We'll Meet Again

The German Destroyer in Finsbury

The captured Messerschmitt Bf 110, pictured above on display outside Finsbury Town Hall, Garnault Place in October 1940, became the most photographed Luftwaffe plane of WW2.

The aircraft was a twin-engined heavy fighter or ‘Zerstörer’ (‘Destroyer’ in English) flown by the Luftwaffe and some other nations during WW2. It was championed by Hermann Göring who nicknamed it ‘Eisenseiten’ (‘Ironsides’). The Bf 110 was a successful aircraft in the early stages of WW2 in the Polish, Norwegian and French theatres of war. However, its lack of agility in the air was its primary weakness and this was exposed during the Battle of Britain (10 July – 31 October 1940). Some Bf 110 equipped units were withdrawn from the battle after heavy losses and redeployed very successfully as night-fighters. It enjoyed a successful period following the Battle of Britain as an air superiority fighter and strike aircraft in other theatres of war. During the Balkans Campaign, North African Campaign and on the Eastern Front it provided valuable ground support to the German Army as a fighter-bomber (Jagdbomber/Jabo). Later in the war it was developed into a formidable night-fighter, becoming the main night-fighting aircraft of the Luftwaffe.

Full scene of Bf 110 S9 + CK being observed by the public in Garnault Place

The aircraft seen on display at Garnault Place, Bf 110 S9 + CK, was originally part of a large German attack during the Battle of Britain that took place on 15th August 1940. The Luftwaffe had put together a force of 1120 aircraft to attack the airfields and airfield installations of Fighter Command, from Newcastle in the north to the Solent in the south. German aircraft came from airfields in Norway, Denmark and France.

The Bf 110 S9 + CK was one of 16 fighter-bombers from 2 Staffel Erprobungsgruppe 210 (2./Erp.Gr.210) that took off from Calais-Marck airfield in Northern France. It was piloted by Oberleutnant Alfred Habisch and crewed by Radio Operator Unteroffizier Ernst Elfner. They targeted the airfield at Martlesham Heath in Suffolk and destroyed some workshops and the officers mess. Two hangers were seriously damaged and the attack also ruptured the watermains and disrupted telecommunications.

Colourised image of the Bf 110 S9 + CK being dismantled in Garnault Place, Finsbury, 1940.

The aircraft of 2./Erp.Gr.210 then went on towards London, escorted by 8 Messerschmitt Bf 109s. Their target was Kenley but, flying into the low setting sun, they mistook the South London airfield of Croydon which was a civil airport being used by the RAF as the target. As they commenced their bombing run, Hurricanes from 32 Squadron Biggin Hill and 111 Squadron Croydon arrived on the scene. While the Bf 109 escort departed and escaped largely ignored by the Hurricanes, the German fighter-bombers, led by Hauptmann Walter Rubensdorffer released their payload of bombs on the buildings below.

The suburb of Croydon shook as explosions shattered the airfield. Surrounding houses were damaged as blast waves tore holes in walls and one house had its roof lifted. The blasts were felt as far away as Woolwich and the Houses of Parliament in Central London. It’s not known if Rubensdorffer was aware that Croydon was a suburb of London. At this time, Hitler’s explicit orders were that London, including its dockland area and suburbs, were not to be attacked or bombed. Anyone violating this order would be court-martialled if they survived such an attack. Rubensdorffer would never find out if he would be court-martialled for what became the first ever bombing raid on London in WW2. His crippled aircraft crashed as he tried to guide it back to base after the attack, killing both himself and his crewman.

The Bf 110 S9 + CK in a hangar

While being chased by the Hurricanes of 32 and 111 Squadrons as they tried to escape, the Bf 110s actually flew over the airfield at Kenley that had been their intended target. One by one they were hit and had no time to go into their defensive circle pattern, their only means of defence against the British fighters. Some tried to keep altitude and head for home, others became victims of the chasing fighters and crashed into the heavily populated suburbs around Croydon and Purley. The Bourjois Perfume Factory in Croydon sustained a direct hit. Sixty people died and over 180 were injured. A number of the German aircraft also came down in the fields of Kent and Sussex, of which S9 + CK was one, coming down at Hawkhurst in Kent. Others struggled to make it back to their base in France with many crashing into the Channel.

Habisch and Elfner both survived the crash and were captured by the local Home Guard. Elfner suffered a bullet wound to his right hand. Both crewmen were eventually shipped off as POWs to Canada. Their aircraft, still mostly intact, was later displayed outside various locations, including Finsbury Town Hall, as part of a ‘Victory Tour’ during the Battle of Britain. It was then shipped to the USA on the SS Montanan in April 1941 and passed to the Vultee Aircraft Corporation for evaluation.

Article produced for the exhibition We’ll Meet Again: Islington on the Home Front in Photographs (1935-45) by Islington Museum volunteer, Johnny Baird.

We'll Meet Again

We’ll Meet Again: Carry On!

As part of the exhibition We’ll Meet Again: Islington on the Home Front in Photographs 1939-45, we delve further into life on the Home Front for the people of Islington and Finsbury during the Second World War.

