In London, A Bomb In The Basement Stirs Memories Of The Blitz | KERA News

In London, A Bomb In The Basement Stirs Memories Of The Blitz

Aug 11, 2015
Originally published on August 12, 2015 11:04 am

London is a historic city. Sometimes that history comes roaring into the present like a bomb out of the sky — or in this case, like a bomb in a basement.

The east London neighborhood of Bethnal Green was virtually flattened by German bombs during the second world war. But not all of those bombs detonated. And Monday night, residents got a knock on the door. It was the police, saying they'd have to evacuate. A huge unexploded bomb had been discovered underground Monday afternoon at a nearby construction site.

Bernie Lewis, 75, has lived in Bethnal Green his whole life. When police evacuated him Monday night, it brought back some of his earliest memories of what life was like during World War II, which ended when he was 5.

"It was terrifying, really, you know what I mean?" Lewis says. "Terrifying experience. I was 3 years old. You know, like, you could hear the bomb, the V-2 bombers, 'bum-bum-bum.' They whistle, 'whhhheeeeeeeeee.' And once the whistle stops, they drop."

During the Blitz, German planes dropped nearly 30,000 bombs on London in just three months.

The one that building contractors found lodged underground Monday afternoon is about a yard long and weighs 500 pounds.

Bomb disposal crews worked through the night to excavate and defuse the bomb, while about 150 people who live within the 650-foot blast radius exclusion zone slept in a nearby school.

"We're missing the luxury of home, but what can you do?" says 20-year-old Fasana Beghum. "They've literally got rid of everybody. ... Imagine it had gone off at some point in time, we would have all been dead! And now we're being evacuated? It is a bit ridiculous."

These kinds of discoveries are fairly run-of-the-mill in London.

"It's becoming less as we find more and more of them, but each year, we do have at least one or two devices that are found of this size," says Matthew Burrows of the London Fire Brigade. "They can't actually physically just pick it up and carry it out the doorways, because the doorways aren't big enough. So what they're actually having to do is create openings in the building."

Such episodes can make history come alive — sometimes a little too much. "It's always nice to see the history of London," says Burrows. "But it would be nice if it wasn't in such a location, really."

At the perimeter of the bomb disposal area, a garbage truck is loitering with three frustrated trash collectors.

One of them, Gary Coules, is trying to figure out what to do.

"We've got another eight, nine bins of rubbish in there. We just can't get it," he says. The presence of the bomb, "It's making us late and all."

A piece of history — a deadly weapon, a relic of World War II — on this morning, is just another obstacle in the trash collectors' route.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

London was settled about 2,000 years ago, so there's some history there. And sometimes that history comes roaring into the present from the most unexpected places. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports now on an unpleasant surprise in an East London neighborhood.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Bethnal Green was virtually flattened by German bombs during the Second World War. But not all of those bombs detonated. And all of these decades later, people last night got a knock on their door. It was the police saying they would have to evacuate - an unexploded bomb had just been discovered in a nearby basement.

BERNIE LEWIS: The war ended when I was 5, you know? I was 5 years old.

SHAPIRO: Bernie Lewis is now 75 years old. He's lived here his whole life. When police evacuated him last night, it brought back some of his earliest memories of what it was like to live here during World War II.

LEWIS: It was terrifying really, you know what I mean? A terrifying experience. I was 3 years old. You know, you could hear the bomb, the V-2 bombers - they whistle (whistling), and once the whistle stops, they drop.

SHAPIRO: During the blitz, German planes dropped nearly 30,000 bombs on London in just three months. The one that construction workers unearthed yesterday is about a yard long and weighs 500 pounds. Bomb disposal crews worked through the night on the excavation while about 150 people who live within the blast radius slept in a nearby school.

FASANA BEGHUM: Missing the luxury of home, but what can you do (laughter)?

SHAPIRO: Fasana Beghum is 20.

BEGHUM: They've literally got rid of everybody. Like, how long is it? It's like, 200-meter radius or something? But that's a large amount of space. And could you imagine if it had gone off at some point in time, we would've all been dead. And now we're being evacuated. It's a bit ridiculous.

SHAPIRO: These kinds of discoveries are actually fairly run-of-the-mill in London. Matthew Burrows is with the London Fire Brigade.

MATTHEW BURROWS: It's becoming less as we find more and more of them. But, you know, each year we do have, you know, at least one or two devices that are found of this size. They can't actually just physically just pick it up and carry it out the doorways 'cause the doorways aren't big enough. So what they're having to do is create openings within the building.

SHAPIRO: Does this make history come alive for you in a different way?

BURROWS: Yeah, it's always nice to see the history of London. But it would be nice if it wasn't in such a location, really.

SHAPIRO: At the perimeter of the bomb disposal area, a garbage truck is loitering with three frustrated trash collectors. Gary Coules is trying to figure out what to do.

GARY COULES: Well, we've got - must have over eight, nine ton of rubbish, you know? We just can't get it here, you know?

SHAPIRO: Because there's a World War II bomb.

COULES: That's right.

SHAPIRO: That's not a typical day.

COULES: Well, no, no. It's making us late and all.

SHAPIRO: A piece of history, a deadly weapon, a 75-year-old relic of World War II - on this morning, just another obstacle on the trash collectors' route. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.