When Nancy and I were in London on our honeymoon -- twenty-six years and a week or two ago -- we stayed at the Presidential Hotel in on Southampton Row in Bloomsbury (as noted in an entry last year).
It was not a high-end luxury hotel -- we had bought a package deal of airfare plus hotel (12 days/11 nights) plus a few theatre tickets and a pass for the Underground and I think that out of a choice of half a dozen or so levels of hotel, this one was one level up from the base level. (That had given us a bit of trepidation in advance of our arrival... Would it be a dump? We were pleased to discover that it was a very pleasant hotel, quite comfortable.) I have been in that area in more recent years (well, mostly the late 90s, not quite that recent anymore) and the President Hotel (as you might expect with the passage of years) appears to have been remodeled and renovated since then. Nancy and I have discussed a return to London one of these years and, should we ever actually do it, we are quite likely to see if we could book rooms there again.
It is in an interesting neighborhood -- the Bloomsbury area -- and near where Russell Square (the street) connects with Southampton Row. There is a park next to Russell Square and I was briefly not sure (after the passage of a quarter century plus an extra year) what the name of the park might be. Was it named after the street (Russell Square) or did it have some other name? Ah, but the wonder of the Internet and Google... It is Russell Square Garden and I can even find a picture of it.
One of the reasons I have been back in that area (beyond sheer nostalgia) is that the British Museum is in that area and I have visited there twice during business trips to London, each time taking the Underground to Russell Square Station and crossing through the park. (Oh, yes, and stopping for a pint at a pub we had frequented while staying at the President.)
Until 9-11 Americans were isolated from war. Except for Pearl Harbor, you really had to go back to the Civil War to find warfare on American soil (and that we did to ourselves). Granted, the town I grew up in had been burned during the Revolutionary War, but that had happened two centuries before Nancy and I got married, two centuries with wars always happening somewhere else. We both had that American attitude that war was something that happened somewhere else.
Then we walked out of our hotel and along Southampton Row and came upon a marker denoting the date and number of fatalities at that spot during the London Blitz. We found ourselves "somewhere else" -- somewhere that bombs had fallen and killed people, starting just a couple of years before I was born.
From late summer in 1940 through late spring in 1941, London experienced frequent air raids. Some of those bombing raids were very destructive. September 7, 1940, more than 300 bombers caused more than a thousand fires, killed 430 people and severely injured 1600 more. October 15, 1940, a bombing raid killed another 430 people. December 29, 1940, incendiary bombs started more than 1400 fires, including one that covered half a square mile. January 11, 1941, an Underground station took a direct hit, killing 117 people. March 19, 1941, 750 people killed. May 10, 941, the worst raid of the Blitz, almost 1500 people killed, the Chamber of the House of Commons destroyed, the House of Lords, Westminster Abbey, St. James Palace, Lambeth Palace, and almost all railway stations were damaged, along with 14 hospitals. Total deaths during those months are estimated to be around 43,000.
For the rest of 1941 and through 1942 and 1943 there were only occasional bombing raids on London. Note that: "only" occasional bombing raids. January through April of 1944 brought a return of major bombing raids. Seven raids in February alone killed a thousand people and destroyed three thousand homes. Then came the rocket attacks. The V1 flying bomb (Londoners called it the "buzzbomb") began to hit in June of 1944. From June through August (when British troops destroyed the V1 launch sites) 2340 V1 bombs had hit London, killing 5475 people and injuring sixteen thousand. The V2 rockets started to hit in September of 1944. A total of 518 V2 rockets hit London before Germany collapsed -- flying at supersonic speeds, there was no warning, just a sudden explosion -- taking 2724 lives and severely injuring more than six thousand others.
The civilian death toll from the London Bitz during the entire war was in the neighborhood of sixty thousand.
There is a monument near St. Paul's Cathedral -- three large bronze figures of fire fighters -- nicknamed "Heroes with grimy faces" (which was the nickname Churchill had given to London's heroic firefighters). Remember the heroes who gave their lives trying to save the World Trade Center victims? This monument bears the names of the fifteen hundred London fire fighters who died during the Blitz.
I remember the chills we felt as we read the historical markers on Southampton Row, thinking about the people who had died in those bombing raids, but I did not really understand the magnitude of the carnage until I did a little bit of research in order to write this entry.
Nancy and I have always thought of Russell Square Station (Piccadilly Line) as being "our" station. It is one of the deeper Underground stations and provided shelter during the Blitz. It is so deep (somewhere around 100 feet I think) that the stairs are considered to be for emergency use only and passengers are expected to take the lifts ("elevators" to those of us from this side of the Atlantic).
One of yesterday's bombs exploded on a train in the tunnel midway between Russell Square Station and Kings Cross/St. Pancras station.
I picked up the "We are all Britons" image below from the Publius Pundit blog. He passed on an anecdote about how on 9-11 Queen Elizabeth had her personal guards play The Star Spangeled Banner instead of God Save the Queen. And he had an AP photograph showing State Department security police yesterday raising a British flag over the State Department in Washington, DC in remembrance of those killed in the 7-7 London bombings, the only time ever that another nation's flag has been raised at the State Department.