Open Culture reports on a little-known use of fences & railings of south London housing estates doubled as emergency stretchers for wartime casualties.
Open Culture writes:
London is a particularly rich destination for visitors with an interest in World War II:
- Winston Churchill’s underground War Rooms…
- The Royal Air Force Museum…
- Blitz-specific walking tours…
- …and the scabby steel fences/railings surrounding a number of South London housing estates?
These mesh-and-pipe barriers look utterly unremarkable until one hears their origin story—as emergency stretchers for bearing away civilian casualties from the rubble of Luftwaffe raids.
The no-frills design was intended less for patient comfort than easy clean up. Kinks in the long stretcher poles kept the injured off the ground, and allowed for easy pick up by volunteers from the Civil Defence Service. Some 600,000 of these stretchers were produced in preparation for airborne attacks. The Blitz killed over 28,000 London civilians. The number of wounded was nearly as high. The manufacture of child-sized stretchers speaks to the citizens’ awareness that the human price would be ghastly indeed.
”I am almost glad we have been bombed,” Queen Elizabeth ‘the Queen Mum’ told a friend after Buckingham Palace was strafed in 1940. ”Now I feel I can look the East End in the face.”
Born of community spirit, it’s fitting that the stretchers continue to serve the community, replacing more ornamental fences that had been uprooted for scrap metal as part of the war effort. Few neighborhood residents, let alone tourists, seem aware of the fences’ history, as evidenced in the video above.
Perhaps the recently formed Stretcher Railing Society—for the promotion, protection and preservation of London’s Air Raid Protection Stretcher Railings—will change that, or at the very least, put up some plaques. See photos of the stretchers in action, then follow the Stretcher Railing Society’s map to their present locations.