in Shaftesbury

Bombs in Battersea

Evidence of the Blitz: 'Infill' houses replace those damaged beyond repair

Battersea still carries the architectural scars of World War II. You don’t need to go far to find a few buildings that are out of keeping with their surroundings, providing an immediate contrast between post-war architectural styles and constraints and their older neighbours.

Inspired by the anniversary of the start of the Blitz (and the excellent, and occasionally chilling @ukwarcabinet on Twitter) I decided to have a look at a few of the incidents in Shaftesbury.

Off the top of my head I can think of many examples that I suspect are evidence of bomb damage. There’s a block straddling Parma Crescent and Lavender Sweep. A small blocks in Lavender Gardens and Gowrie Road. The open space and flats running across both corners of Elspeth Road with Lavender Hill and into Mysore Road. The Dorothy Road park and houses opposite and on Kathleen Road. And several areas in the Shaftesbury Park Estate (most notably on the eastern side of Brassey Square and Sabine Road). The one that immediately interested me are the houses just down the road from me at 177-181 Elsley Road.

What surprised me is how little is available online. There are a few resources. The Guardian have detailed the locations of bombs dropped on the first day of the Blitz. Other sites like Flying Bombs and Rockets have detailed where V1 and V2s hit in south London, including Battersea. Working more laterally the Commonwealth War Graves Commission also detail civilian war dead and someone called Geoff Sullivan has constructed a search front-end that means you can search by road. But this in imperfect, since it means someone has to have died – searching for Elsley Road only produces one fatality, Albert Chapman, who lived at number 7, but was actually killed at the gas works at Queen’s Circus.

So I ended up in the local history library at Battersea. Where the staff were incredibly helpful, despite my insistence on repeatedly breaking rules.

I was expecting a fairly dry report. Possibly nothing more than a day, date and bare details. In fact they have all the original documentation which includes copies of the messages passed to and from those on the ground and between the various controls. Reading through them gives an incredible sense of the way the information developed, from the first report, to initial assessments and refinements.

29 December 1940
What struck me, though, was how my ‘neighbours’ plight appeared routine (though, for them, it was anything but). Incident 744 at 2032 on 29 December 1940 revealed a high explosive bomb (they had options of HE, incendiary or poison gas – later in the war the word ‘FLY’ was written by hand on the pro forma) had hit 179, damaging 177 and 181 either side. There were no fatalities, but there was a fire in the front room and one man and two women were taken to hospital.

The walls were noted as being “dangerous”. Then, at 2058 the warden phoned for an ambulance for one casuality at 201 Elsley Road. The ambulance was noted as being despatched at 2058½!

16 April 1941
If the neighbours felt the chances of another hit were slim they were wrong. Towards the end of the Blitz, on 16 April 1941 183 Elsley Road was hit by an incendiary device. It was a busy night, the report (incident 815) detailed 21 sites hit in the raid – the main focus for response seems to have been Arding and Hobbs which was described as “well alight” at 2210. 183 seems to have been left (it was hit at 2205) until 2300 when it was reported that wardens were on scene and the fire under control.

Unlike 177-181, 183 Elsley Road was undamaged enough to be repaired and stands to this day.

It is slightly bizarre reading these rather matter of fact reports written almost 70 years ago. I would not have imagined that so much data and information was captured and catalogued on small slips of paper. The bureaucracy must have been enormous. And despite that they managed to despatch an ambulance within 30 seconds – I’d bet it doesn’t happen that much quicker even now.

But it’s also strange to think about how people reacted and coped with all of this, and I suspect expectations have changed to the extent we might not cope today (at least not without suing the government over the quality of temporary accommodation). But there is so much writing about the ‘Blitz spirit’ that I cannot add anything but banal cliché so I will stop there.

However, I would invite you, next time you walk past a set of building that are obviously different to their neighbours – in just the same way as 177-181 Elsley Road – to stop and think how it happened, and what happened to the people living there.

[Of course, the next stage would be to try to find out something about them, but I fear that would be beyond my limited skills as an historian.]

Leave a Reply

  1. I am always conscious that my little block in Battersea was obviously built in the immediate aftermath of the War and that it represents the destruction of the homes of at least two families.

    The past lives on all around us.

  2. An interesting read, my Dad lived on Sabine Road opposite Brassey Square when the the V1 hit. It had passed overhead but then circled back. Dad and his Mum were sheltering under the Morrison Shelter in the kitchen. When the smoke cleared, the front half of Dad’s house and that corner of Brassey Square was missing. Dad and his Mum were moved to a house ten or so doors up, opposite the shop that used to be on the corner

  3. I am trying to get info on bomb damage in Shillington Street and Este Road. Our house , number 36 was badly damaged and the Junior School, and some houses, in Este Rd too. My mother, I, and two brothers were evacuated on a Saturday morning, and later that day/ night the bomb fell. How lucky were we ? I can remember standing in the street one day with my older brother and watching a V1 glide down the Street, it missed the railway and landed the other side of the embankment, have you any details on this one at all. It was before we were evacuated. Would appreciate any/all details that you may have. Pete Hammersley.

    • I’m afraid I don’t have any information other than what I’ve published on here. If you are still nearby the local history section at Lavender Hill library were very helpful when I went (it was a few years ago, so you might want to check first if you are planning on going in case it has moved or has restricted hours).

      Looking at your description I wonder if the bomb you mention is this one: http://bombsight.org/bombs/16821/ Unfortunately that site has very little detail and only covers the blitz. You can get a lot more from places like the local archive.

      Another site that has a bit more detail (and looks like a real labour of love by the author) and covers the V1s is ‘Flying Bombs and Rockets’, there is a page for SW11 http://www.flyingbombsandrockets.com/V1_summary_sw11.html and there are a couple on there that might be the V1 you saw, you might be able to narrow down based on direction and time.

  4. I was born at 14 Elsley Road in January 1940 and the family eventually moved north. I have outlived all of the family, but I was always told that we were “bombed out” at Elsely Road. Now nearly 80 years old, I often think of the things I was told as a child, and I think the “bombed out” tale was just a story. I see no evidence of 14 Elsley Road being bombed at all.
    Ken Croft, now living permanently in France

    • I think it might just have been a story. It’s not impossible it suffered some damage (I can’t remember if Gideon Road, to the rear, was cleared because of bomb damage or as part of the post-war demolition and rebuilding of roads in the area) but I certainly don’t think the house itself suffered any substantial damage.

Webmentions

  • Aviation and Memory | lincolnhistoryheritage 2 September, 2019

    […] grandparents reporting their stories of the Blitz, including a bomb crashing through their roof in Battersea and landing next to the piano. It failed to explode, they emerged from the cellar, and I am here to […]

  • Brassey Square bombing 2 September, 2019

    […] compiled while various authorities were responding to Second World War bombing. As I noted when writing about the houses a few doors down from me, records of incidents are mainly as it happened notes of orders and instructions given rather than […]

  • Tweets that mention Bombs in Battersea -- Topsy.com 2 September, 2019

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by James Cousins and James Cousins, Parlez~me~'n~Tory. Parlez~me~'n~Tory said: RT @jamescousins: I'm using the excuse of 'personal, not council' blog with this http://bit.ly/bKjKdD and asking you to indulge me. […]