WW2 was the deadliest conflict in the history of the human race, with an estimated 50 to 85 million casualties. Whilst China and Japan had already been at war over Japan’s aggressive domination of Asia, things didn’t heat up to a global level until Germany invaded Poland on 1st September 1939. Tensions continued to heat up as more countries found themselves caught up Germany’s invasions. So many lives were lost to war and genocide on an unprecedented scale that it was impossible to keep count amidst all of the horror. Nuclear weaponry was used, with devastating consequences to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki in an attempt to end a seemingly unstoppable war.
During WW2, as Nazi Germany desperately tried to take over Britain, our RAF took to the skies to valiantly defend our country with their lives. During the summer of 1940, a battle within the War had formed, with Winston Churchill declaring it The Battle of Britain:
“What General Weygand has called The Battle of France is over. The battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle, depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of a perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour”.”.
Hitler had a plan to besiege Britain by land and by water, in a fierce double-pronged attack dubbed Operation Sea Lion. On September 15th 1940, thanks to our RAF troops in the air, we took control of the skies, shooting down 56 of Hitler’s Luftwaffe, forcing him to abandon his plans for invasion. During a period aptly named The Blitz, Hitler’s air forces bombarded air bases, factories, manufacturing plants and anywhere else they felt was critical to Britain’s continued success in battle. On 25th October, 21 year old, Dundee-born Pilot Officer William Pattullo lost his life whilst defending us from Hitler’s army in the skies over Kent. Whilst the Battle of Britain officially ended on 31st October, having been fought and aerial superiority won by Britain, the Blitz continued to rage on until 21st May 1941.
London was the worst affected by the Blitz, being bombed by the German forces for 57 consecutive nights. Ports in places such as Plymouth, Southampton and Glasgow, to name only a few, came under heavy bombing. Despite perpetuating a myth that Hitler’s own granny came from the city (a story the people used to explain why we had escaped largely unscathed) it seemed that not even Dundee remained entirely without its war wounds.
On 5th November 1940, 8 bombs were dropped in Dundee – Farington Terrace; the gardens of Fernbrae Nursing Home; a home in Briarwood Terrace; a home at the junction of Marchfield Road and Middlebank Crescent; the back courtyard at 258 Blackness Road; the tenements at 19 Rosefield Street; near the power station on Forest Park Place and finally, one in Queen Victoria Works on Brook Street. There were three fatalities that evening as a result of the bombings; Elizabeth Cooper, a housekeeper, died in the bombing at Briarwood Terrace, and 2 others died during the collapse of the tenement building at 19 Rosefield Street.
Charles Toshney tells us that the bombings were perhaps part of an aborted air attack on the Tay Bridge, which could have been devastating to this part of the country. The civilian areas were not the intentended targets that night, but after the RAF chased off the German bombers, the pilots had to unload their bombs in an effort to facilitate a speedier escape. Unfortunately the citizens of Dundee were collateral damage for this aborted attempt to take out the bridge.
We found an online account from a lady called Lily R Fox, who kindly contributed her story to Dundee Central Library:
That night, my young sister, who was 10½ years old, myself (12), and my two cousins, Nancy (10½) and Bobby (7), went to the pictures at the Forest Park picture house with Mr and Mrs Gracie, who lived up my close and were friends with my Mum and Dad. In those days we didn’t say were going to see a film – it was “going to the pictures”. Well, in we went to the cheap seats, 4d for adults and 2d for children, because it was during the week and we only went to the dear seats (6d and 4d) on a Saturday night. We got settled down and sat engrossed watching the pictures. It must have been about 8 p.m. when we heard four loud bangs. That did not upset us, because there were two out-facing double doors on Forest Park Road and boys used to kick on the doors with their boots. That was what it sounded like, but the lights went out and the film stopped and then someone started to scream. Mr. Gracie stood up on a seat, shouted for order and told everyone to line up against the walls, because he said if the walls fell down, they would not hurt us if we were leaning against the walls. A silence then came over everyone, and the cinema manager came on stage and spoke to everyone. The emergency generator came on, and we had lights again. He asked everyone if they wanted to see the rest of the show. Of course, we said we wanted to stay and see the rest of the picture, so we sat down again and the picture came back on.
