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Walcot Square / Kennington Park bomb incident, September 1940

“11.30pm HE bomb exploded Walcot Square. Serious damage to property. Known casualties. 1 killed.” Civil Defence incident report from Post 9, 195 Kennington Road, 17 September 1940

Take a stroll around the side of IWM London and onto the Kennington Road. Walk south for a few minutes until on your left you see Walcot Square. Turn into this street and walk up towards the Square itself. https://goo.gl/maps/pbiFH Turn around and look back. Notice the lampost on the right and the tree to the side of the built out bay window on the house on Kennington Road. Notice the shapes of the houses backing onto Walcot Square. All looks settled, peaceful, normal.

Now look at this photograph.

Walcot Square 1940. Press & Censorship Bureau Photograph Library. © IWM

Found in an as yet un-catalogued archive at IWM this photograph of Walcot Square was taken in September 1940, but not passed for publication by the Ministry of Information (MOI) Press and Censorship Bureau until 1944.

The photograph captures the activities following the night bombing. The destruction by a high explosive bomb is evident in the damage caused to these modest homes, their private interiors now exposed to the street for all to see: a rolled up mattress, chairs, wardrobes and cushions piled up in the street, the house fronts blown off revealing the bedrooms inside. Two men with a dog stand looking. Was this ruin once their home? Further up the street, closer to where you are standing salvage men lower a cupboard from an upstairs window.

Take another look at this street today.

Walcot Square looking towards Kennington Road, 2014. Jane McArthur

Researching this photograph I learned that one person was killed whilst riding past on a motorbike when the bomb fell, four were slightly injured and 100 rendered homeless. The Civil Defence reports for this particular incident unusually continue after the emergency work is completed right up until 2nd March 1941. These reveal ongoing concerns regarding furniture removal as well as concerns about the safety of the houses.

‘22. September 1940. Mrs Sainsbury of 14 Walcot Square would like her furniture moved to 8 Oakden Street, also Miss Hellewell of 16 Walcot Sq, wants her furniture taken to the Lambeth depot.’

‘5 November 1940. On account of the owner finding no uses for damaged furniture which is laying outside Nos 6 and 8 Walcot Square. Please arrange for the removal to the depot as not wanted.’

The last entry concerns the houses on the left in the image:

‘2 March 1941. Dangerous Structure. The two top floors of nos 4 and 6 Walcot Square where furniture still remains are dangerous to pedestrians and vehicles using Walcot Square. The front walls at these 2 two houses are demolished leaving floors exposed.’

There are hundreds of photographs like this one in this particular collection (MOI Press and Censorship Bureau Photograph Library) in IWM’s Photograph Archive which show, often in disturbing detail, the plight of London’s civilian population during the bombing of London 1940 – 1945.

The damage to homes and the salvaging of possessions is made all the more poignant here, when standing in Walcot Square looking at what has been rebuilt and what still remains – the garage area on the right behind a newer brick wall, a telling gap in the streetscape.

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3 comments
  1. Jane McArthur says: October 30, 20142:03 pm

    As part of my research at IWM, I am gathering first hand accounts of everyday life in the area around IWM London 1940 – 1945. If you or a family member have memories of living in these streets and surrounding areas listed below during this time please do get in touch via the blog. I would be so interested to talk with you.
    Kennington Road, Walcot Square, St Mary’s Gardens, Dante Road, St George’s Road, Lambeth Road, The Cut, Westminster Bridge Road, London Road, Elephant and Castle, Newington Butts, Gurney Street, Keyworth Street

  2. Peter Nicholls says: November 26, 20148:02 am

    That’s a remarkable photo. I wasn’t born until 1949 (at No.23 Walcot Square, just off the picture to the right about 10 houses) but as a child I played on the “bombsite” on the right of the photo where the garages now stand. The left side of the photo was, I think, “prefabs”, temporary houses made from asbestos panels, of all things, post war. As a child, “bombsites” were just something that was there, like the pavements and the houses, and made great playgrounds with their mounds of bricks and concrete – covered in wildflowers in the summer. I had no idea of their origin, until I was perhaps as old as 10 or 12, when my father pointed out the gap-toothed appearance of the street and explained how sticks of bombs fell from the sky and destroyed the houses that had been there, of whose existence I was unaware. It was quite a loss of innocence. Then quite a bit later the houses were fully rebuilt as you now see them.

    The biggest house in the picture, whose back is on the left in the distance, was later occupied by Christopher Chataway (fwiw).

    My parents lived in Walcot Square from just after the war until the 1990’s. They were extensively interviewed on tape by the IWM about their wartime experiences as pacifists.

    Good luck with your research..

  3. Jane McArthur says: January 22, 20158:24 pm

    Thank you for your response Peter to the blog post and your memories of Walcot Square. I apologise for my delay in replying to you.
    It was interesting to read about your “loss of innocence” in relation to understanding what the origins were of the wasteland which was your playground. Thank you for sharing this memory with me. Such an evocative description.
    A fox now frequents the area when the garages are. I see him climbing the wall there at night, just like a cat.
    I will listen to the interviews at the IWM with your parents. Thank you for letting me know about these also.
    Jane

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