Wednesday 28 May 2008

Wednesday 28th May 2008 - Holborn at War

Holborn Tube Station
Continuing the theme of war, we now move onto the Second World War, which began in September 1939, and today's walk, under the threat of rain which never came, was about Holborn during the Battle of Britain. The Battle of Britain officially started on 10th July 1940. There had been a number of successful bombing raids over southern England, focusing on airfields but in July the attacks spread to London. This eased the pressure on the airfields in the south east, which enabled the RAF to fight back until the Germans abandoned their invasion plans in the autumn of 1940 and the Battle of Britain came to an end on 31st October 1940.

We met outside Holborn Tube Station as usual. The tube station was of course used as an air raid shelter during the war, when hundreds of people would spend the night in the shelter which is still there, below the level of the current platforms. Aly led us across to the opposite side of the road and we walked down Kingsway towards Aldwych. Our first stop was outside 75 Kingsway. It was here Donald Soper, a Methodist minister would provide breakfasts for those people who had spent the night in Holborn Tube Station in the air raid shelter.

Donald Soper
Families shelter in the underground

We then walked on down Kingsway and crossed over to Bush House, which now houses the BBC. During WWII the nightly messages and propaganda were broadcast to Europe. Military music was followed by propaganda in German, and were aimed particularly at German soldiers. It was so successful that Joseph Goebbels, the German Minister of Propaganda actually praised it.

Bush House

We then looked back towards No.1 Kingsway. The Air Ministry was housed here. At the end of 1918 the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service joined forces to become the Royal Air Force. In 1919 the Air Ministry moved to No.1 Kingsway and using their motto of Per Ardua Ad Astra gave their new home the name of Adastral House. They remained there until 1952 when they moved to Whitehall.

No 1 Kingsway (formerly Adastral House)

An aerial observer scans the skies during the Battle of Britain

We now walked down through India Place to the Strand and along to Aldwych Tube Station which closed in 1994., Originally opened in 1907 as Strand Station, it later became Aldwych Station a spur of the Piccadilly line. As most tube stations were, Aldwych was used as an air raid shelter , but also housed treasures from the British Museum such as the Elgin Marbles, a collection of classical Greek marble sculptures. They even held concert parties there. The station has also been used for films and television programmes, and continues to be so even now. Some of the famous movies filmed here include 'The Battle of Britain' (1969) (rather appropriate really!) Patriot Games (1992); V for Vendetta (2006); The Good Shepherd (2006) and Atonement (2007). Its is also featured as a level in the video game Tomb Raider 3.

Aldwych Station (previously Strand)

We then walked towards Fleet Street and crossed over to St. Clement Danes Church , which is the central church of the RAF. Before going inside we stood before a statue of Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding who was the commander of RAF Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain. In the years leading up to the war, he introduced the 'Dowding System' an integrated air defence system of radar, raid plotting and radio control of aircraft which was a vital tool during the Battle of Britain. He also oversaw the introduction of modern aircraft into service such as the Hawker Hurricane and the eight gun Supermarine Spitfire. But perhaps it was his unwillingness to sacrifice aircrafts and pilots to aid allied troops during the battle of France, which turned the tide of battle in our favour. Sir Winston Churchill repeatedly requested he send precious squadrons to France. Any planes and pilots lost at this time would have had a severely detrimental effect on the RAFs ability to defend England during the Battle of Britain. Together with Air Vice-Marshal Keith Park he organised cover for the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk.
Air Chief Marshal Dowding

We then walked over to the church of St. Clement Danes. There has been a church on this site since the ninth century and the time of Alfred the Great. At that time Danes were expelled from England unless they had married an English wife. The church was rebuilt during the reign of William the Conqueror and then again by Sir Christopher Wren. During WWII the church suffered massive damage in May 1941 during the Blitz. It was restored in 1958 and reconsecrated and dedicated to the RAF.
St. Clement Dane at night

Inside the church there is a very peaceful atmosphere. Various RAF flags from different squadrons adorn the walls. To the left of the entrance are two photographs, one showing the church before the bomb and the other showing the damage inflicted. Under the pulpit is a chair donated by Sir Douglas Bader in memory of his wife Thelma, and to either side of the altar are plaques listing, on the left hand side all RAF personnel to win the Victoria Cross, and on the right all RAF personnel to win the George Cross. Included in the list of Victoria Cross winners are two well known names, Guy Penrose Gibson (of 'Dambusters' fame) and Leonard Cheshire who founded the Cheshire Homes. There are glass cases around the walls which hold large books inscribed with the names of all who have served in the RAF.

Interior of St. Clement Dane

I also found on a table the following famous nursery rhyme - although it included a number of lines which I had never heard before.

Oranges and Lemons

Oranges and Lemons say the bells of St. Clement's
Bulleyes and targets say the bells of St. Margaret's
Pokers and tongs say the bells of St. John's
Pancakes and fritters say the bells of St. Peter's
Two sticks and an apple say the bells of Whitechapel
Old Father Baldpate say the slow bells at Aldgate
Maids in white aprons say the bells of St. Catherine's
Brickbats and tiles say the bells of St. Giles
Kettles and pans say the bells of St. Anne's
You owe me five farthings say the bells of St. Martin's
When will you pay me say the bells of Old Bailey
When I get rich say the bells of Shoreditch
Pray when will that be? say the bells of Stepney
I'm sure I don't know says the great bell at Bow
Here comes a candle to light you to bed
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head
Chip-chop, chip-chop the last man is dead.

Well that's all for today. Do try and visit St. Clement Danes Church if you can - it's well worth a visit.

The next walk continues the war theme and will centre on the Blitz.

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