Air Raid Shelters and the London Underground

I asked my husband the other day for some inspiration on something he would like to see on my blog, to which he immediately responded ‘Something related to World War II.’  He’s been on a World War II kick recently, mainly watching WWII in HD, which focuses on the American perspective of the war and utilizes color footage from all fronts.  Of course, being a social historian, I looked into the air raid shelters on the British home front: mainly the London underground.

1943 map

1943 London tube map


Image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

Aldwych Station.  Image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

Germany’s Luftwaffe began bombing London on September 7th, 1940, sending just shy of 1000 German aircrafts across the Channel.  Known as the Blitz, the Luftwaffe mainly targeted London, but also targeted Liverpool, Manchester, Swansea, Bristol, Cardiff, and Southampton.   As a result, Britain issued Blackout regulations to prevent German bombers from targeting cities throughout the night.  Raids continued throughout the day as well, placing everyone on edge.  The bombing raids continued until May 21, 1941.   It’s intended effect, to demoralize Britain into surrender, didn’t work, and the Brits continued life almost as normal, buoyed

In moments of danger, families flocked to the Underground, which provided shelter from the bombs, and was one of the safer locations during the war.  Citizens purchase platform tickets to stay on the underground overnight in the early days of the Blitz.

Collection of the London Transport Museum

Collection of the London Transport Museum

Individuals weren’t allowed to enter until 4 pm for shelter, but many women and children began queueing in the early hours of the morning to secure a spot.

Collection of the London Transport Museum.

Collection of the London Transport Museum.

Scalpers sold tickets up to 30 times the normal cost for a ticket, and to prevent this, families were eventually given permits to numbered spots on the platform.

To pass the time, people played cards, read, and enjoyed concerts.



Passing the time with a game of cards.


tube concert

An Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) concert at the Aldwych Station.


They also slept.



Shelter at the Piccadilly Station.



Three children sleep in make-shift hammocks in between the tracks.



Sleeping on the escalator.


My husband’s grandmother, who was a teenager in London during the war, frequented the underground during the Blitz.  I wasn’t lucky enough to meet Doreen, but she and her father told a few stories to my father-in-law:

Peter, my husband’s great-grandfather, worked for the London Fire Brigade’s ‘Thames Formation’ during the war, 1 of 400 on 24 hour duty to put out fires as a result of the German air raids in the river’s warehouses, businesses, and docks, as well as the vessels chugging down the river.  So when Peter would set off for the night for work, Kitty (great-grandmother) and Doreen (grandmother) would travel to the Elephant & Castle station, with their sandwiches and blankets, to sleep.

Elephant & Castle tube

Elephant & Castle tube

There is now an interactive website which has mapped the locations of all of the bombs dropped over London during the Blitz.  Pinpoint streets, view photographs, and learn more about the Blitz!  Perhaps next Tuesday, I’ll continue this with some wartime photos of Doreen!



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Filed under 1940s, Photograph, World War II

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