Taking Refuge From the Blitz, London 1940

Taken Refuge From the Blitz, London 1940

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.

Source [here], [here], and [here]

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Image | This entry was posted in 20th Century, European History, Historical Movies, Modern History, World War Two and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Taking Refuge From the Blitz, London 1940

  1. linyangchen says:

    I’m struck by how peaceful it looks in the photo despite it being wartime – much more peaceful than in the same station today!

    • Nadine says:

      I agree! I think I’ve seen more upset people on my subway ride to work. Amazing how life during war goes on and humans deal with things.

  2. moore314 says:

    Great post. I’ve wondered where that phrase came from, and all its derivatives, I’ve had the pleasure once of visiting London. Love, love the history. Thinking back now of my time in the tube and can’t imagine the fear in 1940.

    • Thanks so much! And I agree – I was just in the Montreal subway this week during rush hour, trying to imagine what it must have been like to have been packed like sardines underground, while you can hear air sirens going off around you.

  3. Pingback: Books in Still Life: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words | vintagebookfairy

  4. Steve Lakey says:

    A fascinating view of Wartime Britain.

  5. Pingback: Holborn Station, London as an Air Raid Shelter, 1940 | History Kicks Ass!

  6. Thanks for liking my post! I just can not imagine having to do this! Running to a shelter with bombs going off above and wondering if the people I love will still be alive or well, will my home still be standing, will my family have food to eat and will I have a job to go to tomorrow? Such a fearful thing! I hope I never have to see it myself. Such brave people. Have a blessed day! Queen Of Hearts

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