Last week – on the 11th August – an unexploded 2nd World War bomb was found around the corner from the Phytology site in Temple Street. It was found in a basement, and due to the size of it, was tricky for the military bomb disposal team to remove.
“We can’t just carry it out of a doorway – it’s a 500lb bomb!”
A quick search revealed that this is the third bomb that has been uncovered this year in London, but this is nothing to the three thousand unexploded bombs that may still be lying underground in Berlin.
An evacuation of people from neighbouring streets took place before the removal of the bomb was carried out and a sense of community spirit was reported as several hundred people slept overnight in a local school and school children on summer holidays apparently lent a hand. A few days later I met Michael returning a wheelbarrow to Phytology and he mentioned that he had to sign ‘in triplicate’ in order to stay in his house and look after his dog – who he didn’t want to leave behind in the evacuation. His view on the media coverage reminds me that popular culture still hasn’t updated a sense of what a ‘community spirit’ might mean and that the touchstone for invoking a sense of group co-operation is still the Second World War, when in reality (and less visibly) lots of unexpected co-operations are happening between diverse communities in response to solving civic, environmental and political problems.
However on a metaphorical level, the discovery of an unexpected object from deep underground – whether as prize archaeological discovery or as remnant of former warfare – seems to epitomize the force of memory and how it seems that the past can suddenly intervene in the present.
What I’m currently thinking about in relation to the site and its own experience of warfare is how, if you know how to read the signs, the past emerges less as a shock but rather as a quiet reminder of other lives lived alongside ours. Whether this is via the uneven ground created by the ruins of a church providing a habitat for bumbles bees (like Phytology’s St Jude’s Church which I mentioned in the last post) or whether ground exposed to warfare provides a new home for a plant like the purple-flowered rosebay willowherb, (‘fireweed’ in America), whose seeds are tolerant of soil that has been subjected to heat, and which flowered on three-quarters of London’s bomb sites by the end of the Second World War.