The bombing of Buckingham Palace

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Buckingham Palace was hit by bombs seven times during the Second World War. It was just a matter of sheer luck that King George VI and Queen Elizabeth weren’t killed or very badly injured when the third raid took place on September 13th, 1940.

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The king and queen were in one of the rooms near where the bomb went off. But crucially, the window to that room was open at the time. Hence no glass was blown into the room and the royal couple escaped unscathed. One man did die in the attack though, due to the shards and several others were injured.

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The bombing attack took place at about eleven in the morning – a time when it was likely to be fully occupied with members of the royal family, staff and workmen. The king and queen were quietly sitting enjoying a cup of tea when the bombs exploded just outside their window.

The royal chapel at the palace was also damaged at the same time by a third bomb. The bomb plummeted through the roof destroying the altar, causing a great deal of structural damage and hurling tons of debris into the basement.

The young princesses, Margaret and Elizabeth, were living at Windsor Castle – twenty miles away from the palace – at the time and indeed for the duration of the war. The government had tried to persuade the royal family to live somewhere safer than London, with its constant attacks from the Luftwaffe.

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Queen Elizabeth detailed the events of the daylight raid that occurred on Friday, September 13, 1940 in a letter to her mother-in-law, Queen Mary.

September 13th 1940

My Darling Mama

I hardly know how to begin to tell you of the horrible attack on Buckingham Palace this morning…

…At this moment we heard the unmistakable whirr-whirr of a German plane – We said “ah a German”, and before anything else could be said, there was the noise of aircraft diving at great speed, and then the scream of a bomb – It all happened so quickly, that we had only time to look foolishly at each other, when the scream hurtled past us, and exploded with a tremendous crash in the quadrangle –

I saw a great column of smoke & earth thrown up into the air, and then we all ducked like lightning into the corridor – There was another tremendous explosion, and we & our 2 pages who were outside the door, remained for a moment or two in the corridor away from the staircase, in case of flying glass. It is curious how one’s instinct works at those moments of great danger, as quite without thinking, the urge was to get away from the windows. Everybody remained wonderfully calm, and we went down to the shelter – I went along to see if the housemaids were alright, and found them busy in their various shelters – Then came a cry for “bandages”, and the first aid party, who had been training for over a year, rose magnificently to the occasion, and treated the 3 poor casualties calmly and correctly –

Darling mama, I do hope that you will let me come & stay a day or two later – It is so sad being parted, as this War has parted famillies.

With my love, and prayers for your safety, ever darling Mama your loving daughter in law

Elizabeth

P.S. Dear old B.P is still standing, and that is the main thing.

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Belfast Blitz-15 April 1941

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Although the Republic of Ireland was neutral and was left largely unscathed during the war, Northern Ireland as part of the UK was not that lucky.

Belfast being the biggest city of Northern Ireland was hit by German bombers 4 times, between the 7th of April and 6th of May 1941.

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Northern Ireland was ill prepared for the Luftwaffe’s arrival. Ministers felt it unlikely that the bombers could reach Belfast.

There were only four public air raid shelters in Belfast, and most of the city’s searchlights had been sent back to England. There were plans to evacuate 70,000 children from Belfast, but little over 10% of that number actually left. When an unobserved German plane flew over Belfast to identify targets in November 1940, it saw a city defended by only seven anti-aircraft batteries. By March 1941, Northern Ireland’s minister of public security was close to panic – with some justification.

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Around midnight on Monday 7 April 1941, seven German planes began bombing Belfast targets that had been identified the previous year.

The moon, half-full, enabled the Germans to attack by sight as they flew low, just above the barrage balloons. In half-hour intervals, the Luftwaffe bombed the docks and shipyards with alarming accuracy. The fuselage factory at Harland and Wolff was hit by a parachute mine, destroying 50 Sterling bombers. Incendiary bombs and high explosives also destroyed houses in north and east Belfast. By the time the raid ended at around 3.30am, 13 people had been killed.

