Children of WWII



In 1939 with war about to break out, the government expected major air attacks on all Britain's cities, and that this bombing would pave the way for a German invasion. The government felt it needed to get at least the children out of the city and into the safety of the countryside. Plans for the evacuation of school children began in July 1939 before the outbreak of war. Mass evacuation began on September 3rd 1939 the day that war was declared. Children, mothers and expectant mothers were moved out of the danger areas and into the relative safety of the countryside, to places in Kent, Sussex, Wales, Devon, Cornwall, and many other areas. Children returned to school from their summer holidays and suddenly found that they were all about to move to a different part of the country.


Imagine that you are about to leave your parents, you don't know where you are going or for how long you will be away. You are probably going to a place in the countryside that you have never been to, maybe you have never been to the countryside before. You are going to be staying with people you have never met before, you do not even know their names let alone whether they are nice or not. You have a small emergency ration packed-lunch, a gas mask and a postcard ready to send home to tell your parents where you are. If you are lucky you will get to stay with your friends or your brothers and sisters, but then again, you may not. Add, to these feelings of uncertainty, the threat of war, the fear of attack and invasion, and you might be close to feeling the way an evacuee may have felt standing on the train platform waiting to be sent to the safety of the countryside.


Just under half of all London school children were evacuated. They were met in their countryside destinations by the billeting officers that would take them to their foster homes, and by volunteers from the Red Cross and members of the Women's Voluntary Service (W.V.S.) who assisted with the care and attention the children needed. Some children went to foster homes on farms, some to cottages, some to the manor house (where the care of several children might be left to the servants).
Many Londoners who were moved to the countryside found that they and their country hosts came from completely different worlds. Both the Londoner and the country-dweller had their own prejudiced view of what the other was like. Londoners thought that country folk would be backward, old-fashioned and snobbish. The country hosts thought their guests from London would be dirty, loud, ill mannered and lice-ridden. Evacuation exposed many of these old prejudices and forced people to face issues concerning the differences and imbalances of social class, and the sometimes-squalid conditions of poverty-stricken city life. Evacuation introduced one half of Britain to the other half, inner city to country, middle-class to working-class. A character in the 1941 film 'Dawn Guard' said,


"We found out in this war how we were all neighbours, and we aren't going to forget it when it's all over".


For some London children the experience of evacuation was not a happy one. They missed their families, friends and familiar city streets. Sometimes their new foster parents did not understand them or treated them harshly. For others, it was the best time of their lives and they enjoyed the fresh country air, good country food and lots of new things to do. Perhaps most importantly they made friendships and learned things about themselves and their foster parents, which stayed with them all their lives. One schoolteacher, evacuated with his school to Somerset wrote:


"All of the evacuees have gained an experience and a broadened outlook which will inevitably modify their future lives. A deeper understanding will, I hope, arise between the peoples of our own land"


Let's leave the final word to a Londoner evacuated in June 1940. George Knott with his friend Frank Moons (both eleven year old lads from Tooting in south west London) was evacuated to Barnstaple in north Devon. As an older man, George looks back:


"I think our foster mother found us a bit hard to understand with our somewhat more worldly outlook and ways. I am grateful to her for taking us in as it could not have been easy to handle two lively young strangers, and we were warm and comfortable and well fed at all times"


The Second World War started in September 1939 and to start with nothing much seemed to be happening. It was not until after April 1940 with the invasion of France, the evacuation of Dunkirk and the start of the Blitz that the war really came home to the people of London. The British referred to this period of relative quiet as the 'Bore War' or the 'funny war' and later they used an American term - the 'Phoney War'.


Londoners were now used to the blackout but there had been few air raids to justify its gloom. Many homesick evacuees began to return home despite much government propaganda directed at mothers that warned against it. Some propaganda tried to persuade mothers that they would be doing Hitler a favour if they brought their children back to the danger zones. The government introduced special railways fares for mothers so they could visit their evacuated children in the country. These were called "Visit to Evacuees" Cheap Day Returns.


The movement home, away from the safety of the countryside back to the familiar streets of the city, is sometimes known as the 'drift back'. By January 1940, 3 out of 4 evacuees had returned home. This move back to London was soon reversed when the Germans invaded France. The summer of 1940 saw a second wave of evacuation just before the start of the Blitz.


