The Face of Wartime London

The London Blitz and the terrifying reality of total war.

No one better captured the emotional trauma of ordinary people in Great Britain experiencing total war than famed British photographer Bert Hardy.  His brilliance was widely acknowledged in his own lifetime and his war photographs, many taken for Picture Post magazine, are some of the most well-known photographs of the British home front in World War Two.The one-hundredth anniversary of his birth was in 2013. 

In this image from the middle of World War II, on 23 May 1942, people bid farewell to their loved ones at Paddington station, west London. (BBC caption. Photo by Bert Hardy courtesy of the London Daily Mail)

“Hardy, born in London, worked his way up from lab assistant to photographer. He is perhaps best known for his work for the Picture Post, a prominent photojournalistic magazine published in the United Kingdom from 1938 to 1957.” (BBC)

Self-taught and using the small Leica camera instead of the traditional larger press cameras, Hardy was recruited by the editor of Picture Post, Tom Hopkinson, in 1941. He went on  to become the Post’s Chief Photographer, earning his first photographer credit for a February 1941 photo-essay about Blitz-stressed fire-fighters.”




London Firefighters in 1941 struggling to contain fires caused by German bombing.

(photos by Bert Hardy courtesy of  the


Children in War Time London

Some of the most heartbreaking photographs Hardy took were of children during the war. These two photographs below of the parson with poor children in the bombed out slums of the East End of London give a candid look into the reality of World War Two for many people in London.


An East End parson with a child among the bombed ruins of London

(photo by Bert Hardy courtesy of London Daily Mail)

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Smiling children run along behind a parson in the East End during the Blitz

(photo by Bert Hardy courtesy of London Daily Mail)

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Posted on blog of author and historian Charles McCain

 A Sad Farewell at Paddington Station


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Comments Charles McCain: a photo taken as part of Hardy’s photo essay on Paddington rail station in London. I find this photograph to be painfully evocative of the terrible emotional strain of the war.

Posted by author and historian Charles McCain on

Front Covers From A Magnificent Collection of Picture Post Magazines

All of these magazines and many others are available for sale through: Slightly out of focus  an on-line bookshop specialising in vintage, original illustrated magazines featuring 20th century photography and photojournalism.  (They offer an astonishing number of original magazines featuring the famous photographers of the era. I have no connection with them) Their website is here:

 Images and captions of the Picture Post covers below are all courtesy of Slightly Out Of Focus online bookshop.



Two sweethearts parting.

‘Bert Hardy’s last photo essay for Picture Post as a civilian photographer was to document of Paddington station in London. Hardy records the day to day running of this busy wartime station recording tearful goodbyes of parting couples. The centre double page spread of the overview of five of the stations platforms was achieved by the combination of three different prints. Bert Hardy joined the Army on the 18th June 1942.”

(Photo and caption courtesy of Slightly Out of Focus online bookshop. Specific link to the magazine above is here:


Posted on blog of author and historian Charles McCain


East End of London Devastated by German bombing



Two of Hitler’s Enemies

A bombed East End child and his foster-mother.

Perhaps one of the saddest photographs I have ever seen, comments Charles McCain.

“The Blitz began on 7th September 1940 when the Luftwaffe turned it’s attention to London. The docks and warehouses along the Thames were major targets and Stepney in the East End bore much of the brunt of that bombing.

Bert Hardy walked the streets of Stepney, recording the devastation caused by the bombing. The important overiding message of his images and the editorial slant was of life going on as normal.  Bert Hardy, after his pre-war experience of “laid on” pictures, worried that photographs like that of the woman sewing in the bombed out shop window, wouldn’t look real enough.”

(Photo and caption courtesy of Slightly Out of Focus online bookshop. Link to the magazine above is here:


Comments Charles McCain: the East End was the poorest part of London in that era. Over previous decades slums had grown up around the dockyards and wharves where many of the slum dwellers found low paid work. As you might imagine, the dockyards with their hundreds of merchant ships and warehouses filled with goods from abroad were prime targets.

Since the slums of the East End had been built up around the docks, and given the lack of more accurate methods, the Germans dumped bombs on the entire area. They mixed incendiaries in with high explosives to create massive fire in London with the largest fires occurring in the East End. The reason: many of the warehouses by the docks were packed full of such things as sugar, which liquefies and catches fire.

The fire at the Surrey Docks in the East End is said by the London Fire Brigade to have been the worst fire ever to occur in modern times in Great Britain.

(Sources: author’s research and The Most Dangerous Enemy: A History of the Battle of Britain)