William Joyce (known as “Lord Haw-Haw”) announced in radio broadcasts from Hamburg that there will be “Easter eggs for Belfast”.

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On Easter Tuesday, 15 April 1941, spectators watching a football match at Windsor Park noticed a lone Luftwaffe Junkers Ju-88 aircraft circling overhead.

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That evening up to 200 bombers left their bases in northern France and the Netherlands and headed for Belfast. There were Heinkel He 111s, Junkers Ju 88s and Dorniers. At 10:40 pm the air raid sirens sounded.

Accounts differ as to when flares were dropped to light up the city. The first attack was against the city’s waterworks, which had been attacked in the previous raid. High explosives were dropped. Initially it was thought that the Germans had mistaken this reservoir for the harbour and shipyards, where many ships, including HMS Ark Royal were being repaired.

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However that attack was not an error. Three vessels nearing completion at Harland and Wolff’s were hit as was its power station. Wave after wave of bombers dropped their incendiaries, high explosives and land-mines. When incendiaries were dropped, the city burned as water pressure was too low for effective firefighting.

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Public buildings destroyed or badly damaged included Belfast City Hall’s Banqueting Hall, the Ulster Hospital for Women and Children and Ballymacarrett library, (the last two being located on Templemore Avenue). Strand Public Elementary school, the LMS railway station, the adjacent Midland Hotel on York Road, and Salisbury Avenue tram depot were all hit. Churches destroyed or wrecked included Macrory Memorial Presbyterian in Duncairn Gardens; Duncairn Methodist, Castleton Presbyterian on York Road; St Silas’s on the Oldpark Road; St James’s on the Antrim Road; Newington Presbyterian on Limestone Road; Crumlin Road Presbyterian; Holy Trinity on Clifton Street and Clifton Street Presbyterian; York Street Presbyterian and York Street Non-Subscribing Presbyterian; Newtownards Road Methodist and Rosemary Street Presbyterian (the last of which was not rebuilt).

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Streets heavily bombed in the city centre included High Street, Ann Street, Callender Street, Chichester Street, Castle Street, Tomb Street, Bridge Street (effectively obliterated), Rosemary Street, Waring Street, North Street, Victoria Street, Donegall Street, York Street, Gloucester Street, and East Bridge Street. In the east of the city, Westbourne and Newcastle Streets on the Newtownards Road, Thorndyke Street off the Albertbridge Road and Ravenscroft Avenue were destroyed or damaged. In the west and north of the city, streets heavily bombed included Percy Street, York Park, York Crescent, Eglinton Street, Carlisle Street, Ballyclare, Ballycastle and Ballynure Streets off the Oldpark Road; Southport Street, Walton Street, Antrim Road, Annadale Street, Cliftonville Road, Hillman Street, Atlantic Avenue, Hallidays Road, Hughenden Avenue, Sunningdale Park, Shandarragh Park, and Whitewell Road. Burke Street which ran between Annadale and Dawson streets in the New Lodge area, was completely wiped off the map with all its 20 houses flattened and all of the occupants killed.

 

There was no opposition. In the mistaken belief that they might damage RAF fighters, the seven anti-aircraft batteries ceased firing. But the RAF had not responded. The bombs continued to fall until 5am.

Fifty-five thousand houses were damaged leaving 100,000 temporarily homeless. Outside of London, with some 900 dead, this was the greatest loss of life in a night raid during the Blitz.A stray bomber attacked Derry, killing 15. Another attacked Bangor, killing five. By 4 am the entire city seemed to be in flames. At 4.15am John MacDermott, the Minister of Public Security, managed to contact Basil Brooke (then Agriculture Minister), seeking permission to seek help from the Irish government. Brooke noted in his diary “I gave him authority as it is obviously a question of expediency”. Since 1.45am all telephones had been cut. Fortunately, the railway telegraphy link between Belfast and Dublin was still operational. The telegram was sent at 4.35am, asking the Irish Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera for assistance.

