Under Bombs, 1940 and 2023

In July, I was in London for two weeks’ research for a follow-on to Advocating Overlord (more to come). After immersion in World War II documents all day inside Britain’s superb National Archives in Kew, I would repair to the banks of the Thames for dinner and a sunset (good for a recent widower). The Strand on the Green is lined with 18th century houses and four pubs. The Bull’s Head (1722) was preceded on its site by pubs going back to the 1650’s. One is reputed to have hosted Oliver Cromwell’s council of war. Nightly for me, history became seamless.

This is Kew’s Blitz story. The Luftwaffe bombers often followed the River Thames, which makes a sharp bend near Kew. When the bomber crews saw this bend, they knew London was behind them. They released whatever bombs they still had left to lighten the aircraft for a faster escape back to occupied Europe. Kew with no targets of importance in 1940, was under those bombs. The 1786 City Barge pub, farther up the strand, was one victim, but thrives today.

Close to mind in the warm, western light was this: 1,325 air miles to the east in Kyiv, people just like us were trying to enjoy the same summer evening, riverside, but under threat of aerial bombardment by a genocidal aggressor. The fight, then and now, in many ways is similar. Perhaps most simply, its essence comes down to light versus darkness.

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