The resources on this page look at some of the ways that the government used to persuade London parents to send their children out of the city. This includes posters, photographs for newspaper stories and a photo-journal of a day in the life of one mother, Mrs Carter, and her visit to her evacuated children. All the sources were produced by the Ministry of Information.



Most London children were evacuated through their schools. Altogether 827,000 school children were evacuated along with 103,000 teachers and helpers. 524,000 children under the school age went with their mothers. 12,000 pregnant women also left the city to protect their unborn children.

This government notice was posted in schools telling parents about evacuation:

Government Evacuation Scheme.

The government have ordered evacuation of school children. If your children are registered for evacuation, send them to their assembly point at once.
If your children are not registered and you wish them to be evacuated, the teachers or school keeper will help you.
If you do not wish your children to be evacuated you must not send them to school until further notice.
Posters notifying the arrival of parties in the country will be displayed at the schools at which the children assembled for evacuation.

E. M. Rich. Education Officer L.C.C.

(L.C.C. stands for the London County Council. This was the local authority that ran all the schools in London).

Entire schools were evacuated, along with teachers and helpers, and many evacuees experienced lessons that were very different from the ones they were used to in London. This page has a number of examples of London schoolchildren and the things they did when they were evacuated.


When war began, London had its own ready-made shelter system - the Underground. Many Londoners used the Tube as their full-time or part-time shelter from the air raids. At first this was a little disorganized with people sleeping when and where they could, even when the trains started running again in the morning (look at the two photographs of the Elephant and Castle tube shelter). However at the peak of the Blitz, near the end of September 1940, 79 Underground stations were being used as shelters and 177,000 Londoners were sleeping in the Underground system.


The Tube was also used by government and industry. Special offices were built in disused passages and on the platforms at the Down Street, Dover Street, Hyde Park Corner, Knightsbridge, and Holborn Tube stations. Sometimes the War Cabinet met in the Tube shelters to escape the bombing. Anti Aircraft Control used another disused station as its headquarters.


In November 1940, Plessey's of Ilford put its factory underground. The factory occupied the Central Line system through Wanstead to Newbury Park, creating a production line five miles long. Mr Hugh Douglas, a foreman in Plessey's during the war, remembered the line was so long that he was given a bicycle to get around the machines. This Underground factory employed 2,000 day and night shift workers and continued to supply the RAF with aircraft parts throughout the war. There was another Underground factory in the long, wide Underground subway that led to the Earl's Court exhibition halls. This factory also made aircraft component parts from 15th June 1942, until 14th June 1945. All of its workforce were voluntary part time transport workers.


A further eight Underground shelters were built by London Transport at particular sites that could be converted into new Underground lines after the war. The south London sites were at Clapham South, Clapham Common, Clapham North, and Stockwell. The north London sites were at Chancery Lane, Goodge Street, Camden Town, and Belsize Park. These shelters were built for the general public, with room for 64,000 people, but for most of the war they were used for military purposes. General Eisenhower used one as headquarters for co-ordinating D-day activities. However by the time the Germans started the V-weapon flying bomb attacks, five of the new shelters were opened to the public. After the war the Clapham Common shelter was the first London home for forty Jamaicans who came to Britain on the S.S. Empire Windrush.



Once sheltering in the tube had been approved, it had to be organised by local government and Civil Defence. 79 stations were fitted with bunks, first aid clinics, and chemical toilets. On November 25th 1940, the first of 22,000 specially made triple-bunk beds were fitted into the deep Tube stations at Lambeth North. From 29th October 1940 there were even 124 canteens throughout the system, with food delivered by special trains.


The government attacked the health and sanitation problems by issuing posters with the message "Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases" and giving general advice on how to stay healthy. Orders were given to disinfect the air in the shelters. Toilets were provided, although too few, too late and too often they overflowed.


The government introduced a system of Shelter Marshals (they had the letters SM on their helmets). Their job was to keep order in all shelters, give first aid, help those in need as well as deal with such problems as flooded tunnels and overflowing toilets. On 2nd November 1940 season tickets were introduced so that shelterers could reserve their place in the Underground stations.


