Wednesday 23 December 2015

We're Doomed! Dad's Army & The Real Home Guard

John Laurie as Private Frazer (Wikipedia)
Many readers of this blog will have watched the excellent 'We're Doomed!' on BBC Television last night, which for those who missed it told the story of how David Croft and Jimmy Perry came up with the idea of Dad's Army, the long running and much loved comedy about the Home Guard in the fictional seaside resort of Walmington on Sea, established as in real life, in the dark days of World War 2 when this country faced invasion.

The programme showed the battles faced by the two writers in getting the show commissioned and aired in the face of strong opposition from senior executives at the BBC, who obviously didn't know a good thing when they saw it. The idea was originally mooted by Jimmy Perry, who had served in the Home Guard as a 17 year old awaiting his call up and upon whom some of the characteristics of Private Pike were based, such as having a fussing mother who didn't approve of the 17 year old Perry being out all night in the cold.

The BBC is now very quick to wallow in self congratulation over hit comedy shows such as Dad's Army, The Goon Show and Monty Python, as well as many more but the truth is that all of these shows faced tremendous battles by their creators and casts in the teeth of serious opposition from BBC management, who always seemed afraid to do anything original and outside their comfort zone, perhaps for fear of causing offence, rather than recognizing that they were often dealing with inspired, creative forces.

It was this fear of causing offence that provided much of the initial opposition to Dad's Army, with the then controller of BBC1, Paul Fox being openly doubtful of the whole idea of a comedy show about the Home Guard, for fear of it being seen to be making fun of people who would have willingly laid down their lives in the event of a German invasion. Fox perhaps had a point but the writers insisted that one only had to read the scripts to see that although there was much gentle humour, there was also acknowledgement that despite the occasional bumbling and pomposity, there was indeed recognition that the men of the Walmington on Sea Home Guard would have been prepared to lay down their lives had the need arisen. For example, the series one episode "The Battle of Godfrey's Cottage", finds the platoon believing that the invasion has indeed come and at one point Captain Mainwaring, thinking that the platoon would have to buy time to allow the regular Army reinforcements to arrive, states to his men "It'll probably be the end of us, but we're ready for that aren't we men?" 

On reflection, Fox was probably right to insist on one more change, this time to the opening credits. Perry and Croft had originally planned to show real life archive footage of German soldiers on the march along with refugees fleeing ahead of them. Fox thought it wrong to use archive footage in this way, himself finding it offensive and feeling that others might have similar feelings. He insisted that it be changed and the now familiar simple animation sequence showing the British retreat through France, hotly pursued by three large 'German' arrows, forming the letter 'H', was substituted instead.

The show's characters were beautifully crafted, very well cast and very much reflected the  mixture of ages and backgrounds that made up the real life Home Guard. The platoon was led by Captain George Mainwaring (pronounced Mannering), played with a mixture of pomposity and bluster by Arthur Lowe. Mainwaring was the local bank manager and had not served in the First World War, sometimes much to the disgust of the dour Scot, Private James Frazer played by John Laurie. Frazer was a Royal Navy veteran of the Battle of Jutland and was the undertaker in Walmington on Sea, which suited his sometimes gloomy and pessimistic character.

Capt Mainwaring & Warden Hodges (author's collection)

Mainwaring's second in command was his chief clerk at the bank, the diffident Sergeant Arthur Wilson, played by John Le Mesurier. Unlike Mainwaring, Wilson had served in the Great War as a Captain and had seen action at Mons, Passchendaele and Gallipoli and this, combined with the fact that Wilson had been educated at a public school, caused the snobbish Mainwaring to be resentful of his better connected sergeant. Wilson, although he privately thought Mainwaring a pompous idiot, never allowed this to upset him and he usually went about his duties in a serene manner, preferring to make suggestions such as "Would you mind awfully falling in, please?" rather than shouting orders as a sergeant would do normally.

The remainder of the platoon is made up from a mixture of veterans, such as Boer War and Great War stalwart Corporal Jack Jones the butcher, played by Clive Dunn, who was in reality much younger than the character he played. Jones was a soldier down to his boots, although his age usually caused him to be a split second behind the rest of the platoon when conducting 'drill' on parade. He often told long, rambling and ultimately pointless stories about Lord Kitchener and 'Fuzzy Wuzzies' in The Sudan and was an exponent of the use of the bayonet - "They don't like the cold steel up 'em sir!" - as well as frequently reminding people not to panic in times of crisis, even though he was invariably the first to get excited!

Another veteran (and probably the oldest) member of the platoon was Private Godfrey, played by Arnold Ridley, who was a retired shop assistant from the Army & Navy Stores and who lived with his sisters Cissy and Dolly (who was renowned for her cake making abilities.) They lived in an idyllic cottage on the edge of the town and like Frazer, Jones and Wilson, Godfrey too took part in the Great War, although as a Conscientious Objector (at first derided for being so by Frazer) he served as a stretcher bearer and indeed won the Military Medal for his bravery in tending wounded men under fire at The Somme. With this background and also in view of his relative infirmity, Godfrey was appointed as the platoon's first aider.

The younger members of the platoon were Privates Walker, played by James Beck and Pike, played by Ian Lavender. Walker is a 'spiv' or as he preferred to put it, a 'Wholesale Supplier', who later in the series managed to avoid the call up to the Army due to an allergy to corned beef. Walker was able to procure pretty much anything for a price and was also something of a ladies man, often with his girlfriend (played by Wendy Richard) in tow at social events. By contrast, Pike was a Mummy's Boy who sucked his thumb at times of crisis and who sometimes wore an enormous scarf over his uniform, much to Mainwaring's disapproval, who frequently called him a "Stupid Boy!" It was also tacitly written into the script, though never overtly mentioned, that he was Wilson's son, through the latter's 'friendship' with Pike's mother, Mavis and he usually referred to Wilson as 'Uncle Arthur' much to Wilson's embarrassment.

There was also a plethora of supporting characters, including Mainwaring's nemesis, Chief Air Raid Warden William Hodges, played by Bill Pertwee. Hodges was a somewhat course figure, given to calling Mainwaring 'Napoleon' and who was usually at loggerheads with the platoon and perpetually looking for ways to thwart them, efforts which usually ended in failure for the warden and his sidekick, Mr Yateman the Verger who was played by Edward Sinclair. The platoon was based at the Church Hall and the long suffering vicar, the Reverend Timothy Farthing, played by Frank Williams often played the role of peacemaker between Mainwaring and Hodges.

