Monday, 9 April 2007

The Marching Song of the Covert Battalions

"Within minutes flames leapt into the sky along the banks of the Thames from burning warehouses and factories... Acrid black smoke from the bombed warehouse of the Silvertown rubber factory flowed across the North Woolwich Road, bogging down fire engines, ambulances and Civil Defence vehicles. The ghastly fumes of rubber, tar and paint mixed with a sweet odour of caramel as Tate & Lyle's sugar barges blazed."

North Woolwich, April 6th 2007 Photograph "borrowed" from (
There is, of course nearly sixty seven years between the report and the picture. The report is taken from Juliet Gardiner's Wartime: Britain at War 1939-1945, a period of history, an element of the war that seems to be neglected, much like the area round here which took a fearful pounding. But much like the area today it scarcely warrants much of a mention. It's not a pretty area and although the north bank of the river may well get the boost of the 2012 knock on effect, it's still an area in need of regeneration. Of course, regeneration only works if it also regenerates the community currently living there, giving them a greater reason to participate and integrate. It's amazing how often solving the poverty gap reduces the social gap.
The fire last week was reported. It made the news! Well, the local news but considering the local news has a reach of around 8-10 million people (although an actual audience of three bored children waiting for their tea and a stoned hamster).
It's a shame no one made the link back to September 7th, 1940.
I've been reading about wartime Britain to aid some research I'm undertaking. It's a confusing period but a fascinating one. Descriptions of the Blitz leave me shuddering but wondering whether or not we bother to appreciate the bombing we conducted. We all know what images the word Dresden brings to mind but there's still a feeling, albeit relatively unspoken these days, that they had it coming. But us noble Brits, well, we really suffered.
We still haven't really come to terms with the idea that wars are brought about by a few people and conducted by the masses. Dying on someone else's behalf if not my idea of fun. Being the victim of bombing as a non-combatant (as I believe the terminology makes us) is even more pointless whether you are German, Japanese, British in World War Two or Iraqi, Iranian, British of Brazilian in the War on Terror (sic). But as Juliet Gardiner's book makes clear, there were many people who profited from the wartime economy, legally or otherwise. Although the Sun and ITV are £100,000 poorer and an individual member of the armed forces £100,000 richer, this is not a cause for celebration of redistribution of wealth. As a national it leaves us morally bankrupt.