Story Behind Iconic Photo of St Paul’s

 

From London Daily Mail

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Today is the ­anniversary of one of the greatest photographs of World War II being taken — and of a defining ­moment in British history.

On the night of December 29, 1940, ­Daily Mail chief photographer ­Herbert Mason was ­firewatching on the roof of the ­newspaper’s offices ­between Fleet Street and the Thames. The Luftwaffe’s blitz on London was at its height: after a brief pause decreed by Hitler on Christmas Day, Goering’s bombers had resumed their almost nightly pounding of the capital.

A brief attack on December 27 inflicted 600 casualties, more than 50 of them in a single public ­shelter in Southwark which received a direct hit. Symbol in the smoke: Herbert Mason’s iconic photograph of St Paul’s dome emerging from the smoke of raging fires in surrounding streets was taken 70 years ago this week

Symbol in the smoke: Herbert Mason’s iconic photograph of St Paul’s dome emerging from the smoke of raging fires in surrounding streets was taken 70 years ago this week.

When darkness fell on December 29, the Heinkel and Dornier planes came again to launch their 125th attack since the campaign began — which inflicted unparalleled devastation on the old City of London.

Barely 30 minutes into the raid, ­Luftwaffe aircrew counted 54 major fires beneath them; in three hours of early evening bombing, 120 tons of explosive and 22,000 incendiaries fell, inflicting appalling damage.

Hundreds of buildings in the heart of the ­financial district were set ablaze; eight Christopher Wren churches were destroyed and the 15th-century Guildhall was set on fire.

One bomb landed near the Monument, erected by Wren to commemorate the 1666 Great Fire of London. A middle-aged spinster named Vere Hodgson, who worked in a charity shop in Notting Hill, kept a wonderful diary of the war years, ­especially of the Blitz.

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Recycling Nazi Fighter Planes for Aluminum

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A huge scrap heap where German planes, brought down over Great Britain, were dumped, photographed on August 27, 1940. The large number of Nazi planes downed during raids on Britain made a substantial contribution to the national scrap metal salvage campaign. (AP Photo)

The German Blitz on London, 1940—1941

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This smiling girl, dirtied but apparently not injured, was assisted across a London street on October 23, 1940, after she was rescued from the debris of a building damaged by a bomb attack in a German daylight raid. (AP Photo)

Nazi Germany’s air force conducted a massive terror bombing campaign against London in what as know as “the Blitz.” 

Beginning on 7 September 1940, the German Luftwaffe bombed London fifty-seven nights in a row. By the time the Blitz ended in May of 1941, London had been bombed seventy-one times. German bombs destroyed or damaged more than a million homes in Metropolitan London and killed more than 20,000 Londoners.

 

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A shopkeeper in London displays famous British stiff upper lip by chalking “business as usual” on a piece of what appears to be corrugated paper or tin on the front of his shop. The windows have been blown out by a concussion wave from a bomb blast nearby. The two men in helmets are from the Air Raid Precaution (ARP), a largely voluntary group of Air Raid wardens. They would have been a familiar sight to Londoners during the war. (photo courtesy of AP)

Determined to show the world they would not succumb to Hitler, Londoners carried on in spite of all the destruction. Photographs such as the one above show their spirit of defiance which won them sympathy throughout the free world. And while many Londoners did carry on no matter what the Luftwaffe did, a goodly portion of those with the financial means decamped to hotels in provincial cities to get away from the bombing.

Those who stayed suffered from a loss of sleep, of energy. People displayed nervous symptoms of various sorts, drank a lot and were very scared. Yet there was a feeling during the Blitz that “we are all in this together” which united Londoners of all classes. That feeling did not outlast the Blitz.

Even during the bombing, however, class barriers remained strong. While shelters were theoretically open to anyone, that was not the case in actual practice. So, as you might imagine, there was a great difference in spending nights in the bomb shelters of the Savoy or the Dorchester, than spending them on cement platforms in tube stations–which often smelt like latrines.

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Firemen spray water on damaged buildings, near London Bridge, in the City of London on September 9, 1940, after a recent set of weekend air raids. (AP Photo)

You Can’t Make It Up – The King and Queen of England Hide from General Eisenhower

In mid 1944, Queen Elizabeth and King George VI entertained Dwight Eisenhower, by then Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Forces, to a private buffet lunch. The Queen told Eisenhower that two years ago when Colonel Sterling, one of the Royal Equerries, was showing the gardens of Buckingham Palace to the newly arrived General Eisenhower, the Colonel had not realized that the King and Queen were on the grounds. Not wishing to disturb the General Eisenhower’s tour and not yet having received him formally, this presented a quandary. So the King and Queen got up, slipped behind a hedge, and got on their hands and knees so Eisenhower would not see them as he walked past.

– As cited in Eisenhower at War 1943-45 by David Eisenhower

George VI and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, played an important role in maintaining British moral during World War Two, particularly during the ‘Blitz’, when German aircraft flying only at night, bombed British cities with London the most common target which at one point was hit 57 nights in a row. The Blitz went on intermittently from late September of 1940 until mid-May of 1941 when Luftwaffe units in France began to be withdrawn and redeployed in the East for the invasion of the Soviet Union. Over 43,000 British civilians were killed during the Blitz, half of them Londoners.

Early in the Blitz, Buckingham Palace was bombed by the Germans and the King and Queen were almost killed. Londoners took courage when they passed by Buckingham Palace and saw the Royal Standard flying which indicated the King and Queen were in residence. They stayed in London throughout the Blitz, sharing the fate of their subjects. George VI was physically weak and never expected to be King. He stuttered terribly. He was living a very quiet life when Edward VIII abdicated in one of the more bizarre romance stories ever. London street urchins ran around singing:

“Hark the herald,
Angels sing
Mrs. Simpson’s
pinched our king.”