Keep Calm and Carry On, proclaimed the poster which is now overused and overparodied. Ironically, the poster was never used — the campaign was abandoned just as the Second World War began. Instead, various photos taken during the war, of ordinary people ‘carrying on’ conveyed the same message.
Most famous of these photos was Fred Morley’s milkman, who was seen doing his rounds, even as the Blitz reduced the apartments of his erstwhile customers into rubble. The day was October 9th 1940 — the 32nd straight day of bombing raids on Britain. The Nazi invasion plans had been thwarted, as the weather conditions deteriorated into winter conditions, making massive aerial campaigns harder to sustain. The Luftwaffe had just switched its main effort into night-time attacks, which became their official policy just two days prior on 7th October. Although not as serious as in a raid two months later, St Paul’s Cathedral was hit on the early hours of October 9th, but the bomb failed to detonate.
A sea of destruction awaited Morley the next morning. Working for Fox Photos, he knew that if he took the pictures of the destroyed homes, his photos would not be published. A lot of his earlier work had been censored. In front of a back drop of firefighters struggling to contain a fire, he had an idea. He borrowed the coat and milk carrier from a milkman and asked his assistant to walk across the bombed moonscape. London carries on, the stage photo proclaimed, and the censor waved the picture through.
For the capital, tougher days were still ahead. On 14th and 15th October, the heaviest attack saw hundreds of German bombers dotting the skies above London. In ‘Second Great Fire of London’ on the night of 29th December 1940, nineteen churches, thirty-one guild halls and all of Paternoster Row, including five million books went up in flames. But the capital did carry on remarkably: the approval for the government’s conduct of the war nor the percentage of people believing Britain would win it barely dipped even during those dark days. A survey in December, after three months of air-raids, showed that in that surly British way, weather was a bigger worry for Londoners than the Blitz. In The Blitz: The British Under Attack, Julian Gardiner noted that Londoners seeking shelter in a tube station had a weekly discussion group at which the topics included travel, unemployment and “Should women have equal pay for equal work?” Lord Woolton, the popular Minister for Food, quipped, “egg rationing produced more emotion than the blitz.”
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