world. But whilst acting as London's life blood, an enemy bomb, doodlebug or rocket could breach the river's embankments at high tide, or fracture one of the many tunnels running beneath it and instantly turn the Thames into a terrifying monster which could kill thousands, paralyse the capital's services and cripple a major part of the British war effort.

As we learn from this book, the embankments were breached on numerous occasions, as were at least two of the tunnels running beneath the Thames but thanks to the superb work of the T-F teams, coupled with a certain amount of good fortune, a major flood disaster in the capital never followed.

The book begins by telling us something of the history of the various floods to affect London in the years prior to the Second World War and of the establishment of the T-F Service. A detailed summary of the works undertaken by the various Rapid Response Teams of the T-F Service then follows, which explains how their work was undertaken of necessity always with one eye on the clock and the state of the ever changing tides. We then learn something of the other emergency services on the river, such as the Auxiliary Fire Service and the Thames Division of the Metropolitan Police, as well as the efforts to keep London's river crossings open throughout the Blitz and the running repairs that were frequently required following heavy raids. We also learn of the work of the various engineers and labourers who worked for the T-F Service, many of whom remain anonymous to this day. Of course, the Port of London would be meaningless without the shipping that served it and the book finishes up with a section devoted to the ships lost on the river and in it's estuary, as well as examining the role played by the Thames during two pivotal operations of the war, DYNAMO and OVERLORD, both of which were crucial to the ultimate Allied victory.

I have one very minor complaint - the author insists on calling the V-1 Buzz Bombs "Rockets" - this is not correct, they were "Flying Bombs" which were not rocket powered (they were propelled by a pulse-jet engine) and I suspect that he has perhaps got them slightly confused with the subsequent V-2 weapons, which were indeed rockets designed by one Wernher von Braun and his team.

However, this is a minor gripe which did not detract from my overall enjoyment of this well-written, profusely illustrated and meticulously researched book and I have no hesitation in commending it to you, whether you are a guide like me, or have a more general interest in London's wartime history.



THE THAMES AT WAR: Saving London from the Blitz
By Gustav Milne

RRP: £19.99
Hardback, pp208





Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Book Review: City of London at War 1939 - 45 by Stephen Wynn


The latest in Pen & Sword Military's excellent series of "Your Towns & Cities in World War Two" covers the City of London, the "Square Mile" that was and remains the financial and business heart of the United Kingdom and comes from the author Stephen Wynn, who has contributed many books to this series.

Several books have been written on the subject of the City of London during the Blitz, concentrating on specific raids, more usually the great fire raid of 29 December 1940, which became known as "The Second Great Fire of London" but in this new offering, Mr Wynn has sensibly decided to look at all aspects of the Square Mile during the conflict and does so in a chronological, year-by-year basis and covers such events as the establishment and organisation of the Civil Defence Services in the City and the Home Guard, as well as Parliamentary and local authority representation. The book also looks at how various establishments and institutions fared during the war, such as the Tower of London and St Bartholomew's Hospital.

As we travel through the years to 1940 and 1941, the focus inevitably shifts to the Blitz and it is with this aspect of the book that I have some issues. For example, in several of the larger raids, the author details the casualties but rather than just providing us with a list of those who lost their lives and perhaps their ages, Mr Wynn feels the need to attempt to provide details of each person; this is fine where the individual has an interesting past or has an intriguing story behind them but merely repeating "the author has been unable to confirm exactly where he/she was buried" becomes tedious in the extreme after in excess of fifty repetitions. Surely it would have been better just to list the names in an appendix and just mention some of those individuals in the main text whenever they had an interesting story to tell.

Another gripe - and one that suggests more than a little laziness in the author's research process - concerns the terrible incident at Bank Station, when he mentions a casualty who was serving with the Women''s Voluntary Service which warrants the comment from the author "This also suggests that the Bank Underground Station was being used as an air raid shelter at this time." This statement beggars belief as even a cursory check with the London Transport Museum or of the official London Transport wartime history would have revealed this to be a fact and indeed, it was the fact that the station was being used as a shelter which accounted for the high casualty figures.

