The Milkman

Behind the camera: Fred Morley
Where: Streets of London
Photo Summary: A man carries the milk over rubble while firefighters battle the aftermath of the 32nd straight night of bombing
Picture Taken: October 9, 1940
Published October 10, 1940

During the opening years of World War II Britain was all that was left against Hitler’s military Juggernaut. France had already surrendered and continental Europe was under Germany’s control. Hitler, through a massive bombing campaign, hoped to either knock the UK out of the war or destroy its air force in preparation for invasion.  The bombing campaign starting in 1940, until Hitler withdrew his planes in preparation for the invasion of the USSR in 1941, was nicknamed the Blitz by the British and was an almost daily aerial bombardment of the United Kingdom. Many iconic photos emerged from the Blitz and the Battle of Britain.  The most famous was captured during the December 29, 1940, raid when a Daily Mail reporter snapped what at the time was called the “War’s greatest picture.” While this was the most famous, one of the more memorable photos was this Milkman Photo taken by Fred Morley on October 9, 1940, and then published the next day on October 10, 1940.

Staged Image?

Fred Morley on the right takes on Aussie, the boxing kangaroo in London's Trafalgar Square, August 31, 1931

Fred Morley on the right takes on Aussie, the boxing kangaroo in London’s Trafalgar Square

October 9th marked the 32nd day of straight bombing raids against the United Kingdom. The nighttime raid of October 9th raid infamously struck the iconic St Paul’s Cathedral but luckily the bomb did not detonate. Photographers stationed in London were amazed at the total destruction wrought by German bombers yet their pictures were routinely blocked by the censors who were anxious not to cause a panic. Fred Morley wanting to get some sort of record of the devastation out to the world thought of a situation that the censors would approve. He first found a backdrop of firefighters struggling to contain a fire then he borrowed a milkman’s outfit and a craft of bottles.  He then got his assistant to pose among the ruins of a city street while the firefighters fought in the background. The photo pushed forward the idea of the stoic British continuing on with their normal lives.  The censors felt the same way and it was published the very next day.

[Getty picturetitle=”Delivery After Raid by Fred Morley” gettylink=”http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/milkman-delivering-milk-in-a-london-street-devastated-news-photo/2639103?Language=en-US”]

Fred Morley

Morley first joined Fox Photos company in January 1926 and in 1951 Fox Photos’ directors Dick Fox and Reg Salmon marked his silver jubilee with a special wristwatch for 25 years’ service with the company. Fred Morley in addition to being a celebrated photojournalist, toured the world capturing beautiful day to day life wherever he went.

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St Paul Cathedral Survives

Behind the camera: Herbert Mason
Where: St Paul’s Cathedral in London
Photo Summary: St Paul’s Cathedral during the German bombing campaign called the Blitz
Picture Taken: December 29, 1940 published on December 31, 1940

During the opening years of World War II Britain was all that was left against Hitler’s military Juggernaut. France had already surrendered and continental Europe was under Germany’s control. Hitler, through a massive bombing campaign, hoped to either knock the UK out of the war or destroy its air force in preparation for invasion. Starting in 1940, until Hitler withdrew his planes in preparation of the invasion of the USSR in 1941, the bombing campaign, nicknamed the Blitz by the British, was a regular aerial bombardment of British Urban areas. One of the greatest raids took place on December 29, 1940, when a Daily Mail reporter snapped what at the time was called the “War’s greatest picture.”

St Paul’s Cathedral

One of the most iconic buildings in London St Paul’s Cathedral was seen as vital to the morale of the British public and the government had sent out a call for volunteers to form a quick response fire crew. Drawing on members of the Royal Institute of British Architects the group was a who’s who of intellectuals, well-known architects, famous artists and the most distinguished historians of the day. They slept on site in shifts in the Cathedral’s crypt and would keep watch on the rooftop during bombing runs searching for incendiary bomb strikes. Armed with only tin hats, and basic fire-fighting equipment they laid in wait for any bombs that might strike the mighty structure.
Before the December 29th raid there were a number of close calls including a bomb strike on October 10, 1940, and another the next year on April 17, 1941. The closest the cathedral came to complete destruction was on September 12, 1940, when a one-ton land mine landed next to St Paul’s. It burrowed down about twenty-seven feet and had to be painstakingly dug out by a team led by Robert Davies of the Canadian Army Engineers. After three days they were able to carefully lift the bomb out of its hole and detonate in safely in the countryside. The bomb left a 100ft wide crater and if it had detonated where it landed the bomb would have completely destroyed the cathedral.

German magazine showing St Paul's Cathedral during the German bombing campaign called the Blitz

The Germans had a different take on the picture with the January 23, 1941 edition of the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung showing the picture along with a story about how London was burning and the end of the war was in sight.


All bomb hits to the building were covered up by the government. After the war, a Blitz survivor who was six at the time remembers being carried into the damaged Cathedral on her fire-warden father’s shoulders. “Take a look and remember”, he told her. “You will never, ever hear about this again.”

Taking the picture

The Germans had a different take on the picture with the January 23, 1941 edition of the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung showing the picture along with a story about how London was burning and the end of the war was in sight.
The night raid of December 29th was London’s 114th night of the Blitz and the first bombs started falling at 18:15 GMT. Bombs seemed to concentrate near the famed St Paul’s Cathedral. Churchill became so alarmed by the threat of damage to the building that he ordered “all fire-fighting resources be directed at St Paul’s. The cathedral must be saved, he said damage to the fabric would sap the morale of the country.” That night there was actually a close call when an incendiary bomb struck the lead shell of the dome and then fell out into the Stone Gallery but the quick response crew was able to extinguish its flames before they were able to ignite the dome timbers.
On that same night a Daily Mail photographer, Herbert Mason, perched on the roof of the Daily mail on Tudor Street was able to take the famous picture as the cathedral was illuminated by searchlights. The image was published two days later, on December 31. The paper then took the unusual step of publishing the photographer’s account of how he took the image:

I focused at intervals as the great dome loomed up through the smoke. Glares of many fires and sweeping clouds of smoke kept hiding the shape. Then a wind sprang up. Suddenly, the shining cross, dome and towers stood out like a symbol in the inferno. The scene was unbelievable. In that moment or two I released my shutter.

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