Today (May 10) in London History – The Last Night of the Blitz

The night of May 10th-11th was the last night of the Blitz. This Today in London History podcast tells the story.


London calling. London Walks connecting. Here’s your London fix for today. 

Can you hear that siren in the distance? What’s that telling you is, you’re about to be carpet-bombed.

It’s 1941.

The night of May 10th – May 11th. 

The night of a full moon. 

The night of the most intense raid of the Blitz. 

The night more than 500 German planes dropped 800 tons of bombs on London.

The night London was ablaze from the docks to Westminster – ablaze from more than 2,000 fires.

The night 1436 people were killed.

The night 1792 people were badly injured.

The night 11,000 homes were destroyed.

The night 1/3 of London’s streets were rendered impassable.

The night railway lines into and out of all but one of London’s stations were put out of commission for several weeks.

The night the British Museum was set alight by a shower of incendiaries.

The night when there was a heavy loss of life at a London hotel when a bomb crashed through its roof and exploded in the basement, where many of the 140 guests and hotel employees were sheltering. 

The night when the ruins of a demolished block of flats entombed seven people.

The night when five hospitals were hit, killing and wounding some of their patients.  

The night when the ugly scars of earlier assaults – ugly scars that were gradually healing – were ripped open again. Blasted and burnt to mere tottering shells.  The night when the Deanery of Westminster – one of the best examples of mediaeval houses in England – was destroyed.

The night when three houses in the Abbey’s mediaeval Little Cloisters were burnt out. 

The night when the most magnificent roof in the world – that of Westminster Hall – was pierced by bombs and damage done to the interior.

The night when the resident superintendent of the House of Lords, Captain E. H. Elliott, was killed at his post while assisting with the fire fighting operation.

The night when the historic House of Commons debating chamber was completely destroyed. An action the press dubbed “the mark of the beast.”

The night when the pulpit of Westminster Abbey was partially destroyed. The night when the central space of the Abbey was left open to the sky. The central space – where the transepts and the choir intersect, the central space where the coronation chair is placed.

The night when Big Ben’s face was blackened and scarred and the chimes were put out of action but the hands of the clock continued without interruption, telling the time to Londoners.

The night – the time – when 33 German night raiders – the largest number since the war began – were shot down. 

The night of the conclusion of the Blitz.

The night that was the pivot for the war – for Western civilisation – because Adolph Hitler recalculated, turned his firepower around, set his sights on his erstwhile new “friends” to the east, Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union. His “Well I never” bedfellows. Set his sights on the world’s supreme military commander, General Winter and his operational commanders:  Generals December, January and February. Took the fateful decision – did what he had to do to make sure the Third Reich would drown in Russian blood.

And there you have it, Today in London History.

And for your London Walks recommendation for Today in London – it’s a no brainer – today, May 10th – is the State opening of parliament. That potent brew of pageantry and politics.

The Queen, escorted by the Household Cavalry, will travel by horse-drawn coach from Buckingham Palace. You can see the carriage procession from The Mall. Or the corner of St James’s Park facing Horse Guards. Or Whitehall. Or Parliament Street. Or Parliament Green.

The procession will start at Buckingham Palace at 11 am. 

You’ve been listening to the Today in London History podcast. Emanating from – home of London Walks, London’s multi-award-winning walking tour company, indeed London’s only award-winning walking tour company.

Our secret recipe? It’s no secret. It all comes down to the guiding. The muzzleloading velocity of the guiding you get on a London Walk. At London Walks you will NEVER be guided by a callow youth who’s memorised a script.

A callow youth who hasn’t lived long enough to have read very much, to have found out much about the subject, let alone master it. And what that leads to is well described in a brief email we received last week. Mike says, 

“ Unlike all of the London Walks that I’ve been on, which have been informative from beginning to end, the guide from another company we used spent a lot of time joking with us, telling stories from his life and asking questions to find out how much or little we knew — I didn’t get much out of it.”

It takes time – and effort – to acquire expertise. Nobody’s born with it. Mike’s guide will have been a callow youth who has to fall back on telling stories from his life and asking questions because there’s precious little in the tank, he hasn’t lived long enough, hasn’t read enough to store up much in the way of expertise. You can’t draw on what’s not there. 

Different story here. At London Walks you will not be guided by wing and a prayer callow youngsters.

You will be guided by accomplished professionals – barristers, doctors, Museum of London archaeologists, University of London geologists, Royal Shakespeare Company actors, historians, distinguished academics, elite Blue Badge, City of London and Westminster Guides. Professionally qualified guides who’ve won the big one, the Guide of the Year Award. With London Walks not only are you in the big leagues – you’ve got All Star guides, many of them MVPs.

So, yes, the creme de la creme – well-connected, experienced, savvy, assured guides. Guides who make the new familiar and the familiar new. It’s elementary my dear Watson: A top-flight guide is worth every penny. A mediocre guide is time and money wasted. The time wasted is of course compounded by the opportunity cost. 

And on that caveat emptor note, good night from London. See ya tomorrow. 

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