'We're Doomed' also describes how Jimmy Perry wrote to one of his childhood heroes, Bud Flanagan (played here by the great Roy Hudd) in order to ask him to perform the show's now famous theme tune "Who do you think you are kidding Mr Hitler?" Flanagan agreed to perform and in a very poignant scene, Perry is moved to tears as Flanagan sings the song perfectly in one take and before leaving the studio, remarks to Perry that the song reminded him of those he had sung during the war.

The series, like all good comedy programmes, featured a multitude of catch phrases such as "Don't Panic", "You stupid boy", "Ruddy Hooligans!" "Put that light out!" and of course, Private Frazer's very own "We're Doomed!" as well as many others that are still remembered today, no doubt as the show is still often repeated and is still funny, which is not a bad effort for a show which is 47 years old.

Despite the best efforts to stop the show, Dad's Army was first broadcast in 1968 and went on for nine series. It was also voted 13th in a survey by the British Film Institute of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes.

Dad's Army was superbly written by people who had lived through those times and in Perry's case, who had served in the Home Guard and was acted by people who had also for the most part lived during the war and had often served in the Forces during the war. It was beautifully observed and immediately struck a chord with the British public, not only with the wartime generation but also with younger people, who perhaps recognized traits from their parents or grandparents.

Watching how Dad's Army was conceived and eventually made it to the small screen got me thinking of our own real life Home Guard and especially in my own locality of Greenwich and Woolwich. Through my various researches at the excellent Greenwich Heritage Centre, I do know a little of these men and thought it appropriate to share some of the various photographs I have unearthed.

On 14th May 1940, with the invasion of this country beginning to look imminent, the Secretary of State for War, Anthony Eden made a radio broadcast in which he announced the formation of the Local Defence Volunteers or LDV for short and appealed for volunteers to come forward. The criteria was that men had to be aged between the ages of 17 and 65, not eligible for military service and reasonably fit. There was no shortage of volunteers but there was at this time a shortage of uniforms and equipment. The bulk of the British Expeditionary Force was to be successfully evacuated from France in the ensuing weeks but apart from their rifles, the bulk of their equipment had to be destroyed and left behind. This did not dissuade the embryonic Home Guard, as they were renamed in July 1940 and training continued apace, whilst the supply of weapons gradually improved, with First World War Ross Rifles being brought out of storage as well as instruction in how to carry out guerilla warfare using Molotov Cocktails amongst other improvised weapons. Fortunately, there was never any need to put these makeshift weapons into action against German Panzers.

'R' Sector Home Guard at Southend Hall, Eltham 1942 (Greenwich Heritage Centre)

In Greenwich, the local Home Guard was the 25th County of London Battalion, based in Blackheath at Hollyhedge House and the 34th County of London (London River South) Battalion. In Woolwich, there were again two battalions, the 22nd County of London (Royal Arsenal) and the 26th County of London based at Lowood House on Shooter's Hill Golf Course.

The photograph of 'R' Sector at Eltham taken in 1942, shows a similar mixture in ages as the Dad's Army platoon and there are many proudly wearing their First World War medal ribbons, although not even Jimmy Perry and David Croft could invent the somewhat fearsome character wearing the eye patch!

The 26th County of London Battalion had originally been formed as the 19th Company, LDV and rather confusingly, kept the Roman Numerals 'XIX' as their Unit Badge even after they had adopted their new Home Guard identity. Their original commander, a Mr Shrewsbury was transferred elsewhere at a relatively early stage, although he seems to have been well regarded and was replaced by Major Arthur Dickens, who was highly thought of both as a great and tireless organiser as well as being a great gentleman. Sadly, Major Dickens, not a young man, passed away in 1943 and was replaced by Major HRJ Tobin, who saw the battalion through to the end of the war and the 'stand down' in 1944.

26th County of London Battalion in 1942 - Major Dickens front centre wearing gloves (GHC)

In addition to their anti-invasion duties, the Home Guard performed invaluable service manning guard posts and thus freeing up regular soldiers for front line duties. They also manned anti aircraft guns, which explodes the myth that they never fired a shot in anger.

With the coming of the American entry into the war and the subsequent Allied invasion of France in June 1944, the Home Guard's relevance diminished and they were 'stood down' on 3rd December 1944 but not officially disbanded until the end of that year. The 26th Battalion held a 'Stand Down' Dinner and Cabaret on the 4th December 1944 and the programme to this event survives in the Greenwich Heritage Centre. It looks to have been quite a night and no doubt many beers were sunk and many tall tales exchanged!

Stand Down Cabaret (Author's Collection)

Once the Home Guard was disbanded, each member who had served received a certificate signed by the King, which stated that the holder of the certificate had "In the years when our country was in mortal danger, given generously of his time and powers to make himself ready for her defence by force of arms and with his life if need be."

Home Guard Service Certificate (Author's collection)

The words on the certificate say it all and in it's own small way, Dad's Army does the real life men of the Home Guard and indeed the British people as a whole during the dark days of 1940, a great honour.

Unpublished Sources:

26th County of London Battalion documents - Greenwich Heritage Centre

Sunday 29 November 2015

Book Review: The Last Big Gun

Front cover (Author's image)

Regular readers of this blog might remember that in the October 2015 edition of this blog, we broke new ground by printing some book reviews of some new additions to my library. I'm pleased to say that following a positive response that was reflected in comments received via social media and in the readership figures for the blog, I have decided to include a few more reviews in the coming weeks and months as and when new books are received.

The latest new title to arrive on my doormat is another from one of the foremost naval historians of our times, Brian Lavery, entitled The Last Big Gun: At War & At Sea with HMS Belfast and is a 352 page, full narrative 'biography' of the ship, the first such account to be written.

Since 1971, HMS Belfast has been an integral part of the London tourist scene and in the 44 years that she has been berthed in the Upper Pool of London, she has become a familiar sight to Londoners and visitors alike; in fact the imposing and purposeful looking cruiser has served in her current role for longer than she saw active service with the Royal Navy.

In this well written and lavishly illustrated book, Brian Lavery tells the story of the Royal Navy's last surviving 'big gun' cruiser from the inception of her design and building at Belfast's famous Harland & Wolff Shipyard, via her near demise just months after commissioning following massive damage caused by a German magnetic mine, her subsequent repairs that amounted to a major reconstruction at Devonport Dockyard, service on the Arctic Convoys and her part in the Battle of North Cape, in which the German battlecruiser Scharnhorst was sunk. The author then goes on to describe HMS Belfast's role at Normandy in 1944, followed by her service with the British Pacific Fleet in the immediate aftermath of the Japanese surrender.

