Whenever I see merchandise with the “Keep Calm and Carry On” logo (a relatively unknown British government morale slogan, repopularized after its discovery in 2000) I’m amazed at how disconnected its use today is from its original purpose.
During the Blitz Bombing of London in 1940, thousands of incendiary bombs were dropped on central London. Incendiary bombs are bombs designed specifically to set fire to things once they land. Over 267 days, London was attacked 71 times, including a period where London was bombed for 57 straight nights.
To avoid this, many central Londoners headed to public shelters. One common shelter was the London Underground. The photo above is from LIFE/Time and shows Londoners sleeping in Piccadilly station in 1940. The long exposure time required to take such a shot captured the man in front in two different poses, and gives the illusion to the viewer of being able to see him ‘settle in’ for the night.
Although this provided shelter for the British, sleeping in the Tube was not without its dangers. The Bethnal Green Station Tube Disaster on March 3, 1943 saw hundreds of citizens crushed. The cause was that as the entrance to the Tube station/shelter was being packed with people filing in after the air-raid siren had gone off, a woman with a baby tripped at the bottom of the stairs, thus starting “a domino effect” of people falling. At the same time, a large noise was heard outside (what many presumed to be a bomb falling nearby) and the crush of people turned for the worse. In a space of 15×11 feet, 173 people died. Another disaster, on October 14, 1940 at Balham Station saw a bomb cause such a massive crater in the streets of London that the broken water and gas mains flooded the Tube station/shelter below, killing 66 people. The movie Atonement (2007) with Keira Knightley, portrayed this event.
Just something to remember next time you see the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ slogan.