Friday 17 May 2013
Dulwich in the war
It's not easy to imagine our peaceful, prosperous London suburb in wartime, bombs falling night after night, but the talk I attended this week by local historian Brian Green made it easier.
The outlines I could always have supplied from the stories told by my mother's family, who spent the war elsewhere in London, just a few years before I was born. Nine years before, like looking back to 2004 - it's no time at all. So close it must have felt to them when I was small: the shelters and the bombs, the rationing, the blackout and the air-raid sirens, the fear and the not knowing how or when it would end.
So I've always had some idea of how it must have been, here just a few miles from Westminster, always known that the spots of newer housing in the dense, homogenous Victorian architecture of Dulwich must be where the bomb damage was worst.
I didn't know that British Fascists, including William Joyce aka Lord Haw Haw, met here, sometimes in the very upstairs room at Dulwich Library where we heard Brian's talk. Didn't know that one of the grand Dulwich Village mansions housed agents-in-training from occupied Holland. Hadn't seen the photos of the park dug up for vegetable plots or the iron back-garden shelters or the shattered, burned-out houses in familiar streets.
Much as I appreciate the green spaces and comparative quiet of Dulwich, it's always felt to me, like the rest of London, rather unreal - not much local identity. These photographs and stories made it feel more real. And, shocking as they are, the way the place grew up again, seamlessly mended, feels rather comforting and hopeful. We live in daunting times, but so much less daunting than seventy years ago.
Photo from a Dulwich Society publication.