Many Londoners found shelter wherever they could - in churches, in wine cellars, in boiler rooms. In March 1940, the government asked local authorities to build brick and concrete shelters on the surface. These were usually at the end of streets or under railway arches and were used by the people living in that street, perhaps about 50 people in total. A shortage of concrete meant that many of these shelters were not that strong. There were other reasons why these shelters were not very popular. They were cold, damp, and dark. Ventilation was poor and the general stench was not helped by the fact that the chemical toilets tended to overflow.


Trench shelters were also built in public parks and gardens, dug into the ground, lined, and then given roofs of either concrete or steel. They normally contained about 50 people but were unpopular because they used to flood very easily. The idea of spending the entire night sitting with your feet in a puddle of water was unappealing to most Londoners.


No matter what the accommodation, when families were bombed out of their home they found a corner of some shelter and tried to make do as best they could.



In November 1940 the government took a Shelter Census of central London to see who was sheltering where. It found

2,250,000 Anderson shelters were given away free at the start of the Blitz. The roof was made of corrugated steel and was dome-shaped, the roof was bolted to strong rails and the structure was put 3ft underground with 18 inches of earth on top. People constructed Anderson shelters in their back gardens. Some of the drawbacks of this type of shelter was that it tended to flood regularly, the space inside was generally too small for a family to sleep in, it didn't keep the noise of the air raids out, and war-time shortages of steel meant that after a time they had to be stopped being produced.


The Morrison shelter was named after the Minister for Home Security, Mr. Herbert Morrison. It was a family shelter, free for most people, and one advantage it had over the Anderson shelter was that it could be kept indoors. This helped to reduce noise, it got rid of the flooding problem, and it helped to minimise disruptions made to normal home life. It had a steel roof, wire mesh sides, and could be used as a table during the day. It was 2ft 9 inches high and was just big enough to sleep in. 5000,000 were given out by November 1941 and the Morrison shelter was widely used for the later air raid attacks from the V-weapons.


Before the Second World War, some people believed that a woman's place was in the home. Many firms were reluctant to employ married women. For example, until the Married Women Teachers Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919, women had to leave teaching when they got married. After 1919, even though it was illegal, some local authorities still placed obstacles in the path of female employees.


The Second World War changed all that. It was a total war that meant everybody was involved. With many men away in the army, navy and air force, women had to take over the jobs they left behind. Women worked everywhere: in the armed forces as drivers, clerks or military police; on the anti-aircraft guns and in ARP control centres; as sand-bag fillers and fire-fighters; in the Women's Voluntary Service (the WVS); in factories, underground and over ground, producing munitions for the war; on farms in the Land Army growing food for a hungry nation.


Under the National Service Act of 1941, all women between the ages of 18 and 60 had to sign up for some form of work. These figures show how essential the contribution of women was to the whole war effort.


1942 December  8.5 million women, aged 19 to 46,
had registered

1943 May6,311,000 were working in
industry or the armed services

1943 December  1.5 million women workers in the engineering industry, 30% of the total workforce


One out of every three workers in the factories was a woman, making the planes, tanks, guns and bullets needed in the war, labouring on heavy industrial machinery that prejudiced people before the war had said was not 'women's work'. To help all the workers in industry, Ernest Bevin (the Minister of Labour) introduced improved welfare facilities in or near the factories. These included proper canteens, nursery schools and medical help.


Women from all social backgrounds got involved. The Ministry of Information followed one upper-class young woman in her duties at a WVS canteen:


"Miss Patience Brand, in the thick of London's society whirl before the war, is now a hard-working Women's Voluntary Services (WVS) worker whose happy smile and unbounding energy have cheered and comforted thousands of blitzed Londoners. Boo Brand is only 18, her friend Rachel Bingham 20. They sleep at the WVS canteen service depot with the alarm set for 2.30 am for it is at that unearthly hour that they must get up and get their canteen ready for serving shelterers who leave for work at the crack of dawn. Despite the hour they get up cheerfully and dress between the pillars reinforcing their sleeping quarters"


The massive contribution made by women to the war effort was recognized by all. The US War Department offered this advice to American soldiers when they came to Britain in 1942 (quoted in Susan Briggs 'Keep Smiling Through', Fontana 1975):