The cruiser's post war service, which was largely in the Far East, is also well covered. These duties varied from traditional peace time 'showing the flag' duties to further active service during the so-called 'Yangtse Incident' of 1949 and during the Korean War from 1950-52, where she provided invaluable gunfire support to Allied forces. HMS Belfast's second major reconstruction from 1955-59 is also covered as are her final years of service, once again mainly as part of the Far East Fleet before her relegation to the Reserve Fleet in 1964 and what looked the inevitable ignominy of the breaker's yard, a fate shared by so many of the Royal Navy's wartime fleet.

Brian Lavery covers the rescue of the wartime cruiser in some detail and explains that whilst the British have a fine maritime tradition and an enviable array of preserved ships from the age of sail and the early days of steam, such as HMS Victory, HMS Warrior, the Mary Rose, Cutty Sark and the Great Britain, our record of preserving great warships from the more modern era, especially in comparison with the United States, is less than enviable. The saving of HMS Belfast from what looked her certain end in the scrapyard began to at least partially reverse this 'sea blindness' when it came to preserving our historic warships and we do at least now have the destroyer HMS Cavalier and submarine HMS Alliance to swell the ranks a little, although in this reviewer's opinion, it is nothing short of a national scandal that we failed to preserve for future generations at least one of our fleet of battleships at the end of the Second World War.

Of course, the history of any ship would not be complete without the stories of the crew members and this book is as much of a social history of the Royal Navy during the years of HMS Belfast's existence as that of a history of the ship herself as these two facets are intertwined very skillfully by the author. Fortunately though, the personal accounts never become the centre of attention and Brian Lavery has achieved a nice balance between these accounts and the hard facts behind the ship's various activities both in war and peacetime.

Brian Lavery has produced a very readable biography of HMS Belfast, that should appeal to both the serious naval historian and those with a more general interest in the Royal Navy and it's history alike. The book costs a very reasonable £25.00, is published by The Pool of London Press and I highly recommend it to you.

The Last Big Gun: At War & At Sea with HMS Belfast -  Brian Lavery - The Pool of London Press Ltd, 2015. ISBN 9781910860014

Sunday 15 November 2015

Remembering "The Heroes with Grimy Faces"

The newly unveiled plaque (author's photo)

On Thursday last, 12th November, I was fortunate enough to be invited to Euston Fire Station to attend the unveiling of the latest memorial plaque to London's fallen Second World War firefighters provided by the charity Firemen Remembered organized by the redoubtable Stephanie Maltman.

This plaque, the most recent in an ongoing project, commemorates two London Fire Brigade firefighters and one from the AFS or Auxiliary Fire Service, who lost their lives on the night of 16th/17th September 1940, whilst tackling a fire in Great Portland Street in the midst of an air raid.

The three men, Senior Fireman Thomas William Curson, Auxiliary Fireman Albert Evans and District Officer Joseph Leonard Tobias, inevitably known as 'Toby', were fighting fires that were started by German bombs falling on office buildings in Great Portland Street. The first incident was logged in the St Marylebone Civil Defence Incident Log at 22:15 as a fire above the air raid shelter, which was located in the basement of a five storey office building. At 22:35, a further bomb fell which set fire to a gas main, followed by what turned out to be a false alarm of a UXB. However, no chances could be taken and the nearby BBC studios at Broadcasting House and Western House were evacuated whilst a search for the unexploded device could be undertaken. In the meantime, the men from Station 73 as Euston Fire Station was known, were racing to the scene, under the command of District Officer Tobias. Upon arrival, they encountered a nightmarish scene but one which London's firefighters, both regulars and auxiliaries, had become accustomed to over the past ten days since the beginning of the London Blitz. The two upper floors of the building were already well alight and the fires were rapidly spreading to the other parts of the building. Quickly, Tobias deployed his men and lines of hose were laid and jets of water were soon at work both from inside the building and from the roof of an adjacent building. Euston's Turntable Ladder or 'TL' was put to work, with a lone fireman at the very top of the massive ladder, directing his jet onto the flames beneath him.

The scene of devastation in Great Portland Street (author's collection)

All this was going on whilst the raid was still progressing and with further bombs falling all around. Shortly after 23:00 disaster struck; a High Explosive bomb scored a direct hit on the TL, throwing it's main chassis through the front of 112 Great Portland Street and killing outright Thomas Curson and Albert Evans. District Officer Tobias was caught in the blast and mortally wounded. The frame and extensions of the Turntable Ladder were blasted upwards by the explosion and came to rest on the roof of the building, whilst the upper extension, the part being manned by the lone fireman came to rest hanging precariously down the front of the building. Of the fireman, there was not a sign and the survivors at first feared the worst and felt that he must have been thrown into the blazing building. Amazingly though, a faint cry for help was then heard coming from beneath a pile of debris in the street. The firemen frantically cleared the debris and discovered an Army officer who had just happened to passing when the bomb exploded but beneath him was the injured fireman from the top of the ladder - badly injured but still alive!

Close up view showing the chassis of the Turntable Ladder embedded in the shop front of 112 Great Portland Street (author's collection)

The blast from this bomb, apart from devastating the TL, severely damaged surrounding properties, fracturing both water and gas mains, as well as sending falling masonry tumbling into the street. Apart from those killed, two further firefighters, Fireman Arthur White and Auxiliary Fireman Tom Witherwick were badly injured . At this point, Station Officer Ted Morgan assumed command of the situation and under his calm leadership, the injured were rescued, an alternative water supply was located and the fires were successfully tackled. An extract from the subsequent official report states:

"Station Officer Morgan showed initiative and set an excellent example to the men under his command in taking charge of and extinguishing a fire in Great Portland Street on 16th September 1940, after renewed bombing of the fire had wrecked a turntable ladder and killed or injured a number of the crew and the officer in charge. Recommended for George Medal."

This recommendation was subsequently downgraded to the British Empire Medal, perhaps because Morgan had already been awarded a George Medal for rescuing a lady from a burning building on 29 December 1940. Edward Morgan was obviously a very gallant man because in addition to these two decorations, he went on to be awarded the King's Police & Fire Service Medal for Gallantry for the rescue of a family in March 1941.

A view of the crater in Great Portland Steet (author's collection)

As for 'Toby' Tobias, he died from his wounds the following day, on 17th September 1940.

Apart from Stephanie and other members of Firemen Remembered, last Thursday's ceremony was attended by Sir Keir Starmer, MP for Holborn & St Pancras as well as the Reverend Anne Stevens, vicar of St Pancras and the Reverend Mia Hilborn, Senior Brigade Chaplain for the London Fire Brigade. Also present were many of the members of White Watch from Euston Fire Station, paying tribute to their Wartime counterparts.

