Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Sloane Square station, 12 November 1940

A recent edition of the Metro free newspaper included a feature on Andrew Emmerson's new book on the London Underground (imaginatively titled The London Underground, and published by Shire Library), which placed much emphasis on what it described as the "little known secrets" of the network, although the ones they chose to highlight seemed familiar enough to me. Accompanying the print version of the article was a much-previously published - although no less dramatic - photograph of the extensive damage cause to Sloane Square station when it was hit by a German bomb during the Second World War, with the caption stating that 79 people were killed in the attack.

Wartime papers held at the National Archives[1] show that at 21:15 on 12 November 1940, a high-explosive bomb struck the ticket hall of the station, demolishing much of the canopy roof, and completely blocking the line with debris. One large chunk of concrete landed on top of a train that was just leaving the station, and two gas mains were also severed and ignited. Initial reports were that there were over 40 fatalities, yet for many years only ambiguous references to "79 casualties" were applied to the incident in various sources, such as Piers Connor's history of the District line.[2]

In fact, an analysis of the Register of Civilian War Dead maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission reveals 37 named fatalities attributed to the incident. Thirty-five of them appear to be been killed immediately or died at the station, with the remaining two dying of their injured later in hospital. This makes it the third highest loss of life on the Underground due to direct enemy action, after the bombings of Balham (66 dead) and Bank (57 dead) in Octiber 1940 and January 1941 respectively.

Due to wartime restrictions, the attack was not mentioned directly in newspapers in the following days, although The Times of 19 November reported on bombed sites being cleared by the Royal Engineers, and included mention of what is almost certainly Sloane Square:
"Among the sites visited [by reporters] yesterday was an Underground station, the entrance offices and roof of which were shattered by a heavy bomb. Members of the R.E. were dislodging perilously hanging blocks of masonry and detatching others from steel girders by the use of electric drills, while gangs of the Pioneer Corps shovelled the debris into trucks for removal."[3]

[1] Ministry of Home Security, Key Points Intelligence Directorate: Reports and Papers, Daily Reports - November 1940 [Kew: National Archives, reference HO 201/4]
[2] Connor, Piers: Going Green, page 58 [Harrow Weald: Capital Transport, 1993]
[3] The Times, page 2 [London: 19 November 1940]


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