How the Fences & Railings Adorning London’s Buildings Doubled (by Design) as Civilian Stretchers in World War II

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.

via Twisted Sifter

Related Content:

31 Rolls of Film Taken by a World War II Soldier Get Discovered & Developed Before Your Eyes

The Staggering Human Cost of World War II Visualized in a Creative, New Animated Documentary

World War and Society in the 20th Century: World War II (A Free Harvard Course) 

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.


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