"British women have proved themselves in this war. They have stuck to their posts near burning ammunition dumps, delivered messages afoot after their motor-cycles have been blasted from under them. There isn't a single record of any British woman in uniformed service quitting her post, or failing in her duty under fire. When you see a girl in uniform with a bit of ribbon on her tunic, remember she didn't get it for knitting more socks than anyone else in Ipswich"


Gillian Tanner was one of these "girls in uniform with a bit of ribbon on her tunic", awarded the George Medal as a fire-fighter in the Auxiliary Fire Service. The George Medal is given to civilians only for acts of great courage and bravery where a person has put her or his own life at great risk in order to save others.


Europe of the 1930s was in turmoil, and London, along with the rest of Britain, was preparing for war.


In World War One, there had been two major raids on London in the summer of 1917 made by Zeppelin bombers (a Zeppelin was an airship, a kind of balloon). By 1939, air technology had developed rapidly. The notion of new and improved planes and bombs, capable of even greater destruction directed at London filled people with foreboding. It was clear that the authorities were going to have to prepare themselves for attacks on civilians.


Air raid precautions to protect the people of London were made compulsory by the government as early as 1937. In April of that year an Air Raid Warden service was set up. Just over a year later 200,000 people had been recruited into the service.


The fear of poison gas attacks was another threat to Londoners. Poison gas had been used in the First World War on the Western Front. Consequently, gas masks were provided for all and it was made compulsory to carry them at all times.


Londoners began to build a picture in their minds of what a war would mean for them, how it would effect them in their very homes.


At 11:15am on Sunday 3rd September 1939, on BBC radio, the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, announced the declaration of war on Nazi Germany. At 11:27am, the air raid warning sirens wailed throughout London. Londoners had experienced practice bomb alerts before but this one must have felt different, more real perhaps, as the people filed into the shelters guided by police and ARP Wardens.


The planning of Air Raid Precautions started in 1937 before the war, and was fully ready by 25th September 1938. When war did start in 1939, ARP introduced several changes that affected the lives of Londoners.


The Blackout

To stop the bombers using the light of the city to help them pinpoint targets, the government ordered a 'blackout'. All lights were to be switched off or turned down. Street lamps and neon lights were turned off. Special hoods were placed over the headlights of cars allowing only a tiny slit of light to light the road ahead. People by law had to prevent any light from being seen outside. Blinds, curtains, cardboard, paper, even black paint were used to cover the windows of residential homes. It was the job of ARP wardens to enforce this law. They would patrol the streets guided by the dim light of their hooded torches, knocking on the doors of those households that failed to uphold the rules of the blackout.


Problems of the Blackout

With the outbreak of war, the blackout became compulsory beginning half an hour after sunset and ending half an hour before sunrise. It brought new problems for Londoners. Following the first night of complete darkness, posters were issued to warn people to "Watch out in the Blackout" as many people were injured tripping up, falling down steps, or bumping into things. In September 1939, the first month of the blackout, the number of people killed in road accidents increased by 100%. Londoners were not only finding it hard to see, they were finding it hard to be seen.


Gas Masks

Thirty-eight million gas masks were issued to the people of Britain. You were supposed to carry them with you all of the time and could be arrested if you didn't. Schools had special practice sessions in the classroom to help children get used to them. Made of rubber and metal with canvas webbing they covered the whole of the face or, if you were a baby, the whole body. Fortunately there were no gas attacks on the mainland of Britain in the Second World War and so the gas masks were never used.



Sandbags started to appear all over London, stacked high in the doorways of important buildings, used inside basement shelters to protect shelterers from falling bricks of damaged walls. ARP wardens' posts were completely surrounded by them and sandbags were even used to protect the famous Eros statue in the middle of Piccadilly Circus.


Paint and tape

Other measures included painting the tops of red post boxes with yellow gas-detection paint that changed colour to warn people of the presence of poisonous gas in the air. The people of London were encouraged to take their own measures such as gas-proofing a room in their house with cellulose sheets taped onto walls. Some people put strips of masking tape on their windows to stop them from shattering in a bomb blast. It wasn't long, however, before all the materials needed to take such measures were difficult to obtain or expensive to buy.


