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London’s war – where the bombs fell

In the early 1980s, there was a man called Sid who lived in Poplar. He’d stomp through the area, telling anyone who’d listen about the bombing during the Second World War – which appeared to have been targeted at him but always missed him.  “See over there?” he would say, waving his walking stick. “I was standing over there and I thought I’d go down to my mum’s and I crossed the road and when I got to the other side I looked back at where I’d been standing – bomb had hit it.”

He would draw breath and go on, “Over there,” the walking stick would wobble towards a different direction, “that was where we used to sit of a night-time. There was a shelter there. One night I came out the shelter and I got all the way down the road and then there was a noise and I looked back at the shelter – bomb had hit it.”

He would stand and give you a list of places he’d just left before bombs hit them as long as you could last. If only the Allies – who, presumably, thought the Nazis were targeting their bombs at the Docks – had realised they were in fact aiming for Sid and had forcibly removed him to Slough, the East End could have been spared at the cost of John Betjeman losing the material for a poem.

However, Sid stayed in London and, possibly as a result, bomb damage was widespread. Now we know just how extensive it was, as Thames & Hudson is marking the 75th anniversary of the first bombing raid on London (September 1940) by publishing The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps, 1939-1945, which have been brought together by Laurence Ward, Principal Archivist at London Metropolitan Archives. One can only imagine the joy the late Ellis Hillman would have taken in such a tome.

The maps were created within the Architect’s Department of the London County Council to record cumulative damage to the buildings in the County of London caused by air raids and V weapons during the Second World War. Each map was meticulously hand-coloured to indicate the level of damage wrought (below: Dalston & Stoke Newington).

Microsoft Word - London County Council Bomb Damage Maps press re

Featuring a clear and fascinating introduction by Laurence Ward, this sumptuous book contains new, high-quality reproductions of all 110 maps that make up the set, as well as an album of rarely seen photographs of the damage wrought on the City of London in particular taken by police constables Arthur Cross and Fred Tibbs. It’s a chance to see first hand not just the damage done by war but also the state of London before the damage – and afterwards, when it was clear how big the post-war reconstruction task would be.

The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps, 1939-1945 will be published on 31st August. At 288 pages, this hardback book is more of a dining table than a coffee table tome – and at £48 you may have to skip a dinner or two to afford it. However, if you have a war veteran with an interest in maps in the family, you could club together to get a splendid Christmas present. If not, ask your local library to acquire a copy (ISBN 978 0 500 518250). And never follow in the footsteps of a man called Sid.