Members of White Watch, Euston Fire Station pay tribute to their wartime counterparts (author's photograph)

As might be expected of those who put their lives on the line to protect others, London's firefighters from the London Fire Brigade, Auxiliary Fire Service and from August 1941, the National Fire Service paid a heavy price and by the end of the war, some 327 had been killed in the line of their duties.

Therefore, the work of Firemen Remembered is far from complete and further plaques across London are planned for the future and will be reported on this blog as and when they appear.

The plaque unveiled last Thursday at Euston Fire Station will soon be mounted on the exterior of the Central Synagogue in Great Portland Street, which is close to the scene of the original incident.

Published Sources:

A Wander Through Wartime London - Clive Harris & Neil Bright, Pen & Sword, 2010
London Fire Region Deaths on Duty during the Second World War - WF Hickin, The Watchroom, 2005

Unpublished Sources:

Account of Great Portland Street incident - Mike Pinchen, Firemen Remembered
Metropolitan Borough of St. Marylebone Civil Defence Incident Log

Friday 23 October 2015

The Blitz and Peace in The Pleasaunce

Simon & Barry Day, Ann Veitch and Chris Mansfield (author's photo)

For those not familiar with the area, East Greenwich Pleasaunce is one of those hidden gems that one can find in London, a green oasis of peace that provides valuable open space for the local community. It is a public park but also houses a Royal Naval cemetery that provides the final resting place for around 3,000 sailors who had spent their final days at the former Royal Naval Hospital, later to become better known as the Royal Naval College, Greenwich.

In common with many of London's open spaces, the onset of the Second World War saw East Greenwich Pleasaunce turned over to more warlike usage, with part being used as allotments to boost local food production in the so-called 'Dig for Victory' campaign, with another part allocated as a trench air raid shelter with a capacity for 150 people. These trench shelters appeared in open spaces across London in the early days of the war as an expedient for those people who did not have a garden to accommodate the iconic Anderson Shelter but were not well liked by Londoners and with good reason. They quickly gained a reputation for being cold, damp and not particularly safe places of refuge. This was a reputation which spread after a particularly nasty incident at Kennington Park on the night of 15th October 1940, when a trench shelter located in the park was 'near missed' by a 50 kg bomb, causing the packed shelter to partially collapse, burying alive hundreds of people. The final death toll was believed to be 104, of whom the bodies of only 54 were recovered during the frantic rescue effort. The remaining victims lie buried beneath the park to this day.

Locations of local shelters in 1939 (author's collection)

East Greenwich Pleasaunce is hemmed in by the Southern Railway on one side and by housing on the other three sides, so it was perhaps inevitable that bombs would fall on and around the area. Apart from bombs which fell on surrounding properties and on the railway line, the local Civil Defence Incident Log recorded a High Explosive Bomb falling shortly after midday on 18th October 1940. No damage was recorded and to this day, the exact location of the bomb remains sketchy but this incident, mentioned in a casual conversation with local resident Neil Sharman, was the catalyst for an extraordinary community event that came to fruition last Sunday, on the exact seventy fifth anniversary of the raid.

Land Girl Lizzie with Barry & Simon (Eve Daniels)

Neil had noticed during a rare dry spell in the English summer, the outline of what was the trench shelter and upon learning the fact that the Pleasaunce had been 'collateral damage' from a bomb no doubt intended for the railway line during one of the Luftwaffe's 'tip and run' daylight raids during the dying days of the Battle of Britain, decided it would be a nice idea to commemorate the event with a community day to mark 75 years of 'Peace in the Pleasaunce.'

A panoramic view of the event gives an idea of the numbers attending (Neil Sharman)

Several local groups were brought on board and a small committee formed to build an afternoon's wartime themed event, focusing on the more positive aspects of life in Wartime London, such as the community spirit and bonds formed between people at the time, songs and music from the period, how people lived and how the war inevitably shaped people's lives. All of us involved in the event felt that it was also important to honour those local residents from the 1940s, some of whom still live in the area and who still use the Park. An appeal through the excellent local newspaper, The Greenwich Visitor and via the thriving Cafe in the Pleasaunce, Pistachios in the Park, tracked down three such 'veterans' from the time, Barry, Charles and Vic, all of whom are remarkably sprightly and were only too happy to share their memories from those times.
After much hard work, the day of the event finally dawned and the casual visitor to the Pleasaunce might have wondered if they had unwittingly wandered into a time warp that had taken them back to the London of the 1940s, with soldiers, Land Girls, an ATS Driver and a wartime Policeman on patrol, carrying the inevitable 'tin hat' in case the sirens should sound!

This young local resident tries on a Tin Hat for size! (Neil Sharman)

Fortunately, there were no sirens, no bombers and no bombs falling and the afternoon concentrated on the more peaceful aspects of 1940s life but without forgetting why we were there and what we were commemorating. Local people responded to the event magnificently, with over 200 enjoying the autumn sunshine and joining the event.

The afternoon opened with the local Halstow Choir singing a range of well known songs from the era, including my own personal favourite song from that time 'A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square' as well as other favourites such as 'We'll Meet Again', 'The White Cliffs of Dover' and 'You Are My Sunshine.' 

Local re-enactors, Barry and Simon Day, Ann Veitch and Chris Mansfield, dressed as a Major from 1st SAS, a Sergeant from the Ox & Bucks Glider Airborne, an ATS Driver and a wartime 'Bobby' mingled with the crowds and happily posed for photographs and fielded questions as to the roles played by their real-life counterparts in wartime. The musical theme continued with local singer Rachel Jenkins and her group 'Scarlet', whilst Rich Sylvester entertained the children with the story of Chicken Licken, which with it's connotations of the sky falling in, must have seemed quite appropriate to any Londoners living through the Blitz at the time.
A part of the wartime memorabilia on display (author's photo)

A memory trail formed largely of reminiscences from our local 'veterans' Barry, Charles and Vic was to be found around the Pleasaunce, whilst a Blitz Quiz also teased the minds of those attending. Apart from the Blitz veterans we knew would be attending, we had a most pleasant surprise in the form of two amazing local ladies, May Wellard and Joan Harbottle who decided to come along. These two ladies, both in their 90s, had vivid memories of living and working in the area during the Blitz and were happy to share their memories of those times, making lots of new friends in the process. The 'Blitz Spirit' epitomized!

