LONDON AT WAR
Twice during the 20th century London was at the centre of world events.
Almost one million citizens of Britain and its empire lost their lives between 1914 and 1918. Memorials to these men and women are scattered throughout London from the famous such at the Cenotaph and the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior to small, forgotten ones in a quiet corner of a small church. I’ll explain the stories behind them all. If you are interested in a particular person or unit - famous or otherwise - let me know in advance and I’m happy to carry out a little research to make our tour more relevant. Many of the momentous decisions of that war were made in buildings all over central London, and I know where they are.
In 1940 and early 1941 Britain stood alone facing the imminent threat of invasion
In 1940 and early 1941 Britain stood alone facing the imminent threat of invasion and London was subjected to the most sustained bombing attack then seen. But in those days the whole world was looking at London, in what was both its finest and darkest hour. In March 1941 the new American ambassador to London, John Gilbert Winant said ‘there is no place I’d rather be than London’ The Blitz is responsible for much of the look of London today and traces can still be seen today after 80 years, from scars on some of London’s most famous buildings to faded signs pointing to air raid shelters. And from 1942 there was a friendlier invasion as the US forces built up in Britain, prior to the D Day landings.
I can reveal to you where the Normandy landings were planned, I can take you where the US forces worked and relaxed, while forging the most successful military alliance in history. And I can show you the graffiti left by a bored GI on sentry duty. About 28,000 US servicemen died while based in this country. Their main monument is in the American Memorial chapel at the Eastern end of St Pauls Cathedral, but there are other memorials elsewhere in London. The two World Wars are the story of our own families. My grandfather served in the First World War and was badly wounded at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. In World War Two he served with a Civil Defence rescue squad, digging people out of bombed houses, despite being nearly 60 years old. Both my parents were children in London and lived through the nightly blitz, and told me tales of collecting pieces of bomb fragments the morning after an air-raid and swapping them with their school friends. I will add a couple more tours.
On the night of 8th September 1915, Central London suffered its first effective air raid as German Zeppelin L13 blasted and burned its away across London. In a raid lasting a little over 10 minutes, it became the worse single airship raid leaving 22 Londoners dead as well as 87 injured, and half a million pounds worth of damage.
This walk of about 3.2 miles (5 kms) from Russell Square to Liverpool Street station via Hatton Garden and Smithfield will follow the path of destruction of the Zeppelin commanded by 32 year old Heinrich Mathy, and visit some of the places that were hit by 15 high explosive and 55 incendiary bombs dropped that night.
I’ll examine how Londoners dealt with this new form of warfare, as well as visiting some other legacies of the First World War and discussing other First World War air raids on the capital and what happened to Mathy. This walk lasts about 2½ hours and visits parts of Central London slightly off of the usual tourist trail. It starts and finishes at an Underground Station.
Unknown Warrior walk
Shortly after 8:30 pm on the evening of the 10th November 1920 a coffin arrived at Platform 8, Victoria Station. It contained the body of an unidentified British soldier exhumed a couple of days before from the Western Front battlefields.
After remaining in the railway carriage with a guard of honour overnight, the following day it was placed on a gun carriage drawn by six black horses and taken from the station to Westminster Abbey via Hyde Park Corner, the Mall and Whitehall to Westminster Abbey where it was interred following a short funeral service. This walk of about 3 miles (4.8 kms) follows the route taken by the funeral procession that day. I will tell the story of the Unknown Warrior and the reasons behind the need for such a symbol. We will visit several other war memorials, some to individual regiments, others to another nations’ sacrifices, as well a memorial with some of the best sculpted statues of the 20th Century. We’ll see traces of the celebrations that greeted the Armistice in November 1918. The guided walk will last about 2½ hours and visits many famous sites in Westminster. This walk can of course be combined with a guided tour of Westminster Abbey where we will see the tomb itself as well as the other famous memorials inside this magnificent church.
On this guided walk we will learn about the Americans in London in the Second World War, see the site of the last V1 to hit London, where Glenn Miller spent his last night in London, and the American memorials in Grosvenor Square. We’ll also see where the largest concentration of anti-aircraft guns in central London were based, and the uses that the hotels and other buildings were put to in the war. There are memorials to British aircraft manufacturers as well as American volunteers in the Royal Air Force and the British Army in the Second World War. I’ll show you all the sights of Mayfair as well, including the Beatles first London home, a pub once owned by Madonna and a plaque to the Bee Gees.
What my clients say of my London at War Tours
“Mike is particularly strong on WWII history. He not only enlightened us on the history of what we were touring but told personal stories of his family at that time, making it even more relevant"
Bill & Susie, Florida