Underground Stations When Bombs Dropping

Taking shelter in the Underground stations wasn’t a great experience. Early in the Blitz there were few sanitary facilities and people who lived through the era often write about the stench of underground stations.

SHELTER PHOTOGRAPHS TAKEN IN LONDON BY BILL BRANDT, NOVEMBER 1940 (D 1568) Elephant and Castle London Underground Station Shelter: People sleeping on the crowded platform of Elephant and Castle tube station while taking shelter from German air raids during the London Blitz. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205194638

 

While no more than 3% of Londoners used the tube stations as bomb shelters, photographs such as these became iconic images showing the determination of Londoners not to let the Nazis break their will.

SHELTER PHOTOGRAPHS TAKEN IN LONDON BY BILL BRANDT, NOVEMBER 1940 (D 1571) Elephant and Castle Underground Station Shelter: The station performs a dual wartime role: travellers enter a train while, in the foreground, other Londoners attempt to sleep. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205194641

(The sign in the window to the right of the tube car door informs passengers that this is a non-smoking car. In 1940)

THE LONDON UNDERGROUND AS AIR RAID SHELTER, LONDON, ENGLAND, 1940 (D 1677) One of London’s most popular shelters is that which is to be found in a section of the London underground system which has been converted by tearing up the tracks. The advertisements remain pasted on the wall. Hats and coats are hung on nails which have been driven in between the bricks on the wall. People sleep on the platform and on the space which was formerly the track, this part stretching fo… Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205221918

This is probably a section of the Picadilly Line which was no longer in use when the war began.

THE LONDON UNDERGROUND AS AIR RAID SHELTER, LONDON, ENGLAND, 1940 (D 1678) Shelterers sleep along the walls of the passageway leading from the lifts to the platform at a London Underground station, probably Aldwych, in November 1940. The shelterers lie on thin mattresses and suitcases have been used to partition off areas along the tunnel to provide some privacy for shelterers. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205197856

Germans Bomb London in the Blitz

Nazi Germany Bombs London

Damage in the drawing room at 10 Downing Street, London, after a bomb had fallen on Horse Guards Parade on 20 February 1944. H 36089 Part of WAR OFFICE SECOND WORLD WAR OFFICIAL COLLECTION War Office official photographer Horton (Capt)
Damage in the drawing room at 10 Downing Street, London, after a bomb had fallen on Horse Guards Parade on 20 February 1944. Then occupied by Winston Churchill, 10 Downing Street is the official residence of British Prime Ministers.

Part of
WAR OFFICE SECOND WORLD WAR OFFICIAL COLLECTION
War Office official photographer. Horton (Capt)

 

 

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 So many of London Transport’s famous double-decker red buses were damaged in the Blitz that cities through Great Britain loaned buses to London so bus service could be maintained. London was so big that when an air raid was occuring in one part of the city, other parts could be relatively safe. Bus drivers decided whether to stop their bus and evacuate passengers into a shelter or keep going.

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Photos showing Londoners sheltering from air raids in the London Underground have become iconic representations of the German bombing of London.

While emblematic of the Blitz on London, only 4% of the population of the city used the tube stations as air raid shelters. In the beginning of the Blitz, the authorities were opposed to allowing people to use the tube stations as air raid shelters. They were deeply concerned that people would go down into the tube stations and refuse to come out. Further, there were no sanitary facilities, no potable water or basic foodstuffs, no bedding. Nothing.

[pullquote]The ‘Blitz’ of Britain’s cities by Nazi Germany lasted throughout the war, saw the bombing of Buckingham Palace and the near-destruction of Coventry, and claimed some 40,000 civilian lives.[/pullquote]

There was also fear on the part of the government that people jamming into the tube stations would disrupt trains. While passenger service did not run 24 hours a day, underground trains were used at night to move supplies and personnel through the City of London. This was a vast area, all of which was governed by the London County Council (LCC). In 1965 the LCC was replaced by the Greater London Council.

In the photograph, you will note people are sleeping both on the platform and on the tracks so obviously the electric rail is turned off. There is some order in that several uniformed ARP (air raid precaution) personnel are on the platform. In the early days people queued to get in while still daylight. You had to pay the minimum fare to stay in the tube station. Because there were so few toilets, the underground began to smell like a public latrine according to witnesses or the era who also reported people copulating even though evening trains still hauling passengers were passing by.

Over months better accommodation and facilities and canteens were provided. Unquestionably the platforms of the London Underground saved my lives during German air raids. Deep platforms also made it easier to sleep since the sound of the guns and bombs was muted. However, many tunnels weren’t that deep and gave only the illusion of safety. If one of the tunnels was hit where it ran close to the surface then lots of people died.

People who could afford to leave London did leave during the bombing. Others were too poor or had jobs which didn’t allow them to leave. While many efforts were made to shore up basements of large buildings, many Londoners had no where to go when the bombs started to fall so they stayed at home–often under the staircase. That’s where the bodies were often found.

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Elephant and Castle London Underground Station Shelter: People sleeping on the crowded platform of Elephant and Castle tube station while taking shelter from German air raids during the London Blitz. – Civilians sheltering in Elephant and Castle London Underground Station during an air raid in November 1940. –Sourced & Licensed from © IWM Imperial War Museum Non Commercial Licence

 

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Elephant and Castle Underground Station Shelter: Men and women bedded down for the night on either side of a staircase. –Sourced & Licensed from © IWM Imperial War Museum Non Commercial Licence.

 

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1942: A burlesque dancer makes her way to a bomb shelter during a WWII  German air raid on London