Totally Thames, the annual month long celebration of London’s river, is once again in swing with a host of events to join in on. The packed programme includes walks and talks such as Friday’s walk exploring the maritime heritage of Deptford, visual arts installations including Maria Arceo’s Future Dust (pictured), and on-river events such as this weekend’s Classic Boat Festival at St Katharine Docks and the marathon Great River Race involving traditional boats as well as a host of musical performances, film screenings, exhibitions and pop-up festivals. Events run over September. For more information on the programme, visit totallythames.org. PICTURE: Courtesy of Thames Festival Trust. © Hydar Dewachi.

The role RAF Kenley Airfield played in the Battle of Britain will be highlighted in a “Sky Heroes” event at the site this Sunday. RAF Kenley Airfield, which is where Winston Churchill learned to fly, is the most intact fighter airfield from World War II and played a unique role in defending Britain from the German Luftwaffe. Celebrating its centenary, it was one of three main fighter stations, along with Croydon and Biggin Hill, charged with the air defence of London. The day, which is free to attend, will feature guided tours, museum and archaeology stands and replica Spitfire and Hurricane planes in which visitors can sit and have their photos taken. A free shuttle bus service will be operating from nearby stations. The day is being held under the auspices of the Heritage Lottery funded Kenley Revival Project, a partnership between the City of London Corporation, Kenley Airfield Friends Group and Historic England. For more, see www.kenleyrevival.org.

Win one of 20 London is Open for Summer posters signed by the artist Quentin Blake. The limited edition posters went on sale this week for £10 with all proceeds going to the Red Cross UK Solidarity Fund and to mark that event, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has launched a social media competition, giving away 20 of them. For details of how to take part, head to www.london.gov.uk/londonisopen. The winners will be announced next week. To purchase one of the posters, head to www.ltmuseumshop.co.uk/new-in.

The 16th tradition of still life meets modern art at the Guildhall Art Gallery’s latest exhibition, Nature Morte. Featuring 100 words of art covering themes ranging from flora and fauna to domestic objects and food, the display features works by major international contemporary artists like Michael Craig-Martin and Gabriel Orozco as well as works by London-based artists and from the City of London’s own historic collection. The exhibition, which is being put on by MOCA London in partnership with the gallery, runs until 2nd April. Admission charge applies and there’s a series of talks to accompany the display. For more, follow this link.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

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The final in our series looking at London ‘battlefields’, this week we take a look at the so-called Battle of London, the air war fought over London during World War II which, along with the bombing of other British cities, is best known by the phrase The Blitz (it forms part of the greater Battle of Britain).

Blitz-memorialTaking place from the afternoon of 7th September, 1940, until May, 1941, the Blitz saw London sustain repeated attacks from the German Luftwaffe, most notably between 7th September and mid November when the city was bombed on every night bar one.

The night of 7th September, the first night of the Blitz (a short form of ‘Blitzkrieg’ – German for ‘lightning war’), was among the worst – with more than 450 killed and 1,300 injured as wave after wave of bombers attacked the city. Another 412 were killed the following night.

One of the most notorious raids took place on 29th December when  incendiary bombs dropped on the City of London starting what has been called the Second Great Fire of London. Around a third of the city was destroyed, including more than 30 guild halls and 19 churches, 16 which had been rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London in 1666.

The city was only attacked sporadically in the early months of 1941 but the night of the last major raid of the Blitz – that of 10th May, a night subsequently known as The Longest Night – saw the highest casualties of any night with almost 1,500 people reportedly killed.

The Blitz killed almost 30,000 civilian in London, and destroyed more than a million homes with the worst hit districts poorer areas like the East End.

The battle wasn’t one-sided – the RAF fought the Luftwaffe in the skies and did have some wins – on 15th September (a day known as Battle of Britain Day), for example, they shot down some 60 aircraft attacking London for the loss of less than 30 British fighters.

