New website shows where bombs fell in Camden during Second World War
PUBLISHED: 17:24 18 December 2012
As air sirens went off and bombs fell over a blacked out city during the Second World War, families piled into Swiss Cottage and Belsize Park Tube stations waiting out the roar of explosions overhead.
Thousands of people died in Camden during the Blitz, in which bombs were dropped on London by German Luftwaffe planes from September 1940 to May 1941.
One attack included bomber planes flying over the city for 57 consecutive days.
A new website now charts where each bomb fell across London from October 7, 1940 to June 6, 1941.
Charting the destruction the air strikes left in their wake, it paints a stark picture of Camden which was rebuilt after hundreds of family homes were bombed to smithereens.
Historian Dr Robin Woolven, who contributed to a book about the Second World War in Camden, explained that in London, each borough kept a map of where the missiles fell so the Disposal Unit could keep track of unexploded bombs.
He said: “It was the Ministry of Home Security that started to plot the impact points of bombs after each raid and these were put on tracing paper and fitted over the base maps.
“They could analyse what was falling when and track the development of enemy weapons and how they were used.”
Today’s online map was put together based on these original borough reports, which previously were only ever available in The Reading Rooms at the National Archives.
Each little red dot on the website holds behind it a tale of human tragedy, and zoomed out, becomes part of a bigger picture that shows the scale of destruction across the capital.
On the corner of West End Lane and Dennington Park Road, where the West Hampstead Library now stands, tragedy struck twice.
The red mark says only that a “high explosive bomb” was dropped during the Blitz.
Little else is known about that first attack, but three years later, a wedding party in the same spot was hit. Ten people were killed including two babies.
The only family member to survive was the father of the young soldier who was getting married later that day.
It is just one tragic story of many. Memories abound of piling into Tube stations that were eventually fitted with toilets and bunk beds, to make the fearful waiting more bearable, to ghostly reminders of buildings that once were, and families that are no more.
Local historian Michael Hammerson pointed to a spot by the railway in Highgate Woods where faint traces of England’s defence effort against the major attacks are still visible.
“The railway going by Highgate Wood was a target for bombers and we tried to stretch a chain of barrage balloons to stop the planes flying down too low,” he explained.
“When the weather is hot and the grass is dry, you can see traces in the concrete under the grass, where the balloons used to be.”
Though there is little explanation behind the red dots on the website, a walk down a street riddled with bomb marks online, tells part of the story that you can still see today.
As Dr Robin Woolven explained, website users can “learn about the history of their neighbourhood, and, if the plot is accurate, about particular properties.”
The huge database, never fully available online, shows destruction across London and the war effort, from the ground-up. To find out more, see www.bombsight.org