The Friends of the East Greenwich Pleasaunce reminded everyone of the Park's 'Dig for Victory' connections and encouraged present day visitors to do the same, this time though with spring bulbs rather than fruit and vegetables!

The Cafe did a brisk trade in teas and coffees, thankfully these days not rationed, as well as a nice line in Spam Sandwiches, French Baguettes and remembering Noel Coward's exhortation of 'Don't Let's be Beastly to the Germans', Hot Dogs with German sausages!

For those more interested in more static exhibits, we also had a fairly sizeable display of wartime memorabilia, including uniforms, medals and badges (British & German), books, photographs, bullets and shrapnel (which had been found on the Thames foreshore at Greenwich).

The writer of this blog contributed with a short illustrated talk about the Blitz and it's impact on the people and buildings of Greenwich before fielding many questions and the afternoon was rounded off by a return appearance from the Halstow Choir, who got many in the audience joining in with their rousing singalong.

All in all, it was a most enjoyable afternoon, with a genuinely warm community feel to it and as we were clearing up in the gathering October dusk, this writer was certain that he heard a Nightingale singing in East Greenwich Pleasaunce......

Thanks to all of my new friends who helped arrange and organise this event and to all those who attended, especially our amazing veterans, Barry, Charles and Vic as well as May and Joan, all of whom truly epitomized the Blitz Spirit.

For those wondering about the Kids' Blitz Quiz - here it is below. It's nothing too strenuous, so give it a try and send your answers via the comments form!

The Pleasaunce Blitz Event Quiz

How well do you know the language of the Blitz? Below are seven words or phrases and below that are seven explanations. Can you match the words to the explanation?

1. Dog Fight
2. Ack Ack
3. Rest Centre
4. Hermann
5. Moaning Minnie
6. Morrison
7. Doodlebug

a) A cage-like, table sized construction that could be used as a refuge to shelter inside a house. They came in self assembly form and the householder bolted it together.

b) Two or more planes battling with each other in the sky.

c) The nickname given by Londoners to the air raid sirens that gave warning of a coming raid and the need to take shelter.

d) The place you were directed to if you emerged from the shelter to find your house destroyed.

f) Slang for a German V-1 Flying Bomb.

g) The nickname given to the largest type of German bomb in regular use, so called because of it's supposed likeness to Reichsmarschall Goering.

Tuesday 6 October 2015

Blitz in The Pleasaunce

On Sunday 18th October, we are taking part in an event in the beautiful East Greenwich Pleasaunce, Chevening Road SE10 to mark 75 years (to the day) of peace since German bombs fell in the immediate area. The event starts at 2pm and will feature displays of wartime memorabilia, games and children's activities, veterans from the period who will be happy to share their experiences, wartime food and wartime songs from the Halstow Community Choir as well as a talk from yours truly about the Blitz and how it affected Greenwich and it's local people.

It promises to be an interesting and fun afternoon for all the family, so as it says on the poster - KEEP CALM AND COME ALONG!

Friday 2 October 2015

Recommended Wartime Reading

Over the past few weeks, several new and recently published books have been flooding into Blitzwalker Towers and whilst this blog isn't usually in the business of book reviews, such is the quality and importance of these publications, it seems only right to share the news around our many readers.

Being Silent They Speak (David JB Smith)

The first to arrive on my doormat wasn't exactly a new book but Being Silent They Speak is one of those titles that I have been meaning to getting around to reading since it first appeared on the scene in 2012 and which tells the story of HMS Unbeaten, a 'U' Class submarine lost in tragic circumstances in November 1942. The author, David J B Smith served with the Royal Navy for 23 years and this sense of being a part of and understanding the Navy's sense of 'family' shines through in this meticulously researched and well written volume on the birth, life and premature death of one of the Royal Navy's unsung heroines, as well of course as the men who served in her during some of the most difficult days endured by the Senior Service.

HMS Unbeaten wasn't a headline grabbing submarine of the Royal Navy, such as the Upholder (a squadron-mate of Unbeaten's and the most successful British submarine of the War) under the command of Lt. Cdr David Wanklyn VC, or the Torbay, commanded by another VC winner, Lt. Cdr. Anthony Miers, but was instead one of the many efficient, hard working ships that made up the backbone of the British Fleet. Unbeaten spent much of her brief career in the Mediterranean under the command of Lt. Teddy Woodward, who was quite a character in his own right, and was based on Malta as part of the Tenth Submarine Flotilla. HMS Unbeaten built up an impressive haul of enemy tonnage, including the Italian submarine Guglielmotti, the German U-Boat U-374 as well as sinking or damaging merchant vessels supplying the Axis forces in North Africa. During her times not on patrol, Unbeaten and her crew members had to endure the almost constant bombing of Malta during the height of the virtual siege of that island fortress. So bad did this bombing become, Unbeaten had to resort to remaining submerged whilst in harbour in an attempt to avoid being sunk at her berth.

David J B Smith tells the story of the submarine's building and commissioning and skilfully manages to interweave the story of the vessel with that of the men that crewed her and paints a picture of a happy ship, with a typical wartime complement that was a mixture of regulars and 'Hostilities Only' ratings, or 'Hostile Ordinaries' as they were sometimes known! 

The story is enhanced by many personal accounts from surviving crew members from Unbeaten and the author goes on to describe all facets of life on board one of His Majesty's Submarines, from the day-to-day proceedings ashore and at sea, to life at 'Action Stations' including what to this writer is the unimaginable terror of being depth charged. One surviving crew member's son said that his dad could only state that the nearest thing to an explanation he could come up with was to watch the classic wartime movie 'Das Boot', which in his opinion, best captured the experience. As the author says though, the only way that one would really know what it was like to be on the receiving end of 100 kgs of TNT exploding all around you at regular intervals, would be to actually experience it first hand.

The final two chapters of this fascinating book are of necessity, based on a certain amount of supposition because of the circumstances of HMS Unbeaten's loss. Without wanting to ruin the read, all that is known is that having completed a top secret mission entitled Operation Bluestone and heading for home, the submarine was sunk in the Bay of Biscay on 11th November 1942 by an RAF Coastal Command Wellington in one of those most tragic of wartime occurrences, what is nowadays called a 'Friendly Fire' incident.

HMS Unbeaten was lost with all hands, thirty six officers and men, so we will never know for sure what happened in those last fateful moments but David J B Smith has produced a remarkable testament to these brave men and indeed, all submariners during wartime. Being Silent They Speak at last.

I thoroughly recommend this book to you and look forward to the author's forthcoming volume on the French submarine Surcouf that is due out later this year.