Barrage balloons

Great silver balloons began to appear in the skies over London. These were called barrage balloons, or 'blimps'. A blimp was as an anti-aircraft device. Its job was to prevent planes from making dive-bomb attacks or from low-flying raids. The specially formed Balloon Command of the RAF was in charge of operating the balloons, they maintained the balloons and wound them up and down as necessary.


Anti-aircraft guns and searchlights

Capable of firing shells over 17 cm in diameter, batteries of guns were set up on specially reinforced sites all over London. Their job was to shoot down enemy planes or deter them from attacking the city. When a group of them fired together, they made a huge noise, the ground jumping and shaking with each round. It is estimated that one third of all the German planes destroyed over London were shot down by anti-aircraft guns. To help both the guns and the fighter pilots spot enemy planes, powerful searchlights, twenty million times more powerful than an ordinary light bulb, would probe the sky at night.


The Civil Defence was responsible for both the emergency services (fire, ambulance and police) and also the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) staff. On 23rd August 1939, the headquarters of London's Civil Defence went on twenty-four hour alert and stayed that way for the next six years. Londoners soon came to rely on the tireless dedication of its Civil Defence workers for their survival once the relentless devastation of the Blitz began. The first photograph on this page shows all the Civil Defence people and vehicle who might be involved in an 'Incident', their official word for a bomb attack.


Air Raid Wardens

Each London borough had a Chief Warden. Each borough was divided into districts. Each district was split into different posts. Each post would be split into six or more sectors that had between three and six wardens serving under a senior warden.


Each warden patrolled an area covering several streets. This was the way in which London was divided into manageable areas for the purposes of bomb surveillance. Each warden had to report to his or her post where and when a bomb had exploded. After reporting the warden would return to the scene to look after those shocked and wounded before the emergency services of the Civil Defence would arrive. In this time the warden would have to put out or manage any small fire and direct those who were made homeless by the bomb blast to the nearest rest centre. A good warden could attend to minor fires and injuries without needing to alert Civil Defence.


Just in case you thought all the wardens were men, one in six wardens were women. The official hours for an ARP worker were 72 per week but in reality they were much more. Full-timers were paid 3.5s.0d a week for men and 2 3s 6d for women. Once the non-stop bombing of the air raids started they were paid nothing for overtime or their selfless dedication.


Auxiliary Fire Service

The AFS was created to support the regular London Fire Brigade. This new service needed equipment so many of London's black taxicabs were taken over by the Civil Defence, painted grey and turned into makeshift fire engines.


On September 7th 1940 (the first night of the Blitz), nine AFS brigades used 100 fire engines each to extinguish the widespread fires. The next night one fire engine was in operation for 40 hours, which shows both the extent of damage done but also the unrelenting courage and dedication shown by all fire-fighters.


London was a major trading and commercial centre. When a bomb or incendiary device started a fire, anything could burn. This is from the memoirs of a fire-fighter at the height of the Blitz, working down in the docklands:


"There were pepper fires, loading the surrounding air heavily with stinging particles so that when a fireman took a deep breath it felt like breathing fire itself. There were rum fires, with torrents of blazing liquid pouring from the warehouse door and barrels exploding like bombs themselves. There was a paint fire, another cascade of white hot flame, coating the pump with varnish that could not be cleaned off for weeks. A rubber fire gave forth black clouds of smoke that could only be fought from a distance, always threatening to choke the attackers".


[Sir Aylmer Firebrace, 'Fire service Memoirs' (Melrose, 1949) pp.168-9; MOI, 'Front Line' (HMSO, 1942), pp.25-6]


Not all survived. Leonard Rosoman was a young AFS worker who witnessed a burning house wall collapsing on two of his friends and fellow fire-fighters. Years after the war he created the picture of that nightmare scene.


Emergency Services

Firemen, ambulances, doctors, nurses, stretcher-bearers all attended the scene of an incident in order to help and treat those trapped or wounded by the bomb blast. There were many acts of heroism by members of the emergency services. In one of his famous speeches, Sir Winston Churchill dubbed the firefighters 'the heroes with grimy faces'.


