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Can one image change a war?

By Sevenoaks Chronicle  |  Posted: March 28, 2013

GIMME SHELTER:  John Topham's evocative picture of children hiding from a dogfight in a trench in a Paddock Wood garden in 1940

GIMME SHELTER: John Topham's evocative picture of children hiding from a dogfight in a trench in a Paddock Wood garden in 1940

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THIS photograph on this page of a group of children taking cover in a trench in a Kentish hop garden is one of the most enduring images of the Second World War and one that played a key role in changing the course of history.

It was taken by John Topham on a hot day in September 1940 at Beltring Farm, Paddock Wood. John had visited the farm to take pictures of hop pickers when a dogfight began to rage over his head.

He quickly rounded up a few children and told them to take cover in the trench while he took a few shots.

For the youngsters, aged between six and ten, the aerial battle was a thrilling spectacle. But their upturned faces also reveal terror.

The mothers of these children, dressed in aprons, were also in the trench a little higher up so John Topham took a few more snaps before returning to his studio in Sidcup where he developed the film and sent it off to the nationals. It appeared the next day and immediately captured the imagination of the nation.

Within a few days an enlarged version of the photograph had appeared at the British embassy in Washington and was chosen as the image to accompany a propaganda campaign urging the Americans to join the fight against the Nazis.

The picture was printed on leaflets and posters with the slogan "Help England And It Won't Happen Here".

President Roosevelt was reluctant to send US forces into a European war but as soon as the posters appeared the public mood began to change. On an emotional level Topham's photograph had a huge influence.

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