The Chronology: Page-37
Saturday September 7th 1940
The Aftermath

As the first light of September 8th 1940 started to break through, the picture of the experiences of the late afternoon bombing and the continued onslaught throughout the night began to emerge. The East End probably suffered the worst, but serious damage was done to areas south of the River Thames as well as the outer city areas between Aldgate and Ludgate Hill.

Fires were still raging in bond stores and the dock areas around North Woolwich, nothing escaped the tons of bombs and incendiaries that were dropped. The Royal Albert Dock, Queen Victoria Dock and King George V Dock were burning infernos, ships were damaged and the industrial areas of Custom House, Silvertown and Canning Town were still burning fiercely as raw materials added fuel to the timbers and structure of the many buildings. Places like John Knights (Soapworks), Tate and Lyles (Sugar refiners) and Silvertown Rubber Works were among the factories badly hit. Others included an ink factory, a tarpaulin company and a fuel depot. On the other side of the road, now called Silvertown Way that separates the industrial factories from the residential areas, homes were demolished and others so badly damaged that they became uninhabitable. The damage went as far inland as Barking, East Ham, West Ham and Bethnal Green, areas that were highly populated and classed as residential.

South of the Thames, the situation was almost as bad, and what made this worse, was the fact that most of the south side was residential until reaching Deptford. Again, as north of the Thames, houses were demolished, others became unrecognisable as walls and roofs lie in shambles in back gardens and in roadways.

We got the red alert as was often the case when an impending raid was approaching from the Thames Estuary. But the usual practice was for the bomber formations to split up near the Isle of Sheppy and they then set course for the RAF aerodromes north and south of the Thames the we would revert back to a yellow. But in this case we was under a 'red' for longer than usual and messages started to come in that the bombers were seen coming up the Thames. Well, I went up and I have never seen anything like it. A thick blanket of black bombers which must have been two miles wide following the Thames.

Our station was almost at the road junction that now goes down to the Woolwich ferry and we had an excellent view of what was going to happen. I think the first bombs were dropped just before the dock areas and the right side of the formation would pass right over us. We could do nothing but get back to our posts and pray like mad. The sound was deafening, the building shook and dust from walls and ceilings started to envelope our desks, we could do nothing while the raid was on although a few phone calls came through, 'this street got it' and 'so and so building has got a direct hit. Then silence, slowly the phones died, lines had been cut and we knew that once it was all over we would have to rely on messengers.

William 'Bill' Thompson Civil Defence Woolwich
The huge pall of smoke bellowing from the warehouses and docks could be seen for miles. Fires raged right up to London's Tower Bridge where the St. Katherine's Dock which lies almost adjacent was engulfed in flame. The area of Wapping where hundreds of bond stores and shipwright stores are built on top of each other separated only by a network of narrow streets. Firemen and ambulance men had a terrible time in this area as many of the streets had been blocked by fallen brick walls and burst water mains.

[ Document 46. How a Daily Telegraph Reporter saw the Scene ]
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After a sleepless night, while their Anderson shelters rocked with the explosion of bombs and the crash of guns, the people of East London carried on to-day with their usual amazing spirit. Several hundred began their search for new homes as soon as the “all clear” sounded. Whole streets had been destroyed and many other houses demolished. But people gathered their possessions together and piled them into perambulators. With children in their arms, they started their walk to friends or relatives.

Their morale was astonishing. As they were walking to their new homes many were laughing and joking among themselves. Some families took care of children whose parents were dead or injured, and made long journeys across London to escort them to the homes of relatives. Women went on preparing the Sunday dinner, even though they had no water or gas. They borrowed water from more fortunate neighbours and lit fires to roast the joints. One of them, Mrs. W. Johnson, who had spent the night in a shelter, was preparing her meal in a house where the dividing wall between dining-room and drawing-room lay in chunks across the floors.

In a dockland tavern, where every window had been blown out by a bomb which fell across the road, they were collecting for a Spitfire fund. The licensee of a hotel gave up his saloon bar for housing people whose houses were no longer tenable. In several streets neighbours were making a whip-round for those who had lost their belongings.

