Saturday, 25 October 2014

Berkeley Square 16th September 1940 - the bomb with(out) nightingales

Future Chancellor of the Exchequer, Hugh Dalton MP, wrote in his diary:
“Tuesday 17th September
Drive up from West Leaze with Wilmot and Gaitskell.  Arrive in Berkeley Square where we find that at 10.15 last night a bomb crashed right in front of our entrance, killing two Home Guards on my staff, flinging a mass of sand and sand-bags over everything, making a crater in the basement, and smashing nearly all glass in front, including my own room, and tearing up quantities of railings and stone work outside. Upstairs everything is a mass of broken glass, burst window frames, tattered curtains and general mess.  I take refuge for some days in Lord Finlay’s room and start sleeping in the basement in my War Room.  This is well-ventilated and proof against most hits or sound, though occasionally I am rocked in my sleep by distant bursts.
All this is rather disturbing to the work of the Ministry, but the spirit is generally cheerful.  On the other side of the Square two Georgian houses are completely destroyed by a delayed action bomb which turns them into a mass of brick dust and charred matchwood.  There are also other fires and explosions all around the neighbourhood.  Hitler seems to have a special spite against drapers’ shops in Oxford Street.”
(“The Second World War Diary of Hugh Dalton 1940-1945” edited by Ben Pimlott)

Dalton had been Minister for Economic Warfare since May 1940 and had his office in Berkeley Square House (on the map below it is on the right side of the Square)

The excellent West End at War website covers this incident, but the sequence of events can be clarified with the help of Dalton’s diary.  We can now tell there were three related but separate incidents in the Square, seemingly from bombs dropped on the evening of the 16th (at 10.15pm according to Dalton):
One exploded close to the entrance of Berkeley Square House
One fell close to Numbers 38-40 but did not detonate immediately, eventually exploding at around 05.31 on the 17th
One fell close to Number 30 but did not detonate immediately, eventually exploding at 01.16 on the 18th
This fits with Dalton’s diary, assuming he recorded the days’ events late in the evening of the 17th; at this point the bomb beside number 40 had exploded on the other side of the Square (numbers 38 to 40 are on the corner of Hill Street, on the left side of Square on the map.
The other delayed action bomb at Number 30 (top left corner on the map) had not exploded at that point but would do so in the early hours of the following morning. Dalton’s diary helps us understand the bombing was part of the raid on the evening of the 16th, not on the 18th as West End at War suggested.

ABOVE: Google Street View of the modern entrance in glass just above the red taxi

Who were the two men who died?
There were three Home Guard deaths on the 16th September in London.  From National Probate records we can identify Philip Seager Berry, age 35, son of Thomas William and Violet Seager Berry. B.A. (Cantab.)., as having died at Berkeley Square House.  On the assumption the second man came from the same Home Guard unit, then he was Theodore William Kenzion Hewelcke OBE, age 60, husband of Nina from South Croydon
Their unit seems to have been the 35th County of London (Civil Service) Battalion (CWGC refers to the ‘35th CITY of London Battalion’ and to the ‘35th County of London (Hackney) Battalion’))

Theodore Hewelcke was born in 1880 in Kingston, Surrey.  He was the fifth child of Wilhelm, a Prussian-born corn merchant, and Annie Louise Kirkham. Theodore was naturalised as a British subject on 21st March 1888.  Theodore seems to be missing from the 1891, 1901 and 1911 Census returns and the next glimpse we have of him is in 1920, as acting vice-consul in Baku, and the manager of the Russo-Asiatic Bank in the same city.  He was awarded the OBE, possibly for serving there during the Russian Revolution.  At some point he married Nina (maiden name uncertain, 1896-1960); there is no evidence they had any children.  By 1940 they lived in Arkwright Road, Sanderstead.

Philip Berry was born 1905 in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. In 1911 he lived in Stevenage with his father Thomas William Seager Berry who was a parliamentary agent, and his mother Violet, one sibling and three servants (cook, housemaid, nurse).  There is no evidence he married.  In 1940 he lived at Crossways, Stevenage, and in the Probate Calendar he left effects of £21,562, naming a solicitor and Frank Hollins, a civil servant.

And the nightingale?

The point is there were no nightingales!  In the song, the atmosphere that night was so enchanting that the most unlikely things were possible – angels dining at the Ritz and nightingales singing in Berkeley Square.

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