Radio actuality recordings

A unique collection of original BBC and other radio actuality recordings brings to life the London of the 1920s to the 1950s. These sounds were captured at street markets, fairgrounds, skittle alleys, auction houses, hopfields and elsewhere.

Battle of Britain 1940

PRECISE DATES ARE lacking for some of the wartime BBC transcription discs, with only the month and the year printed on the label. So it is with the disc titled ‘Battle of Britain’ (BBC catalogue number 824871), for which the catalogue has defaulted to 1 August 1940, although the main Luftwaffe raids didn’t begin until the middle of the month.

In this unusual recording, what is described as a ‘typical family group’ witnesses the conflict sketched in trails and explosions across the sky. The recording location is about thirty miles south of London. The catalogue entry contains the following:

The comments and reactions of a typical family group watching an air-battle over the Kent–Sussex border. Recorded near Crowborough, Sussex. “First one I’ve seen . . . plenty of Spitfires about . . . going down in flames . . . 6 Spitfires or Hurricanes . . . that’s it blowing up down there . . . there . . . over copper beach . . . over there, millions of them . . . another one . . . German bombers” etc. Drone of planes, increasing and decreasing, throughout; some gunfire, a dog barks once or twice.

To modern-day ears the spectators sound at times oddly detached, as if they were watching the progress of a sporting event. In the BBC Archives there are several interviews with RAF pilots recorded at the time, but this is one of the few surviving field recordings of the Battle of Britain itself.

Recording © copyright BBC. Audio digitisation and restoration by the London Sound Survey. Many thanks to BBC Worldwide for granting permission to reproduce this recording here.

Battle of Britain 3:42