Slum London: My Mum’s Youth

The districts of South London where my parents grew up were once considered to be little better than slums. Dwellings not really suitable for the large families that lived in them, lacking most facilities we would take for granted by the 1960s.

They had outside toilets, hot water heated on a stove or cooker, and were back-to-back small terraced houses with poor ventilation and little light getting into them.

In 1924, the year my mum was born, a national newspaper published an article about the lack of living space in those houses.

Two nearby streets, Sultan Street and Sultan Terrace, are shown here in 1939, the year WW2 broke out. Nothing had changed in those fifteen years.

Ironically, despite the loss of life caused by the German bombing of London, it was the devastation left behind that created the space for the gradual rebuilding. This allowed for much better living conditions in working class areas after 1960.

Some More London Nostalgia In Photos

Alma School, Bermondsey. This photo was taken near the end of WW2. A bomb-damaged area is being cleared. On the left you can see some new prefabricated asbestos-sheet houses. We called them ‘Prefabs’, and they were supposed to be temporary. But the people loved them, and over 100 still exist in London today.
I went to that school from 1957 until 1963.

Children playing in a bombed-out building in Bermondsey, 1953. By the time I was old enough to be out playing in 1958, I was playing in the same building.

A young couple sheltering from the Blitz in an underground station, 1940. My mum was doing the same thing at the time.

Choosing an engagement ring, 1953.

Taking tea in a Lyons Corner House, late 1950s. Despite the elegant surroundings, anyone could afford to have tea there.

Making the most of a hot summer in London. Sunbathing in a basement ‘area’, 1954.

A Skiffle Club in Soho, 1960.

Cards advertising the services of prostitutes in Soho, 1960.

Tales of a Polish Woman – from the History archive

Frank has brought us the thrilling wartime story of an incredibly brave woman. Great reading!

toritto

Christine Granville, nee Krystyna Skarbek, O.B.E., GM, Croix de Guerre, died tragically on June 15, 1952. She was a Special Operations Executive Agent during the war, celebrated for her daring and resourcefulness in intelligence and irregular warfare in Nazi occupied Poland and France. She was one of the longest serving of Britain’s wartime agents and was decorated by the King after the war.  In 1941 she began using the nom de guerre Christine Granville and adopted it with her naturalization as a British citizen in February 1947. She was 37 years old when she died.

Krystyna Skarbek, “Vesper” to her father, was born in 1908. the second child of Count Jerzy Skarbek and Stephania Goldfeder, the daughter of a wealthy Jewish banker. The Skarbeks had influenced Polish history for a thousand years, saving the country from medieval invaders and serving its royal courts’ “Krystyna inherited the self‐assuredness, patriotism and fearlessness…

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December The 7th, 1941

Eighty years ago today, Japan attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbour, and brought the United States into WW2.

As a result, a bitter war was fought in the Pacific, and so many soldiers and civilians died. Some years later, American troops and equipment made D-Day possible, and Germany was finally defeated.

Becuase of Japan’s entry into the war, the allies finally had to invent a super-weapon to defeat that country, and the world went into the terrifying nuclear age.

Let us never forget those who died on that day, and always remember the significance of the date in world history.

Some films about WWII

Reblogging another old film post from 2013. I don’t think any current followers have ever seen this one.

beetleypete

There have been a lot of films made about this long war, that took place in so many parts of the world. Many are so well known, that I have deliberately avoided including them here. So, no famous British black and white war films, no ‘Saving Private Ryan’, or ‘Bridge Over The River Kwai’. For those of you who enjoy war films, for whatever reason, I hope you find some new ones here, and that you are intrigued enough to seek them out.

Come and See. This is a Russian film from 1985. It is set during the German invasion of Belarus, and follows a young man, and a girl he meets, on their journey to join a band of partisans. It is not a film of great set piece battles, but does not shrink from depicting the horrors of the German atrocities carried out during this period. Over…

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Local Hero – Captain John Perrin

I am reblogging this from Rich’s site for the interest of all my American readers. You might like to know that your servicemen who died in Britain in WW2 are not forgotten, and they are honoured and respected by this country. Just like this brave man.

Please read the original post to see two photos.

Richard Lakin's Blog

The memorial you can see below is just a few hundred metres from where I grew up. Although it’s close to junction 14 of the M6 there are beautiful farm fields, spinneys and streams nearby. I ran and hid and splashed in these fields, punctured tyres, suffered nettle rashes, all the usual.

What I didn’t know was that on 4 July 1944 a Mustang P-51D had crashed into a wheat-field here, close to Home Farm and the brilliantly named Sleeper’s Spinney.

USAAF pilot Captain Perrin – an ‘ace’ fighter who had shot down five German aircraft – was delivering the Mustang to Cambridgeshire when something went wrong and the plane was seen to catch fire. Heroically Capt. Perrin did not eject and stayed at his controls to avoid crashing into the populated North End of Stafford, avoiding schools, houses and a hospital.