A fault in the research process is also suggested when the author mentions another casualty, this time at Cannon Street, when he mentions "William worked as a fireman and in the circumstances, it was more likely that he was at Cannon Street working rather than just passing through at the time." Once again, this shows a lack of proper research, as an inspection of the London Fire Brigade Roll of Honour, which is readily and easily accessible, reveals that the person in question was indeed on duty. Incidentally, the author speculates over this particular fireman - William Frederick Knight - but then completely overlooks his colleague Stanley Thomas Conniff - who died with him at the same location on that same night. At least one other London fireman who died in the Square Mile on the same night, albeit at a different location completely fails to warrant a mention, so one has to wonder at the completeness of the casualty lists that the author provides.

My final complaint concerns one of the photographs, which is captioned incorrectly; a photo that purports to be The Guildhall is clearly the Mansion House and should be corrected.

Notwithstanding these shortcomings, the author relates many interesting anecdotes and facts during the narrative, which leads us through the slightly quieter years of 1942 and 1943, before we reach the momentous events of 1944 and 1945 which set the country firmly on the road to victory, against a home backdrop of the Vengeance Weapons campaign of those years, both of which affected the Square Mile, although curiously, the author fails to mention the V-2 attack on the City of London Corporation owned Smithfield Market of 8 March 1945, which caused heavy loss of life.

This book is an interesting resource which should appeal to the general reader but which in this reviewer's opinion, requires a carefully revised and updated second edition.


Published Sources:

London Fire Region Deaths on Duty During the Second World War - WF Hickin, The Watchroom 2006
London Transport at War 1939 - 1945 - Charles Graves, London Transport 1974
The Shelter of The Tubes - John Gregg, Capital Transport, 2001

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Sidney Alfred Holder, The Wall and the Unknown Soldier

Firemen Remembered Plaque to Sidney Alfred Holder in Shoe Lane (author's photograph)

This post was originally written in August 2011 but since then, one or two discrepancies in the original story as recounted to me have come to light. These corrections have now been incorporated into the text, which is updated accordingly.

On Thursday 11 August 2011, I was lucky enough to be invited to the unveiling ceremony of one of the memorial plaques to be erected by the charity 'Firemen Remembered' which does so much excellent work in preserving and honouring the memory of the firefighters of the Second World War, who went from being described as "£3-a-week Army Dodgers" according to some of the more unscrupulous organs of the press, to receiving a ringing endorsement from Prime Minister Winston Churchill no less, who described them as "Heroes with grimy faces."

This particular plaque is located close to the scene of the incident at Shoe Lane, just off London's Fleet Street and commemorates a tragedy that was immortalised on canvas by the War Artist Leonard Rosoman R.A., who at that time was a member of the Auxilary Fire Service and who witnessed the event at first hand. Deeply troubled by what he had seen, Rosoman created a powerful image, which he found himself painting and re-painting, as if trying to exorcise what he had witnessed from his own consciousness. The artist subsequently stated that he was never entirely happy with the work and at first thought it was too raw for public consumption but it is today recognised as one of the iconic images of the Blitz. The image entitled 'The Falling Wall' by the artist but for some reason re-titled by the Imperial War Museum as 'A House Collapsing on two Firemen, Shoe Lane, London EC4' is reproduced below, courtesy of the IWM. The original is currently on display at the IWM North in Manchester, although perhaps would be better located in London, given that is where the incident occurred.

"The Falling Wall" by Leonard Rosoman (IWM collection)

On the night of 29th/30th December 1940, some 140 medium bombers of the Luftwaffe dropped some 24,000 incendiary bombs concentrated on the City of London in a raid that became known as "The Second Great Fire of London". The raid had been carefully planned to coincide with an exceptionally low tide on the River Thames, which once the water mains had been damaged by the high explosive bombs which were also dropped on the Square Mile, made it nigh on impossible for the beleaguered firefighters to obtain emergency supplies of water from the river. The spread of the fires was further compounded by the fact that many nightwatchmen and fire watchers employed by the various businesses in the City, had taken advantage of the Christmas and New Year holidays to sneak away for a long weekend, so leaving fires to spread unchecked. This failing was the subject of an official Government Enquiry after the event, the result of which was to compel companies to provide full-time fire watches on their premises.