Being Silent They Speak costs a modest £8.99 for the print version, is published by Stand Easy Books and is available from all the usual sources, or direct from the publisher either in conventional printed format or as an e-book.

The next book to arrive on my doormat, or rather in view of the size of it, into my arms, is this recently published work, The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps, 1939-1945.

This can best be described as a coffee table book and is massive both in it's size and the scope of it's subject matter. It has been compiled by Laurence Ward, a principal archivist at the London Metropolitan Archives and features as it's centre piece, new high definition images of each of the 110 Bomb Damage maps that were compiled during and immediately after the war by the London County Council. At the time, this was a truly herculean task, as the maps were meticulously hand coloured in order to record the damage inflicted on London's built up environment. Each colour used records whether a particular building was destroyed, damaged beyond repair, seriously damaged, repairable at cost and so on.

The maps themselves are things of great beauty and when studying them, it is sometimes easy to forget that each carefully coloured in building represents death, injury, personal loss and at the very least the loss of, or damage to, a place to live or work. These maps are also an important part of London's social history and it is right that they have at last been made available to a more general audience than just people like myself, who has frequently studied some of them at the archive.

Apart from the maps themselves, Laurence Ward has written several chapters that explain the raison d'etre behind the maps as well as a brief summary of the history and timeline of the various attacks on London, i.e. The Night Blitz of 1940-41, subsequent 'Tip and Run' raids carried out by fighter bombers, the Baby Blitz, or Little Blitz of early 1944 and the V-Weapons campaigns of 1944 and 1945. The author then goes on to describe the work of the LCC Architects and District Surveyors in wartime as well as the Light & Heavy Rescue Departments. The methodology of the recording of incidents is also described and a sample list of London-wide incidents is also given, which gives the general reader a good idea of the sheer number and range of incidents that the Civil Defence Services (as well as ordinary Londoners) were likely to encounter. A useful chapter on researching war damage at the London Metropolitan Archives is also included, followed by the maps themselves, which rightly take centre stage in this fascinating book.

The book is then supplemented by a selection of the remarkable bomb damage photographs taken by two City of London Police Officers, PCs Arthur Cross and Fred Tibbs, both keen amateur photographers who were tasked with the job of making a photographic record of the bomb damage within the City of London Police area. These photographs were nearly all taken the morning after a major raid and some of them show rescue work still in progress. Some of these photographs I had seen before but many of them are new to me and in this large format are remarkable in their detail and clarity.

There are really not enough superlatives for this truly magnificent work, which is an essential possession for the serious researcher but one which will not be out of place in the home of any Londoner, or indeed anyone with an interest in the history of our capital city and the men and women who lived and worked there at this time. Don't be put off by the list price of £48.00 - it is quite easy to make a considerable saving on this by shopping around.

The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945 is published by Thames & Hudson and is available from all booksellers and also online from the usual sources.

The next book to arrive with me was another with a distinctly 'London' feel to it being entitled The Isle of Dogs During World War II and is written by a local boy, Mick Lemmerman. The author was born on the Island and grew up there during the 1960s and 70s and is part of a trio of local historians who have made it their mission to collect and organize information and images of the Island as well as to foster interest in the locality. Any student of the London Blitz will be aware that the East End and the Dock areas in particular suffered the brunt of the early attacks on the capital and therefore, the Blitz is an integral part of the recent history of this historic area. The other thing that attracted me to this book as soon as I started reading the introduction was Mick's statement that his interest is not so much on the people but on the place - the docks, streets, schools, churches, pubs, bridges etc., and of the timeline of events. A man after my own heart!

In my opinion, some historians of this time have too much of an over reliance on personal accounts, which unsupported by facts, tend to become rather tedious after a very short time. In this comprehensive history, Mick manages to get a nice mixture of personal accounts and hard facts, well supported by a wealth of period photographs and some present day shots to give a 'then and now' perspective of many of the locations mentioned in the text.

The book starts with a brief introduction explaining something of the history of the Island and the construction of the docks, as well as providing the reader with some social history as to the demographic of the residential areas. The author then goes on to give a synopsis on the rise of Hitler in Germany and how Europe slipped inexorably into war during the 1930s.

There then follows a lengthy and useful chapter on the British preparations for war, covering the setting up of the Air Raid Precautions or ARP Sub-Committee in the late 1930s, which began to make provisions for the Civil Defence network across the country. This included the distribution of gas masks to the population, Gas Decontamination training, lighting restrictions (the 'Blackout'), air raid shelters, first aid posts, Air Raid Wardens, Rescue Squads, the Auxiliary Fire Service and Ambulance Service. Also covered in this chapter is the provision of anti-aircraft guns, barrage balloons, conscription and the evacuation of school children and pregnant women from the main centres of population to the relative safety of the countryside.

The scene is now set for the main focus of the book and Mick devotes a chapter to the First Day of The Blitz - 'Black Saturday' 7th September 1940.  The timeline of the evening's events is given on an incident-by-incident basis, with some useful maps to provide the reader with a good idea as to where the bombs fell as well as a good number of personal accounts to illuminate the text and to give the human touch to what was happening on the ground. This chapter really brings home what it must have been like for the local residents and for the Civil Defence workers doing their best to keep the fires at bay and to keep the populace safe.

The following chapter focuses on the remaining days of the Night Blitz and summarize on a daily basis, each raid that affected the Island. Once again, the author provides a nice mixture of hard facts, personal accounts, contemporary news items as well as many photographs that bring the whole period to life very vividly. The following chapter looks at the period after the Blitz and tells of Home Guard exercises with mock battles, 'Tip and Run' raids, daily life in post-Blitz London, the 'Little Blitz', the construction of the Mulberry Harbours for D-Day (of which a considerable portion were built locally) and of course, the V-Weapons and the impact that these had on the already war-weary Islanders.

The final chapters concentrate of the aftermath of the war and the effect on the local population as well as the devastation caused that now had to be rebuilt, including the rise of the once ubiquitous 'pre-fab' as well as the difficulties in dealing with the unexploded wartime ordnance that is unearthed from time to time. The book closes with a chapter on the various memorials to the victims of the Blitz and subsequent attacks that can be found in the area.

All in all, this is a well researched and well written book that is a credit to it's author and a deserved memorial to the people of the Island who suffered so much during times of great hardship. I noticed one small typo (the 7th September 1940 is inadvertently given as 1941 in a couple of parts of the text) but this is a minor quibble. This self published book is very good value at £10.95 and is available direct via the author's blog as well as usual internet sources.

