“You do your worst and we will do our best.”

Prime Minister Winston Churchill speaking of the Blitz on July 14, 1941

“if to-night the people of London were asked to cast their vote whether a convention should be entered into to stop the bombing of all cities, the overwhelming majority would cry, “No, we will mete out to the Germans the measure, and more than the measure, that they have meted out to us.”

“The people of London with one voice would say to Hitler: ‘You have committed every crime under the sun…. We will have no truce or parley with you, or the grisly gang who work your wicked will.’

“You do your worst and we will do our best.”

 

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The Home Front in Britain during the Second World War
The scene at Aldwych tube station 1940. Seventy nine tube stations were used as air raid shelters by Londoners, but they were not proof against a direct hit. (Photo courtesy Imperial War Museum)

In the beginning months of the Blitz, the government was opposed to people using the tube stations as bomb shelters. Most would not withstand a direct hit from a heavy German bombs and none of the stations had sanitary facilities to handle the crowds. Nonetheless, people were scared, one can hardly blame them, so people crammed into the Underground and the government gave way and began to improve the facilities in the tube stations. Most of them smelled like latrines in the early days before sanitation was improved. In less decorous neighborhoods, diarists record people copulating on the platforms.

If you have ever been to a tube station in London you can imagine how uncomfortable it must have been to be sleeping on the actual tracks themselves and the wooden blocks supporting the tracks. (Curiously known in England as sleepers).  The government began to install bunks and added Air Raid Wardens and Police to the stations to represent authority. Some people rarely came out of their tube shelters. They would go to work and go to their place in the tube where they had made friends and small groups had formed.

Besides being in the stations when the trains were not running, people would be in them when the trains were running. Passengers would glimpse thousands of people going about their daily lives oblivious to the rocketing underground trains which make one hell of a noise.

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People asleep on one of the platforms at Piccadilly, one of the busiest stations on the line. The train has stopped running since people are sleeping in the rail cars and one man, in the foreground, curled up on the floor of the car. (Photo courtesy of Life Magazine).

 

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A young woman plays a gramophone in an air raid shelter in north London during 1940.

A young woman places the gramophone needle on a record to bring some light relief to an air raid shelter, somewhere in north London. The rest of the shelterers appear to be enjoying her choice of music. In the background, one woman can be seen knitting, as others chat to pass the time. (photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum).

 

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Bomb Damage in London during the Second World War
Office workers making their way through debris as they go to work after a heavy air raid on London. (photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

I think this would have a depressing effect on me if I passed this going to work. One of the trials mentioned in every diary or memoir I have read about the Blitz mentions how very tired everyone was. No one could sleep during the day when they were at work and at night the bombing and pounding of the anti-air craft guns kept people awake till the wee hours.

 

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View along the River Thames in London on 7 September 1940 towards smoke rising from the London docks after an air raid during the Blitz.

(photo courtesy of USNA from the New York Times Paris Bureau Collection.)

Losses to the German Luftwaffe during daylight bombing were such that the Luftwaffe had to eventually stop attacking during the day. Perversely, this gave Fighter Command a much needed break to rest pilots, bring new pilots up to speed, repair and refit aircraft and air stations, and deliver new planes.

Published by

Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/