‘Blitz Spirit’

‘Blitz Spirit’ by Tariq Ali for the London Review of Books blog, August 13, 2011

The general impression of the Blitz, fostered by war movies and many books, is of a period when intense national solidarity reigned supreme and class was transcended as everybody sang songs and went about their work. But Alexander Cockburn in Counterpunch draws attention to a piece by Gavin Mortimer (author of The Blitz) in the First Post on looting during ‘our finest hour’:

It didn’t take long for a hardcore of opportunists to realise there were rich pickings available in the immediate aftermath of a raid – and the looting wasn’t limited to civilians.

In October 1940 Winston Churchill ordered the arrest and conviction of six London firemen caught looting from a burned-out shop to be hushed up…

In April 1941 Lambeth juvenile court dealt with 42 children in one day, from teenage girls caught stripping clothes from dead bodies to a seven-year-old boy who had stolen five shillings from the gas meter of a damaged house. In total, juvenile crime accounted for 48 per cent of all arrests in the nine months between September 1940 and May 1941 and there were 4,584 cases of looting…

Perhaps the most shameful episode of the whole Blitz occurred on the evening of March 8 1941 when the Cafe de Paris in Piccadilly was hit by a German bomb…

“Some of the looters in the Cafe de Paris cut off the people’s fingers to get the rings,” recalled Ballard Berkeley, a policeman during the Blitz who later found fame as the ‘Major’ in Fawlty Towers. Even the wounded in the Cafe de Paris were robbed of their jewellery amid the confusion and carnage.read more

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