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.
William Davey in uniform while serving with the Dragoon Guards. (Papers of W Davey, Documents 62/179/1)
As part of a major project supported by the Wellcome Trust, I catalogued some of the IWM’s medical collections which had hitherto been largely unavailable to researchers. A major dividend from making these newly catalogued collections more accessible is that some are now on display in the new exhibition at IWM North, Saving Lives: Frontline Medicine in a Century of Conflict (13 October 2012 to 1 September 2013).
The papers of William Davey who served in the ranks with the Dragoon Guards and the Labour Corps on the Western Front, record the effects of his service on his health. He was awarded a War Badge in December 1917, having received an honourable discharge due to ill health. On display are his Discharge Certificate releasing him from the Army as ‘no longer physically fit’ in November 1917; a Ministry of Pensions Notification of Final Award dated 1930, providing a full ‘a pension for life’ and a Ministry of Pensions letter dated 17 March 1933 informing his widow after his death (from the effects of gas) that she would not be eligible for a widow’s pension (but could apply for one).
A engraving from the Sumatra railway memorial. Amanda Farrell.
February this year saw the seventieth anniversary of the Fall of Singapore on 15th of that month 1942. Between June of that year and October 1943, over 60,000 Allied troops would be forced to labour as prisoners of war (POWs) on the Burma-Thailand railway. It is not so popularly known, however, that after this a second ‘Death Railway’ project was overseen by many of the same Japanese engineers. This second railway was built on the island of Sumatra, and its construction involved nearly 5,000 Allied POWs.
As an island rich in coal and oil, Sumatra presented a vital energy resource for the Japanese. Their intention was that the new line starting at Pakanbaroe in the east of Sumatra would connect to an existing track at the town of Moeara, and continue to the western port of Padang. By joining the new track with the old, and constructing a tributary line to connect the railway to Sumatran coal mines, the Japanese planned to transport fuel and troops by rail for shipping from Padang to Singapore.
The track between Pakanbaroe and Moeara was approximately 140 miles long, with a total of 17 camps made and lived in by prisoners. Since there was no place to which men could escape, very few were fully enclosed by the bamboo fences or barbed wire associated with typical images of POW camps. The railway was built through mountain ranges and thick jungle, and across swamp and river.
Amateur film maker Rosie Newman using her Cine Kodak Model K 16mm film camera. HU 65393
Winner – Focal International Awards, ‘Best Use of Footage in a Home Entertainment Release’, 2012
Britain at War, filmmaker Rosie Newman’s film of Britain during the Second World War, is one of the most important amateur films in our collection, notable for its content and the fact that it was shot, almost entirely, in colour. This film has interested and intrigued many researchers. Who was Rosie Newman? How did she manage to film in places considered as ‘off-limits’ to amateur filmmakers? How and where did she show her films? In order to answer such questions I did some research and discovered a most remarkable filmmaker.
Miss Rosie Newman bought her first 16mm camera in 1928, indulging in the latest amusing hobby of the time. Over the next decade, however, this hobby became a serious pursuit. She filmed all her foreign travels and, encouraged by friends, began showing these films publicly as entertainment and to raise funds for charity. In recognition of her achievements, in particular for her films of India, she was elected fellow of the Royal Geographic Society.
Inscription on a cell wall in the former Gestapo headquarters at 145 Via Tasso, Rome. Today it is the site of a resistance museum, the Museo Storico della Liberazione. © Roderick Bailey
The Special Operations Executive was a secret British organization set up in 1940 to encourage resistance and carry out sabotage in enemy-occupied territory. As the seventh of SOE’s official historians, I have the task of researching and writing the history of SOE’s cloak-and-dagger work against Fascist Italy between 1940, when Mussolini declared war on Britain and France, and 1943, when Italy reached an armistice with the Allies.
It is a unique piece of work that is a privilege to undertake. The public image of SOE remains dominated by the exploits of its agents in Nazi-occupied France, but its reach was global, and opportunities to shed light on SOE activities in countries other than France are important. In the case of Mussolini’s Italy, the risks run by SOE agents who were prepared to resist the Fascists were immense. Italy was an enemy country, not an enemy-occupied one, and anti-Fascist Italians who volunteered to return as secret agents faced a traitor’s fate if caught. The courage of those Italians who were prepared to face the firing squads deserves recognition, and stands as an effective counter to enduring images of Italy’s fighting abilities.
The crew of 'Ragin' Red', a United States heavy bomber, sorting out their kit after landing. IWM EA 11269A
Last month the American Air Museum (AAM) Research Group sat around a meeting table at IWM Duxford and dreamt of Savannah, Georgia. Well, more specifically the United States Army and Air Force veteran associations based there and the possible help they could offer to the redevelopment project. The AAM is a monument to the 30,000 American airmen who died flying from Britain during the Second World War. The hope for the redevelopment project is to contextualise the aircraft on display with the stories of the American airmen who flew them and the ground crews who maintained them.
Time and again, the names of faraway American places were mentioned: California, with the highest number of AAM Members, Texas with its high number of veterans who could form part of the oral history side of the project, Washington D.C. , a city chock-a-block full of excellent archival material…the list goes on. I had to snap back to reality, though, and present the findings of initial research into collections much closer to home – those of Imperial War Museums (IWM).
Professor David Cesarani (right) with Professor Paul Shapiro of USHMM at the Beyond camps and forced labour conference held at IWM London, 4-6 January 2012
On 4-6 January 2012, Imperial War Museum London hosted the fourth international conference in the Beyond camps and forced labour series. Professor David Cesarani of Royal Holloway, University of London, co-organiser of Beyond camps and forced labour guest blogs here about the key themes which emerged from the conference:
‘It is hard to sum up the themes that were explored in the conference, let alone find patterns common to all the papers. But I think that some distinct threads did emerge. One was the discovery of new archival sources or the re-examination of neglected collections.
The largest and most important of these is the vast archive of the International Tracing Service of the International Committee of the Red Cross at Bad Arolsen. Thanks largely to the persistence of Professor Paul Shapiro of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum we now have a good idea of the staggering riches that were kept locked away by the ITS for decades, and the process of making them available to researchers is now well underway. The many sub-collections will offer new insights into the existence of inmates in the concentration camps, the death marches, and the experiences of refugees and survivors after liberation. One of the most extraordinary collections was described by the new ITS historian, Susanne Urban. It comprises 1,200 responses to questionnaires sent out to survivors of death marches – amongst the earliest, most immediate testimony every recorded. The ITS records will help historians to map and analyse population movements after 1945, including the influx of former DPs into the UK. It will take decades and many PhD theses to even scrape the surface of this treasure trove.