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For decades now it has been part of unionist and loyalist lore that the then Fianna Fáil government was partly to blame for the Belfast Blitz due to a decision not to black out neutral Irish towns and cities at night.

Over 900 lives were lost, 1,500 people were injured, 400 of them seriously. Fifty-thousand houses, more than half the houses in the city, were damaged. Eleven churches, two hospitals and two schools were destroyed.

The bombing of Café de Paris -London

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Café de Paris is a London nightclub, located in the West End, beside Leicester Square on Coventry Street, Piccadilly.

It opened in 1924 and subsequently featured such performers as Dorothy Dandridge, Marlene Dietrich, Harry Gold, Harry Roy, Ken Snakehips Johnson and Maxine Cooper Gomberg.Louise Brooks made history when she worked there in December 1924, introducing the Charleston (dance) to London.

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Much of the early success of the Café de Paris was due to the visit of the then Prince of Wales who became a regular guest, often dining with notables from high society across Europe. Cole Porter was a regular, as was the Aga Khan

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During World War II, on 8 March 1941, the café was bombed soon after the start of a performance[and at least 34 people were killed and around 80 injured.

 

Two bombs fell into the basement ballroom down a ventilation shaft and exploded in front of the stage.The victims included 26-year-old bandleader Ken “Snakehips” Johnson, his saxophonist Dave “Baba” Williams, other band members, staff and diners.Snakehips’ head was blown from his shoulders.

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Dancers’ legs were sheered off. The blast, magnified in the confined space, burst the lungs of diners as they sat at their tables and killed them instantly.A rescue worker who arrived in the devastated nightclub tripped over a girl’s head on the floor, looked up and saw her torso still sitting in a chair. The dead and dying were heaped everywhere.Champagne was cracked open to clean wounds.

But there were some narrow escapes too. The high-kicking cabaret dancers, a troupe of ten girls, were due on stage when the bomb struck, but were saved because they were waiting in the wings and therefore protected from the devastation.

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The worst of human nature was in evidence that night too – amid the rubble and the chaos, unscrupulous looters were seen cutting off the fingers of the dead to steal their rings.

But, even among the death and destruction, one man retained his sense of humour – as he was carried out on a stretcher, he got a cheer from the watching crowd when he called out, ‘At least I didn’t have to pay for dinner.’

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On the same night that the Café de Paris was hit, so too was another even more famous landmark of London society – Buckingham Palace. And not for the first time.

The second Great Fire of London

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Today marks the 76th anniversary of the second Great Fire of London.

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On 29 December 1940 around 100,000 bombs fell in just a few hours, causing a firestorm across most of the City’s square mile up to Islington.

14 fire fighters were to lose their lives that night, with over 250 injured.

The largest continuous area of Blitz destruction anywhere in Britain occurred on this night, stretching south from Islington to the very edge of St Paul’s Churchyard. The area destroyed was greater than that of the Great Fire of London in 1666.

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The raid was timed to coincide with a particularly low tide on the River Thames, making water difficult to obtain for fire fighting. Over 1500 fires were started, with many joining up to form three major conflagrations which in turn caused a firestorm that spread the flames further, towards St Paul’s Cathedral.

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As the fires raged, Prime Minister Winston Churchill insisted that St Paul’s Cathedral be saved at all costs. The struggle involved fire crews and local volunteers.

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The German raid planned for the night of the 29th December was to feature an initial attack led by a specialist Pathfinder Squadron, followed by the first wave of bombers with mainly  incendiary bombs and some high explosive to set the City alight, followed much later in the evening by the second wave of bombers with high explosive bombs. The clear intention was to destroy the City with key strategic targets being the bridges over the river, train stations and tracks and communications centres such as the Faraday building on Queen Victoria Street which was a centre for the London Telephony system and also for international telephony circuits.

The role of the Pathfinder squadron was to locate the target using a beam radio system where radio signals transmitted from the Continent would direct a plane to its target with a change in signal where beams crossed indicating a key geographic point to commence the attack.

