There are also many memorials and plaques to notable wartime events and personalites located across London. Many of these are sited in high profile locations and are probably well known to both Londoners and visitors alike but there are also many that are tucked away in lesser known places and today, we are going to explore some examples of both types of these.
|Shrapnel scars at St Clement Danes (author's photo)
|Baron Dowding's statue at RAF St Clement Danes (author's photo)
|Sir Arthur Harris's statue outside RAF St Clement Danes (author's photo)
There is also another figure from the wartime RAF commemorated not too far from St Clement Danes, who whilst not as controversial a figure today, certainly divided opinion within the Service at the time, although today almost all historians now believe his tactics were correct and indeed Lord Tedder, a former Chief of the Air Staff stated "If any one man won the Battle of Britain, it was him."
The "him" in question was Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park, AOC of 11 Group, RAF Fighter Command for the whole of the Battle of Britain. A New Zealander, Park was much beloved by his subordinates, having no 'side' to him at all, but was perhaps less loved by some of his contemporary senior officers. Maybe this was down to his being seen as a mere 'colonial' and maybe it was Park's straight talking and inability to suffer fools that caused this friction but there is no doubt that he did not see eye-to-eye with his counterpart in neighbouring 12 Group, Sir Trafford Leigh Mallory. The two men had diametrically opposite views on fighter tactics; Park believed in intercepting enemy formations as far forward as possible, using relatively small formations of fighters, whilst Leigh Mallory, encouraged by subordinates like Douglas Bader, was an advocate of the so-called 'Big Wing' in which as many as seven or eight squadrons would be formated together to attack in large numbers. Park had already experimented with large formations during the Dunkirk operations and had found them to be unwieldy. It took time to gather together such a large number of aircraft and by the time they had done so, the attacking bombers had often discharged their loads and were on the way home. Furthermore Bader, although undoubtedly a brave man, was something of a loose cannon and would often ignore instructions given to him by the ground controllers, preferring instead to look for the enemy where his 'gut instinct' told him they would be. Thus, when Park called upon 12 Group for assistance, as was their function, they would often not be in the right place, or sometimes not turn up at all. As a result of this, Park didn't trust Leigh Mallory, told him so and more importantly told Dowding so into the bargain.
Unfortunately for Park, Leigh Mallory was also jealous for control of 11 Group and his friend Sholto Douglas had envious eyes towards Dowding's position. Sholto Douglas was also used to the machinations of the Whitehall machine and used his political connections to make sure that the two men got their own way, with the result that with the Battle of Britain won, Park's reward was to be effectively sacked and relegated to Training Command. His replacement was Leigh Mallory, with Douglas manouvering himself into the top job upon Dowding's enforced retirement. Park was later moved to Malta, where using the same tactics as he used in the Battle of Britain, transformed the situation and stopped the air raids on the beseiged island within weeks of his arrival and later still in the war, commanded the Allied Air Forces in the Far East, replacing Leigh Mallory who had been killed in an air crash.
|Sir Keith Park's statue in Waterloo Place (author's photo)
|Plaque outside the Lord's Pavilion (author's photo)
|The Second World War panel on the Submariners' Memorial (author's photo)
|HQS Wellington at her berth on Victoria Embankment (author's photo)
Just downstream from HQS Wellington there was until quite recently, another veteran from the war at sea, this time from the previous conflict, in the shape of HMS President, formerly known as HMS Saxifrage, a Flower class sloop dating from January 1918 and which saw active service escorting Atlantic Convoys. She was also known as a 'Q Ship', and was superficially disguised to look like a merchant ship, with her guns hidden from view. The idea was that German U-Boats would surface to engage with guns what was thought to be an easy target, only for the Q Ship to then reveal her true identity and use her overwhelming fire power to sink the submarine. In this guise, the ship's log of the Saxifrage records that she engaged nine U-Boats in her wartime career. Being completed right at the end of the war, HMS Saxifrage's service was brief and she was of little use to the peacetime Royal Navy. In 1922, she was moored permanently on the Victoria Embankment, renamed President and used as the Drill Ship for the London Division, Royal Navy Reserve, a role which she fulfilled until 1988, when she was decommissioned upon the opening of a shore establishment by the same name located slightly further downstream at St Katherine's Dock. The vessel was until recently used as a wedding and corporate venue, being latterly painted in a frankly awful approximation of a wartime 'dazzle' camouflage scheme but earlier this year, she was towed down to Chatham Dockyard pending a refurbishment which will hopefully see her return to a berth in the capital in time for her centenary in 2018 and also we must hope, in a more appropriate colour scheme.
