"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.
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.
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.