The final book to reach me is another recent publication dating from 2014 and concentrates on an often overlooked aspect of the German air attacks on Britain, the 'Little Blitz' of early 1944. The official name given by the Luftwaffe was Operation Steinbock, but to Londoners hardened by five years of war, it was dismissively known as the 'Baby Blitz' or The Little Blitz and it the latter name from which this book takes it's title. Written by John Conen, the author provides one of the few detailed studies of what was very much the Luftwaffe's last throw of the dice against London, certainly when it came to conventional, manned aircraft.

Operation Steinbock was a strategic failure for the Germans for a number of reasons. Firstly, the Luftwaffe of 1944 was a different animal to that of 1940-41. The losses incurred during the Battle of Britain and subsequent campaigns in the Mediterranean and Russia had weakened it irreparably both in terms of numbers of aircraft and experienced crews. Secondly, the Luftwaffe had not really modernized it's bomber fleet in any meaningful way and still relied largely upon the same obsolescent types of medium bomber that had failed to deliver the knock out blows against Britain in the Night Blitz; the only new type to see service during The Little Blitz was the Heinkel He177, an attempt to produce a heavy bomber with a comparable bomb load to the British and American 'heavies' but a design which suffered many teething problems with it's engine design and which did not appear in sufficient numbers to make any difference to the outcome of the war. The final factor in the failure of Steinbock were the great developments made in the British night fighter network, with all aircraft radar equipped and vectored onto their targets by a well drillled network of controllers and the anti aircraft guns by now equipped with the new proximity fuse.

John Conen begins his book with a chapter devoted to putting the Little Blitz in context which gives a brief run down of the Luftwaffe's previous attacks on British cities before getting down to a month by month breakdown of the Steinbock raids. As the author states, the first raid on the night of 21st/22nd January 1944 was an inauspicious start to the campaign, with only around 40 of the 200+ bombers despatched actually managing to reach London. Of the 500 tonne bomb load, only 268 tonnes fell on land and of this, only 32 tonnes actually hit anything in London. Bombs were scattered all across southeastern England. From a German point of view, things had gone badly wrong and a combination of poor navigation, effective British counter-measures and bad weather were all reasons put forward for this ignominious failure.

The author goes on to describe each raid in some detail and although these raids were nowhere near the scale of the 1940-41 attacks, much death and destruction was caused and as well as the many tons of High Explosive dropped, there seemed to be a greater emphasis on incendiary bombs than previously - perhaps in some measure retaliation for the vast quantities dropped almost nightly on German cities by the RAF.

One incident in the Little Blitz was comparable to anything that happened in the 1940-41 raids and was indeed the worst wartime incident in Chelsea, despite this borough being the third most bombed in London. This was the 'Guinness' incident of the night of 23rd/24th February 1944, so called because the bomb devastated a block of flats belonging to the Guinness Trust. This incident was recounted in the February 2012 edition of this blog and resulted in the award of the George Cross to Tony Smith, a member of the Heavy Rescue squad, who rescued several people from the flooded basement ruins of the building. Despite Smith's heroism, 59 civilians were killed on this terrible night.

The raids petered out in April 1944, with what proved to be the last bomb dropped on London from a conventional aircraft in the early hours of the 19th of that month. Operation Steinbock lingered on with further desultory attacks on southern coastal targets and came to an end on 30th/31st May with attacks on Falmouth and Portsmouth.

Operation Steinbock had no adverse effect on Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Europe which began just six days after the final raid on Falmouth. To the contrary, Steinbock helped the Allies; at the start of Steinbock, the Luftwaffe had 695 serviceable bombers to call upon in Western Europe but the heavy losses incurred meant that by D-Day, they could only muster 133 bomber aircraft, against which were ranged some 45 squadrons (over 800 aircraft) of Air Defence of Great Britain (ADGB) plus the huge Tactical Air Forces at Eisenhower's disposal.

John Conen has produced an excellent and very detailed summary of Operation Steinbock and The Little Blitz is to be commended. At £14.99, the price is perhaps a little steep for a book of only 128 pages but by shopping around online, it is quite easy to obtain this book for considerably less.

All of the books reviewed above are well recommended and are a worthy addition to the libraries of either the serious historian or anyone with an interest in the Second World War.

Being Silent They Speak - David J B Smith - Stand Easy Books, 2012. ISBN 9780957392502

The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945 - Laurence Ward - Thames & Hudson, 2015. ISBN 9780500518250

The Isle of Dogs During World War II - Mick Lemmerman - self published 2015. ISBN 9781507746110

The Little Blitz - John Conen - Fonthill Media, 2014. ISBN 9781781553084

Thursday 3 September 2015

The First Day of the War: September 3rd 1939

Preparing for War - 1938 (author's photo)

"This morning, the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final note stating that unless the British Government heard from them by 11 o'clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such assurance has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany."

Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain addressed the British people at 11:15 on that fateful Sunday morning and his words are well known now but reactions around the world varied greatly as might be expected.

In Berlin, the British ultimatum was read aloud to Hitler by Dr. Schmidt, the official translator at the German Foreign Ministry. The Fuhrer sat immobile and gazed in silence. After what seemed a long interval, he turned to Foreign Minister Ribbentrop, who was also present and asked "What now?" According to Schmidt, Hitler had a savage look to his face, as though implying that Ribbentrop had misled him as to the probable British reaction. Ribbentrop answered quietly "I assume that the French will hand in a similar ultimatum within the hour."

In London, even before Chamberlain had spoken, the Royal Navy sent the simple cable "TOTAL GERMANY" to it's ships and bases around the world, followed that evening by a further signal "WINSTON IS BACK" advising, or perhaps warning the fleet that Winston Churchill had been reappointed to his First World War role as First Lord of the Admiralty. 

Advice on Shelters (author's photo)
Barely had the Prime Minister finished speaking, when at 11:27 in London, the mournful note of the air raid sirens, which were to become so familiar over the coming almost six years, announced to the capital that an air raid was imminent. Many Londoners, perhaps remembering Stanley Baldwin's assertion that "The Bomber will always get through" reinforced by having read or seen the movie version of HG Wells' 'The Shape of Things to Come' doubtless felt that this might be the beginning of an apocalyptic future for London as outlined by the likes of Bertrand Russell, or indeed the British Air Staff, who in 1938 predicted that 3,500 tons of bombs could fall on London in the first twenty four hours of a future conflict, causing 58,000 fatal casualties and many more injured. Others were doubtless more sanguine but almost everyone was afraid to a greater or lesser degree, although most kept their fear well concealed. In fact, the alert was a false alarm, caused by a French aircraft which had stumbled into Britain's air defence system. The first air raids on London would not come until a year later and although the raids when they did come would naturally bring death and destruction, the consequences were never as remotely devastating as had been predicted. The 58,000 figure of fatalities confidently predicted for London in 1938, was only just exceeded (by 2,000) across the entire country for the duration of the war.

