Tag Archives: Blitz

The Post Christmas Blitz on Lee Part 1 – 27 December 1940

Apologies if you’ve seen this before – the previous incarnation was partially deleted.
In the autumn of 2020, Running Past covered the attacks of the first night of the Blitz around Lee, Lewisham, Catford and Hither Green 80 years on. Over the next few months there were frequent attacks on the area – the worst night in the old Borough of Lewisham was probably the night of 8 to 9 December 1940. The Air Raid Precautions (ARP) Service Logs (an example of the log is shown below for 29 December 1940) noted for the night of 8-9 December

  • 126 high explosive bombs dropped;
  • 206 incendiary bombs – the number of both incendiary and high explosive bombs was almost certainly understated as the locations rather than numbers were often recorded;
  • 176 fires started – no doubt stretching the Fire Brigade to beyond breaking point;
  • 5 deaths; and
  • 175 injured – this was almost certainly a big understatement as at many locations injuries were ticked rather than having numbers.

However, around Lee some of the worst nights were at the end of December 1940 in two posts we’ll look at the nights 27/28 and 29/30 December where there were two nights of very heavy bombing.

There had been two quiet nights on Christmas Day and Boxing Day 1940, it was the lull before the storm with the night of 27/28 December being one of the heaviest nights of the blitz in Lewisham.

While there were attacks earlier in evening in Brockley, the first attacks on Lee was a series of incendiary bombs which hit at 19:51; one was at 33 Burnt Ash Road – a large house demolished after the war in the large scale demolitions of houses at the end of leases by the Crown Estate. There was no note of damage, but in the LCC Bomb Damage map the house ended the war with general, not structural, blast damage (1).

The other was at Reeds of Lee Green, a long standing drapers and furnishers that dominated the south east quadrant of Lee Green, straddling both Burnt Ash Road and Eltham Road – it was around 50 metres from 33 Burnt Ash Road. There was no damage marked there on the LCC Bomb Damage maps (2).

The final one of trio was at 57 Leyland Road (opposite the present day Alanthus Close) which was dealt with by officers from Lee police station.

Soon after at 20:05, another incendiary bomb was dropped close by in Burnt Ash Road between Southbrook and Micheldever Roads – there was a small fire which was quickly put out though.

There were several attacks on just after 9:00 pm on the then new homes on Upwood Road, (above) 34 and 22 were specifically mentioned but a couple of other incendiaries were reported as well. A hundred metres of so away 73 Leyland Road was hit by another incendiary. The was another dropped on Leyland Road between Dorville and Osberton Road – presumably somewhere around the current Carsten Close. With all of these the fires seem to have been put out by ARP fire wardens.

At around 9:12 pm, 41 Dorville Road and 36 Cambridge Drive were hit by incendiaries – as with the others in neighbouring streets they were put out by ARP wardens who had a busy night. The latter is a large surviving Victorian house, the former lost to the large scale redevelopment of Crown Estate land in the 1960s, but will have looked similar to the very different street scene from a few decades before.

At around 9:40 at least five bombs were dropped around Aislibie Road. One was in Manor House Gardens, which was home to three air road shelters. Fortunately the high explosive bomb hit a shrubbery between the shelters with only limited damage. Had there been a direct hit the loss of life could have been considerable as happened at Albion Way in Lewisham town centre on 11 September 1940 where 41 died.

A hundred metres or so away, 14-20 Lampmead Road (between Aislibie and Lenham Roads) were hit. Presumably the impact was in the road as none of the houses was destroyed although the ARP log noted that walls on all of them were cracked. Numbers 18 and 20 have survived but 14 and 16 were destroyed by a V1 flying bomb later in the war – the circle on the map.

More serious damage was around the corner in Aislibie Road with number 50 being hit directly and largely demolished and the houses either side rendered uninhabitable. The shading on the LCC bomb damage maps is incorrect here – the Ordnance Survey map of 1949 notes ‘ruins.’

Another bomb hit a few doors up, damaging 38 Aislibie Road- it wasn’t one of the houses destroyed during the war and was marked as blast damage – minor in nature on the LCC bomb damage maps. (3). If there was any serious damage it may have been made good by the end of the war.

In the same attack there was serious damage to the odd side of the road too, 17 to 23 had their chimney stacks knocked of; but 25 to 29 were left in ruins. The site had been cleared by the time the Ordnanace Survey cartographers mapped the area in 1949, but unlike similar small sites, such as Fernbrook Road, wasn’t used for prefabs. Again there were no reports on casualties here.