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The planes of the Pathfinder Squadron flew over the countryside between the coast and south London and on approaching Mitcham the signal changed indicating the point from where a carefully planned course and time would lead the planes directly to the centre of London.

This approach allowed for accurate bombing despite the heavy layers of cloud below. The aim of the Pathfinders was to start fires which the main bomber force could then follow.

At the planned time the bombers released canisters containing the incendiary bombs. On the drop down, the canisters then broke open to shower individual bombs over a wide radius.

The waves of the main bomber force then started to arrive, each loaded with canisters of incendiary bombs and the occasional high explosive bomb.

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These were relatively small devices and could be easy to deal with, however when dropped in such large numbers, it only took a few to start fires in hard to reach locations that could very quickly get out of control.

The 1KG incendiary was 34.5cm long and 5cm in diameter. The body was of magnesium alloy with a filling of an incendiary compound (thermite). On hitting the ground, a needle was driven into a percussion cap which ignited the thermite. The heat from this also ignited the magnesium casing causing an intense heat which would ignite any flammable material that the bomb was in contact with.

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.More than 160 civilians died during that night, with many more dying of their injuries sustained in this raid in the days that followed; 14 firemen died fighting the fires and 250 were injured. Buildings completely destroyed in the fire storm included 19 churches, 31 guild halls and all of Paternoster Row. Paternoster Row was the centre of the London publishing trade and an estimated 5 million books were lost in the fire.

 

Harry Dobkin-Blitz Murderer

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One can imaging that the Blitz must have been a terrifying time in Great Britain, but it also must have been a time where people ceased the opportunity amidst the chaos to do things they usually wouldn’t dare to do for the fear of being caught. Harry Dobkin was one of these folks.

Harry Dobkin was born in London in 1901. After leaving school he worked in the cloth trade. Dobkin married Rachel Dubinski in 1920.

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A child was born but the marriage did not last and the couple separated and in 1923 Rachel Dobkin applied for maintenance. Over the next few years Dobkin served several periods in prison as a result of her complaints about his non-payment of maintenance.

Dobkin had a variety of different jobs including that of a tailor, ship’s steward and cook. Soon after the outbreak of the Second World WarDobkin found work as a fire-watcher to a firm of solicitors in London.

During the Blitz Dobkin realized that so many people were killed in air raids that it was impossible for the police to investigate every death. Victims were buried quickly and very few post mortems were carried out. In April 1941 Dodkin murdered his wife and buried her under the ruin of Vauxhall Baptist Chapel, hoping she would be discovered as an air raid victim.

On July the 17th 1942 a workman who was helping to demolish the badly bomb-damaged Vauxhall Baptist Chapel in Vauxhall Road, Kennington (now Kennington Lane), prised up a stone slab and found beneath it a mummified body.

The immediate assumption was that the remains were either of an air raid victim or had come from the old burial ground underneath the church, which had ceased to be used some fifty years before. When the church had been bombed on the 15th of October 1940 more than a hundred people had been killed in the conflagration and the area around the chapel had been the target of a number of Luftwaffe raids between that time and March of 1943

Nor was it the first body that the workers had come upon while demolishing the chapel. Nevertheless, routine was followed, and the police were called in, arriving in the persons of Detective Inspectors Hatton and Keeling, the bones being removed to Southwark Mortuary for examination by pathologist Dr Keith Simpson.

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Simpson immediately suspected foul play. In trying to raise the bones, the skull had become detached and Simpson realized that the head had already been cut from the body. In addition to this, the limbs had been severed at the elbows and knees, flesh had been removed from the face, the lower jaw was missing and the bones were partially burnt. An obvious attempt had been made to disguise the identity of the corpse.

Dr Simpson obtained the permission of the coroner to take the remains back to his laboratory at Guy’s Hospital for a more detailed inspection.

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Returning to the crypt of the church in a vain attempt to find the missing limbs, Simpson noticed a yellowish deposit in the earth, subsequently analysed as slaked lime. This had been used to suppress the smell of putrefaction, but it also had the effect of preventing maggots from destroying the body.

