The Docklands ablaze during the Blitz on 7th September 1940. The rising palls of smoke mark out the London Docks beyond the Tower of London, the Surrey Docks to the right of the bridge and the West India Docks on the Isle of Dogs in the distance. This image can be found on page 36 of the book London’s Changing Riverscape. © PLA Collection / Museum of London
To commemorate VE Day on Friday 8 May, the Museum of London Docklands has released a number of images from its ‘Docklands at War’ gallery with additional exclusive content from the collection rarely on display.
Many of the photographs illustrate that the London docks and the riverside factories in the East End of London bore the brunt of enemy attack and were targeted by enemy aircraft, with over 25,000 German bombs falling on the Docklands over the course of the war.
Bomb damage to London Dock. Shed, formerly Guiness’s on west side of eastern dock, looking north from the southend. Date of air raid: 8/12/1940 Date: 19/12/1940 Photography: John H Avery & Co © PLA Collection / Museum of London
The Nazi’s believed by destroying the docks, they could severely hamper local and national economy and weaken British war production.
By the end of World War II, the damage to the East End left much of the area in ruins. Tens of thousands of homes were uninhabitable, businesses were destroyed, and a third of the Port of London’s docks were decimated with West India Docks and St Katherine Docks suffering most of the damage.
St. Katharine Dock air raid damage. F warehouse including S end of ‘E’. From Marble Quay looking south east. 7th Sept 1940. “St Katharine Dock after air raid, September 1940. The damage occurred on Saturday 7 September 1940, the first attack on Docklands. The photographs were taken later as a technical record.” Photography: John H. Avery & Co © PLA Collection / Museum of London
The Prime Minister visits some of the thousands of British workers at East India Dock, 1944, engaged upon the construction of sections of the prefabricated ports. Two prefabricated ports, each as big as Gibralter, were manufactured in Britain in sections, towed across the channel, and set down off the coast of Normandy. The use of the prefabricated port greatly simplified the problem of supplying the Allied Armies in France. The dock was pumped dry to allow for the building of concrete ‘harbours’ that would be towed to France for ‘D Day’. © PLA Collection / Museum of London
Tanks arriving in the London Docks prior to embarkation for the D Day beaches, 1944 © PLA Collection / Museum of London
The crucial role of the dockers to the war effort brought some improvement in their working conditions, including the introduction of mobile canteens. Here the staff of the Port of London’s Mobile Canteen No 32 dispense tea to queuing dockers in 1942. © PLA Collection / Museum of London
West India Dock WWII concrete air raid shelter showing precast units being placed in position by crane. South of East Wood Wharf office. Date: 21/07/1939 © PLA Collection / Museum of London
Bomb damage to London Dock. Milk Yard Boundary Wall. South side of Shadwell Old Basin, looking east. Date of air raid 8-9/12/1940 Date: 19/12/1940 Photography: John H Avery & Co © PLA Collection / Museum of London
Bomb damage to London Dock. West End of Denmark Shed showing bulged quaywall of South Side of Western Dock. Date: 19/12/1940 Photography: John H Avery & Co © PLA Collection / Museum of London
River Emergency Services’ volunteers carrying bandages, and blankets and taking a break from their civil defence duties to pose for this photograph. © PLA Collection / Museum of London
The photographs are a reminder that in a crisis, normality goes out of the window and people come together to fulfil jobs that they not normally do. Although the present crisis is not the same as the horrors of the Second World War, there are similarities and we probably can now understand better the human costs of any kind of crisis.
If you are interested in Docklands at War, you will find plenty of information and photographs at the Museum of London Docklands and their online collections.