The Blitz Begins

It's September 1940, and the Blitz is beginning. Travel through London as you discover the start of the bombardment, the experience of shelters, and how the people of London deal with the attacks.


Scene summaries may contain spoilers
Welcome to London, September 1st, 1940. It's 11pm and even darker than normal due to the blackout, which makes it dangerous. Six hundred people a month are killed by traffic. The UK is preparing for invasion: In just 40 days, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, and France have fallen to the Nazis. Hospitals have been cleared for patients driven mad by air raids, and thousands who can afford to have fled to America and Canada. Warehouses around the country have been filled with papier-mâché coffins ready for the predicted deaths.
September 7th marked the first attack of the Blitz. The sky is filled with barrage balloons. Sirens go off all the time, and people have become complacent. But the German plan has changed. After Britain bombed Berlin in retaliation for an attack on London, the Germans have decided to launch an all-out attack on British cities to paralyse the war effort. People start to become aware as the planes appear, and you can hear the ack-ack guns. Incendiary bombs are dropped, designed to start fires hot enough to melt steel. They fall across the city, including onto ships, warehouses, chemical plants, and tar distilleries. But the worst is yet to come!
The incendiary bombs leave miles of the city blazing out of control. And more bombers are coming. The first wave of bombers had navigation equipment to find targets, the second wave look for the fires – and this second wave have explosives and oil bombs. The ack-ack guns weren't accurate and the barrage balloons proved ineffective, bringing down mostly friendly aircraft. They did force the German planes to fly higher though, which made their bombs more likely to be off target. The Germans suffered only a 1.5% nightly loss rate, and the city was pulverised.
The day after Black Saturday, and Londons still hasn't managed to put out all of the fires. Houses with enough space have built Anderson Shelters – corrugated iron arches – in their gardens. They can protect against most things, but they're cold and often flood. For other people, there are the surface shelters. They're made from brick and concrete, but are poorly made, often without cement, and if a bomb falls nearby it can blow out the walls leaving people crushed by the heavy concrete roof. Some places do have public shelters, but they're overcrowded, unpleasant, and unsanitary. The government refuses to let people into the Underground to shelter, but people force their way in anyway.
A few days into the Blitz and there are ruins everywhere, and black smoke still rising from fires. Rescue crews try to save who they can, but many of them have only basic training. The authorities had expected deaths and people in hospitals, but had not anticipated so many people alive but homeless. A quarter of a million people were made homeless in the first six weeks of the Blitz, but only about 7,000 would get rehoused by the authorities. Offices for help are scattered around, and the government is reluctant to give homeless families anything in case it encourages them to be "lazy." But the rich are living through a very different Blitz to most Londoners.
The West End doesn't have docks or much heavy industry so it's been hit less, plus the houses are further apart so fires can't spread as easily. Many of the rich have moved to their country homes, and when they do need shelter, they have better options, such as the Savoy Hotel. The Savoy, along with most top hotels, has turned its cellar into a luxury shelter, complete with private cubicles, comfortable beds, and waiters bringing people whatever they wish – restaurants are exempt from rationing. But there are protests, and some normal people do force their way into the Savoy shelter. There are also protests in other locations, with people breaking into the Tube. This forced the government to open the Underground, and improve East End shelters.


Cast listings may contain spoilers
ARP Warden
Six to Start Ensemble
Homeless Mother
Six to Start Ensemble
Six to Start Ensemble
Robyn Holdaway
Six to Start Ensemble
Six to Start Ensemble
Six to Start Ensemble
Kate Blair
Matt Wieteska
Sound Designer
Mark Pittam