|HMS President at her former berth on Victoria Embankment (author's photo)
Apart from the Senior and Junior Services, the British Army is also well represented in Westminster in the form of numerous plaques and statues, covering all aspects of the service from the early days of defeat and evacuations, through to the winning years of 1944-45.
|Lord Gort's Blue Plaque at 34 Belgrave Square (author's photo)
As we might expect, our Allies during the Second World War are also well represented in London. General Wladyslaw Sikorski had been an integral part in the formation of a free and independent Poland during the Polish-Soviet war of 1918-1921 and had become an almost legendary figure amongst the Polish people for his exploits during that conflict. He had subsequently briefly been Primer Minister in 1922-23 and had also played a large part in the organisation of the Polish Army. Following the coup organised by Josef Pilsudski in 1926, Sikorski declared his opposition and was susbequently relieved of his Army command in 1928 and went into retirement and semi-exile in Paris. Following the German invasion in September 1939, Sikorski pressed unsuccessfully for a command and escaped back to Paris via Romania, where he formed a Government in Exile with Wladyslaw Raczkiewicz as President and Stanislaw Mikolajczyk. Sikorski was invited by the President to become Prime Minister. Despite their defeat, the Poles still commanded considerable forces that had escaped to France and Great Britain. Almost the entire Polish Navy had escaped, as had large numbers of airman and several divisions of the Polish Army. Following the fall of France in June 1940, Sikorski rejected a proposal by Marshal Petain that Poland should capitulate along with the French and the Government in Exile, followed by many thousands of Polish servicemen, escaped to Great Britain. Following the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, tens of thousands of Polish prisoners were released and made their way to British controlled North Africa, where they fought with great distinction. The Soviet change of heart came too late for the 20,000 Polish Army officers who had been murdered by the Soviets and buried in the Katyn Forest. This atrocity by the Soviets would weigh heavily on Sikorski's heart as well as upon future Soviet-Polish relations. Sikorski himself died in an air accident when his Liberator bomber crashed on take off from Gibraltar. He had been returning from an inspection of his troops in North Africa and his death remains controversial to this day; the Soviets had broken off diplomatic relations with Sikorski's Government in Exile and conspiracy theories abound about his possible assassination by the Soviets. Nothing was ever proved although his death had a profound effect on Allied-Polish relations, with no subsequent Polish leader having anything like Sikorski's influence with the Americans and British. Sikorski was buried at the Polish War Cemetery at Newark on Trent, although with the formation of a free and democratic Poland following the collapse of the Soviet Union, his remains were exhumed and transported to a new grave at Wawel Castle in Kracow. His statue pictured below is in Portland Place and was unveiled in 2000.
|General Sikorski's statue in Portland Place (author's photo)
|Eagle Squadron insignia (author's collection)
71 Squadron was the first of the Eagle Squadrons to be formed, in September 1940 but was not declared operational until February 1941 at RAF Church Fenton. The second unit was 121 Squadron at RAF Kirton-in-Lindsay in February 1941, with the final one, 133 Squadron being formed in July 1941 at RAF Coltishall. Upon transfer to the American Eigth Air Force in September 1942, the squadrons were re-numbered as the 334th, 335th and 336th Fighter Squadrons respectively, initially retaining their Spitfires until re-equipped with P-47 Thunderbolts in January 1943. During their time with the RAF, they had earned twelve Distinguished Flying Crosses and one Distinguished Flying Order. At the insistence of the men themselves, all of the original RAF Eagle Squadron pilots continued to wear their RAF pilot's 'wings' alongside their new American insignia. Of the original thirty four pilots from 1940, only four of them were able to transfer to American control. The remainder had either been killed or captured.