At around 9:45 there were at least four high explosive bombs dropped in the area around Winn Road area between Guibal Road and Senlac Raod.  The one at 87 Guibal Road failed to explode and the houshold had to be evacuated temporarily while it was made safe. The one at 105 Guibal damaged water, gas and electricity services, with the others not seeming to do much damage other than to gardens.

At 9:55 another high explosive bomb was reported as hitting Manor Lane – 50 was described as being ‘demolished’ and 48 and 52 rendered uninhabitable. Unless these were rebuilt in in exactly the same style as the W J Scudamore originals, it may be that the report was overstated. While there has clearly been some patching of walls, original features seem to remain.

Around 10:00 pm a small explosive bomb hit the old St Margaret’s Churchyard (pictured above) leaving a small crater and several damaged tombstones. A few minutes later there were a couple of incendiary bombs dropped on Lee High Road close to the current Mercator estate – an area that was to be devastated later in the war.

Overall, that night in the old Borough of Lewisham 

  • 97 high explosive were dropped;
  • 112 incendiary bombs fell;
  • 91 fires were started;
  • 3 died;
  • 12 were injured, this is almost certainly an understatement as some just ticked the box rather than entering a number; and
  • 12 were trapped by debris having to be rescued by emergency services.

It wasn’t just Lewisham that was attacked that night, The Times for the following day noted that ‘the raid equaled in intensity, but not duration, some of the heaviest attacks on the capital….from widespread areas came the same report of enemy aircraft flying over almost continuously dropping incendiaries followed by high explosive bombs.’ (4)

Whilst the following night seems to have seen another lull with defence guns silent (5), the Sunday evening of 29/30 saw the bombers return with in what was described in central London as the Second Great Fire of London but also saw numerous bombs dropped on Lee; we’ll return to this is the second part of the post.

Notes

  1. Laurence Ward (2015) The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945 p116
  2. ibid p116
  3. ibid p185
  4. The Times Saturday December 28 1940
  5. The Times Monday December 30 1940

Credits

  • Most of the information for this post comes from the Lewisham ARP Log – it is a fascinating document, which is part of the collection of Lewisham Archives. It isn’t a complete record – some incidents were reported to the Fire Brigade rather than the APR and some incendiaries were dealt with by residents or Fire Wardens without ever reaching the ARP service – this is particularly the case on busy nights such as this.
  • The map is from the London County Council Bomb Damage Maps, 1939-1945 – permission has been given by the London Metropolitan Archives, the copyright owners of the map, the to use the image here.
  • The photograph of Lee Green and the page of the ARP Log are both from the collection of Lewisham Archives, both are used with permission and remain their copyright.
  • The postcard of Dorville Road is via eBay in December 2019

The Post Christmas Blitz on Lee Part 2 – 29 December 1940

In the first part of this post we looked at the post-Christmas Luftwaffe attacks on 27 December 1940 on Lee which saw numerous bombs dropped and homes destroyed on Aislibie Road, the misspelled road, named after Benjamin Aislabie – slave owner, awful cricketer and tenant of Lee Place.

While there was a lull the following evening, it seems that the Luftwaffe were just gearing up for an even bigger raid on 29 December, the aim of which seems to have been to put the fire services under a level of pressure that they would be unable to cope with and see London burning.

The attacks were much more concentrated in a small number of streets between Lee High Road and and Manor House Gardens. Most were incendiaries, and along with a few high explosive bombs, were dropped in a few minutes around 8:15 pm.

As we found with the post on the first night of the Blitz, it is worth remembering that not every incident was reported to the Air Raid Precautions (ARP), some being just reported to the Fire Brigade but others never going through official channels. One of the pages of incidents for the night of 29/30 December 1940 is show below.

The first attacks of the night in Lee started at around 7:25 pm in Blessingham Road, when a high explosive bomb hit the back garden of number 38. Elsewhere on the street another high explosive bomb injured two people. The street was to be decimated by a series of V-1 flying bombs later in the war and was developed, initially as prefabs, and in the early 1960s, as the Mercator Estate.

Fifty minutes later, Lee was on fire, the ARP logs note several dozen incendiaries being dropped at the same time, so we’ll look at the attack on a street by street basis. Aislibie Road (pictured below) which had suffered badly two nights before, was again hit. It was different houses this evening with 5, 13, 26, 30 and 39 all being bombed with roofs and upper floors damaged by the incendiary bombs, none were destroyed though.

Parallel to Aislibie Road, and the location of a devastating V-1 flying bomb three and a half years later, is Lenham Road which saw 5, 7, 10 and 28 all hit by incendiaries. The fires were successfully dealt with by local ARP and Fire Wardens.

