Last year I reviewed a book called The (Old) Isle of Dogs from A to Z by Mick Lemmerman, I am pleased to say that Mick has just published another book entitled The Isle of Dogs During World War II . Mick with colleagues Con Maloney and Peter Wright are well known for their work on Island history and have been responsible for collecting photographs and documents about the Island and making them widely available on a number of websites. Mick also has his own blog called Isle of Dogs – Past Life, Past Lives.
In my time writing this blog I have written about various aspects of the Isle of Dogs in the Second World War. However, Mick has written probably the first comprehensive account of the Island at this time that places the many personal accounts in their historical context. Mick acknowledges his debt for the personal accounts to Island History Trust who collected and published many WWII memories of Islanders.
Mick makes the point that on the eve of the war, the Island was essentially a self contained community little changed in generations, the pubs and the churches were hubs of support and entertainment and work was often available in the docks or other industries.
The book then looks at the preparation for war, it quickly became clear that the docks would be a prime target for German attacks and certain Air Raid Precautions were put into place. However, at the start of the war, there were no purpose-built shelters which would have tragic consequences. Originally trenches were built but were soon seen to be inadequate. The local council allocated public shelters in warehouse basements, church crypts and railway arches, the danger of these approaches would soon become apparent.
Mudchute became the base for a Anti-Aircraft Guns battery and Barrage Balloons became a common sight around the docks. For all the preparations, it was probably the evacuation of the children of the Island community that caused the greatest upheaval. Many parents were aware the docks would be in the front line and sent their children away.
The wisdom of this approach was made clear with the First Night of the Blitz, the book shows in detail the damage sustained and people’s memories of the Blitz and the aftermath. The horror and bravery of the people and services in those dark days are illustrated by the stories of those who had to deal with death and destruction on a daily basis. The Cubitt Town School Disaster and Bullivants Wharf disaster were two of the worst events on the Island with multiple fatalities. After surviving the Blitz, the danger was not over with subsequent raids and the V1 and V2 rockets.
During the war, the Island population fell to around 9,000 , after the war, even with this smaller population, the damage to the housing stock was so severe that Prefabs were built to provide temporary accommodation. This housing shortage had a number of long term effects that would change the character of the Island.
Reading this well written and well researched book underlines the way that the Second World War changed the Island forever, many of the close knit Island community were scattered over London, the country and the world. Many children evacuated never returned to their Island homes but went with their parents to new homes elsewhere. Most of the churches and pubs, formerly hubs of community life were now destroyed. This important historical record pays testament to the courage of those who survived and picked up the pieces to carry on to rebuild their lives and lists the memorials around the Island to those that paid the ultimate sacrifice.
If you would like to find out more or buy a copy, visit the Amazon website here