“It was an experience far worse than the Silvertown explosion in the last war,” Mrs. Cook, who with her husband and five children escaped injury, said to me. “The heat from the fires was terrific. We do not intend moving from the district, despite this ghastly raid.” The morale of the people was summed up in the words of one Mayor, who said: “They have taken it on the chin.” [1]

Tulip Street between Custom House and Silvertown, was a street that housed the typical working family. Most were regarded as poor and lived from one day to the next. The houses could only be regarded as slums, being with earshot and sight of the industrial dockland area. A number of houses had been hit during the earlier raids in late August, but this September day was the last that was to be heard of Tulip Street. The long rows of terraced houses stood as nothing but empty shells, roofs had disappeared leaving a wall standing alone with a broken staircase rising leading to nowhere. Upstairs floors were dangling in space being only fastened to one of the half demolished walls. Beds and bedroom furniture hung precariously waiting for the floor to give way, up the street bedroom furniture and long tin baths littered the roadway amongst the rubble and debris. Not one house was left standing and soon Tulip Street would be gone forever, never to be rebuilt.

“On the Saturday afternoon, the Luftwaffe decided to come to London and bomb. We had been called to the top of Pepys Road and were putting incendiaries out that had fallen on houses. We had finished and were walking by the side of our appliances shouting Any incendiaries to put out?’

Quite a number of the elderly people, mainly women, had lost budgies or canaries and we had done our best to console them. They were very shaken.

We got back to 40Y and were just in time for tea. I can remember having a piece of egg and bacon when the bells went and my appliance, a heavy unit, was called to Surrey Docks. It must have been about 5.30pm. We arrived at the docks and had to put out about four large stacks of burning timber. It was useless because every time we put them out and went to another stack, the first came alight again.

The most amazing thing I saw was the roadway. The roads were lined with tarry wooden blocks. and these were floating on top of the water which we had put thereabout, some 12” deep, all in formation as they had been in the road.”

Bill Ward AFS Fireman London

SHELTERS AND THE BLITZ (280Kb)
“Saturday September 7th was sunny with a light westerly breeze. At 4pm, we on our  Emergency Fireboat were ordered down to Tilbury. As we approached Tower Bridge we  saw vast volumes of smoke on its eastward side rising white into the sunlight. We passed under Tower Bridge and soon were on the edge of an inferno. Everything was alight  tugs and barges were flaming and sinking in the river. All the timber of Surrey Commercial Docks was blazing furiously.

The sun had disappeared and darkness was as of night. A strong wind was whipped up by the great fire heat which caused small flaming planks of wood to be blown about like matchsticks, and the river itself was as turbulent as a whipped-up small sea. Small crowds of people were here and there at the water’s edge crying out for rescue. Warehouses and all sorts of  buildings were burning on both sides of the river. Not until we were near Greenwich did  we see the sun again and then only as a pale disc through the great ceiling of smoke. There I saw a gasometer alight. To my surprise it did  not explode but went as one great blue flame, like an enormous gas jet lasting only a minute.”

