The safest building in Britain?

The safest building in Britain?

This is Senate House, London WC1E 7HU. part of UCL, I had to go visit there a few months ago because they run an effing huge computing centre there and wanted to host our services there too. Interesting building, completed in 1937, it has two claims to fame, one well known, one not so well known.

1. Well known; during the Second World War, the building housed the Ministry of Information, George Orwell’s wife worked there in the censorship department and it is thought that it was the inspiration for his book 1984.

2. Not so well known; Hitler admired the building hugely and – I kid you not – he ordered that Senate house wasn’t to be bombed,  when he was ruling Britain he wanted to use Senate House as his headquarters when in London. Therefore the Luftwaffe was under strict instructions not to bomb anywhere near Senate house. Buckingham Palace got hit, St. Paul’s Cathedral got hit but the second tallest building in London (after St Paul’s Cathedral) was left unscathed.  Obviously it was a good place to put the Ministry of Information but I wonder if Churchill had known what we know today then would he have moved the Cabinet War rooms to Senate House. And I wonder, during the air raids and with all the sirens going off, did the staff all run down and shelter in the air raid shelters and London Underground, because of course, the safest place they could possibly be was sitting at their desks.

Who and what got bombed during the Second World War wasn’t really as well thought out as everyone assumed it was. You might imagine all the top brass in Germany discussing with their intelligence sources which are high priority targets but in actual fact they used a tourist guide book. Yes, really. OK, not for all raids but for a few. What happened was that the Royal Air Force here changed their strategy and started bombing towns rather than industrial complexes, the aim being to knock the spirit out of the Germans. However, in Germany, Baron Gustav Braun von Stumm, is reported to have said on 24 April 1942 following the first attack, “We shall go out and bomb every building in Britain marked with three stars in the Baedeker Guide.” And therefore the following towns of zero military significance  got bombed;

Exeter (23 and 24 April; 3 May)
Bath (25 and 26 April)
Norwich (27 and 29 April)
York (28 April)

And following the bombing of Cologne;
Canterbury (May 31; 2 June and 6 June)

So, I wonder how the good folk of these towns felt like, I’m sure they were justifiably proud to get three stars in some German tourist guide but I wonder did the local Chamber of Commerce realise that having three stars can be a double edged sword.

And I also wonder what is happening today, is al Qaeda looking at tourist guides of here and of the US and marking everywhere with more than three stars as targets and are they looking at One Canada Square, Canary Wharf and thinking come the revolution this is where we shall rule the UK from…

(And I wonder, do I think too much? 😉

Leave a Reply