Incendiary bombs rained down on neighbouring Brightfield Road with 32, 34, 42, 43, 49, 63 and 83 all hit by them (some are pictured below) – the fires were put out by wardens and the inhabitants, but many of the roofs were damaged.

Elsewhere in the neighbourhood, the roof and upper floors of 24 Lampmead Road were damaged, as was 4 Hedgley Street. Taunton Road saw at least two attacks – number 60 was slightly damaged and 2 Thornhill Cottages saw its roof damamged. Thornhill Cottages was a terrace at the eastern end of Taunton Road between Burnt Ash Road and Hedgley Street seemingly on the present Sainsbury’s site.

At the opposite end of Manor House Gardens, 2, 44 and 61 Old Road plus Pentland House (pictured below) were all hit but Fire Wardens managed to deal with all four fires.

A little further along Lee High Road, number 345 was hit by another incendiary; ironically it had been a fire station up until 1906 when the one on Eltham Road opened, it is now a solicitors. The roof seems to have been damaged, and assuming that there was no damage on other occasions during the war, a central turret there was destroyed (there is a pre-damage photograph in the post on the fire station).

There was an explosive and incendiary combination dropped on Dacre Park at the same time and there were ‘several .. casualties in the road’ as a result.

Around fifteen minutes later at 8:30, a high explosive bomb hit Lee High Road between Old Road and Lochaber Road – there 5 casualties, including an ARP warden, with shrapnel damage to almshouses’ boundary wall that is still visible (along with a fading direction sign to an air raid shelter). The ARP warden was Henry Cottell of 41 Manor Lane Terrace who was to die later that evening in Lewisham Hospital – it was a house that seems to have been lost to the construction of Wolfram Close. Henry left behind two adult daughters and his wife Ann, who were there when the 1939 Register was collected.

Also at 8:30, Chiesman’s store repository at 87 Old Road was hit by a high explosive and incendiary combination – the ARP log noted that the repository was on fire. We’ll return to this incident later in the post.

One of the ARP Fire wardens for that part of Lee that night was Phyllis Noble (later Willmott), who lived at 49 Lampmead Road with her parents and grandparents. In the aftermath of the incendiaries being dropped, she and her brothers, who were also ARP Wardens, grabbed stirrup pumps, buckets and sandbags. ‘Incendiaries seemed to be everywhere, but so too were numerous fire watchers like ourselves.’ (1)

The first fire they dealt with was at the almshouses that stood at the corner Lampmead and Lee High Roads (pictured above) where a room had caught fire. They put out that and another in the neighbouring Methodist church, now the New Testament Church of God. Phyllis and her brothers spent the next few hours putting out fires in locations that didn’t even get a mention in the ARP log chasing ‘up and down stairs in the tall Victorian houses in the High Road.’ They reached Old Road and Chiesman’s Store depository by around midnight (2)

“As the red glow in the sky told us, there were still plenty of fires raging, including one in the furniture depository nearby. We went along to see if there was anything we could do there; giant tongues of red and gold flames were shooting skywards from the glowing building and clearly this was not work for us, in any case the firemen had already arrived.”

Had the Fire Brigade arrived earlier they may have been able to save 87 Old Road but it was largely destroyed.

Lee was probably only a stopping off place for the Luftwaffe as they headed towards the centre of the city. Later in the evening incendiaries rained down on central London in what was described as the Second Great Fire of London, the iconic picture of St Paul’s Cathedral amidst the smoke was from that night as 160 died and hundreds of buildings were destroyed in the capital.

Notes

  1. Phyllis Willmott (1988) Coming of Age in Wartime p50
  2. ibid

Credits

  • Most of the information for this post comes from the Lewisham ARP Log – it is a fascinating document, which is part of the collection of Lewisham Archives. It isn’t a complete record – some incidents were reported to the Fire Brigade rather than the APR and some incendiaries were dealt with by residents or Fire Wardens without ever reaching the ARP service – this is particularly the case on busy nights such as this.
  • The photograph of St Paul’s is via a Wikipedia Commons
  • The photograph of the Boone’s Almshouses and the page of the ARP Log are both from the collection of Lewisham Archives, both are used with permission and remain their copyright.

The First Night of the Blitz in Lee, Hither Green, Catford and Lewisham

The afternoon of 7 September 1940 saw wartime football matches at the Valley, where Charlton lost 4-2 to Millwall, and a few miles away Crystal Palace beat yet to be rivals Brighton 5-2 in the wartime South Regional Competition.  The almost normality was about to come to a shuddering halt with the first raids of the Blitz, when German bombers came ‘en masse’ on a Saturday afternoon, some up the Thames, some from the south – it was to be the start of eight months heavy bombing of London.