Sadly, the New Jersey-born pilot died in the…

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Sir Tom Moore: Knight of the Realm

Not long after the news media began to tell us about the impact of the Coronavirus pressures on the staff of the NHS, there was a feature about an elderly man who was hoping to raise £1,000 to donate to NHS charities in their honour. Known as Captain Tom Moore, he was a 99 year-old retired man who had served as an Army Captain in WW2, with the famous ‘Forgotten Fourteenth’ Army in Burma. With limited mobility now, and using a wheeled walking frame, he was determined to walk one hundred circuits of his garden, before his 100th birthday.

Using a donation page set up by his family, he quickly raised that money, and much more besides. So much more, that he decided to keep on walking until the actual day of his 100th birthday.

By the time that day dawned, he had raised over £30 MILLION pounds!

That huge amount overloaded the system of the company managing the donations, and forced them to hire extra staff. It is the largest donation ever raised by one person in the history of the organisation, and the largest ever donation to one single charity.

Tom became an overnight celebrity. He made numerous TV appearances, topped every news headline, and received so many cards that his local post office could not cope with the deliveries. His story was taken up all around the world, with foreign TV crews making the trip to his home to report it. He even opened one of the new Nightingale Hospitals, by remote video link, and was made an Honorary Colonel of his old regiment, The Yorkshire Regiment. He also received a ‘Pride of Britain’ award, along with personal messages from the Queen, and other members of the Royal family

In every respect, he became the man whose face embodied the fighting spirit of Britain, as it faced this incurable pandemic. People began to clamour for him to receive official recognition. A petition was started to urge the government to award him a Knighthood. Even I signed it, and I rarely sign such things.

On his 100th birthday, he also celebrated another achievement. A recording he had made with singer Michael Ball went to number one in the record charts, giving Tom the distinction of becoming the oldest person to ever top any record chart. The song was ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone”.

Today’s news is that he is to be awarded a knighthood.
He will now be Sir Thomas Moore.
Never has anyone deserved a title more than him.

There is an old old saying, “They don’t make them like him anymore”.
How true, in his case.

Congratulations, Sir Tom.

London in WW2

I have mentioned before how my Mum lived her teenage years in central London, during WW2. I searched online to find some photos about what that was like.
(Credits are shown on the photos where available)

The Tube (Subway) stations were quickly brought into use as air-raid shelters. When the trains were still running, people slept on the platforms. Then once the power was off, more people filled the tracks too.

When the bombing had stopped, they would emerge tired and dusty, to try to go about their day. This was the sort of sight that greeted them.
A bomb crater so large, a whole bus has fallen into it.

What had once been a shop or office building the previous day, now completely destroyed.

People became used to the destruction and privations very quickly.
Here a small boy is fixing his home-made cart, next to a cordon around the area of an unexploded bomb.

Once the waves of bombers were no longer arriving every day or night, new threats appeared. The V1 and V2 flying rocket bombs.
This shows people still casually going about their business, as a V1 bomb detonates in the Covent Garden area.

For those of us to young to remember that war, these images are a sobering reminder of what that generation had to tolerate, and how they faced it with fortitude and determination.

Book Review: The Story of the SS

This non-fiction book is something of a niche interest, to say the least. Most of us will know something about the German SS, whether the battlefield atrocities they committed, how they served in concentration camps, or the combat exploits of the Waffen SS. This long book (384 pages) examines the formation, background and organisation of the Nazi SS in great detail.

Starting shortly after the end of WW1, the rise of Hitler’s National Socialist Party is covered, as well as the creation of the SA, which led to the offshoot organisation, the SS. All the leading political figures of the day are examined, as well as many minor officials and their roles in the building of the controlling Nazi state that followed. The book goes on to discuss the roles that SS figures played before and during WW2, adding some photos and background details about the war in general, and specific events like the invasion of The Soviet Union, in 1941.

The use of SS units to execute prisoners, kill civilians, and fight partisans is contrasted by the political machinations of their members on the home front, and in the countries occupied by Germany. We also learn about the collaborators, the foreign volunteers, and the often brave and distinguished combat units that fought to the very end, in 1945. Then the author goes on to look at those who escaped justice, and those who faced trial for their involvement in the SS, and its actions.

Much of the book contains lists of units, with the German names translated for the benefit of non-German readers. Numerous individual characters are highlighted, from the top leaders of the organisation, down to some who were little more that murderers in uniform. Chilling totals of the deaths they were responsible for, and the crimes committed in both concentration camps, and after battles in the field.

This is not a book for everyone of course. But given the current world political situation, it serves to remind us just what ‘ordinary’ men can be capable of.
As an historical record, it has great value.

Here is an Amazon link.