The Blitz

German bombers fly over West Ham in 1940. In the centre is the West Ham speedway and greyhound stadium, and to the left the Royal Victoria Dock.
Photo: Newham Heritage and Archive collection. Used with permission.

The Abbey Road council depot was one of the first places in West Ham to be bombed: a direct hit at 7.15pm on day one of the Blitz killed 13 people.
Photo: Newham Heritage and Archive collection. Used with permission.

Winston Churchill wrote that 1940 was the most splendid and most deadly year in British history. When the Blitz started in September of that year it flung ordinary people into the front line. Enemy bombs rained down on docks, factories and homes alike in chaotic destruction. Death struck randomly from street to street. No one could be sure they would be alive the next morning.


By the end of the war, in West Ham and the neighbouring borough of East Ham nearly three thousand people had been killed. Sixteen thousand homes had been destroyed and thousands more damaged.


For some, the Blitz was a chance to rise to the greatest challenge of their life. Others were reduced to trembling wrecks. Men and women volunteered to serve as rescue workers, stretcher bearers, auxiliary police, fire-watchers, air raid wardens. Volunteer firefighters risked their lives to tame the nightly inferno. The part-time soldiers of the Home Guard, too young or too old for regular service, trained to fight the expected invaders.


But not everyone turned out to be an everyday hero. By the end of 1939, after four months of war, the Metropolitan Police was recording the largest number of indictable crimes for seven years. Crime continued to rise as the war went on, with offenders constantly finding new ways to exploit the blackout, air-raid damage and rationing.