George Wilkins AFS Fireman London
There would be thousands of stories to come out of London on the first day of intense bombing. Stories of courage, and stories of hardship. Some would tell of bravery while others could only mention despair. What wonderful deeds and acts of courage were performed by members of the Civil Defence, the Ambulance Service which then came under the London County Council, the Auxiliary Fire Brigade and the London Fire Brigade. But courage and determination was also shown by those in the air. The pilots of Fighter Command.
"It had been an easy flight up from the Thames Estuary and along the Thames. There was no opposition and we felt that we had the whole sky to ourselves, we were at 5.000 feet. The docks at Woolwich stood out almost as if beckoning for us to release our bombload. Through the glass canopy I could see tall cranes and the long square shape of the three main docks, I lined them up carefully, and as I pressed the release button I looked elsewhere at the huge mass of buildings and warehouses below then just caught a glimpse of the sticks of bombs as they kinked from side to side as they fell towards earth.
Helmut Staal, of the leading fight of bombers of II KG/76
THE DAY AS SEEN BY FIGHTER COMMAND
Squadron Leader A.V.R (Sandy) Johnstone who was flying out of Tangmere with 602 Squadron was one of those brought up from the south coast to give protection to London. He had the surprise of his life when he first saw the vast armada of bombers heading for the capital:
All we could see was row upon row of German raiders, all heading for London. I have never seen so many aircraft in the air all at the same time. . . . The escorting fighters saw us at once and came down like a ton of bricks, when the squadron split up and the sky became a seething cauldron of aeroplanes, swooping and swerving in and out of the vapour trails and tracer smoke. A Hurricane on fire spun out of control ahead of me while, above to my right, a 110 flashed across my vision and disappeared into the fog of battle before I could draw a bead on it. Everyone was shouting at once and the earphones became filled with a meaningless cacophony of jumbled noises. Everything became a maelstrom of jumbled impression — a Dornier spinning wildly with part of its port mainplane missing; black streaks of tracer ahead, when I instinctively put my arm up to shield my face; taking a breather when the haze absorbed me for a moment . .
Squadron Leader A.V.R (Sandy) Johnstone, 602 Squadron, Sept 7th 1940.
All day, Squadron Leader D.R.S. "Douglas" Bader had waited for action as he had done on many occasions before. But it looked like that on this bright sunny Saturday he was not to see much action at all. Like most other squadrons scattered around southern England, he had resigned himself to the fact that the Saturday was to be a 'no contest'.
On 7 September, following Hitler's declaration that London would suffer as reprisals for Bomber Command raids against Berlin, Goring switched his bombers from RAF sector stations, and other airfields, to London and its sprawling docks. Towards five o'clock on that evening, more than three hundred bombers, and many hundreds of fighters, arose from their airfields across the Channel, swarmed into a dozen formations and, without feint or decoy, crossed the straits in two broad waves and headed for the capital. Because of their height, above 20,000 feet, and a stiff headwind, the bombers took a long time to reach London, but although RAF controllers found it easier than usual to intercept, the enemy fighter escorts seemed bigger than ever.

There were so many enemy fighters, layered up to 30,000 feet, that a Spitfire pilot said it was like looking up the escalator at Piccadilly Circus. ‘Near Cambridge the Duxford Wing of two Hurricane and one Spitfire squadrons had been at readiness all day and Bader, anxious to lead thirty-six fighters into action for the first time, had been agitating for hours about getting into the air. At last they were scrambled...

Pilot Officer J.E."Johnnie" Johnson 616 Squadron from his book Full Circle
It was at 1655hrs that the Op's room telephone rang at Coltishall. "Scramble" came a voice out of the window and a body of pilots ran towards their waiting Hurricanes including S/L Douglas Bader. The aircraft thundered across the grassy airfield and as they pulled their sticks back the noses of the Hurricanes started to point skywards and the Duxford station commander Wing Commander A.B.Woodhall called over the radio "Hello Douglas. There's some trade coming in over the coast. Orbit North Weald. Angels ten, and if they come your way, go for them." . Bader thought that 10,000 was a little too low and disobeyed Woodhall's instructions and made 15,000 feet as "100 bandits to your 10 o'clock" message came through. The enemy was coming from the River Thames and heading north at about 5,000 feet higher and Bader instructed the 'wing' to gain height at full throttle then requested permission to engage the enemy. There was a mixture of Do17s and Bf110s in a mixed formation with Bf109s at higher altitude waiting to pounce.

Squadron Leader B.J.E.Lane led 19 Squadron towards North Weald where anti-aircraft gunfire indicated enemy action was evident. Soon, the Spitfires of 19 squadron were weaving and twisting amongst a number of Bf110s.

