Film footage of London during WW2 is rare, thanks to the efforts of the film censor, but here’s a colour film from bombed-out London. It’s a compilation of smaller film snippets that have also been colourised by a Netherlands based film restorer who also specialises in colourisation.

It’s not perfect, as that takes far more time and money than is available, but it’s pretty good and really gives a flavour of what London was like during the blitz.

Static photos just don’t carry their same impact as film footage.

While London looks older as you would expect, and maybe even the bomb sites look like modern building sites, but it’s the silver barrage balloons that give London an unearthly appearance.

From the YouTube page:

  • 00:00 – South side of Westminster Bridge looking over to the Houses of Parliament. Probably blitz-damaged St Thomas’s Hospital on the left.
  • 00:37 – Buckingham Palace with “Guards” in Khaki uniform. On Sunday 18th June 1944, a German V1 flying bomb fell on the Guards’ Chapel in Wellington Barracks on Birdcage Walk, just a few hundred yards from the Palace, during Morning Service. 121 soldiers and civilians, including the presiding Chaplain, were killed, 141 were seriously injured.
  • 00:58 – The “Upper” Pool of London from London Bridge, river Thames.
  • 01:16 – Cigar shop near Piccadilly Circus, corner of Coventry Street and Great Windmill Street
  • 02:16 – Trafalgar Square. All the art treasures form the National Gallery at the top of the Square had been removed to secure storage sites in mines and caves at the outbreak of War.
  • 03:12 – Back to the “Upper Pool”.
  • 04:09 – “Blitz” bomb damage in the City of London. Many of these “bomb sites” were still there, overgrown with vegetation and weeds in the early and mid 1950’s.
  • 04:20 – Holborn with St Andrews church.
  • 04:48 – Back to the Piccadilly Circus cigar shop, and you can see the covered-over statue of “Eros” far left, to protect it from war damage. Looking towards Regent Street.
  • 06:08 – Looking across the River Thames from the Embankment to the “Shot Tower” on the left and the “Lion Brewery” on the right, on Waterloo”s South Bank. The brewery, together with a lot of bomb damaged slum housing, would be swept away to make room for the 1951 “Festival of Britain” site, but the Red Lion statue now stands at the bottom of the entrance to Waterloo main-line railway station in York Road.
  • 06:25 – Great Windmill Street, near the famous Windmill Theatre
  • 06:50 – More “Blitz” damage near Christ Church Greyfriars (still in ruins today)
  • 07:15 – “Blitz” damage in the City near Tower Hill.
  • 07:40 – St. Paul’s Cathedral: Christopher Wren’s masterpiece stands almost undamaged among the “blitzed” buildings.
  • 08:04 – More “Blitz” damage near (Location?)
  • 08:45 – A barrage balloon Goes Up in Westminster Gardens near the Houses of Parliament. The Balloon fabric” was a hard-wearing material with many uses in much demand in “austerity Britain” after the War!
  • 09:36 – Women’s Royal Army Corps personnel being instructed at an Anti- Aircraft battery in Hyde Park.
  • 10:10 – Might not be a gun, but a range-finder used to determine the altitude of a hostile aircraft.
  • 11:10 – Piccadilly Circus. Eros is “unclothed” and the motor vehicles and dress look pre-War. This footage is from the 1930´s. Apologies for overlooking this.
  • 11:29 – Trafalgar Square.
  • 12:04 – Hyde Park Corner, maybe pre-War. The railings haven’t been taken away to “build Spitfires”, and Speakers’ Corner is thriving, which was not allowed during the War.
  • 12:30 – Waterloo Station. A “king Arthur” Class locomotive brings in an express from Bournemouth or the South West of England
  • 13:33 – A “Mogul” brings in another train – note the porters hurrying towards the First-Class coaches! Probably pre/war. Rail travel was restricted during the War. “Is your journey really necessary?” and one would expect to see many more people in uniform, Royal Naval personnel travelling to and from “Pompey” and Devonport, as well as “brown jobs”, among the passengers. Certainly the Southern Railway wouldn’t be advertising “Summer Fares” at the ticket barrier.
  • 15:53 – A reprise of “Blitz” damage near Holborn, St.Andrews Church (at a different time of day)
  • 15:58 – Policemen near Philip Lane and Aldermanbury Avenue (now “Route-11”)
  • 16:04 – Another barrage balloon goes up, near the Tower and Tower Bridge (location?)
  • 16:17 – Back to Piccadilly Circus, looking towards Shaftesbury Avenue
  • 16:30 – VE Day celebrations, this is definitely 8th May 1945.
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4 comments
  1. JP says:

    Fascinating.
    All those people and hats ~ and no masks.
    The bombsites must have been a great playground for kids, accepting the appalling cost of their creation of course.

  2. Maggie Urquhart says:

    Thank you for posting this, very evocative and usefully explained. Thank you Ian for all you do to make London understandable.

  3. Deborah Willott says:

    Thank you for posting this film. What amazing footage and great that it has survived. I wonder how many of the service men and women in that film survived to the end of the war. I was also struck by how smart people looked.

  4. Stephen Hards says:

    Enjoyable colourized viewing. Too bad the text wasn’t as colourful. Hard to realize that everyone in those images… has probably passed on. Nice to see no one wearing jeans or walking looking down at their smartphones.

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