October 22, 2015

1939. Edward R. Murrow Reports on Wartime London

Murrow Reports from London

Edward R. Murrow

CBS London

November 27, 1939

The other afternoon I spent several hours underground studying the central control station of London's air raid precaution system. One man can sit in that room and move ambulances, stretcher parties, gas decontamination squads, and repair parties just as though he had them on the end of a string. The maps covering the walls resemble those in an army headquarters. The whole system is linked to local units by direct telephone, and if the telephones don't work, there are motorcycle dispatch riders standing by to carry messages.

If London is bombed, one could sit in that room, and by reading colored pins and discs on the maps, tell just where bridges have been blown up, where fire engines are needed, where additional ambulances are required, and the position of reserve units which might be needed.

It was quiet down there the other day. The elaborate maps on which one could follow the approach of enemy aircraft were clear. The bright little pins, which mean gas or a railroad destroyed or a serious fire, were sitting in a little box like toy soldiers.

The telephone operators, young girls who might have been college sophomores at home, sat at their instruments knitting or reading. One was reading The Life of Madame Curie. Another, Tolstoy's War and Peace. And the latest detective thrillers were also in evidence.

Occasionally they practice a little. The telephone rings, the operator takes down a message, passes it through a slot to the control officer, and in a few minutes time an ambulance brigade or a covey of fire engines go racing through the streets in a remote part of London on a practice trip. The whole scheme seemed to be efficient, and at the same time easy to operate.

The Minister of Food will announce in the House of Commons tomorrow the date for the introduction of rationing in Britain. And it is reported from Oslo that the Norwegian Nobel Committee has reached a decision on its annual peace award. It has decided not to award a Peace Prize for 1939.

I return you now to Columbia in New York.