Superb TV programme: The Bombs that changed Britain

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The devastation of South Hallsville School in East Ham, London after a bomb hit it in 1940.

The BBC is to be congratulated on a superb history series currently going out on BBC2 – Blitz: The bombs that changed Britain.

We often think of the wartime blitz and see film footage of mounds of rubble and people trying to find loved ones.

But this TV series goes one step further and very specifically outlines the terrible impact of one bomb (in each of four episodes).

In the first programme, now on BBC iPlayer for the next 28 days, they follow the story of an unexploded bomb which fell on Number 5 Martindale Road, Canning Town in London. Because it was unexploded, the whole area had to be evacuated. This led to 600 people being crammed into nearby South Hallsville School. The idea was that people would be quickly moved from the school out of danger. But due to bureaucratic incompetence and official indifference to the plight of the mainly poor people there, the numbers mushroomed over several nights. Then the inevitable happened and the school was bombed, with horrific and widespread devastation.

The official death toll from the school bombing was 77, but official records recently released show that the government knew, as local people suspected, that the number of dead was far higher.

The programme shows a living relative of one family that was “wiped out” by the school bombing. You see her cry as she reads the contemporaneous Air Raid Warden records of the event. Also, the grandsons of a Daily Herald journalist, Ritchie Calder, talk about the issues which their grandfather uncovered around the official response to the Blitz. We then see how the bomb led to improvements in the handling of people made homeless from bombing and perhaps even the establishment of the NHS.

It really brings home to one the horror of war. I thoroughly recommend watching this brilliantly researched and executed series.

Episode 1 can be seen here on BBC iPlayer and Episode 2 will be on BBC 2 tomorrow.


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