Black Saturday: 7 September 1940

The London Docks on fire, 7 September 1940. (Wiki image)

The London Docks on fire, 7 September 1940. Tower Bridge and the Thames. (Wiki image)

Prowler and Prey

The Luftwaffe crossed the English Channel and followed the Thames towards their targets over London. It was Saturday, 7 September 1940 at 4:43 pm. No longer focused on British airfields the Luftwaffe turned their attention upon the Docklands – Silvertown with its associated factories, worker’s homes and warehouses. The afternoon light was clear – blue skies pitched with destruction were soon turned black and yellow. This was London’s Black Saturday the start of the Blitz that would last to 10 May 1941.

The disappearance of blue skies brought on by high explosives, oil bombs and incendiaries, set the Royal Docks and the Surrey Commercial Docks ablaze. Imported timber, shattered to matchsticks, was set alight by the cascading volley of bombs – steady and inescapable. Spirits were set alight as they poured into the open from their places of storage. Burning tar and rubber mixed with fumes from Beckton Gas Works, hit earlier in this day’s raid, added to the rampant and accumulating affects of black smoke, flame, acidic air and smell.

The theme of chaos and its rapturous soundtrack of violent explosions, combustion, suction, collapsing buildings and equipment, mixed together with flaming fragments that sizzled as they fell into the water. Sirens wailed and bells clanged as the Auxiliary Fire Service’s appliances navigated the cratered avenues of London, littered with debris as they attempted to enter the inferno where they could fight this Lucifer upon the earth. Add to this heat, confusion and exhaustion were the people of the home service, Air Raid Precautions, the Fire services, Londoners and so many others.

The drone of this first raid continued until 6:30 pm when the Dorniers and Heinkels returned to their hives across the Channel, but this was a lull, as the quarry had been found, and the hornets returned to the red glow of London at 8:30 pm. For the Luftwaffe who this time remained until dawn the prowler easily found its prey in the everlasting flames.

The war had arrived on the capital.

The lyrics of Pink Floyd’s 1979, Goodbye Blue Sky describe the memory of the Blitz.

The story of the Blitz endures to this day. A portrayal of mayhem in films such as Danger UXB and Hope and Glory. For those of us too young to have been there we can only imagine what our friends, families and history may have endured. There are books and exhibits and archives too for those wishing to learn a little more and it is here that I turn to one exhibit featuring the refrain of prowler and prey that epitomized a steadfast nation through humour, wit and the wink of an eye.

Noel Coward’s Run Rabbit Run was produced for The Little Dog Laughed in October 1939 and sung by the team of Bud Flanagan and Chesney Allen. At one time, the song was the feature music of the Home Front exhibit at the Imperial War Museum, London. Listening and observing as I do, wandering about the exhibit, the song has remained with me. I chose it as a feature tune in 1995 when veterans gathered for an exhibit on the Second World War. As the band played my heart showed through my pursed and smiling lips as the assembled gals and lads of 1939-1945 sang, On the farm every Friday…Run Rabbit Run Rabbit run run run.

About The Author

Paul has worked with the Paradigm Motion Picture Company since 2009 as producer, historian and research specialist. Paul first met Casey and Ian WIlliams of Paradigm in April 2007 at Ieper (Ypres), Belgium when ceremonies were being held for the re-dedication of the Vimy Memorial, France. Paul's sensitivity to film was developed at an early age seeing his first films at RCAF Zweibrucken, Germany and in Sardinia. Paul returned to Canada in 1967 and was further amazed by David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bridge on the River Kwai". Film captivated Paul and with time he became increasingly interested in storytelling, content development, character, direction, cinematography and soundtracks. At the University of Victoria, Paul studied and compared Japanese and Australian film and became interested in Australian film maker Peter Weir and his film "Gallipoli" (1981). Paul was entranced when he learned Weir had visited the beaches, ridges and ravines of the peninsula. The film "Gallipoli" alone led Paul on many journeys to sites of conflict in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Malta, Hawaii and Gallipoli. It was, however, when Paul watched documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, "The Civil War", that Paul understood how his own experience and insight could be effective and perhaps influential in film-making. Combining his knowledge of Museums and Archives, exhibitions and idea strategies with his film interests would be a natural progression. Paul thinks like a film-maker. His passion for history and storytelling brings to Paradigm an eye (and ear) to the keen and sensitive interests of; content development, the understanding of successful and relational use of collections, imagery and voice. Like Paul's favorite actor, Peter O'Toole, he believes in the adage “To deepen not broaden.” While on this path Paul always remembers his grandmother whose father did not return from the Great War and how his loss shaped her life and how her experience continues to guide him.


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