This 'Bomb Damage' On Nelson's Column Isn't What You Think

By M@ Last edited 24 months ago
This 'Bomb Damage' On Nelson's Column Isn't What You Think

Take a look at the south and west sides of Nelson's Column and you might spot that some of the stones are scarred and battered.

Many would, no doubt, jump to the conclusion that the scars were caused by the Blitz. But these marks are down to friendly fire.

The damage was done on 12/13 November 1918, a day after the armistice that ended the first world war. Huge crowds took to the streets for a second night of celebration. Not everyone behaved themselves.

As midnight approached, one group set up bonfires on the steps of Nelson's Column. The flames were fed by posters for war bonds, which had decorated the square for years and were now redundant. A captured German gun was dragged from the Mall and placed alongside. A delivery boy was knocked off his tricycle which, along with its cargo of parcels, further fed the flames.

Wooden paving blocks were prised from nearby roadworks as added fuel. Covered in tar, they burned at high temperature (a feature later exploited by Alan Sugar, but that's another story). A watchman's hut was dismantled and thrown on top for good measure.

As the flames grew higher, the fire brigade turned its hoses on the crowd in an attempt to end what one newspaper called the 'regrettable rowdyism'. It didn't work. The hose was cut (by Australian soldiers, apparently) and the roysterers took control of the engine. The firemen got a dousing.

By this point the bonfires had got so hot that flares of creosote were shooting up the column. Under the intense heat, the granite plinth cracked and shattered in several places. Deep scars were left on the steps, with further damage to the paving. Amazingly, nobody was seriously hurt, although one lady was fatally struck by a car elsewhere in the square.

The wounds to Nelson's Column are long-since filled in, but you can still see their traces on the west and (possibly) south sides of the monument. Tour guides might point them out as war damage, but they are more accurately described as peace damage.

Sources: various accounts found in the British Newspaper Archive.

Last Updated 02 July 2018