Original classification rating: not rated.
This clip chosen to be PG
This clip from a home movie taken by Australian Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, captures London during the Blitz. It begins with an intertitle that introduces the subject and records that is ‘London the Blitz April 16th, 1941,’ 25 days before the end of the bombings. Buildings burn under orange flames that contrast against the blackness of the night sky. This is followed by footage of the West End after the Blitz, including bombed buildings and empty street scenes.
Sir Robert Menzies captures the atmosphere of London during The Blitz in 1941. The way Menzies slowly pans up and down damaged buildings using his silent colour home movie camera, shows his instinctive eye to record history. He takes a variety of footage from different angles including the view from a window of a multi-storey building.
This clip shows scenes – filmed by Robert Menzies, Australia’s prime minister at the time – of the night-time bombing of London during the Second World War, and scenes of damage in the city streets the next day. An intertitle, 'LONDON / THE BLITZ / APRIL 16TH. 1941’, introduces a night-time scene of burning buildings. Another intertitle, 'THE WEST END / AFTER THE BLITZ’, introduces footage taken the next day. A view over rooftops reveals smoke rising. There is footage of destroyed and damaged buildings in almost-deserted city streets. St Paul’s Cathedral is seen in the distance, and there is a barrage balloon grounded in a park.
Educational value points
- This clip was filmed on the night of 16 and the morning of 17 April 1941, during and after one of the most intense nights of bombing in London in the Blitz. More than 1,000 people died and more than 2,000 fires were started as a result of the raid, which was carried out by 685 German bombers. There was massive damage to infrastructure, and many homes, churches and historical buildings were destroyed.
- The clip provides rare colour film of an important historical event, taken by then Australian prime minister Robert Menzies (1894–1978). He recorded the raid as it happened and then filmed its immediate aftermath. Menzies filmed burning buildings from his hotel window and early the next day filmed the damage in London’s West End. Home-movie colour film was rare in the 1940s and most film footage of the Blitz is in black and white.
- Barrage balloons such as the one seen at the end of the clip were used as a defence against bombers in both world wars. At the outset of the Second World War, there were 450 in the skies over London; the number increased to 2,368 by late 1940. About 18.9 m long, they were attached to steel cables anchored to a winch on the ground. Their purpose was to deny low-level airspace to enemy aircraft, forcing them to fly higher and denying them bombing accuracy.
- Menzies includes film of an iconic building, St Paul’s Cathedral, which had become a symbol of survival during the Blitz. Its image – shrouded in smoke but intact after a devastating bombing raid on 29 December 1940 – was recorded in a famous photograph that inspired the population of London and the British people as a whole. Menzies would have been aware of the symbolism of its continued survival after yet another bombing raid when he filmed it barely four months later.
- Robert Menzies’s first-hand experience of the London Blitz gave him a personal appreciation of the War’s effect on the British population, and added to his conviction that Australia should support the war effort. He conveyed this view to parliament and to the Australian people on his return to Australia.
- Robert Menzies was in London to speak directly to Winston Churchill (1894-1965), Britain’s prime minister, about Australia’s vulnerability in the face of inadequate defences in Singapore. The Singapore Conference of October 1940 had alerted Australian officers to grave defence deficiencies. Menzies, on being informed, believed that he needed to go to London to urge Churchill to redress Britain’s neglect of the situation.
Thanks to the generosity of the rights holders, we are able to offer London, the Blitz, April 1941 from the home movie Menzies' Wartime Tour – England as a high quality video download.
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