What was it like to live through the London Blitz?


British children being evacuated from London.

Many of the evacuees were accommodated in hotels mainly around the London Boroughs of South Kensington, Fulham, Bayswater and Wembley. Some of the initial evacuation centres were as follows:

Evacuation Centre/Number of evacuees
Kensington Palace Mansions / 800
Royal Palace Hotel / 1,000
Marlborough Court / 1,000
British Empire Hotel / 300
Broadwalk Hotel / 250
North End House / 7 550
Fulham / 1,000
Tottenham Court Road / 800
Empress Hall / 750
Anerley Receiving Centre / 750
Dr. Barnardo’s Homes in Barkingside / 750
Empire Pool in Wembley / 500
Lancaster Gate / 1,543
National, Shelbourne &Raglan Hotels in Bedford Way / 1,850


British children being evacuated from London.

A further 1,786 evacuees arrived in early September 1940. They arrived just as fierce air battles were taking place over the skies – the ‘Battle of Britain’ had begun. From mid-August, throughout September, Britain, and London in particular, was pounded by the Germans. Ironically, as London children were being evacuated away from the capital to safer areas, Gibraltarian evacuees, including children, were being moved into areas heavily targeted by bombs of the German Luftwaffe. Night after night London suffered from the effects of heavy bombing, whilst during the day fighters from both sides duelled across the London skies for supremacy of the air. The evacuees spent most nights in underground shelters as bombs were dropped all around them. Whitelands Training College was struck by incendiary bombs which, despite the efforts of the residents to put out the fires, destroyed most of the roof. Other places damaged by the blitz included the Empress Hall, Runnymede House, the Raglan Hotel and the Shelbourne Hotel. Later, Germany employed V-1 ‘doodlebugs’ and their upgraded version, the even more powerful and terrifying V-2 rockets , were launched from sites spread out along the coasts of France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Kensington Palace Mansion was hit by a flying bomb which resulted in the death of an evacuee.

British children leaving London at the time the Gibraltarian evacuees were arriving.

Yet, despite the constant dangers all around them and the damage caused to some of the evacuation centres, the number of evacuees killed during the air raids remained very small. Londoners began to regard the Gibraltarians as ‘lucky’ and would rush to the air raid shelters occupied by the Gibraltarian communities in the area for ‘protection’. At first, the Spaish-speaking, culturally different Gibraltarians had been treated rather coldly by Londoners, who mistook them for refugees and such remarks very much offended the proud Gibraltarian sensibilities.

Gibraltarian children, Harold and Leslie Wahnon, wearing gas masks in London.

Nevertheless, many Gibraltarians soon earned the respect of their fellow Londoners as they joined in the war effort to defeat the Nazis, even despite the terrible destruction on life and property caused by The Blitz. Some Gibraltarians enlisted in the armed forces, others joined the Air Raid Wardens (ARW) directing people towards the air raid shelters or were employed in factories producing anything from uniforms to bombs required for the war effort. By the end of May 1941 the Battle of Britain was over. The Royal Air Force (RAF) had barely managed to maintain control of the skies, inflicting heavy losses on the German Luftwaffe in the process. Hitler, frustrated by his air force’s inability to destroy the RAF, now turned his attentions fully towards Russia and Operation Barbarossa. Although the threat of the flying bombs remained, the eight month long London Blitz was finally at an end.