New College of the Humanities

Fires Were Started

Jeffrey Richards rekindles Humphrey Jennings' stirring wartime portrayal of firefighters who became heroes of the Blitz.

All countries live by and through myths, episodes from their history which are removed from their context, shorn of complications and qualification, stripped down to their essentials and endlessly repeated as manifestations of the nation's character, worth and values. The Second World War produced a succession of such myths, one of the most powerful being the myth of the Blitz. It is simply told. In September 1940 German bombers began the systematic heavy bombing of London. From September 7th, for seventy-six consecutive nights, apart from November 2nd, when bad weather frustrated the enemy, London was pounded by the Luftwaffe. Thereafter raids were frequent until May 1941. Buckingham Palace and the House of Commons were hit; death and destruction were extensive. It was the reaction of the population of London – one of heroic stoicism – which gave birth to the myth and to the defiant ‘London can Take It' attitude that was emulated in other industrial centres and seaports to which the Germans later turned their attention.

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