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Bolts from the blue

Image of The remains of Surrey Lodge, an apartment building destroyed by a V2 rocket on 4 January 1945.  The photograph was apparently taken on the following day and graphically shows how a 5 storey building was reduced to rubble.

The remains of Surrey Lodge, an apartment building destroyed by a V2 rocket on 4 January 1945. The photograph was apparently taken on the following day and graphically shows how a 5 storey building was reduced to rubble. Courtesy of Lambeth Archives.

Barely 150 metres from Imperial War Museum London is the site of the most destructive explosion in Lambeth during the Second World War, which killed 43 people.  Just before 8.30pm on the night of Thursday 4 January 1945 a huge explosion destroyed an apartment building, Surrey Lodge, on the corner of Kennington Road and Lambeth Road.   The old Lambeth Baths and a chapel on the opposite side of Lambeth Road were also severely damaged.  The blast also extensively damaged the northern and western sides of the  Imperial War Museum as well as many surrounding buildings.

There was no warning – no air raid sirens or sounds of approaching aircraft – just the explosion.  However the initial detonation was followed by a distinctive roaring noise and a sonic boom, because the disaster was caused by a German V2 rocket – the world’s first ballistic missile – diving into the building faster than the speed of sound.

Image of The remains of the Lambeth Baths and Washhouse, and a chapel, on the opposite side of Lambeth Road from Surrey Lodge.  The dome of the Imperial War Museum can be seen in the background across the park.

The remains of the Lambeth Baths and Washhouse, and a chapel, on the opposite side of Lambeth Road from Surrey Lodge. The dome of the Imperial War Museum can be seen in the background across the park. Courtesy of Lambeth Archives.

The scenes that followed would have been only too familiar to many Londoners after four years of war.  One survivor described the aftermath of a similar blast once the rumble of collapsing buildings died away:

‘…there was a pause and everything was absolutely quiet for several seconds.  After that all you could hear were people screaming from their terrible injuries, followed by the arrival of firemen and Army personnel …to help get us out from the debris. We looked awful with black and dust all over us, and, of course, we were still in our nighties!…’

With the grey light of dawn the full extent of the damage was revealed.  Daylight also revealed the continuing rescue operations.  But as the likelihood diminished of finding any more survivors alive, so the nature of the work changed.  The cranes, lorries and workmen were increasingly clearing up the site to make it safe, removing rubble, and helping to recover residents’ personal belongings while starting to stabilise or repair damaged buildings.  Lambeth Road was cleared and the tram service was restored.  Soon this would become just one more London bomb site.

Image of Lambeth Towers otoday which ccupies the site where the baths used to stand

Today Lambeth Towers occupies the site where the baths used to stand. Courtesy of Mark Whitmore.

This was one of 1,054 V2 rockets that reached Britain during a campaign that lasted from 8 September 1944 to 27 March 1945, killing 2,700 people and injuring 6,500 people.  Ironically more people died – an estimated 20,000 – working as slave labourers producing the weapons.

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2 comments
  1. beryl hatton says: August 4, 20131:00 pm

    The Museum video pictures of Manchester the morning after the blitz was like being back in time when my father took me with him to Manchester to see if his office was still there. It was OK as it was the far end of Deansgate. I vividly remember, aged 4, seeing all the firemen, hoses and fire engines at the junction of Market Street and Deansgate . I can recall the smell of fire and smoke and burnt buildings. That memory was instantly recalled when I saw the video of the Manchester Blitz on my recent visit to the War Museum. It brought tears to my eyes to remember it all.

    • Alys Cundy says: August 5, 20132:35 pm

      Hi Beryl,

      Thank you for sharing your memories of what must have been a frightening time. Film can be a very powerful way of recording and remembering the events of war and the people caught up in them. If you would like to see more of the material, including photographs and sound recordings, that we have on the Manchester Blitz do have a look on our Collections Search.

      Thank you again and all the best,

      Alys

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