The photo that won America's hearts--and WWII


On September 23rd, 1940, the cover photograph of Life Magazine depicted a little girl holding a teddy bear as she sat in a hospital bed, her head bandaged. The three-year-old girl, Eileen Dunne, was the victim of a bombing raid in the London Blitz. The photographer the auspicious photographer to royalty, Cecil Beaton. And the intention was particular: to appeal to the hearts and spirits of the American people.


Britain was having a horrific time. The Nazis had overtaken Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France, and now they had their eyes set on Britain. The Battle of Britain had seen plane fights in the skies, bombings over factories and military grounds, but no one predicted the Nazis' next move: the random bombing of British cities, devastating buildings, offices, and people without constraint. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed or injured, and the war took on a new, horrific reality.


Churchill was a man of ideas. Compared to the Nazi war machine, which had now appropriated the resources, men, and machines from occupied lands, Britain had a small, ill-equipped military and no big reserves of money. Therefore, Churchill decided to utilize cheaper methods of overcoming the Nazis--espionage, women workers, codebreakers, and propaganda--both within Britain and overseas. And it was with this in mind that the Ministry of War employed the photographer of King George, Cecil Beaton, to go through London photographing the effects of the Blitz.


His photographs are well crafted, brilliant at times, most of them showing how life carries on, a beautifully-dressed woman stepping over rubble in front of a half-collapsed house, a woman smiling as she serves tea to a volunteer, a sailor mending his uniform with a sewing machine. But the one of the little girl is somehow ageless, haunting in its draw to protect and cherish life as much as we can.



© 2018 by Jennifer Ryan

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Washington, D.C., USA