As part of the ceremony, the redoubtable Stephanie Maltman, one of the leading figures behind the charity, explained what to the best of our knowledge today, had happened on this night in Shoe Lane and how Auxiliary Fireman Sidney Alfred Holder and a now unknown helper who had simply been passing by had come to perish beneath fifteen feet of white hot bricks and masonry.

The programme cover for the unveiling event (author's photograph)

Sidney Holder, Leonard Rosoman and the future travel writer and novelist William Sansom were part of an AFS squad from Station 13 at Belsize Park, detailed to fight a major fire in Shoe Lane, just off Fleet Street, adjacent to the Daily Express building. The three men were controlling a branch directing water onto the blazing building and although it looked a hopeless task, stuck bravely at their task. Amazingly, but not uncommonly during a major raid, there were still passers by going about their business and the firefighters were joined by an off duty soldier and an RAF airman, who offered to help. During the course of their toils, a more senior AFS Officer appeared on the scene and instructed Rosoman to leave the branch to the others and accompany him on a recce from an adjacent building to see if they could find another spot from which to direct their branches at the by now out of control fire. As they surveyed the scene, Rosoman heard the ominous crack of the wall crumbling under the heat and collapsing onto the men below, one of whom was Rosoman's close friend, William Sansom.

Incredibly, Sansom and the RAF man survived the incident by dint of good fortune; the wall had collapsed almost as a solid slab of masonry but they had had the luck to be standing more or less in line with a window aperture which framed them as the wall collapsed. The two men were showered with masonry but were not seriously injured and were quickly able to free themselves in order to clamber to where Holder and the soldier had been directing their branch. The two men tore at the red hot bricks with their bare hands, severely burning themselves at the same time. They were quickly relieved by a Rescue Squad and it was only when they were taken aside, that Sansom and his colleague realised the extent of the injuries to their hands.

Wreath laid at the unveiling ceremony (author's photograph)

The rescuers eventually reached the two buried men; the soldier was dead when they found him. His steel helmet had been crushed almost flat and he was burned beyond recognition. Although the details are sketchy, history tells us that Sidney Alfred Holder was alive when pulled from the rubble; the Commonwealth War Graves Commission tells us that he died 'near to St Bartholomew's Hospital' which suggests that he died in an ambulance whilst being taken to hospital.

Sidney Alfred Holder was born on 21 April 1907 and lived at 69 Denmark Road, Hendon, with his mother, Emily. His peacetime job as shown on the 1939 Register was a Temporary Railway Porter but he had obviously joined the Fire Service at some point after this. Despite fairly extensive research by Stephanie and her colleagues at Firemen Remembered, the identity of the soldier who heroically offered to help on that fateful night has never been established and he remains 'known unto God' but to us mere mortals, one of the many 'unknown soldiers.'


Dark City alleyways and passages,
curtained for a century by tall walls,
exchanged their twilight gloom for
a flood of yellow light in one
theatrical moment...

                         William Sansom                                                       



Published Sources:

Fireman Flower - William Sansom, Hogarth Press 1944

The London Blitz: A Fireman's Tale - Cyril Demarne OBE, After The Battle 1991


Unpublished Sources:

1939 Register - UK National Archives

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Books, Books and more Books!

A "shelfie" of one of my new alcove shelves (author's photo)

Regular readers of this blog, together with anyone who knows me well, will testify to the fact that I am something of a bookworm and have a house full of books, mainly covering military history but also with a sizeable number on transport history, film and a decent sized cricket library too!

This hobby/obsession (depending who you listen to) had threatened to get out of control, as towards the end of 2018, I had simply run out of space and as well as two overflowing and inadequate bookcases, books had begun to pile up on the floor, on chairs and tables. 

Some of those who clearly don't know me suggested that I either sell some of those "that you hardly read" or that I have an even bigger clear out and transfer the lot to electronic format!

