Tuesday, September 7th, 2010
Rare color footage of the London Blitz shot by air warden Alfred Coucher between September 7th, 1940 and May 10th, 1941 was recently found by his family in the attic where he had stored it after the war.
Coucher’s granddaughter, Carolyn Keen (not the author of Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, but she gets points for the awesome name anyway), expected to find some film in the attic, but she didn’t realize there was such a depth of detail about the war at home.
The family donated them to the St. Marylebone Society, an architectural preservation group that Alfred Coucher, who had been wartime mayor of Marylebone in west London, helped found. With support from the Westminster Council, the color film has been digitized and uploaded to the West End at War website in honor of the 70th anniversary of the Blitz. They are short clips of just a few minutes each, in total 20 minutes of footage.
As well as panoramic shots that bring to life the sheer extent of the bomb damage in 1940, the films superbly capture the Blitz spirit as Londoners carry on with their daily routine and double-decker buses run along roads cleared of rubble.
Although the East End of London suffered the worst damage during the Blitz, the films provide a rare glimpse of the destruction wrought in the West End – the heart of London’s theatre and shopping district.
The John Lewis store, which was hit by a German bomb as 200 people slept in its basement air raid shelter, has a large “open for business” sign despite a large part of it being reduced to a shell.
In another scene medics are seen carrying wounded civilians into ambulances, and Mr Coucher also made a training film to show other air raid wardens how to deal with incendiary bombs, fires and casualties.
There’s also footage of Winston Churchill reviewing a parade of civil defence workers in Hyde Park.
So much of London was destroyed. I forget that sometimes when I get grumpy about the questionable zoning choices the city has made the past 70 years. The color footage really brings it all into high relief, the enormity of the destruction and how people somehow still lived their lives. The pops of red, the bus driving through the rubble, the stretcher blankets, in this video I find particularly affecting.