Tuesday, September 6, 2011

St. Paul's Cathedral in Wartime, 1939-1945

by W.R. Mathews

When I went to England this summer, one of the highlights of the trip was St. Paul's Cathedral.

It's just a beautiful place with a long history, designed by Christopher Wren and built after the "Old St. Paul's" burned in the Fire of London in 1666. To me, one of the most amazing parts of its history was how it withstood World War 2 and the bombing of London by the Luftwaffe, and the people who volunteered as the Fire Watch to keep it from being destroyed. So, when I came back, I was determined to read up more on this history.

I first heard of this account when I read the introduction to the short story "Fire Watch" by Connie Willis. By far my favorite of the short stories in the collection by the same name, "Fire Watch" compelled me to add this nonfiction account to my TBR list. But this is a tough little cookie to track down - I was able to get it on interlibrary loan from not my local system, not my state system, but across the country. This is a short book and an interesting account. The Watch slept in the crypt, sometimes participated in lectures, and learned the many confusing ways in which to get around the church and into the dome in the event of a fire or bombing. Mathews, the former Dean of St. Paul's celebrates their dedication and patriotism, , and his account often has the folksy sort of tone of a small-town history. I found it all the more charming since I have seen the church, have been in awe of its sheer size, and am very grateful for those volunteers who made it possible for me to visit.

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