Collection of the week: The Blitz

This week's COTW focuses less on one particular collection, and more on one subject - the Blitz, which began in Britain 80 years ago this September, almost exactly twelve months after Britain had declared war on Germany.

It's a significant anniversary and our library offers an important resource for images of this wartime period when the German Luftwaffe, unable to force air superiority over the RAF during the Battle of Britain, instead changed strategy and began to focus on bombing industrial targets and urban areas around Britain. The first major raid took place over London on 7 September 1940, followed by aerial bombardments, usually under cover of darkness, over many of Britain's major towns and cities in a sustained campaign that was to last until May 1941. It is estimated that over this eight month period, around two million homes were destroyed and between 40,000 and 43,000 civilians lost their lives, with many more injured.

Despite these chilling statistics, the Blitz served to strengthen rather than weaken British resolve, invoking what we now remember as the famous 'Blitz spirit'. Some of this spirit is clear to see in the collection of the London Fire Brigade, which comprises the largest proportion of imagery we have on the Blitz in the capital. The Home Front History Collection, a set of pictures documenting the work of the Volunteer Corps of Canadian Fire-fighters, also offers views of the devastation wrought on the coastal cities of Portsmouth and Plymouth. Elsewhere, there are pictures gleaned from various collections showing civilians in shelters, or contemplating the ruins of their former homes, the King and Queen visiting the bomb victims of the East End, having suffered a direct hit at Buckingham Palace, as well as the role the Metropolitan Police played in the midst of this crisis.

Click here to see a selection and remember we can always search our digitised magazine archive for further images if you're searching for something specific.

We hope this email finds you safe and well. A quick reminder that the library is operating business as usual, but with staff working from home. If you have any questions or search requests, do email us at or call 020 8318 0034 and we will be happy to help.

Mary Evans Picture Library Ltd.  59 Tranquil Vale  Blackheath  London  SE3 0BS. United Kingdom.
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