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The Experience of Sheltering in the Tube during WWII

Object Type: Folder
In Folder: WWII Showcase

Date of Document

Shelterer Theresa Griffin remembers singing along to 'Knees Up Mother Brown'

Generally, those sheltering tried to maintain their spirits - if only for the sake of the estimated 25,000 children who were in the stations nightly at the peak of the war. Some stations held children's parties, part of Gloucester Road station was converted into a playground!

"...buskers come down...somebody might know a singer and they'd come down to entertain us..."

"...they didn't want the kids walking about because the trains were running...they'd start playing about on the escalators...there was one kid, one night, got his fingers caught in the belt..."

Once the decision was made to formally admit shelterers, they came in their thousands. On the 21st September 1940 around 120,000 people were seeking refuge in London’s underground stations. By October this had risen to 124,000, with 2,750 sheltering at King’s Cross alone.

Experience of Sheltering in the Tube INGESTED

The following night 19 people lost their lives as Bounds Green station was hit. Les Gaskin, a member of the public and the father of a TfL employee, answered TfL Corporate Archives campaign to capture World War Two memories of sheltering. He was at Bounds Green station the night it was hit.

"There used to be a lot of 'Knees up Mother Brown' going on ... and drinking.... and Christmas time there's carol's and laughing and talking.... by the time we'd finished we didn't hear what was going on upstairs."

In early September 1940, crowds gathered outside Liverpool Street underground station demanding to be let in to take shelter from the first bombings of what would become known as 'The Blitz'. A 1924 Government directive had ruled out the use of stations as shelters in the event of air raids but Londoners had other ideas. Many bought tickets for the tube and then simply refused to leave.

But in the midst of chaos and tragedy there was also life.

While sheltering during an air raid, London Passenger Transport Board driver W.T. Prebble entertained his fellow shelterers with his life story. His tales proved so popular he was encouraged to contact the B.B.C who recorded and broadcast his reminiscences.

Rules included: have your shelter ticket ready, arrive after 18:30; leave by 07:00; don't stand in groups; keep away from the platform edge; control children; take your rubbish home; and cooperate with staff.

But a war was still raging above and tragically some stations took hits from bombs, both indirect and direct.

On 12 October 1940, Trafalgar Square station was hit resulting in 7 fatalities to shelterers.

On 14th October, Balham station was flooded after a bomb fell above, 64 died. At Bank station on 11 January 1941, 53 people were killed when a bomb hit the booking hall. Not all deaths were as a result of bombing - on 3rd March 1943, 173 people seeking shelter lost their lives at Bethnal Green after a woman tripping led to mass crushing.

One unpleasant experience of sheltering underground was the presence of mosquitoes. By February 1941, "good progress" was being made on the delivery of sprays and compressors for aerial disinfection, with particular attention given to the elimination of mosquitoes.

Even Christmas remained a celebration.

Safety below ground was a major concern for the LPTB and shelterers were constantly requested to comply with 'conditions of use'.

Where possible, entertainments were provided or encouraged for shelterers. People could bring gramophone records to play music.

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