It was this victory which led the Germans to reduce the number of daylight attacks in favour of night-time raids which, until the launch of the RAF’s night-time fighters in 1941, meant they met little effective resistance. This included that of ground defences – throughout December, 1940, it’s said that anti-aircraft fire only brought down 10 enemy planes.

Yet, the Blitz did not lead to a German victory. For the Nazi regime, the purpose of the constant bombing of London (and other cities) was aimed at sapping the morale of its residents to the extent that they would eventually be forced to beg for peace. But the plan failed and Londoners, digging deep, proved their mettle in the face of fear.

Hundreds of thousands of people were involved in  Civil Defence working in a range of jobs – everything from air raid shelter wardens to rescue and demolition teams – and worked alongside firefighters whose numbers were supplemented by an auxiliary service. Naturally all suffered a high level of casualties.

As the weeks passed, the carnage mounted in terms of the loss of and damage to life, destruction of property and psychological toll. And yet the Londoners – sheltering Underground, most famously in the tunnels of the Tube – survived and, as had been the case after the first Great Fire of London, the ruined city was eventually rebuilt.

There are numerous Blitz-related memorials in London, many related to specific bombings. But among the most prominent are the National Firefighters Memorial, located opposite St Paul’s Cathedral, which pays tribute to the firefighters who lost their lives in the war (as well as in peacetime), and a riverside memorial in Wapping honouring civilians of East London killed in the Blitz.

Houses-of-Parliament

Of course, no look at London sites associated with Sir Winston Churchill would be complete without a mention of the Palace of Westminster, better known as the Houses of Parliament.

Churchill made his maiden speech in the House of Commons on 18th February, 1901, having won the seat of Oldham for the Conservative Party the year before (he switched to the Liberal Party in 1904 and eventually rejoined the Conservatives in 1924).

Over his long career in politics (he was an MP for 62 years), he served in a variety of roles including the President of the Board of Trade, Home Secretary, First Lord of the Admiralty, Minister of Munitions, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and twice, Prime Minster.

Some of the most famous speeches Churchill gave in the House of Commons were during World War II – they include the ‘blood, toil, tears and sweat’ speech given on 13th May, 1940 – the first after he had been made Neville Chamberlain’s replacement as PM, the ‘we shall fight them on the beaches’ speech given on 4th June, 1940, and the ‘this was their finest hour’ speech of 18th June, 1940, in which he gave the ‘Battle of Britain’ its name and, as the name suggests, first recorded the phrase “their finest hour” (the speech ended with it).

Churchill’s last speech to Parliament was given on 1st March, 1955, in which he spoke about the British development of a hydrogen bomb.

There’s several places within the Houses of Parliament which now bear Churchill’s name. Among them are the Churchill Room (named as such in 1991 when ownership of the room passed from the Lords to the Commons, it features two of his paintings and a bronze bust of the PM).

They also include the Churchill Arch – this leads from the Members’ Lobby into the Commons Chamber and is flanked by a 1969 statue of Churchill ( and one of fellow former PM, David Lloyd George (one foot on each of the statues has been burnished thanks to the practice of MPs to touch them as they enter the Commons Chamber).

It took on its current name after it was rebuilt following damage from bombs during World War II – at Churchill’s suggestion damaged stone was reused in its construction as a memorial to the “ordeal” Westminster had endured during the war. The statue of Churchill, incidentally, was the focus of recent commemorations on the 50th anniversary of his death.

Churchill’s stamp can also be seen on the Commons Chamber itself – it was he who recommended that when the chamber was rebuilt after World War II that it retain its rectangular shape rather than be redesigned in a semi-circle.

Churchill’s body lay in state in Westminster Hall prior to his funeral service in January, 1965 (for more on that, see our previous post here.

For more on Churchill’s Parliamentary career, check out the UK Parliament’s Living History page here: www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/private-lives/yourcountry/collections/churchillexhibition/.