I must confess that I have disposed of a few, a very few titles that were either duplicates, didn't fit in with my general theme of interest, or frankly weren't very good but any idea of a mass cull just wasn't going to happen and towards the end of last year, I finally got around to getting some larger capacity, heavier-duty shelves installed. The idea for them came from a Twitter friend of mine, David J.B. Smith, aka @NavalAuthor whose own shelves I had inspected when paying him a visit a couple of years back. These were re-purposed scaffold boards, easily sturdy enough to carry the weight of books, sanded and cut to size to fit the space available. In Dave's case, these were located along one wall of his office but in mine, they were to fit in two alcoves, either side of the chimney breast and each arranged in a run of six shelves. This would give me ample storage for everything I currently have and also provide room for expansion, if necessary. I am useless at anything remotely connected with DIY, so apart from purchasing and preparing the scaffold boards, the actual installation was entrusted to a good mate of mine who is a professional handyman.

Installation took slightly less than an afternoon and once this was done, I was able to start re-stocking the shelves, as well as having a general sort-out and placing the books in some sort of order. The photograph at the top of the page shows mostly the naval side of things, with a section devoted to Dunkirk, another to individual ship or action histories and a further one to the Battle of The Atlantic and submarine warfare, before moving into the subject of military high command, with a few "unclassifieds" thrown into the mix!

Shelfie two, showing the air war section (author's photo)

On the other side, the second alcove shown above contains all of my transport books, together with air war, Blitz and Home Front titles, plus once again a few that don't really fall into any of these categories. The books you see in these "shelfies" aren't always continually being read but they are important sources of reference when writing this blog, when planning new walks, preparing talks and when undertaking research, which is another important source of income for me.

LCC Bomb Damage Maps (author's photo)

The 'London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939 - 1945' was reviewed by me in October 2015 and although anything printed on paper has been disparaged by some who should know better, this work often provides a useful first insight into a question that has been posed to me by a customer who needs general information into the wartime history of a specific area in London. Obviously, the maps cannot help with bomb incidents in the parts of London that fall outside the then LCC area and neither can they give dates of incidents but they do provide valuable clues from which to start

Another invaluable source of reference is William Kent's 'The Lost Treasures of London', published in 1947 for 12/6 (about 63 pence in today's money), which I found at a car boot sale for 50 pence about ten years ago. This book proves that no idea is new and indeed, William Kent was giving us Blitz Walks some seventy three years ago and indeed, this work often accompanies me on my City walks, where some of the personal accounts prove invaluable and insightful.

Title paper of The Lost Treasures of London (author's photo)

Another fascinating book that is long out of print but which forms part of my collection, is Richard Collier's 'The City That Wouldn't Die', published in 1959 and which concentrates solely on one raid during the London Blitz, the night of 10/11 May 1941, the heaviest raid of the campaign and what proved to be last against the capital for some eighteen months. The book provides many eye-witness accounts and looks at the events of the night from many viewpoints - members of the public and Civil Defence workers on the British side and from airmen on the German side. I use some of the personal accounts from here in my "Thames on Fire" walk.

The City That Wouldn't Die (author's photo)

With Malice Toward None (author's photo)

Another work which contains an excellent account of the events of 10/11 May 1941, mainly in and around Fleet Street, is 'With Malice Toward None', written by Cecil King and published in 1970. The Fleet Street connection immediately falls into place when one understands that King was the proprietor of the Daily Mirror and Sunday Pictorial newspapers and the book is written in the journalistic style that would be expected of the author.

Westminster in War (author's photo)

William Sansom was an author and travel writer in peacetime but during the Blitz, was a member of the Auxiliary Fire Service and so his book, 'Westminster in War' published in 1947, must have contained at least some of his own personal experiences. Once again, it has proved an invaluable source of reference over the years and has often accompanied me on my travels around the streets of the present-day City of Westminster. I was lucky enough to pick up this copy, signed by the author, for the princely sum of £5, from a Chelsea antiquarian bookshop some years ago.

