Operation Chastise which destroyed the Möhne, Eder and Sorpe Dams was launched on the night of the 16th May 1943.
IWM FILM 2342. No. 617 Squadron practice dropping the bomb at Reculver bombing range, Kent. The bomb rises from the water after its first 'bounce'.
The raid carried out by the RAF employing the new bouncing bomb, resulted in the destruction of industry and the flooding of villages in the Ruhr valley with significant loss of life. This offensive is now embedded in our cultural memory through the 1955 film ‘The Dam Busters’. On the following night, the 17th May 1943 a high explosive bomb was dropped on East Surrey Grove, Peckham.
IWM HU 129143. East Surrey Grove, London, 17 May 1943.
The bomb caused deaths and the ruination of homes in this residential south east London street. It was one of a number of bombings on South and West London that night - reprisal raids for Operation Chastise. Twenty-four photographs of the East Surrey Grove incident have recently been discovered in the Imperial War Museum’s Photograph Archive, five of which are shown here. Passed by the Ministry of Information Press & Censorship Bureau for publication on 18th May 1943, these images reveal the hard reality of wartime London.
IWM HU 129140. East Surrey Grove, London, 17 May 1943
Here, further along this same street from where the first photograph was taken, people are gathered, looking at the remaining contents removed from homes by ARP (Air Raid Precautions) workers. Meagre possessions are set outside the destroyed houses amidst the rubble and debris. Exposed for all to see: the once private now made public, the personal open to scrutiny.
IWM HU 129148. East Surrey Grove, London, 17 May 1943.
The grim violent reality is captured here as a body is carried away on a stretcher across mounds of bricks where a house once stood. The ARP worker with spade in hand at the forefront of the photograph looks tired, his face serious.
IWM HU 129137. East Surrey Grove, 17 May 1943.
Mrs Eva King, her coat ripped and dusty talks to neighbours. A man hands a purse salvaged from the damaged home to his co-worker. A boy, hands in pockets looks directly at the photographer.
IWM HU 129141. East Surrey Grove, London, 17 May 1943.
Residents leave, seeking shelter, their belongings piled onto a handcart.
These photographs are selected from a very special archive of photographs as it shows the stark reality of what it was really like for the ordinary Londoner experiencing violent aerial bombardment from the first bombing of London on 22nd August 1940 to the last V2 missiles on the 27th March 1945.
Can you help with our research?
If you lived in East Surrey Grove or in the area in 1943 or knew anyone who did and have any memories or handed down knowledge of this incident, please do contact us through the blog at 'Submit Comment'. Henry Forrest’s brief reference to the death of a neighbour and the survival of Mrs King pictured above is all that we have by way of memories of the bombing of this street of terraced houses in South London.