A 110 dived in front of me and I led 'A' Flight after it. Two Hurricanes were also attacking it. I fired a short burst as well as the other aircraft. Two baled out, one parachute failing to open. Enemy aircraft crashed one mile east of Hornchurch and one crewman landed nearby and was taken prisoner of war.
Squadron Leader B.J.E.Lane, 19 Squadron, Sept 7th 1940

The 'Wing" was trying in vain to gain height, most of the Spitfires were lagging a little behind as they did not climb as well as the Hurricanes. Only Sub-Lieutenant R 'Dickie' Cork was up front, and this is what happened as soon as they closed in on the enemy formation:

Attacking in a straggle from below with the 109’s on top. No chance to break them up. No time for tactics. He closed fast and the flanks of the Dorniers were darting by. A quick burst, but the Dornier had only flashed across his sights. Turning under the tails of the rear section, streams of tracer were streaking at him from the rear gunners. Cork was with him—then ”Crow “—the others well back. He lifted his nose and a 110 floated in his sights. A quick squirt. He fired again and his eyes caught the yellow spinner of a 109 in his mirror. A second to spare for one more quick burst at the 110 —triumph as smoke streamed from it, and then a horrible jarring shock as cannon shells slammed into the Hurricane and jolted it like a pneumatic drill. Instinctively he broke hard left as fear stabbed him, horrible paralysing fright like an ice-block in the chest. Crashes and chaos and the cockpit suddenly full of reeking smoke. For a moment he was frozen rigid, then thought and movement switched on—he was on fire and going down! His hands shot up, grabbed the twin handles of the cockpit hood and hauled it back. Must get out! Straps first! He yanked the pin of his straps and suddenly the cockpit was clear of smoke—sucked out by the noisy slip-stream. No fire. Must have been only cordite smoke. No panic now. He was all right, but furious at having been frightened he slammed the hood shut and looked back, hunted and sweating. No Messerschmitt behind.

The Hurricane was in a screaming diving turn and he eased her out. A 110 was sliding below and he peeled off in chase. It seemed to move towards him as he overhauled it and fired three sharp bursts. The 110 fell away on one wing, nosed straight down, and seconds later dived into a field by a railway line and exploded.

Paul Brickhill Reach for the Sky Collins 1954 p210
When Bader met Leigh-Mallory the next day he stated that "...it didn't come off yesterday" even though between them they claimed eleven enemy aircraft, he explained that they were too low. "Again" he told Leigh-Mallory "we got the call too late, if we had got the call earlier we would have had time to get the bombers while the Spitfires covered us from the 109s." Bader told his CO that it was no good, that they have to be scrambled when the enemy bombers are first detected over the French coast and not after they had passed the south coast of England. But Leigh-Mallory informed Bader that the call was by 11 Group, they make the decision and they think that we should wait until the Germans begin to move in.

But while Douglas Bader was displaying his anger towards 11 Group, in the south some twenty of Parks squadrons were engaged in combat with the enemy. 249 Squadron who earlier had flown out of North Weald, the airfield that Bader and his "Wing" had been instructed to patrol were in the thick of the action over Maidstone:


Fighter Command Combat Report 7.9.1940

No.249 Squadron

At 1622 hours on 7.9.40, 12 aircraft of 249 Squadron left North Weald to patrol first Maidstone and then Ashford at 15,000 feet to intercept Raid 15. They were then sent back to Ashford and ordered to intercept Raid 22.

About 30 He111s and Do17s were seen heading for London at 19,000 feet. escorted by at least 100 fighters, mostly Mel09s stepped up behind to 25,000 feet Enemy bombers were in three parallel lines of 3 vics in line astern. Our fighters attacked broadside on and one vic of three enemy bombers was seen to be left straggling behind, smoking, but it was impossible to say which of our pilots were responsible. Enemy formation turned aside from London went east, just south of North Weald aerodrome.

The original claims were only 2 Mel09s destroyed, but these have now been increased.
P/O Neil (Yellow 2) destroyed an Mel09 which broke up and turned over and went down smoking over Maidstone, although he did not see it crash.
Red 2 (P/O.Barclay) destroyed an Mel09 which emitted brilliant flames and black smoke from the cockpit. It dived steeply and pieces fell off, but he did not see It crash; this was south of Maidstone. The Mel09s were coloured yellow back to the cockpit.
Red 2 also damaged a Dol7 and an He111 He force-landed in a field, his a/c having been hit.
F/Lt Parnall finished off an He111, which two other unidentified Hurricanes had disabled, but apparently lost in the smoke. He saw it crash near Grain.
P/O Beazley (Green Section) finished off a Do2l5, which already had its starboard engine fired. It crashed near a main road south of Ongar.

