Parks at War: London, 1939-1945

By Jewell, David | Parks & Recreation, December 2000 | Go to article overview

Parks at War: London, 1939-1945


Jewell, David, Parks & Recreation


London, England is a favorite tourist destination that draws visitors with its rich beauty, history, art, theatre, shopping, dining, pubs, and friendly citizens. Perhaps one of its most noteworthy attributes is ifs numerous national and local governance parks that are sprinkled throughout London proper and surrounding boroughs. Even during the periods of accelerated growth following the Second World War and England's relaxed immigration policy, the citizens of London and their leaders resist the temptation to consume parklands and commons to ease the need for housing space. Along with its many other unique qualities is the sense of pride and reverence demonstrated by London citizens for their parks and commons. Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens Park, Green Park, St. George's Park, Battersea Park, St. James's Park, Wandsworth Common, Tooting Common and other parks and commons are central in the daily lives of London area citizens. When a Royal Parks official was asked to explain the reverent Spirit of Londoners towards their parks and commons, she answered that perhaps the best explanation outside of the crowded living conditions is World War II.

THE WAR YEARS, 1939-1945, WERE YEARS OF UNSURPASSED DEVASTATION AND PERSONAL SUFFERING FOR BOTH THE ALLIES AND THE AXIS. Many of the major cities in Europe were heavily bombed, but few allied capital cities were more heavily bombed than London. Initially, the German Air Force, or Luftwaffe, bombed primary targets in and around London that were considered essential in conducting England's war efforts. Eventually, however, Hitler ordered the destruction of the city in order to demoralize its citizens and destroy the country's resolve to resist German invasion. Hitler thought that by forcing the British to surrender, he could acquire a base for even further world domination, and open a doorway leading to the absolute domain of the Western World. Over eighty thousand London area citizens died in the bombings, enduring 101 daylight and 253 night bombings.[1]

SINCE THE END OF THE WAR, HISTORIANS HAVE WRITTEN VOLUMES REGARDING NOT ONLY THE COURSE AND THE OUTCOME OF THE WAR, BUT OF THE CONTRIBUTING FACTORS THAT LED TO THE FAILURE OF HITLER'S PLAN FOR THE DOMINATION OF THE WESTERN WORLD. Most would agree that with respect to the English, particularly the citizens of London, that Hitler grossly underestimated British resolve to resist and defend their homes and liberties. To those of us in the U.S., this spirit is significant. The failure to succumb to Hitler's onslaught not only delayed our entry into the war, giving us more rime to strengthen our fighting forces (which were still grossly inadequate upon our eventual entry), but it also guaranteed our military a land base from which to launch major offenses against the Nazis regime. Though the Lend Lease program was of significant assistance to the British, if is doubtful that Hitler could have occupied the island without sustaining substantial losses that may have permanently prevented his world conquest. Also, as one elderly war veteran remarked, "If he'd made it over, his lads wouldn't have wanted to stay long".

The significant role of London's parks in the war should not be underestimated. They were more than simple places to go to for escaping the realities of war. They helped feed families, provided a place to have a cup of tea and watch children being normal children, and gave us shelter during the air raids; their greenery was a pleasant change from the drab rubble of the bombings, and they were key to the defense of our homes.[2] The parks and commons also contributed to war production. One example is the day care program established in the borough of Wandsworth. To encourage married women with children to go to work, pre-school nurseries were provided. In July of 1942, the Battersea Council built temporary huts in Battersea Park and on Clapham Common. On average, these nurseries could take fifty children. …

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