We must have been watching for about another 15 minutes, when the usherette came down shining her torch on all the people. My Mum was looking for her bairns, so we had to go out with her. Also we had Nancy and Bobby, whom we took up to Rosefield Street and handed over to my Auntie Nan. They lived in number 7 Rosefield Street and one bomb had gone through number 9. When we came out of the pictures, that was when shock set in. Of course everything was in darkness, but the streets were littered with debris. Slates, stones, bricks, wood, chimneys, walls and glass covered the roads and pavements. There was not a clear space to put your feet down. Everything was covered with muck and all the shop windows were blown in.
We got home to Miss Kerr’s house: she had a low door and when an air raid was on during the night, my Mum lifted the three of us and we slept, covered with blankets, on Miss Kerr’s floor underneath her big table, until the “all clear” went. Next day, when we went off to school (I was at Logie School), we had to stand in our lines all morning in the playground, because all the classrooms were littered with glass. All the windows had been blown in because of the blast, and there was a huge hole in the roof where a huge piece of wall had gone through the big hall roof. We were finally sent home at 12 o’clock and told not to come back until further notice. It took months and months for the repairs to be done, as it was such a big job. So we lost almost a full year of schooling, because all the men were away to the war and it was only the old men who could get on with the work. Also it was very difficult to get materials to complete the work needing done.
The havoc one string of bombs caused in Dundee that evening! Luckily, only one person was killed. We were very lucky that night, because a bomb fell on the electricity generator for Dundee, which was next door to the picture house. 20 yards nearer and it would have been on us, and there would have been a lot of deaths and injuries. God was looking over us that night.
Lily R. Fox. via Dundee Central Library
The evening telegraph also ran a story detailing another Dundee resident’s account of the bombings. George Wilmott’s interview can be read on the evening telegraph’s website by clicking this link.
WW2 eventually ended with the unconditional surrender of the Axis forces (detailed on the chart below). The Nazi concentration and extermination camps which claimed around 11 million innocent lives, were neutralised. The Italian dictator, Mussolini was captured on 27th April and executed the following day; his body being taken to the Piazzle Loreto of Milan and hung up for all to see. Two days following Mussolini’s execution, Adolf Hitler and his recently wedded wife, Ava Braun, committed suicide. Germany soon fell to the might of the opposition and had fully surrendered by 8th May 1945, hence why we celebrate VE Day (Victory in Europe Day) on 8th May.
Japan had other ideas, however, and was still having its Pacific War with China (which predated WW2). Fearing another huge escalation, allied forces prepared for an invasion of Japan’s mainland. By late July of 1945, Japan was told to surrender or expect “prompt and utter destruction”. With no sign of relenting from the Japanese side, President Truman of the United States of America ordered an atomic bomb known as Little Boy to be dropped on Hiroshima, killing tens of thousands of people instantly, with the effects of radiation continuing to slowly kill thousands more people as time went on. Truman again called for Japan’s surrender, telling them that their failure to do so would result in “rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth”. Three days after his threat, Truman stood by his threat and dropped a Fat Man bomb on Nagasaki. Within a second of impact, the North of Nagasaki had been completely destroyed, and approximately a fifth of the population wiped out. This was the last time in history, to date, that nuclear weapons have been used in war.
WW2 Deaths statistic: “World War II Casualties” by TheShadowed at English Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:World_War_II_Casualties.svg#/media/File:World_War_II_Casualties.svg
Bomb damage image courtesy of evening telegraph. http://www.eveningtelegraph.co.uk/2015/07/10/dundee-angus-and-fife-hit-by-german-bombs-in-battle-of-britain/
– DD Tours operates walking tours in Dundee city, covering dark local history such as wars, battles, murders, diseases, riots, disasters and executions. Walk with us for an unforgettable storytelling experience.