Enemy casualties: 2 Mel09 destroyed
                           1 Do17 damaged
                           1 He111 damaged
                           1 He111 destroyed (shared with two u/i Hurricanes)
                           1 Do2l5 destroyed (shared with u/i friendly fighter or fighters)

Off of Folkestone, 43 Squadron who had been one of the first squadrons to take off were scrambled with Squadron Leader C.B."Caesar" Hull leading and Fl/L R.C.Reynell and Fl/L J.Kilmartin as his section leaders. By all accounts, the controller had the squadron flying all over the place. They spot about thirty Do17s with an escort of over eighty Bf109s. S/L Hull instructs Fl/L Kilmartin to engage the escort while Fl/L Reynell and himself attack the Dorniers. They climb until they are some 1,500 feet above the enemy, and as Kilmartin continues the climb towards the Bf109s Hull and Reynell take their sections down approaching the bombers from astern and each aircraft firing all Brownings. Then as the Dorniers take evasive action each of the Hurricanes pick out their individual targets. They weave in and out of the enemy formation as it makes its way across the countryside of Kent, a couple of the Do17s fall victim, but Kilmartins section is not having the best of luck as they are hopelessly outnumbered and many of the Bf109s continue to protect the bombers.

At 1645hrs as they were approaching South London, a couple of Bf109s come down on both Caesar Hull and Dick Reynell. the Squadron Leader takes a hit and his Hurricane goes out of control, it spirals earthwards but there is no sign of the pilot baling out and it finally crashes into the grounds of Purley High School near Croydon. Dick Reynell also takes a hit and a long tail of smoke bellows behind the stricken aircraft. Dick manages to get out of the cockpit and jumps moments before the Hurricane explodes into flames, but his parachute fails to open. His aircraft crashes just south of Woolwich and Dick Reynell, believed to have been wounded in the attack and may have lost consciousness as he jumped, and this could have been the reason for his 'chute failing to open. His body crashed to the ground at Blackheath.

234 Squadron goes into a deep silence when it learns that the squadrons inspirational force, Flight Lieutenant Pat Hughes had failed to return. Over Folkestone his squadron runs into about thirty Do17s and forty Bf109s. They are in front an below and Pat orders his Blue section down onto the leading bombers. He is well in front of the rest of his section when he sees one of the Dorniers lagging behind, so he makes a slight turn and with his number two behind him makes a quarter attack on the enemy bomber. Large pieces start to fly off the Dornier and as it begins to fall sideways, one of the wings crumples and tears away from the body of the bomber.

No one sees the incident except Hughes wingman who saw the bomber start to break up and then sees a Spitfire spinning out of control with half of one of its wings missing. With the rest of the section going in after the main force of the enemy formation, the wingman can only assume that it is his leader Pat Hughes. There is no sign of anyone baling out and the Spitfire crashes into the ground at Bessels Green. Nothing can really be certain in a dogfight when there are so many enemy and friendly aircraft in the air, all seemingly crammed into one little piece of sky. Dennis Newton in his book "A Few of the Few" states that the wingman inferred rather than stated that Hughes collided with the Dornier, which we can only regard as a submission, or rather it was his belief as he did not see any actual collision. Was there another aircraft in the air at the same time? or was it just Pat Hughes and his wingman? When the crash site was excavated in 1969 by the Halstead War Museum it is believed that fragments of 303 bullets, the same as those that were used by Hurricanes and Spitfires were found in the cockpit and in the seat. So this leads us to another question, was Pat Hughes shot down by a friendly aircraft? and if so.....who?