A Heinkel He 111 bomber flying over the Thames at the start of the Luftwaffe’s evening raids of 7 September 1940

One of the waves came over the Surrey hills and were recalled by a then young cyclist

It was the most amazing, impressive, riveting sight …Directly above me were literally hundreds of planes … the sky was full of them. Bombers hemmed in with fighters, like bees around their queen…

Running Past has covered many of the V-1 and V-2 attacks of the second half of the war – including ones in Lewisham High Street, Lewisham Hill, Hither Green Station (pictured below) and Blackheath Village.  On the 80th anniversary of the start of the Blitz it seems appropriate to reflect on what happened that afternoon and into the early hours of the Sunday. We’ll look at that the first night of the Blitz from the perspective of the Lee, Catford and Lewisham areas that Running Past generally focuses on.  Hither Green largely escaped that first night with one significant exception a partial collapse of the railway bridge on Ennersdale Road with 20 injured and several trapped at around 20:25 which was noted in the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) Log.

For many of the other attacks on the area, Running Past has used the ARP log for the old Borough of Lewisham.  However, in the early days of the Blitz the records seemed to be only partial, they seemed to be overwhelmed by incidents. There is better documentation for that first night in the records of the London Fire Brigade which are part of the collection of the Metropolitan Archives.  There were typed official green slips record each incident and a separate bound volume listing all the fires attended.  These were all pulled together for the 70th anniversary and a datasheet published in The Guardian, and elsewhere.  As we shall see though, even these aren’t perfect, serious incidents to homes in Limes Grove, Lewisham Road and Ennersdale Road railway bridge were not included.

The data shows the sheer scale of the attacks on the dockland communities on both sides of the Thames from late afternoon onwards, with a second wave of attacks from around 8:30 pm – seemingly the fires from the first attacks helping guide the Luftwaffe for a renewed onslaught as the natural light faded.  The attacks will have seen Londoners scurrying to their shelters – both household ones and communal ones such as those in Manor House Gardens and lots in the streets around Lewisham High Street.

The first bombs in the area – seemed to have been on Lewisham High Street furniture suppliers, Bolsom Brothers which was ‘severely damaged’ at 16:14 and the same with part of Chiesmans department store six minutes later.

There were a series of reports at 17:55, around Blackheath and Lee with damage to three houses in Brandram Road, including number 30, the original house is no longer there.  The ARP log noted another incident in a similar location around 19:09 but this could well have been the same one.  A couple of bombs failed to explode at the almshouses – given the communal shelter there (pictured below) there could have been a large loss of life had they exploded.

Around 20 minutes later 51-57 Lewisham Hill were hit – the damage noted in the Fire Brigade reports was to contents rather than the structure.  However, they were all marked as badly damaged in the LCC Bomb Damage maps – a mixture of repairable at cost, damaged beyond repair and completely destroyed, so either the Fire Brigade reports were incorrect or they were hit again either later in the Blitz or during the sporadic attacks that preceded the V-1 flying bombs – one of which caused enormous damage a little further down the Hill.  53 (the Victorian house and 55-57 are pictured below)

Bombers returned to Brandram Road at 18.31 with damage to 1, 2 and 4 although fortunately not the adjacent church – the worst damage seems to have been to a garage at number 2.

The second wave of attacks started from around 8:30 pm, and for the first few hours Lee, Catford, Hither Green and Lewisham were ignored with the much of the firepower being targeted on Lambeth, Southwark and Wandsworth areas.  By around 10:30 though dockland areas were re-targeted and half an hour later bombs started falling on Catford and Lee.

At 11:00 pm here was some limited damage to 34 Winn Road, part on an estate built by Wates just before the war; with an incendiary bomb being dropped on a nearby field in Alnwick Road. Around the same time an incendiary bomb fell in the street on Glenton Road, seemingly outside Holy Trinity Church – the extensive damage to the church was to come later in the Blitz. A bit further south ‘slight damage’ was recorded to 31-37 Abernethy Road, part of the late Victorian Firs Estate (top picture below).

The bombers returned to the skies above Abernethy Road around 11:45 pm, possibly ‘guided’ by a fire from the previous attack – the Fire Brigade report suggested that four houses of 41-47 were ‘severely damaged.’ As that numbering didn’t exist – in reality, these were almost certainly houses on Manor Lane Terrace about 30 metres away (lower picture above).  The damage to 31-37 seems much more serious than recorded and both groups of houses had been demolished by 1949. Neither site seemed to have been big enough for prefabs and the Victorian housing was replaced with council homes in the 1950s or 1960s.

