CHAPTER 10 WAR DAMAGE AND REPAIRS

The Damage

When a town is struck by a tornado, when a village is wiped out by a river-flood or when a city is shattered by the explosion of a munitions factory, figures cannot even begin to indicate the misery and discomfort arising, apart altogether from the pain and suffering caused to the casualties. And yet figures have their place in any attempt to indicate the results of a catastrophe. Let us, therefore, try to understand a little of what the war meant to Walthamstow in terms of physical damage.

Before the war Walthamstow had something over 32,000 houses, flats and shops and the reported damage shows that 30,137 were damaged at least once, (if only by shell fragments or a window blown in or slates removed by blast), while many were damaged six, nine or a dozen times. The Fly Bomb and Rocket periods, owing to the greater area of blast damage, caused proportionately greater damage for fewer missiles than the greater number of less effective missiles in the 1940/1 Blitz.

The figures below, as at May 1945, will perhaps give some idea of the problem created by enemy action. One of the major problems created by this damage to residential property was the repair of the property where possible to render it fit for habitation.

Repairs

War Damage Repair work was originally one of the responsibilities undertaken by Mr. A. Howard Burton, as the Council's Building Works Manager, the preliminary surveys being undertaken by Mr. J. E. West (Housing Manager), and the detailed survey for the War Damage Commission by Mr. F. H. Heaven, A.R.I.B.A. (Education and Civil Defence Architect). From April 1941, Mr. West undertook the full surveys for classification purposes. After Mr. Burton's death in October 1944, Mr. Heaven accepted. an invitation by the Council to take on the responsibility for repair work and had a terrific task.

There were then still a number of pre-Fly Bomb houses needing repair - particularly those classified as uninhabitable - but the position was very much worsened by the fact that the first Fly Bombs occurred when Mr. Burton (who although a sick man would not admit the fact) was struggling along trying to do a job which he was, by reason of health, incapable of performing. Moreover, manpower and materials rapidly became almost unobtainable, the south of London which suffered even more severely than the north from Fly Bombs, absorbing most of what was available.

With the coming of the Rockets (and the Autumn) the Government at last wakened to the seriousness of the position and, under Mr. Heaven's control, our manpower was increased by the Ministries concerned until at one time we had over 4,000 men engaged on repair work. The stages and standards for repairs were fixed by the Government and broadly were as follows:-

Generally speaking we were not permitted to pro-ceed to Stage II(b) until we had brought all houses up to Stage II (a). By the end of March 1945, Stage II(a) repairs were being effected at the rate of over 1,000 houses per week, (in addition to such First Aid repairs as might be required by new Rocket or Fly Bomb incidents), and over 10,000 houses had been so treated since the beginning of November 1944. With more labour made available the repair work was stepped-up until at the end of April over 1,600 houses were being dealt with each week.

Period
Number of Houses, Flats and Shops*
Total
  Destroyed outright or requiring demolition Uninhabitable for long period ** Temporarily uninhabitable Damaged but habitable Only windows damaged  
Main Blitz (3rd September, 1939, to 30th May, 1941)
868
1,972
3,181
13,500
4,960
24,481
Remainder of War in Europe
420
849
2,850
29,288
13,961
47,368
 
1,288
2,821
6,031
42,788
18,921
71,849

* Repairs to Factories were not the concern of the Local Authorities but of the appropriate Ministry, although on occasions we helped.

** Some of these may be found to require demolition, and the figure of 1,288 (destroyed, etc.) will be increased.

Part I - General

Part IIa - The Services

Part IIb - The Services

Part III - The Story of the Raids

Part IV - Flying Bombs & Rockets

Part V - To the Unknown Citizen