Many of the squadrons stationed way out of London had been brought in to combat the onslaught. Tangmere had released 43 Squadron and vectored them to the Folkestone area and they finished up in combat over South London. 609 Squadron based at Westhampnett was also brought up to give protection to the aircraft factories at Weybridge and Brooklands and they too became engaged in the combat over South London and the Thames Estuary. One of these pilots tells us:

I went for the nearest bomber and opened fire from about 400 yards, meanwhile experiencing heavy return cross fire from the bomber formation. After about twelve seconds smoke started to come from the port motor and it left the formation. I then waited for it to go down to 3000 feet and then dived vertically on to it and fired off the rest of my ammunition. It kept on going down seemingly still under some sort of control, until it hit the water about ten miles out from the centre of the Thames Estuary.
Fl/Lt J.H.G.McArthur 609 Squadron Warmwell Spitfires on September 7th 1940
Out of the day came many stories of pilots experience, as more and more pilots got back to their bases, even more stories unfolded. They told of how they saw many of their comrades go down, crashing to earth without a chance, or they had seen someone make a crash landing, but thought that they were alright. 'Sandy" Johnson of 602 Squadron had said that he had never seen such a blanket of aircraft in the sky all at once, another stated that he did not know how the sky could hold up so many of the blighters!!!, but most of them saw at least once, the great inferno that was unfolding from the East End to the city. Many told of how, even at great height they were flying through thick black smoke, and they described how scarlet flames were exploding within the tall plumes of acrid black smoke.

Whether or not Keith Park knew about the impending attack, he still decided to go to Bentley Priory to meet Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding. The raid commenced about forty-five minutes before the scheduled time of the meeting, but after a short conference with his C-in-C they went to the operations room and watched at the German onslaught continued during the late of the afternoon. Park was in communication with Willoughby de Broke at 11 Group headquarters who was doing an exceptional job there, but then as Park mentioned in his autobiography later, that ".....there was none better than him to be able to leave in charge, I had every confidence in him."

Park managed to reach Uxbridge shortly before the raid ended and, after a hasty discussion with his controllers about their handling of the fighters in his absence, left for Northolt, where he kept his Hurricane. From there, he flew over the blazing city to see for himself the extent of the disaster. Appalled by the sight of so many fires raging out of control, he reflected that the switch of targets would not be just for a single day or even a week and that he would have time to repair his control systems and so maintain an effective daylight challenge to enemy attack. He did not fear either a civilian panic or unmanageable and intolerable casualties in consequence of the new German policy, and yet Fighter Command was helpless at night. This was graphical demonstrated that very night.

By 8.30 p.m., not long after Park landed, the Luftwaffe had returned. For the next seven hours, wave after wave of bombers flew over London, finding fresh targets in the light of the fires started by their comrades in daylight. They bombed at their leisure, unhindered either by anti-aircraft fire (of which there was little and that ill-directed) or by night-fighters (of which there were few and those ill-equipped).

In Park’s mind, 7 September was always the turning point. Three years later, he flew to London from Malta and gave his first press interview on the Battle of Britain. He explained how close the Germans came to victory and how they threw it away by switching their main attack to London.

Vincent Orange Sir Keith Park Methuen 1985 pp107-108
It was on the stroke of 1830hrs, the sun had gone down and while most on Britain settled down to a night of darkness, an eerie red glow hung over the eastern end of London with docks, bond stores and warehouses still burning. The next wave of German aircraft need not have worried about flight paths or compasses as the were guided to their target by the raids only four hours earlier that left London burning. 250 more heavy bombers, this time there was no need for a fighter escort, made for London's East End again, targeting areas that had already been bombed. With the light now gone, only two Hurricanes of 213 Squadron that was based at Tangmere were scrambled to patrol their own airfield. The night raid was to last until 0530hrs the next day. Wave after wave of bombers came across the Channel, as one wave went back, another was coming in. During the night, a total of 330 tons of high explosive bombs had been dropped, 440 incendiary bombs added to what could only be described as a huge land based fireball. Hough & Richards in "Battle of Britain - A Jubilee History" state that 13,000 incendiaries were dropped.

Fighter Command only released a few night fighters to engage the bombers, but this was only a spasmodic affair. Just two Blenheims were dispatched from Martlesham, and a further two aircraft from the Fighter Interception Unit were also dispatched. The Blenheims of 600 Squadron at Hornchurch could not take off because of the thick black smoke that was drifting in from the London docks covered the aerodrome like a thick smelly fog.