In the early hours of Sunday morning the Luftwaffe turned some of their attention to Catford and the streets to the south of Brownhill Road.  The first attacks were at 0:18 and 0:20 on 141 Braidwood and 129 Killearn Roads, both suffered roof damage from an incendiary bomb – any sign of which was hidden behind a replaced roof and rendering.  At around the same time another incendiary hit a shed at Sandhurst Road School – the target of a much worse attack in early 1943 and there was some damage to 54 Laleham Road from another incendiary.

Twenty seven minutes past midnight saw an explosive bomb hit Jutland Road with seventeen houses damaged, several seriously – while some of the houses were repairable others weren’t with three houses being rebuilt (see below) – not in the style of the immediate post-war council housing so, presumably, private sector housing.

There was slight roof damage, now not obvious, from incendiary bombs to 86 Torridon and 91 Ardgowan Roads (the latter may have been hit twice as there was another report for it at 1:10 am) at the same time with some damage to fences to a couple of houses in Fordel Road. A few minutes afterwards saw the front bedroom of 127 Minard Road ‘severely damaged.’  The house was rebuilt well, with no obvious damage visible from the outside.

In between these attacks there had been an explosive bomb dropped on Sportsbank Street, which still had the stand for the former velodrome being used as warehousing, which damaged three houses, and ‘severely damaged’ three others – probably at the Laleham Road end.  The homes were rebuilt as council housing after the war (see below).

A few minutes earlier, at 138 Engleheart Road had been hit by an explosive bomb leaving two houses destroyed and two damaged beyond repair.  At 140 Ellen Moseley (37) was injured and died later in Lewisham Hospital – she was living in Hythe in Kent in 1939.  Again the homes were rebuilt post war.

Not every incident was recorded, and this was the case with the two in Lewisham where there was the biggest loss of life in the first night of the Blitz. The first of these was the bombing of 159 Lewisham Road (opposite Connington Road) where five died. Neville (20), Gwendoline (19) and Hilda Osborne (16) along with Charles Smith (23) and Christine Smith (nee Osborne – 24) who had married a few weeks before the bombing. They were all living at 213 Algernon Road in 1939 – Gwendoline  was a Photographic Clerk and Hilda an accounts assistant. Charles Smith was a Mechanical Engineering Draughtsman at the War Office as well as being in the Home Guard.

Despite the deaths and probable large amount of damage, the house (pictured above) was probably repaired during the war – it was marked on the LCC Bomb Damage Maps as orange – ‘general blast damage, not structural.’

The second unrecorded incident leading to significant loss of life was about half a mile further south; it seems that at some point during the night that 43 and 45 Limes Grove was hit. At 43 (the left of the houses below), Mayhew Edith Spedding died aged 56; she was the wife of George Spedding who was First Mate on a ship. In the 1939 Register she was listed there with George and what seem to have either been a couple of lodgers or it was a shared flat. It was a house that was split into two flats. Edith was badly injured in the bombing and later died at Lewisham Hospital.

Next door at 45, which was also two flats, lived the Bennions; both Edith Bennion (53) and her son William Arthur Bennion (18) were badly injured in the explosion, and like Mayhew next door, died later in hospital. They were survived by William Henry Bennion a mail porter and a school age daughter, also called Edith.

Lewisham had got off lightly compared with other areas, 11 deaths from the 430 who perished on that first night.  The all clear was sounded at around 5:00 am on the Sunday morning.  The respite was short though bombers arrived again over London the following night and did so every day/night for about two months and off and on for eight months.  Catford, Lee and Hither Green weren’t attacked every night but there will be more posts on the Blitz over the next few months.

The bombings changed the urban landscape, not as dramatically as they did in areas around the Thames, but most streets in the area have bits of post-war council housing amidst the Victorian terraces.  Most will tell a story of a family displaced and possibly injuries and deaths as a result.

Credits

Most of the information for this post comes from four sources:

The football results are from The Times of 9 September 1940.

Picture Credits

  • The Merchant Taylors’ Almshouses air raid shelter is from the collection of Lewisham Archives, it is used with their permission and remains their copyright;
  • The Heinkel He 111 bomber flying over the Thames is from Wikipedia and is on a Creative Commons
  • The Hither Green Station V-1 photograph part of the Imperial War Museum collection (produced here on a Creative Commons)
  • The rest are copyright of the author and are usable elsewhere, attributed, on a non-commercial basis.