Examining the throat and voice box, Simpson detected a blood clot, strongly indicating death due to strangulation. The next task was to discover the identity of the victim. The body was that of a woman aged between forty and fifty, with dark greying hair, was five feet one inch tall, and had suffered from a fibroid tumour.

Time of death was estimated at between twelve and fifteen months prior to discovery. Meanwhile the police had been checking the lists of missing persons, and noted that fifteen months previously Mrs Rachel Dobkin, estranged wife of Harry Dobkin, the fire watcher at the firm of solicitors next door to the Baptist Chapel at 302 Vauxhall Road, had disappeared.

An interview with her sister elicited the information that she was about the right age, with dark greying hair, was about five feet one tall, and had a fibroid tumour. She also gave police the name of Mrs Dobkin’s dentist, Barnett Kopkin of Stoke Newington, who kept meticulous records and was able to describe exactly the residual roots and fillings in her mouth. They matched the upper jaw of the skull.

Finally, Miss Mary Newman, the head of the Photography Department at Guy’s, super- imposed a photograph of the skull on to a photograph of Rachel Dobkin, a technique first used six years earlier in the Buck Ruxton case.

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The fit was uncanny. The bones found in the crypt were the mortal remains of Mrs Rachel Dobkin.

Rachel Dubinski had married Harry Dobkin in September 1920, through the traditional Jewish custom of a marriage broker. Within three days they had separated, but unhappily nine months later a baby boy was born. In 1923 Mrs Dobkin obtained a maintenance order obliging her husband to pay for the upkeep of their child. Dobkin was always a spasmodic payer, and over the years had been imprisoned several times for defaulting. In addition, Mrs Dobkin had unsuccessfully summonsed him four times for assault.

However, it must be said in mitigation of Dobkin’s actions that she habitually pestered him in the street to get her money, and it should be remembered that she was still demanding cash in 1941 when the ‘child’ was twenty years old and hardly a dependant. Dobkin was to hint later that she was also blackmailing him over some undisclosed indiscretion at work.

On Good Friday, the 11th of April 1941, Dobkin and his wife had met in a cafe in Kingsland Road, Shoreditch, near to where he lived in Navarino Road, Dalston, E8. They left at 6.30 and she was never seen alive again, though he claimed that she had boarded a No.22 bus to visit her mother. Next day Rachel’s sister reported her missing to the police, implicating Harry Dobkin in the process. Because of the priorities of war, Dobkin was not interviewed about the disappearance until April the 16th.

On the night of the 14th a small fire had broken out in the ruined cellar of the Baptist Church. This was peculiar, because there had been no air raids and the blaze was only noticed at 3.23am by a passing policeman. When the fire brigade arrived Harry Dobkin was there, pretending to put it out. He told the constable that the fire had started at 1.30am and that he hadn’t bothered to inform the authorities because there was little danger of the fire spreading. There was a serious air raid on the next night, so the incident was quickly forgotten. Dobkin was interviewed twice more about his wife’s disappearance and a description and photograph were circulated by the police but no further action was taken.

On the 26th of August 1942, Dobkin was interviewed for the first time by Chief Inspector Hat ton, and escorted to the church cellar, where he vehemently denied any involvement in his wife’s death. He was then arrested for her murder.

The trial of Harry Dobkin opened at the Old Bailey on the 17th of November 1942, with Mr Justice Wrottesley presiding and Mr L.A. Byrne prosecuting. Dobkin’s counsel, Mr F.H. Lawton, spent most of his efforts trying vainly to challenge the identification evidence. The prisoner’s appearance in the witness box left the jury unimpressed, and it took them only twenty minutes to arrive at a verdict of guilty.

Before his execution Dobkin confessed to his wife’s murder, claiming that she was always pestering him for money and he wanted to be rid of her for good. On the 7th of January, 1943, Harry Dobkin was hanged behind the walls of Wandsworth Prison.

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