The Thames at War...
...Saving London from the Blitz, from Pen and Sword
Title: The Thames at War
Author: Gustave Milne
Publisher: Pen and Sword Books
This new book from author Gustav Milne and publisher Pen & Sword Books proved to be even better than I expected, and I learnt a lot. I suspect that many who are interested in the history of WW2 will be well aware of the importance of the Thames during WW2, and how it became a marker for the pilots of the Luftwaffe during the Blitz. How many though will have heard of Sir Thomas Pierson Frank? I certainly hadn't.
Thomas Peirson Frank was the Chief Engineer for the London County Council throughout the war. He was clearly the right person in the right job at the right time. The book tells us the story of his organisation of the Department for Thames Flood Prevention, known more generally as simply Thames-Flood. The danger was that a high tide, coupled with damage to the river walls or bomb damage to tunnels beneath the Thames could lead to serious flooding of homes and, dangerously, the tube system where people were gathering for air raid shelters. Today we have the Thames Barrier for the same reason. During the war Thames-Flood had sandbags, timber and the debris from bomb damage to help rebuild the barriers against the water of the Thames. With 4 carefully selected sites along the course of the river, this tells us the story of what important work these crews undertook and the dangers they faced. I found it a fascinating story, based on archive records and 'boots on the ground' by research work along the river by the Thames Discovery Programme Group. The sections go on to cover the work of the Emergency Services, such as the Fire Service boats, ships which were lost as a direct result of enemy action, and those which were involved in the Dunkirk evacuation. The bridges across the Thames had to be protected/repaired and even Emergency Bridges were built, which I had not heard about before. Some Thames Lightermen even helped crew specialist vessels during the D-Day operations in June 1944.
During the war the work of Thames Flood was kept quiet, not only so Londoners didn't get over-frightened but so we didn't give the Luftwaffe any idea of what even more serious damage they might have done. I learnt a lot about the Blitz on London which I hadn't considered before. My one wish is that I could have had this book just three years ago so I could have shared it with my mother before she passed away at the age of 101, and who had lived and worked in London throughout the war. Definitely recommended.
Thanks to Pen & Sword for our review copy.