Residents of London, England, often find themselves walking along unusual fences in older parts of the city. These barriers are uniform in size, structure, and material. They’ often look old and covered in layers of flaking black paint.
What most Lo
ndoners don’t realize is that what they’re leaning on, locking their bike to, kicking, or sticking gum to is actually a stretcher from World War II.
During the opening months of the war, Nazi Germany dominated the air with superior aircraft and production numbers. France quickly fell to the overwhelming fire and tactics, even with British expeditionary troops assisting.
The English were left with a sobering reality after their defeat at the Battle of Dunkirk: They had lost their only major battle on the European continent, and now the German war machine was fully mobilized and poised just across the English Channel. Britain had less than 8,000 aging aircraft ready to defend the home island.
While they continued to produce rifles, planes, bullets, and bombs, they also prepared for a much darker possibility.
Over 600,000 stretchers were hastily made to transport anticipated casualties. They were made with scrap metal taken from across the city. The design feature included a “crook” to keep the stretcher elevated from the bloody and wet ground. These stretchers were about to get their first test as Germany launched Adlertag, or “Eagle Day.” We know this as the Battle of Britain.
— Stretcher Railings (@stretchersoc) July 29, 2017
Nazi air power outnumbered the British by about 600 planes. As the Battle of Britain raged on, the British homefield advantage started to wear on the Germans. Ground radar allowed RAF planes to intercept Luftwaffe squadrons with pinpoint accuracy. AA guns tore enemy pilots to shreds.
Eventually, the Nazis were forced to halt the air attacks, losing 80% of their committed forces.
England won an underdog victory that halted Hitler’s ambitions on the British Isles for good. After opening a second front with the Soviet Union in 1941, the Germans had no more capacity to wage an offensive war with Britain and resorted to nuisance bombings and rocket attacks.
The stretchers were used, but the number of civilian casualties was only a fraction of the number England had predicted.
After the war’s conclusion, the surplus stretchers once created in part by scrapping steel fences went up to replace their parent barriers. The metal mesh and “crook” to keep the stretcher off the ground were left in place as they were welded in sequence. When told about this, people who pass the fences on their daily commute were stunned.
Now they sit where they have since the guns fell silent, an everyday reminder of the horrors of war.
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