Heavy rescue Teams

Another group that went into bomb-damaged buildings was the "heavy rescue" workers whose job it was to attend incidents where large buildings had collapsed and people might be buried beneath the rubble. This team was made up of people who were building workers before the war. Those who had worked as labourers, skilled carpenters, bricklayers, and plumbers now found themselves using their building skills and knowledge in reverse. They used their building experience to demolish safely collapsing buildings and their understanding of structures to work out the safest and quickest way to reach those who lay injured beneath destroyed or damaged buildings



The Blitz 7th September - May 1941


In 1940, instead of dropping its bombs on military positions such as aerodromes and naval bases, the German planes turned their attention on London and its population of 9 million people. Hitler planned to invade Britain and part of the reason for attacking London was not only to destroy business and commercial targets essential to the economic survival of the country but also to destroy the morale of the British.


So it was that at about five o'clock in the afternoon, on 7th September 1940, the first bombers arrived to drop incendiary bombs on the London docks. Incendiary bombs are used to start fires and it was the light of the docks aflame that guided the other bombers to their target even in the darkness of the night. In this way, bombing continued constantly throughout the night until 4.30 the next morning.


This was the start of the Blitz (from the German word 'blitzkrieg' meaning 'lightning war'). The Blitz fell upon all of London. Shops, offices, churches, factories, docks and suburban homes all found themselves victims. It was nine months before Londoners were able to enjoy a full night's sleep, free of air raids, free of sirens, free of the screaming shattering sound of bombs falling around them.


Sounds of the Blitz

One historian, who lived through the Blitz, describes the noises of the Blitz:


"First, there was the alert, a wail rising and falling for two minutes. There was not one siren but a series, as the note was taken up by borough after borough. Then, there was a heavy, uneven throb of the bombers. Then there were many noises. The howling of dogs; the sound of a high explosive bomb falling, like a tearing sheet; the clatter of little incendiaries on the roofs and pavements; the dull thud of walls collapsing; the burglar alarms which destruction had set ringing; the crackle of flames, a relishing, licking noise, and the bells of the fire engines".


Angus Calder 'The People's War' p196


Casualties in the Blitz


First Night: 7th/8th September 1940

430 killed

16,000 seriously injured

From 7th September 1940 to New Year's Day 1941

13,339 killed

17,937 seriously injured.

Night of May 10th/11th 1941

1,436 killed

1,752 seriously injured



For those who survived the horror-filled days and nights of the Blitz, many were faced with the tragedy of homelessness. Between September 1940 and May 1941, 1,400,000 Londoners were made homeless. In reality this meant that 1 in every 6 Londoners found themselves without a place to live. Those who lived in the poor areas such as the East End suffered particularly badly. Houses in these areas were in a bad state of repair to begin with and were destroyed easily by the bombs. By 11th November 1940, 4 out of 10 houses in Stepney had been damaged.


29th December 1940. The Second Fire of London

On 29th December 1940, 275 years after the Great Fire of London, a two-hour German attack started 1,500 fires throughout London. The Fire Brigade and the Auxiliary Fire Services worked around the clock. As many as 100 million gallons of water were used in a period of just 24 hours in the attempt to extinguish the uncontrollable fires, around 1,400 of these in the centre of the city itself. Although few people lived there, the firestorm still resulted in 163 deaths and widespread damage was done to offices and shops in the centre of London.


Britain took a most horrific revenge for the second Fire of London in 1945 when it created a terrifying night of fire in the German city of Dresden. It is thought that as many as 135,000 German civilians could have been killed in those fires.


London was not the only city to endure heavy bombing and widespread death and destruction. Among the other German targets were important industrial towns and ports such as Coventry, Birmingham, Hull, Bristol, Plymouth, Glasgow, Southampton, Manchester, Merseyside, Sheffield, Portsmouth, and Leicester. Parts of Kent and Surrey were also subject to bomb damage and the area was known as 'bomb alley' as it lay on the route to London for the German planes.


After the Blitz of 1940, Londoners experienced a kind of rest. Attacks still happened but they were less frequent. Sirens still wailed but they seemed less threatening and many evacuees drifted back to the city. Then, in January 1944, Londoners began to witness a return of the heavy bombing style familiar from the days and nights of the Blitz. The 'Little Blitz', as it was called, lasted from 21st January to 8th April 1944. It was not as bad as the 1940 Blitz but it was bad enough. In the seven raids in February for example, 1000 were killed and 3000 homes in Battersea destroyed.


