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St Paul’s in the Blitz - ask an expert about ‘War’s greatest picture’

The iconic photograph of the Cathedral in the Blitz was taken nearly 75 years ago by Herbert Mason

Now cultural historian Dr Tom Allbeson's research on the photograph, taken 29 December 1940, has been published in the UK and USA.  

Would you like to ask Dr Allbeson about the famous photograph?

  • Post your question on Twitter with the hashtag #StPaulsBlitz, or on the Facebook post about the photo
  • Dr Allbeson will try to answer all questions submitted by 28 December 2015

Read Dr Allbeson's History Today article

Dr Allbeson explains how the image created emotional bonds with people:

‘To a British audience, the building was … a visual token of nothing short of civilisation itself’

St Paul’s was ‘perfectly suited to being a significant wartime symbol’ as

  • A place of worship, whose destruction would be sacrilege
  • A symbol of London as the capital of the  British Empire
  • An emblem of the Great Fire of 1666 - from which it had arisen as a phoenix

Find out about material held in the St Paul's Cathedral's Collections in connection with the Blitz and the St Paul's Watch

Twenty eight bombs fell on St Paul’s on 29 December 1940, and Herbert Mason took three photographs The Daily Mail published the image – cropped and edited, with visible brushstrokes for fire. The original negative for Herbert Mason’s photograph has been lost.

While Britain saw the photograph as a symbol of civilisation and defiance, German media portrayed it as showing destruction.

Swansea University academic Dr Allbeson is working on a book on photography and European cities from 1945-1961. Dr Allbeson notes that images can be just as influential as people, ideas or institutions.

Read full details about Dr Allbeson's findings on the complex history of the St Paul's in the Blitz photo

He argues: ‘Photography has infiltrated every aspect of human experience’ and so contemporary history cannot be properly explained without considering photography. Press photos convey ideas, attitudes and values to large audiences.

Read Dr Allbeson’s full article in The Journal of Modern History

History and Classics at Swansea University