Vergeltungswaffen (vengeance weapons) were pilotless aircraft launched by the Luftwaffe between 1944 and 1945. Mostly landing in London, they carried a tonne of high explosive that caused extensive damage and loss of life. By photographing the sites and neighbourhoods where the bombs landed, I tried to reflect upon a concept of landscape that represented places deeply implicated in the development of memory, identity and belonging.

01 as.jpg

Adolphus Street, London SE8 - 15 Fatalities

02 ls.jpg

Lukin Street, London E1 – Unknown

03 lr.jpg

Lower Road, London SE16 – Unknown

04 wr.jpg

Wickham Road, London SE4 – 9 Fatalities

05 cr.jpg

Chingford Road, London E17 – 16 Fatalities

06 Billet Road Test.jpg

Billet Road, London E17 – 10 Fatalities

07 ls.jpg

Ley Street, Ilford IG1 – 14 Fatalities

08 pp.jpg

Palmer Place, London N7 - 1 Fatality

09 wh.jpg

Westwood Hill, London SE26 – 9 Fatalities

10 ncr.jpg

New Cross Road, London SE14 – 168 Fatalities

11 gc.jpg

Guards’ Chapel, London SW1 – 141 Fatalities

12 ir.jpg

Iverson Road, London NW6 – 3 Fatalities

13 gs.jpg

Gillender Street, London E3 – Unknown

14 hr.jpg

Harper Road, London SE1 – 2 Fatalities

15 wr.jpg

Woolwich Road, London SE7 – Unknown

16. tv.jpg

Tranquil Vale, London SE3 – 5 Fatalities

17 bs.jpg

Besson Street, London SE14 – 1 Fatality

18 as.jpg

Achilles Street, London SE14 - 8 Fatalities

19 kr.jpg

Kitto Road, London SE14 – 1 Fatality

20 mr.jpg

Marnock Road, London SE4 – 14 Fatalities

21 br.jpg

Blackhorse Road, London E17 – 10 Fatalities

22 cs.jpg

Creekside, London SE8 – 2 Fatalities

23 pcr.jpg

Prince Charles Road, London SE3 – Unknown

24 ar.jpg

Aldeburgh Street, London SE10 – Unknown

25 spr.jpg

Southwark Park Road, London SE16 – 8 Fatalities

26 sp.jpg

Sunfields Place, London SE3 – 19 Fatalities

27 cpr.jpg

Castle Wood Road, London SE9 – Unknown

28 fa.jpg

Farnan Avenue, London E17 – 6 Fatalities

29 ur.jpg

Usk Road, London SW11 – 17 Fatalities

30 sr.jpg

Sherard Road, London SE9 – 7 Fatalities

31 sm.jpg

Smithfield Market, London EC1 – 110 Fatalities

32 al.jpg

Acre Lane, London SW4 – 5 Fatalities

33 sr.jpg

Stavely Road, London W4 - 3 Fatalities

34 ar.jpg

Axminster Road, London N7 - 38 Fatalities

35 pr.jpg

Pelham Road, London N22 – 7 Fatalities

36 hm.jpg

Hughes Mansions, London E1 - 134 Fatalities

37 tcr.jpg

Tottenham Court Road, London W1 - 9 Fatalities

38 lar.jpg

Long Acre Road, London E17 – 8 Fatalities


Like sculptures, cities are made up of solids and voids, the there and the not-there. Between these two possibilities lies another, liminal one, of spaces where there should be structures, structures that stand in for spaces. These are the most eloquent parts of a cityscape, alive with a sense of wrong. Their voids are solid, their solids void. It is such oxymoronic places that Tim Wainwright explores in the work in this show.

The Vergeltungswaffen or “vengeance weapons,” known to us as V-1s and V-2s, reshaped London. Unmanned, haphazard, they fell like a malign fate. A single V-1, hitting the Guards' Chapel in June 1944, killed 121 people. The V-2 was deadlier still: the 1,358 that dropped on London in the six months from September 1944 killed 2,754 people, two for each bomb. Many of the spaces they left – a single V-2 could wipe out a city block – spoke of an immediate absence, of lives ended all at once. Each of the images in this show records such an ending. On the back of the photographs I worked from in writing this essay, Wainwright had written two things, an address and a number: Ley Street, Ilford (14); Usk Road, SW11 (17); Pelham Road, N22 (7). The number was of the site's dead.

As with the human ones, the physical gaps left by the Vergeltungswaffen were filled in after the War. And yet, as with the human ones, they were not. The houses and roads and lock-up garages and gardens that are the subject of Wainwright's photographs are different from each other, but they are also oddly alike. Geography does not remember, but Wainwright's seems to.

Looking through these images, it strikes me that there is an impossible kinship between them. In part, this has to do with circumstance. Many of the Vergeltungswaffen sites were built over in the decade after 1945, when materials were hard to come by and the emphasis was on Utility with a capital “U”. What seemed an optimistic narrative then – slums replaced by rubble, rubble by neat council houses or garages, supermarkets, the symbols of a never-had-it-so-good prosperity – now look cheap and gimcrack: literally, jerry-built. 

Wainwright's speculative eye also imposes a likeness on these sites. His camera records what it sees, as baldly as the figures on the back of his photographs. What that camera sees is the emptiness of a bus shelter in Blackheath or a creek in Deptford, walls put up as though around a crime scene in Sherard Road or Palmer Place. Like the things they record, the images are deadpan, anonymous, no-comment. These places have the sense of being hushed up, as though their meaning is not to be spoken of, never questioned. Wainwright goes along with that. 

But history does not stop. Layered over the original sites are six decades of palimpsest. In Ley Street, time can be read backwards, in a series of recessions parallel to the picture plane: a royal wedding flag from 2011 in front of a white panel advertising car washes in front of a brick wall in front of…what? That is the question Wainwright asks, again and again; and each time, he hits the same wall. 

In an image baldly inscribed “New Cross Road, SE14”, red, white and blue bunting hangs in front of oversized bottles of fizzy pop in front of a white wall. The air is jaunty, bright, prosperous; and yet there is a feeling of execution. Next to the address on the back of the photograph is the figure, 168: the number of people who died in a moment when, on 25 November 1944, a V-2 fell on the packed Woolworths that stood where the Iceland Wainwright photographed now stands. Plus ça change.

But there is another absent presence in these pictures, an unknowing future as well as an unknowable past. It would be eminently possible to look at the Vergeltungswaffen images and see only a hymn to urban ennui, as in the Humbrol paintings of George Shaw. Wainwright, though, has another fascination. 

As the places he has shot elide solid and void, so they mark the exact moment when history becomes memory. To remember the day when Hitler's vengeance weapon fell in the New Cross Road, you would have to be in your mid-seventies. In another few decades, there will be no-one alive who saw the shop's walls bulge outwards as the rocket's ton of explosive amatol detonated on impact: who knows, rather than merely has learned, what lies behind the bright ranks of Coca-Cola bottles lined up against a wall in the local supermarket. The things in these images will mean something else then. But what? 

Charles Darwent (writer and art critic)