Londoner Recalls Role of 'Tube' in Blitz

As German planes bombared London during World War II, the British captial's subway system was a haven for people in need of shelter. Now it's a terrorist target. Blitz survivor Colin Perry, 83, tells Jacki Lyden about the Tube, then and now.


Nine of the men British police arrested Thursday in London's Tube investigations were found in a neighborhood of south London called Tooting. In the early 1940s, teen-ager Colin Perry boarded the Tube in Tooting every morning bound for central London where he worked as a clerk, and during the Blitz of London, Germany's devastating campaign of night bombing raids, the Tube became the best protection for thousands of Londoners. Seventy-nine underground stations eventually became shelters packed with people each night, and every morning, Colin Perry traveled among them.

Mr. Perry, you join us from your home outside of London. Thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. COLIN PERRY (Traveled the Tube): Thank you. My pleasure.

LYDEN: What would the Tube station look like in the morning when you arrived?

Mr. PERRY: It was bound to be not only sweaty and smelly and everything else; it used to stink from people urinating. It was pretty awful. I used to think, why in the hell do they want to come down here. I'd much rather take my chance up above, as it were. But people in the Tubes would come out in the morning, and about 3 in the afternoon, they would queue up again with their bits and pieces of bedding and whatever and go down again until 7 to 7:30 the next morning. So to that extent, the Tubes were a haven for many, many Londoners.

LYDEN: You know, the Tube was not really meant to be an underground shelter. I can't imagine that it would have had much in the way of sanitation facilities...

Mr. PERRY: Oh, well, I agree.

LYDEN: ...or running water or heat or any of those things.

Mr. PERRY: Right. Yes, Jacki, I would agree with that. However, there were sort of tiers of bunks put up quickly on the platform, and to that extent, people queued up, they took their places, and there they would have a singsong. They'd be given canteen food and things of that order and they felt safe. However, at Balham Tube station, which was just two or three up from where I used to get on the Tube, a bomb came right through and burst a water main and the people there, a lot of them, lost their lives through flooding, but that's just one of the hazards of war.

LYDEN: Mr. Perry, the Tube was a place of safety 65 years ago...

Mr. PERRY: Yes.

LYDEN: ...during the Blitz...

Mr. PERRY: Yes.

LYDEN: ...and today, it is a place of deep concern, shall we say.

Mr. PERRY: These days, of course, while I'm not traveling to London now, it is a fact that you don't know who you're sitting next to. You don't quite know what's happening. And in 1940, we had a known enemy, i.e., Nazi Germany, and we were a united country. I'm not suggesting we're not now, but we were then, a completely united country. It was an uplifting experience, really. We were all in it together.

LYDEN: Colin Perry: He kept a diary of his boyhood years. It became part of the collection at the Imperial War Museum and was later published with the title, "Boy in the Blitz."

Mr. Perry, thanks for joining us. It was a great pleasure to talk to you, sir.

Mr. PERRY: My love to America.

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