The London Blitz and Oswald Chambers’ Books

London blitz

Many people have seen this famous photo of St. Paul’s Cathedral wreathed in smoke following the London Blitz of December, 1940.

What you may not know is that all that smoke is not the cathedral, but the burning of London’s book warehouses.

Among those buildings destroyed were warehouses containing all the unsold copies of the Oswald Chambers canon then in print.

Six months before at the June 1940 quarterly meeting of the Oswald Chambers Publication Association (OCPA), members discussed a letter from their book printer and warehouse manager. Simpkin Marshalls, the book distributor, had written to warn them contents of the warehouses were not insured by Simpkin Marshall, and that they should obtain their own insurance.

Similarly, the printer Butler and Tanners advised them the books on hand at their office, along with the printing moulds [what Americans would call printing plates], did not fall under their insurance and thus needed to be insured by the OCPA

The OCPA minutes note,

“After some discussion it was decided that, in accordance with the teaching in the books, the stock should not be insured. If fire should occur at Simpkins, no claim would be made and they should be informed.”

According to David McCasland in Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God:

“One of Oswald’s abiding concerns had been to heed God’s ruling and never keep an enterprise going just because it was doing well . . .Oswald had often said, ‘When God finishes something, it must be finished.'”

The German blitzkrieg of London began in September 1940. On December 29,  St. Paul’s Cathedral and the area around it was fire bombed.


Simpkin Marshall’s building is on the left

Thanks to the sharp eyed fire watchers, some located at the top of the dome, the cathedral survived.

But not the neighborhood.

William Kent described the disaster in The Lost Treasures of London:

“Simpkin Marshall, Ltd, the greatest distributor of English books in the world, carrying the largest comprehensive stock, lost approximately four million books when their premises . . .  were entirely destroyed by the incendiary bombs of the enemy.

“This disastrous fire eliminated everything. All the old records of the business going back a hundred and thirty years were destroyed; and most important of all, the great cataloguing system, the only one of its kind in the world, dating back for a hundred and fifty years.”

Ultimately, Simpkin Marshall, Ltd. went out of business.

But what of the 40,000 copies of Chambers’ books?


According to McCasland:

“In her typical way, Biddy [Chambers–Oswald was long dead] remained unperturbed. When news came of the burned books, she put down her teacup, turned to Kathleen and said, calmly, ‘Well, God has used the books for His glory, but now that is over. We’ll wait and see what God will do now’. . . God was in control, and He would make His way plain.”


by H. Mason (Wikipedia Commons)

The OCPA, with Biddy much involved, went to prayer. They had to wait a few months for information about what, if anything, Simpkin Marshall could do to help. In the meantime, they took solace that the German versions of the books had been purchased by folks in Switzerland and were safe.

Their printer had printing plates from several books and could print them. 2500 copies of My Utmost for His Highest had been printed but not bound yet–and thus were not destroyed.

Readers wrote asking for more books, and Biddy and the OCPA knew God was not finished, yet, with the messages in Oswald’s books.

That famous blitz photo of St. Paul’s doesn’t look the same to me now that I know it is not only a testament to St. Paul’s surviving, but of the burning of London’s unsold books.

4 million copies were destroyed in one night–far more than the Nazis oversaw in the 1933 Berlin book burning.


The London Blitz, St. Paul’s and 4 million books. Click to Tweet

How the London Blitz nearly ended Oswald Chambers’ books. Click to Tweet

The books of Oswald Chambers destroyed in London’s Blitz Click to Tweet

Leave a comment


  1. Annie Riess

     /  January 10, 2016

    Thanks Michelle – this is so interesting!


  2. Amazing. Thanks for this background.

  3. wow, that puts a different perspective on a fire that destroyed all my parents possessions that were stored in an uninsured warehouse that they didn’t have insurance on either

  4. Michelle Ule

     /  April 5, 2016

    Really. All England’s books! The rest of the war, publishing houses worried about paper rations and many stories didn’t get published or were printed on very poor quality paper.

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