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Tales from The Blitz

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Firefighters tackle a fire during the Blitz.

Originally broadcast on BBC One, Wednesday 1 September 2010

The Blitz was the sustained bombing of Britain by Nazi Germany between 7 September 1940 and 10 May 1941, during the Second World War. BBC London talks to Londoners who remember those long, terrifying nights.

London was a key target for the Luftwaffe - particularly its industrial and civilian centres - and thousands died after weeks of consecutive raids.

The scale of the attacks rapidly escalated. In September alone, the German Air Force dropped 5,300 tons of high explosives on the capital in just 24 nights.

I found out that my mother had died in the shelter along with my brother Dennis who was 17. When I heard I just ran upstairs and cried out to Jesus.
Pauline Harrison

Blitz historian Neil Bright says key targets for the Germans were Bethnal Green, Tower Hamlets, West Ham power station, Poplar, Holborn and the City of London.

The area around St Paul's Cathedral was very badly affected and much of the buildings and houses nearby were damaged beyond repair.

Jack Arnold
Jack Arnold, 94

Conscientious objector Jack Arnold, 94, was often called a 'coward' during the war for his refusal to enlist but he played his part in helping to keep London functioning during The Blitz. He, and a group of other pacifists, would help feed and clothe others.

"I was stationed on the Isle of Dogs. I'd play the piano, anything to take people's minds off the bombings.

"We had this mobile canteen and we'd take clothes to clothing centres. I remember one bomb falling and we went there and it was like a pit disaster. Loads of people were stood around this huge pit, I think it was a landmine, and people were bringing out bodies. We did what we could," says Jack.

Like all conscientious objectors, Jack was imprisoned for a time - at Wandsworth Prison.

Pauline Harrison
Pauline Harrison, 81

Pauline Harrison, 81, was just seven when she was fostered out with one of her brothers. She recalls finding out about the bombing at an air-raid shelter in Kennington Park, Lambeth.

"I found out that my mother had died in the shelter along with my brother Dennis who was 17. When I heard I just ran upstairs and cried out to Jesus."

As trench shelters were intended to be 'bolt holes' for people caught out in the open during an air raid, they were only equipped with a few wooden benches and very basic sanitation. When designed, it was anticipated that the average stay would be around three to four hours. In reality, people often spent 12 hours crowded into the stinking, waterlogged shelters.

On the night of October 15 1940 a 50lb bomb fell on the Kennington Park trench. More than 100 are thought to have died in the blast but not all of the bodies were ever recovered.




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