This Daring Brit’s Long-Lost WWII Diary Chronicles London’s Darkest Days
As Nazi bombs rained, an aging architect risked his life to protect the greatest symbol of England's resistance: St. Paul’s Cathedral. And he documented every moment.
Photo by Herbert Mason
Arthur Butler was a melancholic, artistic man, a retired architect known for his slightly rambling way of speaking. On the night of April 16, 1941, when a bomb fell through the roof of St. Paul’s, London, he was high on the cathedral’s dome, wearing a flashlight on a belt around his waist, looking at the fires reflected in the Thames, far below. Butler liked the shadows on nights like these, cast from strange angles by falling flares. He had enjoyed the bursts of artillery in the previous war too, flashing orange over the trenches, when he was young. Now, flames crept into crimson smoke, as buildings burned white, then red, then orange. Many were skeletal, from earlier raids. It was a “weird and terrible loveliness,” Butler recalled. As planes flew closer – “silly screaming dragons,” he wrote – there was a crescendo of anti-aircraft fire. Memories overcame him. Fire engine bells rang in the distance.
Isolated amongst ruins, the German planes seemed to seek out St.…
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