Whilst the people of Britain had to adapt to new ways of living in the Second World War, there were many aspects of their lives that ‘carried on’. The now well-known term ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ was one of three key phrases created by the Ministry of Information, Britain’s wartime propaganda department, in the Summer of 1939. Whilst the phrase was not seen by the public at the time, the stoical manner in which British people dealt with the Second World War is now often described as keeping calm and carrying on.

Many practical elements of life in Islington and Finsbury endured, but in a modified way. Weddings were adapted for the time, with the ceremonies taking place in a sandbagged Islington Register Office; vaccinations for babies took place in vans, such as the Islington mobile diphtheria immunisation clinic; communities came together to support those who required assistance and formalised support, such as the Ministry of Food’s Welfare Food Service provided free or subsidised cod liver oil and canned orange juice for children under five and pregnant women.

Childhood treats, such as sweets and chocolates, were still available, although rationed from 26 July 1942 all the way through until 5 February 1953. Rationing amounts fluctuated throughout the war from 16oz a month down to 8oz. Cadbury launched more economically sustainable ‘Blended’ and ‘Ration’ bars, made with skimmed-powdered milk, which were described as being “as appetising as eating cardboard.”

In spite of the many hardships faced by those on Islington’s Home Front, people did their best to persevere and ‘carry on’ with life.

Islington’s Home Front

Sandbag wedding, Islington Registry Office, 1939

In the first ‘sandbag wedding’ of 1939, 20-year-old Corporal Charles White of the 1st City of London Regiment leaves Islington Register Office with his bride, 18-year-old Harriet Nock. The happy couple obtained special permission to get married and enjoy a summer wedding. Notice how the entrance to the building is covered in protective sandbags, by then a familiar sight.

Charles and Harriet lived in Gainford Street, Barnsbury, and happily both survived the war. They later moved to nearby Richmond Avenue.

[Historic England: MED 01/01/1227]

London Fever Hospital, Islington, 1 January 1940

The caption on the reverse of the original photograph reads, “Off-duty fun. Picture shows nurses of the London Fever Hospital, Liverpool Road, and St Bart’s students enjoying themselves during their off-duty period.” They were enjoying ‘frozen frolics’ on the hospital’s tennis court on New Year’s Day 1940.

The London Fever Hospital also became a general hospital during the War, with beds allocated for patients from bomb-damaged hospitals.

Finsbury Town Hall, Garnault Place, after 15 August 1940

This remarkable photograph shows a German Messerschmitt BF110 that was shot down over Kent, following a raid on Croydon on 15 August 1940. It was displayed outside Finsbury Town Hall as part of a ‘Victory Tour’ during the Battle of Britain.

The aircraft was probably the most photographed aircraft of the Luftwaffe and the image here shows Finsbury residents getting a close-up view of an enemy plane. The Messerschmitt was then shipped to the USA for evaluation in Spring 1941.

Firewood piles, Islington, 1940/41

Islington residents gather free firewood from the pile of debris collected from destroyed buildings. While brick, stone and some other materials were salvaged for reuse following bomb damage to buildings, timber was available to collect as an alternative fuel to coal.

The Fuel and Lighting (Coal) Order 1941 came into force in January 1942. Central heating was prohibited in the summer months. Domestic coal was rationed by the government to 762 kg for those in London and South East, less than those in the north, due to the milder climate in southern England.

Finsbury Food Office Mobile Unit, 1942

Food rationing in Britain was introduced in January 1940 for all adults regardless of age, wealth and status. Children and babies received extra rations of meat and milk.

In 1942 the Ministry of Food launched the Welfare Food Service. This provided free or subsidised cod liver oil and canned orange juice for children under five and pregnant women. The Ministry encouraged Jamaica and British Honduras to produce the oranges used. This cheerful photograph shows the women and younger children of Finsbury outside the borough’s Food Office Mobile Unit, where the oil and juice were dispensed.

[Historic England: MED01/01/3790]

Holloway Prison, Islington, 30 August 1943

The caption on the reverse of the photograph reads, “The Prison Nursing Service. Picture shows Sister Alice Shearer, the creche sister, with some of the babies born in the prison.”

HM Prison Holloway employed state-registered nurses who were qualified midwives. Mothers with babies born while detained in Holloway could care for them in their spare time, and children were looked after in the nursery while the women worked. 

Islington mobile diphtheria immunisation clinic, 1945

Diphtheria is a highly dangerous and contagious bacterial disease primarily affecting children. Diphtheria causes a thick covering in the back of the throat, leading to difficulty breathing, heart failure, paralysis, and potential death. The Second World War prompted a number of developments in vaccinations for the protection of soldiers and civilians, including one for diphtheria.

The free diphtheria vaccination was introduced in 1940, reducing the number of cases from over 46,000 in 1940 to 962 in 1950, and the number of deaths from 2,480 to 49.

Next week will be our final installment of images from the exhibition We’ll Meet Again: Islington on the Home Front in Photographs 1939-45. Next week we’ll be looking at VE-Day celebrations in Islington and Finsbury during the Second World War.