The British Homefront during WW2: The Café de Paris bombed during the London Blitz

The Café de Paris was a London nightclub in Coventry Street W1 near Leicester Square which opened in 1924 but closed permanently in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. After receiving a direct hit during the Blitz, it was reported in newspapers but due to censorship the full story only became known several years after the war.

On the night of 8 March 1941, the Café de Paris which had a maximum capacity of 700 people was described as heaving with couples dancing to Ken ‘Snake hips’ Johnson’s big band. Twenty-six-year old Ken Johnson was from British Ghana and had just started playing when according to one of the few survivors there was an immense blue flash. Two bombs entered the night club down a ventilation shaft from the roof and exploded in front of the band. Ken Johnson’s head was blown from his shoulders and the legs of dancer’s were sheared off. Due to the confined space the blast was magnified and burst the lungs of diners as they sat at their tables and killed them instantly.

Ken ‘Snake Hips’ Johnson

When rescuers arrived one tripped over a girl’s head on the floor, looked up and saw her torso still sitting in a chair. The dead and dying where heaped everywhere.

The number of fatalities determined by body parts is not known and numbers varying considerably but this was not uncommon during the Blitz.

Author: Alan Malcher

Military historian and defence commentator

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