By morning, the situation could be summed up. Thick clouds of belching dark grey and black smoke hung over the whole of the East End, fires were still raging and in the area where the Thames loops around like a huge horseshoe, the area in the middle known as the Isle of Dogs it was estimated that not a single building was not on fire, the truth was that at least 50% was still burning by morning. Even though this was an industrial area, it was still heavily populated and many people suffered as a result. A worker describes one situation:

The area around Limehouse was badly bombed during the first raids in the evening, but was to suffer again during the night attacks that followed. We were directed to go to a shelter that had been engulfed in fire during the evening raid, but we had to cease operations when the night raids got too heavy. We returned at about four o'clock the following morning to see what we could do. A number of people had managed to get out of the shelter but they reported to us that there were people still inside and that some of them were dead. As we pulled heavy beams out of the way and carefully removed large pieces of timber we were stopped once again when it was reported that someone had found an unexploded bomb. The Royal Engineers were called in and we were told that these UXBs (unexploded bombs) were actually delayed action bombs that were due to explode about ten hours after they had been dropped.

It was about midday before we again went in and tried to excavate the area around the shelter. We knew that there was now no hope of finding anybody alive, but one never knows. Stranger things have happened. When we finally got down to the shelter, we found body over body, people almost burnt to a cinder, the air smelt of burning flesh that had gone rotten, I could take no more and had to get out, I was proud of the job I was doing, but on this occasion I was not afraid to call myself a coward, I just could not do it, but like so many others I plucked up courage to go back later. But the situation was absolutely shocking.

Emma Williams nee Fredericks Civil Defence Stepney on September 7th 1940
In total, 306 people had been killed that night and 1,337 was the figure given as those seriously injured. Most were civilians, but many were firefighters, wardens and civil defence workers. But we can only ask ourselves, was the bombing of London a good move on the part of Germany. The Berlin press and propaganda machine stated that the attack on London was a reprisal attack for the British bombing of Berlin. They stated that the air raids on London of the 7th/8th September was a great success and that the British people would now be frightened into submission now that the glorious Luftwaffe not only caused a great firestorm from the city to the edge of the Thames Estuary, but during the afternoon an already depleted British Air Force was overcome by the might of the Luftwaffe.

The truth was, that although the Royal Air Force did suffer, 28 aircraft had been destroyed or crashed into the sea and about twenty had been damaged and were able to undergo repairs, the Luftwaffe suffered even worse. Even though the British press claimed that over a hundred German aircraft had been brought down, the truth was that only 45 bombers and fighters of the Luftwaffe were destroyed. It may have been a moral victory to the Germans, but there was still one thing that Germany still had to do if they wanted victory, and that was to break the will of the British people. This task would be far greater than setting fire to the dockland areas of London.

As the evening wore on, the German bombers made up from Gruppes from Hugo Sperle's Luftflotte 3, most of the daytime bombers had landed back at their bases. The commanders made out their reports which were more than favourable. The result were immediately posted to Göring, who for once felt satisfied when he learnt of the devastation that his bombers had done, and that most of London was ablaze with the report also that the East End and the London docks had been totally destroyed.

So pleased with himself, that Göring immediately telegraphed his wife Emmy and told her that "....the English have had enough, London is on fire from the city to the Thames Estuary". He also broadcast on German radio to the German people, that this being the first blow while he had been in charge of the battle, and over half of London now lay in ruins and that he had struck a serious blow...straight at the enemy's heart.

During the evening, and probably because of the heavy bombing, the signal for invasion went out. The signal for this alert is "Cromwell", a code name that was used only by the Army. And one of those Army battalions that were alerted was the 18th Australian Infantry that was based at Amesbury Abbey. The report came through at about 9.30pm. The 18th Infantry Brigade was at this time, only at about half strength because half of the brigade was on leave, many of them now trapped in London because of the bombing. But was hard to keep such a secret, church bells started to peel, road blocks were set up and even plans were put in place for the blowing up of some of the bridges.

For those that were on duty, they were told to stand by for an immediate move. By midnight, no further information or orders had been received so the men were allowed to return to their billets, but were to be prepared to move at one hours notice should the invasion be confirmed.

[1] The London Daily Telegraph September 8th 1940


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