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

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

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