Check Out These Incredible Images Of Wartime London - Released By TfL

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 39 months ago
Check Out These Incredible Images Of Wartime London - Released By TfL
Staff from London Aircraft Production workshops, where sections of new Handley-Page "Halifax" bombers are made, visiting an airfield to see the completed aircraft, 1945. Despite the need to maintain vital transport services during WW II in the face of air raids, wartime shortages and restrictions, the London Passenger Transport Board (LPTB) also played a part in direct war production.

Coaches converted into ambulances. Crowds of Londoners sleeping all the way up escalators. Children's Christmas parties thrown in the depths of Holborn station.

This was the London of the second world war — and a virtual exhibition from TfL has the pictures to tell these remarkable stories.

A nurse stands in the open rear emergency exit doorway of a T-type Green Line coach which has been converted into an ambulance, 1939. Green Line coaches were the vehicles that operated the 'country' arm of LPTB's service, running from London to towns such as Ascot, Dorking, and Reigate.

TfL's corporate archive has been curated with hundreds of images and newspaper clippings, documenting the role of its predecessor — the London Passenger Transport Board (LPTB) — at a time when the country was at war.

Patients being moved onto Green Line coach, converted into an ambulance, October 1939. In accordance with a prior agreement with Government, when war came, practically all Green Line coaches and some other single deck vehicles were converted into ambulances capable of taking 8-10 stretcher cases.

The pivoting of transport services played a major role in the war effort; from turning tube stations into bomb shelters and factories, to converting hundreds of Green Line coaches into ambulances.

Farm workers Mary Howe, a former art student, and Gwen Seale, a former GPO employee, pose in a cabbage field, 8 September 1944. Under the strenuous conditions of war, the canteen service became vital. By 1939, the LPTB had built up a well organised system of canteens for staff at depots, garages, works, and at places where meal reliefs were taken on the road.

LPTB staff showed great flexibility with the roles they played too; many women turned their hand to manufacturing, working in places like the Handley Page "Halifax" factories in Chiswick and White City, and the Plessey factory in Redbridge.

A mobile canteen at an Aldgate lay-by. 11 August 1942. With the outbreak of war, special emergency arrangements as well as a great expansion of the canteen facilities became necessary. Emergency field kitchens were constructed at all canteens, in case of gas and water supply issues. 70 blast proof equipped shelters enabled a refreshment service to be maintained during the air raids. The number of canteens was increased from 113 to 150, employing 1,930 staff.

Other LPTB workers took on roles as firefighters, nurses and catering staff — some serving hot tea and pies from Tube Refreshments Specials to keep morale up.

Women working on a component for a Handley Page "Halifax" bomber, one of several hundred built by London Aircraft Production, 1945. The LPTB Works at Chiswick, Aldenham and White City, usually occupied with the manufacture of trains and buses, were turned over to the LAPG. They were responsible for building the centre section, the front fuselage, engines, engine cowlings, stores and spares.

Famously, Londoners sought shelter in London Underground stations, and photos in the collection depict uncomfortable scenes of people packed in along platforms and up escalators. A 1924 Government directive had ruled out stations being used as shelters in the event of air raids, but many Londoners just bought tube tickets, then refused to leave.

An engineer works in the bomb-aimer's position, 1945.

In one image in the collection, sheltering children are shown giving a thumbs-up to the camera, in a moment of pure blitz spirit. While many thousands of London children were evacuated on public transport early on, some stayed behind and others actually returned while the war was still raging — enjoying Christmas parties held in Underground stations.

Aileron and rudder assemblies for Handley Page "Halifax" bombers, 1945. Women worked on aileron (a hinged flight control surface usually forming part of the trailing edge of each wing) and rudder assemblies among other things.

Tamara Thornhill, Corporate Archivist at TfL said:

We are proud of our colleagues whose work helped Britains war effort and ultimately helped save lives. This collection features never seen before images from the second world war and information about the people who helped the London Passenger Transport Board (LPTB), who went to fight on the front lines and then returned to their day jobs once the war was over.

A volunteer fire crew standing next to a mobile pump. 1943. While thousands of LTPB employees enlisted into war service, many were still carrying out their daily duties working for the organisation to keep London moving. Throughout the war it was deemed imperative that, as far as possible, London and Londoners were able to go about their business. This meant that tube, bus and tram services were expected to continue unaffected.

You can browse the virtual exhibition on TfL's corporate archives.

A crew of female volunteer firefighters seen at a London Transport firefighting efficiency competition at Acton Works, 1943. The competition was open to all Home Guard members and a female team was invited to take part.
Staff undertaking tasks to protect the railway and administrative premises, including fitting floodgates, hooding rail signals, using a periscope in Chiswick Works and dispatch riders, November 1939. A huge effort was mounted by the organisation to protect these assets and to thereby keep London moving.
Photograph showing the evacuation of children. In the first 4 days of September 1939, the scheme of evacuation was put into effect. 640 special underground tubes, 4,985 buses, 533 trams, and 377 trolleybuses were used to carry over 550,000 people either to main railway stations or direct to the countryside. Image courtesy of the LIFE Photographic Collection.
A small child being evacuated. No early attack occurred and by mid-January 1940 it was estimated that 34% of the people evacuated had returned to London and the return was continuing due to a perceived lack of threat or because they were unhappy away from their families and their homes. Image courtesy of the LIFE Photographic Collection.
A children's party in progress in Holborn Underground station, with the local mayor and several London Passenger Transport Board officials present. 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.
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!
A mass of shelterers asleep in a tube station passageway, 1944.
Children's presents being packed before a party, 1944.
Staff decorating a Christmas tree at an Underground station, 1944.
A baby sleeping in a cardboard box in a tube station, 1944.
'Make do and mend' on a bridge in Kilburn. Air-raid damage at Kilburn and Brondesbury Underground station. Wooden framework has been constructed to replace the missing part of the bridge and a train can be seen running over this, 1940.
Workers at the Plessey factory, Redbridge, 23 July 1941. Nearly five miles of new tube tunnel, intended for the Central line between Leytonstone and Gants Hill, were converted and equipped as an aircraft component factory for the Ministry of Aircraft Production.
Tube shelterers sleeping on an escalator at Piccadilly Circus Underground station.
First aid post at Notting Hill Gate station, 1944. The first of these opened at South Kensington station on 20 December 1940. In total, 86 posts were established at a cost of £12,590 including equipment — over £710,000 in today's money.
Catering staff ready to serve refreshments, 1944. On 29 October 1940, the first refreshments service opened at Hyde Park station. By 11 November, 40-50 gallons of liquid were being sold nightly.

All images © TfL and London Transport Museum unless otherwise stated

Last Updated 17 November 2020

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