Bomber Command War Diaries (author's photo)

Apart from guiding walks, another important source of my income these days is researching family history enquiries, often from the descendants of Allied airmen. This usually entails at least one visit to the National Archives at Kew to examine operational record books from the relevant squadrons but for those who served with RAF Bomber Command, a useful first point of reference can be to check out 'The Bomber Command War Diaries; An Operational Reference Book 1939 - 1945' compiled by Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt, which was first published in 1985. Putting this work together must have required many visits indeed to the then Public Records Office to go through the various squadron records and RAF archives. Obviously, this book doesn't provide a squadron-by-squadron guide as to who bombed where and when but it does provide details of every single operation mounted throughout the war by Bomber Command on a daily (or nightly) basis. From this information and from the service histories of the individual airmen, it can then usually be ascertained from a follow-up visit to Kew, exactly how many missions a particular airman flew, to which targets and even in which individual aircraft.

The Blitz (author's photo)

Bomber's Moon title paper (author's photo)

Returning to the Blitz, two of my earliest second-hand purchases remain amongst my most prized possessions, partially because of the illustrations contained therein. These are 'The Blitz' by Constantine FitzGibbon, published in 1957 and 'Bomber's Moon' by the journalist James Negley Farson. These wonderful books contain illustrations by no less than Henry Moore in FitzGibbon's book and some beautiful, evocative pencil drawings by Tom Purvis in 'Bomber's Moon'. The book is themed on Purvis and Farson's travels through London in the Blitz, including various nights spent in air raid shelters and a trip down river to Greenwich. One of the drawings relating to the Thames trip is shown below - 'Old Ron' the Billingsgate Fish Market porter - '45 years in the market' and one of those London faces instantly recognisable to one who grew up in the capital when it was a working city, rather than the somewhat bland place that it has increasingly become.

'Old Ron' the Billingsgate Porter by Tom Purvis (author's collection)

Both Negley Farson and Constantine FitzGibbon were Americans, although both spent much of their time on this side of the Atlantic and indeed, in FitzGibbon's case, served in the British Army until 1942, when he was commissioned into the US Army. The American contribution to the literature of London at War cannot be overstated and I am fortunate enough to possess several of them, including 'Ernie Pyle in England' a 1941 work by the eponymous author, 'I Saw England', another 1941 publication, this time by Ben Robertson, 'A London Diary', also from 1941, written by Quentin Reynolds and finally 'Hell Came to London', a 1940 work by Basil Woon which concentrates on the author's experiences of two weeks living in London starting on 7 September 1940, the first day of the Blitz, which became known to Londoners as 'Black Saturday'. Woon's personal accounts have been much-quoted by other authors and still make remarkable reading to this day.

Title paper from 'Hell Came to London' (author's photo)

It is fair to say that all of the books mentioned above and indeed all of those that you see in the 'shelfies' shown at the beginning of this article, are much-loved by me and have become very much part of the furniture here at Blitzwalker Towers, whether they be old or new publications. I couldn't possibly write about all of them here but will perhaps return to the subject in the future and look at some of the other subjects covered in my library.

All of the photographs used to illustrate this piece are copyright to the author and may not be reproduced without my express written permission.


Books referred to in this piece:

The Blitz - Constantine FitzGibbon, with illustrations by Henry Moore, published in 1957 by MacDonald.
The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book 1939-1945 - Martin Middlebrook & Chris Everitt, published (paperback) in 2014 by Pen & Sword.
Bomber's Moon - Negley Farson, with illustrations by Tom Purvis, published in 1941 by Victor Gollancz.
The City That Wouldn't Die - Richard Collier, published in 1959 by Collins.
Ernie Pyle in England - Ernie Pyle, published in 1941 by Barnes & Noble.
Hell Came to London - Basil Woon, published in 1940 by Peter Davies.
I Saw England - Ben Robertson, published in 1941 by Jarrolds Limited.
The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945 - editor Lawrence Ward, published in 2015 by Thames & Hudson.
A London Diary - Quentin Reynolds, published in 1941 by Random House.
The Lost Treasures of London - William Kent, published in 1947 by Phoenix House.
Westminster in War - William Sansom, published in 1947 by Faber & Faber.
With Malice Toward None - Cecil King, published in 1970 by Sidgwick & Jackson.