reading a good book during the blitz
The damage after a blast hit Foyles bookshop during the Blitz. Books can be seen strewn across the floor. (photo courtesy London Daily Mail)
“It was about twenty past one in the morning, and I was reading The Taming of the Shrew in bed, when suddenly all the windows blew in and the room was filled with greenish dust. When I looked round, all the furniture had moved, not far, it had all just moved round about a foot.”
- from The Blitz by Constantine FitzGibbon
This iconic photo came to demonstrate the commitment of the British to “carry on” under the German bombing during the Blitz, purportedly shows three men casually browsing the shelves of a library in a London home or bookshop the morning after it was blasted by German bombs.
The photograph was staged and taken in the destroyed library of Holland House, London residence of Lord Ilchester, 6th Earl of Ilchester [31 May 1874 – 29 October 1959], which was hit and mostly destroyed by German bombs dropped in a raid on London on 27 September 1940.
Since this was private property belonging to a peer of the Realm no less, it would be unlikely that anyone would have casually wandered in and started browsing the shelves. Looting was a serious crime and one couldn’t wander into private homes and take something which struck one’s fancy including books.
Holland house in 1896. The home in central London was often the scene of society balls and social events of all sorts.
Crown prosecutors brought hundreds of cases of looting before the courts during the Blitz, including numerous cases against policemen, firemen, and members of auxiliary organizations organized under the Air Raid Precautions Committee.
Walls of burned homes and buildings often collapsed while they burning or afterward. The beam visible at the top of the photograph is preventing the walls of the library from collapsing else the men would hardly safe while browsing books. Portions of the wreckage in the middle of the photograph has been carefully removed so the men could actually reach the bookshelves.
In this photograph, you will note the books are neatly arranged on the shelves although this would hardly be the case had the library been hit by bombs twelve hours previous. There is also no water damage of pools of water apparent. Since Holland House was a well-known landmark in central London every effort would have been made by the London Fire Brigade and Auxiliary Fire Service to extinguish the fire to keep it from spreading.
Remnants of Holland House in the present day. (Photo by Steve Cadman courtesy Wikipedia)
Lord Ilchester sold the land and what remained of the home to the London County Council in 1952. A large public park and other facilities were subsequently created on the property. Ironically, Lord Ilchester was President of the London Library from 1940 to 1952.
The major Luftwaffe bomber attacks on London collectively know as “the Blitz” occurred between 7 September 1940 and 21 May 1941. Many other British cities were bombed but London bore the brunt with over 71 major raids in which over 100 hundred metric tonnes of bombs were dropped on the city by the German Luftwaffe.
I regard German criticism of Allied “firebombing” of their cities as nothing more than crocodile tears. The Germans invented the process of dropping hundreds of thousand small incendiary bombs interspersed with larger bombs. These bigger bombs, at least several hundred pounds (and much larger as the war went on) would blow in walls in or blow the roofs off buildings and provide a pathway to the interior of buildings for the small incendiary bombs.
The bombing of London and other English cities along with the bombing of other cities throughout Europe by the Germans was remembered by those who were bombed. As they grew stronger and Germany weaker, Nazi Germany was turned into rubble by the Anglo-American bombing offensive.
For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.
Hosea 8:7 King James Version of the Bible
London milkman making his way through the rubble to deliver milk after a bombing attack by the Germans during the Blitz on London.