Posts Tagged ‘World War II’

A guest post by Joe Gingell.

In May 1940 the British Government ordered the evacuation of women, children, the elderly and infirm to French Morocco to convert Gibraltar into a fully-fledged fortress, which Hitler was planning to capture.

NPG x166829; Sir Kenelm Everard Lane Creighton by Walter Stoneman

Commodore Creighton. National Portrait Gallery.

Soon after the arrival of the evacuees in French Morocco, France fell. As a result of this and the destruction of the French Fleet at Oran, the Gibraltar evacuees were ordered to leave French Morocco within 24 hours. Coinciding with the expulsion of the Gibraltar evacuees, 15,000 French troops were arriving at Casablanca on British cargo ships from the UK. The French authorities threatened to impound these ships unless they took away the Gibraltarian evacuees. Commodore Creighton (later Rear-Admiral Sir Kenelm Creighton) pleaded for the cleaning and replenishment of the ships but the request was refused and evacuees were forced on board by French troops.

The British Government did not want the evacuees to return to Gibraltar. Nonetheless, Commodore Creighton ignored the instructions from the Admiralty and sailed to Gibraltar with all the evacuees. But on arrival these evacuees were not allowed to disembark. Again Commodore Creighton insisted that the ships had to be cleaned and replenished. By then both the Italian and Vichy French air forces were bombing Gibraltar. Eventually alterations were made to the holds of the ships sailing into the Atlantic, with no medical facilities with hardly any life-saving equipment. After six days all provisions were inedible. Babies were born and some elderly people died in the journey. To avoid the menace of German U-boats, the convoy had to circumnavigate the Atlantic taking 16 days to reach England, specifically London.

Commodore Creighton in his book Convoy Commodore said that “if the convoy with Gibraltar evacuees had been attacked, it could have resulted in one of the worst disasters in maritime history.”

The evacuees arrived in London in August 1940, shortly before the Blitz and the Battle of Britain. About 13,000 of them lived in the capital during the war enduring all four years of bombing with some inevitable casualties.

I was one of those children evacuated to London. By 1944 I was already six and have vivid memories of the bombing of our evacuation centre, the Whitelands College in Putney. While in central London, I still remember my mother, my two brothers and I lying on the floor of the room at the York Hotel as a result of the explosion from a flying bomb which killed a Gibraltar evacuee. By end of July 1944 half of the evacuees had been repatriated. The remaining half were to live for four years in camps in Northern Ireland to await their gradual return home. Many of these evacuees had to wait for as long as ten years from the beginning of the war to rejoining their families in Gibraltar.

During the war Gibraltar became extremely vital, particularly, during Operation Torch. Some historians have qualified Gibraltar’s importance to the extent that, without Gibraltar, Britain would have lost the war. In the fortress scenario there was no place for non-combatant civilians who co-operated fully with a forced evacuation. Very little seems to be known about the story of the Gibraltar evacuees in London.

If you wish to read the book and find out the full story you can download it from the Gibraltar National Archives.


Evacuees at Dr Barnardo's

Evacuees at Dr. Barnardo’s.


Evacuees at Wembley.


Evacuees at Whitland College.


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Guest post by LH Member Jane Young.

GI Brides, Duncan Barratt and Nuala CalviG I Brides is an account four of young women who married American servicemen and what became of them. The narrative takes you through London in the Blitz, war torn England then across the Atlantic and back again.

Beautifully written, it manages to seamlessly combine oral history with well-researched social history. The retelling of the excitement, romance, fears and hardships the G I brides experienced is engaging throughout.

Commencing with life during the Second World War, it goes on to depict poverty; housing conditions; alcoholism; gambling addiction; domestic violence; and single parenthood in post war society. The journeys of four very courageous women, to the United States and through life are described with pathos whilst remaining refreshingly devoid of unnecessary drama or resorting to rose-tinted nostalgia.

Gwendolyn, Rae, Margaret and Sylvia are just four of the 70,000 British women who undertook a life-changing move to another country during a time of turmoil.  Their stories are probably no more or less extraordinary than many of the other G I brides, but nonetheless remarkable they certainly are. The difficulties they encountered are described with honesty and humour alongside meticulous attention to detail which accurately illustrates the backdrop of everyday day life during wartime and the post-war era.

An immensely readable history of real people and the life they encountered, a fascinating rendition which culminates in a poignant explanation for the inspiration behind telling their story.


GI Brides by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi is published by HarperCollins with a cover price of £7.99 although it is available for less.

By the same authors: The Sugar Girlsour review.

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London Pride

A guest post by Noel Coward.

noel cowardDuring the Blitz, Coward wrote this defiant song on behalf of all Londoners. It evokes a manly tear, that’s for sure, and cannot be improved upon in my opinion. What a talent. London Pride (saxifraga urbium) is a small pink flower which sprung up on bomb sites during World War II. Anyway, grab a tissue and enjoy.

London Pride. 

London Pride has been handed down to us,
London Pride is a flower that’s free.
London Pride means our own dear town to us,
And our pride is forever will be.
Whoa, Liza,
See the coster barrows,
The vegetables and the fruit piled high,
Oh, Liza,
Little London sparrows,
Covent Garden Market where the costers cry.

Cockney feet
Mark the beat of history.
Every street pins a memory down.
Nothing ever can quite replace
The grace of London Town.

There’s a little city flower,
Ever spring unveiling,
Growing in the crevices,
By some London railing.
Though it has a Latin name
In town and countryside,
We in England call it
London Pride.