V1 flying bombs

Something worse, something more sinister was yet to come - the V1 flying bomb and the V2 rocket (the V standing for Vergeltungswaffe or 'Reprisal Weapon'). The V1 was a pilotless plane that carried on board a cargo of bombs. The plane was launched and could fly without a pilot until its engine ran out of fuel. Then the V1 would come crashing down to earth, destroying all that lay beneath it.


On the night of 12th June 1944, London experienced its first night of the flying bombs. Then on the 16th a procession of flying bombs came over by day and by night, and for two weeks the attack continued at the rate of about 100 V1 flying bombs a day.


Of the 100 V1s that were directed at London, British fighter planes would bring down on average 30 of these a day. Defences on the ground, Anti-Aircraft guns, would bring down around 10. The other 60 would still get though. Some fell far from London, but around half reached their Greater London target.


In the skies of Croydon, a borough that lay on the V1 route to London, you might be unlucky enough to see nine V1's in the sky at the same time. During 1944, 142 V1s landed on Croydon over a period of 80 days, destroying at least a thousand houses.


When people heard a V1 come over, what they dreaded the most was the terrible noise cutting out because this meant that the flying bomb was about to come crashing down to earth. All you could do was dive for cover and hope that the engines had not cut out directly above your head. Londoners called them 'buzz bombs' or 'doodlebugs' after a New Zealand insect.


"Most adults seemed to be jumpy and constantly listening for bombs. It was hard at times to tell the difference, at a distance, between a V1, car or motorcycle, and London seemed quite empty, so many had left." (G. D. Knott)


The authorities soon realised that because of the nature of the weapon, it was pointless to bring down the V1's over populated areas as they caused just as much damage and casualties as if they had been allowed to continue on their course. For this reason, the A.A. guns were moved out of London and into uninhabited parts of the countryside; the North Downs.


On the 29th of August 1944, British troops in France, led by General Sir Bernard Montgomery, destroyed the V1 launching sites in the Pas de Calais. The first phase of the German V-weapon attack was over.


In total, 6,725 flying bombs had been seen over Britain, almost all of them over London, Kent and Surrey. Nearly 3,500 had been destroyed by fighter planes, A.A. guns or barrage balloons. 2,340 had hit London causing 5,475 deaths and injuring 16,000.


A casualty of a V1 attack

The effect of a V1 or V2 attack could be devastating, as the final six photographs on this page demonstrate. This attack on the Upper Norwood area of south London (near Croydon) demolished a whole row of houses. The old man in the photographs lost everything. Among the civil defence workers at the bombsite was Police Constable Frederick Godwin from the Gipsy Hill station. His daughter, Mrs McKay tells the story:


"My father told me that he was trying to console the old man, who was in a state of shock. Apparently he had gone out for a walk to the local with his dog while his wife cooked the midday dinner (I think it was Sunday). When he returned the whole street had been demolished and most of the people were under it, including the old man's wife. My father had got the old man a cup of tea and talked to him while they searched for his wife."


V2 Rockets

On the evening of September 8th 1944, the V2 rocket made its first attack. At first, no one really knew what had caused the strange explosion that had been heard almost throughout London. The mysterious new explosions continued, by November four to six were being reported each day. Officials were told to talk about the incidents as gas mains explosions but Londoners were suspicious about this explanation. The explosion began with a tremendous bang and was followed by a roaring, rushing sound; then there was another loud bang. White flashes of light would be seen in the sky before the explosion came.


These were the sounds of the V2 rockets, Hitler's new secret weapon. The rockets were 45 feet long and weighed 14 tons; they travelled faster than the speed of sound. Because of their speed the explosion was to be heard before the roar of its engines.


"The V2 rockets had started arriving in September and were a daily occurrence, but I think most people, myself included, became fatalistic about them as they arrived without any warning, they were much less harrowing than the doodlebugs. As we used to say, if you hear it coming the dangers over." (G.D. Knott)



In total, 518 V2 rockets reached London. 2,724 people were killed, and over 6,000 were seriously injured.