Saturday, April 24, 2021

London During World War II

Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times

London in wartime
Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) personnel at their anti-aircraft equipment in a London park. Doesn't appear to be a gun, perhaps a range-finder for batteries nearby. At least, I believe they are WAAFs.
Historical events often seem "different," as if people weren't people as they are today but instead weird caricatures. For many years, films of World War II showed people walking fast in dimly lit and jerky scenes. Oh, they were so odd back then, right? And so old and cranky if we met them later. Nothing like us. But let's take a look at the real wartime London, in vivid color.
At Waterloo Station, an express train pulls in from Bournemouth or one of the other cities along the coast. How do we know that? The passengers are overwhelmingly sailors on leave. 
Well, modern technology has come to the rescue. It turns out the skies actually were blue, people walked about normally just doing their business as they do now, and things looked pretty similar.
A barrage balloon raised in Westminster Gardens near the Houses of Parliament. Mainly women took care of tasks like these.
There has been an explosion of conversions of obscure old black-and-white newsreel footage due to improved artificial intelligence software. There are still limitations and they are bound to improve more with further enhancements, but these restored films are getting good enough to really open a window into the past.
London in wartime.
A naval officer likely on leave, perfect bearing and cadence, passes in front of a smoke shop. Off to the far left, a man who likely is a veteran of the Great War stands on his crutches. He had his days in the sun, too. It's like a before-and-after shot.
The film in question shows ordinary street scenes of London sometime during World War II. Nothing special, just ordinary people during extraordinary times. Yes, it obviously was produced as a film project of some sort, but the scenes show reality rather than Hollywood artifice. If you want to understand the war years - and I assume you do since you're here - this is a good place to start.
Soldiers in wartime London.
Soldiers reading the war news. It might be weeks or even months old and approved by Churchill's censors, but it was the only way to know what was going on.
There are many reasons why films like this are valuable. You get the small details of life that Hollywood films leave out such as people waiting on queues for the evening newspaper, injured victims of the war, the casual dress that people wore. Even amidst the privations, people still took pride in their appearance. It was a different time, but not so different underneath it all. 
Houses of Parliament
Looking over Westminster Bridge to the Houses of Parliament. Not much traffic on such a nice day, right? Getting petrol except for official government use wasn't easy. You wanted to ride, you climbed aboard one of those ubiquitous massive double-decker buses.
If you look closely at the vehicles, you'll notice that most have their headlamps covered. There was a blackout, you know. The few that don't stand out.
Buckingham Palace in wartime
A military parade outside the palace - the real palace. Perhaps for VE Day. Patriotism was quite in fashion during the war years. Buckingham Palace sustained some bomb damage during the Blitz, but it certainly stands like a rock amidst the chaos in this shot.
Among other things, you'll notice the huge proportion of military personnel in most of the shots. You may also pick out a US serviceman here and there. These scenes all appear to be mid to late-war scenes, as there weren't many Yanks on the scene until mid-1942.
Bomb damage in London
Some London Bobbies patrolling amidst the ruins. Undoubtedly a staged scene, but that is what it looked like.
Anyway, I hope my casual observations provide a little context to the film, which speaks for itself. If I have gotten anything wrong, kindly let me know in the comments. I hope you enjoy it!