London Pride has been handed down to us,
London Pride is a flower that’s free.
London Pride means our own dear town to us,
And our pride it forever will be.
Hey, lady,
When the day is dawning,
See the policeman yawning
On his lonely beat.
Gay lady,
Mayfair in the morning,
Hear your footsteps echo
In the empty street.

Early rain,
And the pavement’s glistening,
All Park Lane
In a shimmering gown.
Nothing ever could break or harm
The charm
Of London Town.

In our city, darkened now,
Street and square and crescent,
We can feel our living past
In our shadowed present.
Ghosts beside our starlit Thames
Who lived and loved and died
Keep throughout the ages
London Pride.

London Pride has been handed down to us,
London Pride is a flower that’s free.
London Pride means our own dear town to us,
And our pride it forever will be.
Grey city,
Stubbornly implanted,
Taken so for granted
For a thousand years.
Stay, city,
Smokily enchanted,
Cradle of our memories,
Of our hopes and fears.

Every Blitz,
Your resistance toughening.
From the Ritz
To the Anchor and Crown,
Nothing ever could override
The pride
Of London Town.

There are quite a few renditions of London Town on YouTube. This one is by the Master himself, very upbeat. Not sure who’s singing this one, but it’s a good version and I especially like the video they’ve put together featuring lots of pluckly Londoners getting on with it amidst the rubble of the Blitz. What’s more, it’s got BBC pips and the famous photo of the intrepid milkman. Very good.

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This MS has been blitzed which accounts for my delay in delivering it and its slightly crumpled condition, but it is not damaged in any way.

So wrote George Orwell in a letter dated 28 June 1944 to T.S. Eliot. The manuscript in question was Animal Farm. The house in which Orwell, his wife Eileen and adopted baby Richard lived was 10a Mortimer Crescent, NW6. It, along with neighbouring homes, was destroyed by a V-1 flying bomb some days previous. Fortunately, the family was not at home. Armed with a wheelbarrow and a shovel Orwell returned to the bomb site to dig his manuscript out of the ruins.

The Orwells had lived in Mortimer Crescent for two years, a significant period of the author’s time in London. Yet there was no plaque to commemorate this fact. Until last week. On Tuesday 11th of September a green plaque was unveiled by Richard Blair himself, Orwell’s adopted son. The sign was commissioned by The Historic Kilburn  Plaque Scheme – led by local historian Ed Fordham.

George Orwell in Kilburn

George Orwell in Kilburn

Richard Blair addresses an enthusiastic group of local residents, journalists, photographers and Orwell fans.

George Orwell in Kilburn

Richard Blair and Ed Fordham

George Orwell in Kilburn

Highlight of my day. Richard signed this picture in one of my Orwell biographies (the Michael Shelden one, for you Orwell aficionados)

The plaque is attached to Kington House in Mortimer Crescent, a block of 1950s flats which were built directly above the original bomb site.

You can read about another pilgrimage and Orwell plaque here: George Orwell in Hayes.

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Regular readers will be used occasionally to reading funnies from an old Punch book in my possession.

mr punch in london town

But open it up, and what’s this?

mr punch in london town

That’s right. 3rd September 1939. My dad’s birthday. He’s Billy and he was nine that day. 82 today. Happy Birthday, Dad.

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commando comics national army museum

© DC Thompson

As a chap brought up at boarding school in the 70s in the pre-computer age with no telly and where radios were only illicitly kept, war comics were mother’s milk to most of us. Because of their small format, they were ideal for hiding in text books etc. I still have one in the attic somewhere as a keepsake. It’s called Assegai of War. Although mine features the Zulu Wars, most titles by Commando Comics and War Picture Library concentrated on World War II. They are typically stories of squaddies succeeding against the odds, misfits who come good, patriotism, esprit de corps and mateship. And laced, inevitably, with a strong dose of xenophobia.

So it was a fabulous trip down memory lane to visit the National Army Museum, Chelsea where this particularly British genre is celebrated in the exhibition Draw Your Weapons: The Art of Commando Comics (until 30 April 2012).

The exhibition is mainly about cover artwork, in colour, so it doesn’t really feature the pen and ink content pages. These paintings, then, are usually commissioned specially and not done by the fellows whose job it is to churn out the inside pages. This is bit of a pity: I love pen and ink illustration. No matter, the pictures that are on show are magnificent, mostly done on paper with watercolour and gouache. As mentioned before on this blog, comic artists and illustrators generally represent the true artistic talent of the modern age, in my view. Unsung geniuses known only by name to committed comic geeks. As a nation with a very strong comic tradition, we don’t celebrate their work as much as the French, Americans and Japanese do their artists (and ours, for that matter).

commando comics national army museum

© DC Thompson

commando comics national army museum

© DC Thompson

So. For a blast from the past and to enjoy some outstandingly crafted comic illustration, do pop down to NAM and take in the other delights this excellent museum has to offer while you’re there.


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On the morning of Sunday 18 June, 1944, the Guards Chapel in Wellington Barracks suffered a direct hit from a V1 flying bomb. The building was all but destroyed. It was packed with worshippers, 121 of whom were killed and a further 141 injured – soldiers and civilians alike. The enemy could not have dreamed of a more fortuitous result, given the totally random nature of flying bombs.

Supported by donations from many branches of the armed forces – notably I’m proud to say South Africans and Rhodesians – the chapel was re-built and re-opened in 1963. It’s well worth a visit, as is the Guards Museum next door.

There’s a good report of this incident here.

guards chapel wellington barracksguards chapel wellington barracksguards chapel wellington barracks

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