At Islington Museum we are lucky to have a dedicated team of volunteers that share their skills and expertise with us regularly. These volunteers assist us with a huge range of activities on a daily basis, from customer service, to collections work, educational assistance and research. A recent addition to the volunteer team is Johnny, who moved to Islington in 2019 and assisted with the We’ll Meet Again exhibition by researching and writing the articles Each bob you pay keeps the bomber away: The Islington Spitfire and The German Destroyer in Finsbury.
In the below piece from Johnny, he talks of his experience researching life in Islington during the Second World War. Thanks from everyone at Islington Museum and Islington Local History Centre to Johnny and our fabulous team of volunteers who helped bring this exhibition to life, including Anne Marie and Julia.
Helping out on the WW2 Exhibition project has been a great experience for me, especially as it has taken me back to my nerd like interest in WW2 as a child.
Researching what happened in and around Islington during the Blitz was extremely interesting and informative. It was an aspect of the war of which I was aware but didn’t have a great knowledge of. My own home city of Belfast also suffered during the wider blitz, especially around the east of the city where I grew up as that was where the Harland & Wolf shipyard and Short and Harland aircraft factory were based. It wasn’t on the same scale as London, with only four raids recorded, but caused widespread damage and many people lost their lives.
The second raid, on the night of Easter Tuesday 15th April 1941, was undertaken by 150 German bombers targeting the city waterworks, harbour area and shipyard amongst others. Fifty-five thousand houses were damaged leaving 100,000 people temporarily homeless, 1500 injured and over 900 dead. It was the greatest loss of life in a night raid outside of London during the Blitz.
While I was aware of what happened it wasn’t something that was often spoken about by my family or others. As a child I used to play in my grand-parents back garden and over in one corner was an old, small concrete out building, big enough for me to stand up in that was used as the coal bunker. It was only years later that I found out that it had been built by the original owner of the house as an air raid shelter during WW2. That was my first introduction to the reality of how people lived at a time of war not knowing when the next raid would come or where the next bomb might fall.
This memory came flooding back to me as I looked through the photographs and read accounts of the people of Islington from this time. It was while doing this that I found a piece of information that brought the experience of the blitz a lot closer to me than I expected.
While consulting a bomb damage map for some information on a particular street for one of the archive photographs, I happened on the street where I now live. I saw that there was a little group of three houses toward one end of Ripplevale Grove that were colour coded as having been damaged. They were the only ones in the street that had been hit. On closer inspection I found that the house in the middle that had been ‘damaged beyond repair’ was my house! It had been totally rebuilt while the houses on either side that had been badly damaged were able to be repaired. Later I found an eye-witness account of what may have happened from someone who had been sheltering in a public shelter around the corner on Hemingford Road. It seems an unexploded anti-aircraft shell had fallen back down and exploded on hitting the house, causing massive damage. Other reports say that it was a high explosive bomb. Luckily the occupants of the house were already in one of the public shelters and escaped injury.
The photographic exhibition We’ll Meet Again: Islington on the Home Front in Photographs (1939-45) shares a series of captivating images of the people and places in Islington and Finsbury during the Second World War; shedding light on the hardships endured and perseverance demonstrated by those that lived through this historic time.