This is probably my favorite photograph of all time. It’s definitely my favorite photograph of London. I keep it on my desk and carry it around with me in a book when I travel.
But why? Why are you all dark and goth with a picture of destruction? Not so. That is not what this picture is…
This picture was taken on the night of December 29th, 1940 during one of the worse nights of the Blitz on London. Thirty minutes into the German attack 54 fires were burning. 120 tonnes of explosives and 22,000 incendiary devices had been dropped on the financial center of the city. 160 people lost their lives that night including 16 firemen. 500 people were injured.
So where is the joy in that? Stay with me. That night, as on every night of the Blitz, a group of volunteers were running along the roof of St. Paul’s – putting out fires as they started. They risked their lives as bombs fell towards the church – the largest target in central London. They couldn’t stop the destruction of the city, but “God Damn It!” they were not going to let the fascist take out the heart of London.
The night of the 29th, and morning of 30th of December this small group of volunteers saved St. Paul. The rest of the neighborhood was flattened and burned to a crisp.
St. Paul’s stood. The Allies declared victory in WW II. Today St. Paul’s sits in the middle of one of the largest and most powerful financial centers in the world, in one of the biggest and most prosperous cities on Earth.
And yes like the US, they’ve had a horrible 2016. The destructive Brexit vote tanked their currency overnight and led to an outbreak in hate crime. But this is what we should remember in 2017:
There will be dark days ahead. Fascists and authoritarians are rising back to power, in part because we didn’t learn our history well enough. But to this day St. Paul’s is still there. And all it took to save it, and inspire the world was a handful of volunteers that said, “Not on my watch.”
Here’s to the new battle, in the new year, against an old enemy. I’m ready. Who’s with me?