City of London after a German air raid, 1940

City of London after a German air raid, colour photograph, 1940

The building in the center of the photograph is the Old Bailey, one of London’s courts. The statue atop is of course the Lady of Justice. This iconic buildings including St Paul’s, where this picture is taken, are a testament to the incredible work done by the London firemen in saving them. There’s a memorial outside St Paul’s dedicated to them. On 29th/30th December 1940 the Germans deliberately targeted London with incendiary bombs during a period of low tide in the Thames, so the fireman had to work through deep mud all the night to get the water to save the city. What resulted was called The Second Great Fire of London. 29 bombs fell around the Cathedral, and one actually hit the dome, and fell through.

When the sirens went off, all civilians were meant to get to air raid shelters (including ones on Tube platforms). The only people above ground should have been military personnel and the home guard. If you weren’t one of those two, you would be investigated to make sure you weren’t a looter. If you weren’t, you would be told to get underground. This picture was taken from atop St Paul’s cathedral, which means it is likely this picture was taken by somebody in the home guard used as part of the warning system to see when enemy planes arrived and departed.

Between 7 September 1940 and 21 May 1941 there were major aerial raids (attacks in which more than 100 tonnes of high explosives were dropped) on 16 British cities. Starting on 7 September 1940, London was bombed by the Luftwaffe for 57 consecutive nights. More than one million London houses were destroyed or damaged, and more than 40,000 civilians were killed, almost half of them in London.

Image’s copyright: Getty Image, Time & Life Pictures.