Eighty years ago today, London had faced over eight months of relentless bombardment from Luftwaffe, unknown to them the night of the 10th/11th of May would be the last night of the Blitz but the night would be absolutely devastating.
That night the Germans flew a total of 571 sorties, they dropped 711 tons of high explosive bombs and 86,173 incendiary bombs. The resulting fires meant that in a single night, an area double the size of The Great Fire of London burned.
1,436 people died that night and over 1,800 were seriously injured.
It will have been a busy night for the American Ambulance, however unknown to them the attack would take the life of the first member to be killed in the war. Her name was Marjory Butler, today we look into what happened on that fateful night.
To start we go back to 1858 and the opening of a the Wallace Hotel, Knightsbridge. In 1863 the hotel was sold and re modelled as an opulent hotel which opened as the Alexandra Hotel, Knightsbridge. The hotel continued to offer its high end rooms until it was destroyed in 1941.
At approximately 00:30 on the 11th of May 1941 a single high explosive bomb tore through the roof, detonating in the heart of the building. The resulting explosion killed Officer Ensign Marjory Stewart Butler. We may never know exactly what happened that night but there are two possible theories.
Contemporary reports stated that as the first ambulances arrived on scene, the structure of the building collapsed further and we believe Mrs. Butler may have been caught up in this collapse. Mrs. Butler was based at the American Ambulance headquarters and would almost certainly have been out working that night, with such close proximity to the headquarters it is very possible she went out when they got reports of it.
The second possibility is that Mrs. Butler was billeted at the hotel and was in her accommodation when it was bombed. It seems she was also a member of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry who’s headquarters were just behind the hotel which would fit in with her being billeted there. That said, I would predict that on such a bad night of the Blitz, almost all members of the American Ambulance would have been out on duty. It wasn’t unusual for members to work 24hr+ days where the need was there.
Whatever the circumstances surrounding her death, it was an utter tragedy for the American Ambulance and the FANY. Mrs. Butler’s body was returned to Perth, Scotland where she was buried. Her name is memorialised on the FANY memorial, less than 100 meters from where she was killed.
Her name liveth for evermore.