The spectre of Poison Gas (author's photo)
Around the World, the British Empire and Commonwealth followed suit - the idea of Britain as 'The Mother Country' seems quaint and outdated today but it was something that still held sway in 1939. Australia and New Zealand declared war immediately, with New Zealand Prime Minister Michael Savage memorably stating of Britain that "Where she goes, we go!" South Africa at first demurred from declaring war and wished to remain neutral, but the Government was defeated in a parliamentary vote and the new Prime Minister, Jan Smuts, declared war on Germany on September 6th. The Canadian Government followed on September 10th.

In Washington DC, President Roosevelt broadcast to the American people hours after the British and French declaration of war and although he had to tread carefully at this stage to preserve American neutrality, Roosevelt nailed his colours clearly to the mast in his intention to stand firm with the democracies of Europe.

"This nation will remain a neutral nation, but I cannot ask that every American remains neutral in thought as well. Even a neutral has a right to take account of the facts. Even a neutral cannot close his mind or his conscience."

As yet unknown to his listeners, the President had already resolved to recall Congress so that his Administration could seek a repeal of the arms embargo and at least passively support the democracies against the Nazi regime.

Confirming the news (author's collection)

Even at this early stage of the war, Hitler was anxious about possible American involvement and his anxiety must have been further increased when news reached him that the war had taken it's first casualties in the North Atlantic, when the liner Athenia was torpedoed by the U-30 at 19:43 that same evening. The vessel was carrying 1,103 passengers, including some 300 American citizens anxious to escape the war now overwhelming Europe and who were returning home via the liner's intended destination of Montreal. 

Mindful perhaps of keeping America out of the war and convinced that Britain and France would soon be looking for a political solution anyway, Hitler had already ordered that passenger ships carrying passengers were to be allowed to proceed in safety, even if part of a convoy but Fritz Julius Lemp, in command of U-30 did not bother to check on the credentials of the Athenia and ordered the firing of a salvo of torpedoes at the defenceless liner. Lemp then compounded his error by surfacing and opening fire on the stricken vessel in an attempt to shoot away her wireless aerials. It was at this point, with lifeboats obviously being filled with passengers that the U-Boat commander realized that he had sunk a passenger ship both in violation of International Law and his Fuhrer's order but he made no attempt to atone for his error and merely submerged without offering any assistance. 

The liner had in fact, sent out a distress signal and was remarkably still just about afloat by the time that rescue vessels arrived on the scene, although she sank later the following morning. The 118 persons killed were the first casualties of the Battle of the Atlantic and included 22 American citizens, which caused outrage in the United States and set the majority of public opinion in that country against the Germans from the outset.

Back in England, aside from the Royal Navy's instructions to the fleet, the other services were taking practical steps to take the war to Germany. At RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire that evening, six Hampden bombers of 89 Squadron under the command of Squadron leader Leonard Snaith took off to attack German warships at the great naval base at Wilhelmshaven. An earlier reconnaissance flight by a single Blenheim bomber from RAF Wyton had confirmed the presence of German warships but the failure of the aircraft's wireless to operate at 24,000 feet had caused a delay in reporting the fact until after it's return to base.

The raid, such as it was, was a fiasco; the crews had already been given strict instructions not to bomb civilian establishments, either houses or dockyards and therefore could only bomb the warships if they were at anchor in the harbour rather than alongside for fear of hitting buildings rather than the ships. As they approached Wilhelmshaven, the weather, already poor, became even worse and the cloudbase dropped to 100 feet. Not really knowing for sure where his squadron was, Snaith took the only decision open to him and turned his squadron for home, dumping their bombs into the sea en route. They eventually reached Scampton at 22:30 but fortunately everyone made it home on this occasion. Those on the follow up raids ordered the next day would not be so fortunate; of the fourteen Wellingtons and fifteen Blenheims despatched, five of the Blenheims were shot down and although they managed to land three bombs on the Admiral Scheer, all of these failed to explode. Ten of the Wellingtons became hopelessly lost and some dropped their bombs on the Danish city of Esbjerg, some 110 miles off target, where they killed two people. Clearly, the RAF had much to learn but at least had tried to take some offensive action.

Churchill in defiant mood (IWM)

The Army had already begun to implement plans for a British Expeditionary Force to be sent to France some ten hours before the declaration of war, when the passenger ship Isle of Thanet sailed from Southampton to Cherbourg with the first advance party of what was to become a sizeable force of over 300,000 men, the majority of whom would be evacuated from France less than a year later.

The conflict at sea was a shooting war from the outset but apart from this and some further costly efforts by the RAF in attempting to bomb German naval targets in daylight without fighter protection, the war was soon to settle down into a period of relative inertia known to the British as 'The Phoney War', the French as 'Drole de Guerre' ('Funny War') or in Germany as 'Sitzkrieg' ('Sitting War.')

This somewhat surreal period was typified by an approach to the war that seems farcical now - for example, when British MP Leo Amery proposed that the RAF drop incendiary bombs on the Black Forest, in order to destroy stocks of ammunition thought to be stockpiled there, he received the reply from Sir Kingsley Wood, Secretary of State of Air, that the Forest was 'private property' and therefore could not be attacked. Wood also stated that armaments factories could not be bombed for the same reason and that furthermore, such attacks might provoke the Germans to mount similar attacks on British factories. The activities of the RAF's bomber force was soon to be limited to dropping leaflets on German cities which no doubt had little effect on the civilian population other than increasing their supplies of scrap paper. 

The Phoney War period was to end suddenly with the Norwegian Campaign in April 1940, one consequence of which was the downfall of Chamberlain's Government and it's replacement with a coalition Administration under Churchill, which saw the country through the dark days of the Fall of France and Low Countries, followed by the evacuations from Dunkirk and the Channel Ports to the defiance of the Battle of Britain and The Blitz and which would eventually see the country to victory in 1945.

Published Sources:

The Battle of the Atlantic - John Costello & Terry Hughes, Collins 1977
The Battle of Heligoland Bight 1939 - Robin Holmes, Grub Street 2009
BEF Ships before, at and after Dunkirk - John de S Winser, World Ship Society 1999
Bomber Boys - Patrick Bishop, Harper Press 2007
London at War 1939-1945 - Philip Ziegler, Pimlico 2002
The World at War - Mark Arnold-Foster, Collins 1973