A poignant, six-colour palette ranging from black for ‘total destruction’ to yellow for ‘minor blast damage’ records the impact at each site. The effect of these maps on a peace-time browser is all the more intense because the 1:2,500 scale personalises every neighbourhood. Individual buildings are shown, along with street names, park pavilions and public lavatories. London looks naked.
There are some terrible clusters. One small part of Peckham was struck by five V-1 ‘Doodlebug’ flying bombs and a V-2 rocket. In Deptford, so many rows of terraced houses are coloured red, purple or black that you search in vain for an undamaged street. A swathe of central London north from the river past St Paul’s Cathedral and Aldersgate to Clerkenwell is blocked in the purple of ‘damaged beyond repair’. Two house-plots in my own street are coloured red (‘seriously damaged – doubtful if repairable’), which explains why I’m typing this surrounded by concrete and steel rather than Victorian timber and brick.
Bonus chapters give the bigger picture. The War Debris Survey and Disposal Service crews are seen struggling in plaster-dusted uniforms through ruined homes and there is an astonishing album of 69 photographs taken by police constables Arthur Cross and Fred Tibbs, whose job it was to make a photographic record of the damage.
Published on the 75th anniversary of the start of the Blitz, this book is a magnificent memorial to the 29,890 people who were killed and 50,507 who were seriously injured during the air raids on London. It’s also a graphic reminder that the scale and detail of humanity’s worst aberrations cannot be grasped without maps.
THE LONDON COUNTY COUNCIL BOMB DAMAGE MAPS 1939–1945 by Laurence Ward; Thames & Hudson; £48 (hardback)
This review was published in the December 2015 edition of Geographical magazine.