Haunting pictures of Londoners sheltering in the Underground during World War II, 1940-1941


During World War II, Londoners of all classes flocked to the underground platforms to protect themselves from above-ground destruction by German raiders.

Blitz refers to a strategic bombing campaign carried out by the Germans against London and other cities in England from September 1940 to May 1941, targeting populated areas, factories and dockyards.

Luftwaffe bombings during the war killed more than 40,000 civilians, almost half of them in the capital, where more than a million homes were destroyed or damaged.

The most important existing communal shelter was the London Underground station. Although many civilians used them for shelter during World War I, in 1939 the government refused to allow the stations to be used as shelters so as not to interfere with the travel of passengers and soldiers, fearing that the occupants may refuse to leave and continue. war effort.

During the raid underground officers were ordered to close the entrance to the station, but by the second week of heavy bombing, the government relented and ordered the stations to be opened. People queued up each day until 4:00 pm, when they were allowed to enter the stations.

The Daily Herald gives an overview of how popular the shelter on the Underground had become by the end of September

In mid-September 1940, approximately 150,000 people slept underground a night, although by winter and spring this number had dropped to 100,000 or less. The noise of battle was suppressed and sleep was easier in the deepest stations but many people were killed by direct hits at the stations.

In March 1943, 173 men, women and children were crushed to death at Bethnal Green tube station when a woman fell from the stairs as she entered the station. In October 1940, a single direct hit on a shelter in Stoke Newington killed 160 civilians.

The peak use of the underground as shelter on 27 September 1940 was 177,000 and the November 1940 census of London found that around 4% of residents used tubes and other large shelters, 9% in public surface shelters and 27% in private homes. in shelters, meaning the remaining 60% of the city stayed at home.

Public demand prompted the government in October 1940 to build new shelters deep within the underground to hold 80,000 people, but the period of the heaviest bombings had already passed before they were finished.

Improvements were made to the underground and many other large shelters by the late 1940s. Officials provided food with stoves and bathrooms and in canteen trains. To reduce the queue time, tickets were issued for bunk beds in large shelters.

Committees were formed within the shelters as informal governments, and organizations such as the British Red Cross and the Salvation Army worked to improve conditions. Entertainment included concerts, movies, plays and books from local libraries.

Although the intensity of the bombing was not as great as pre-war expectations, so a similar comparison is impossible, the Blitz did not cause any mental distress even during the largest bombing period of September 1940.

An American witness wrote, "By every trial and measure I have been able to apply, these men are determined to the bone and will not give up ... the British are strong and in the beginning they are in a better position". People referred to the raids as if they were the weather, saying that one day was "very hazy".

According to Anna Freud and Edward Glover, unlike the soldiers in the Dunkirk evacuation, the citizens of London surprisingly did not suffer from widespread shell shock.

Although the stress of war caused many anxiety attacks, eating disorders, fatigue, crying, miscarriages, and other physical and mental illnesses, society did not collapse.

The number of suicides and drinking declined, and only two cases of "bomb neurosis" were reported per week in the first three months after the bombings in London.

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