Underground Shelterers


“One day we heard that a bomb had destroyed the home of a classmate, Derek Barnes. His mother, father and baby sister were killed. Our class clubbed together to buy him a Meccano set. To this day I can see him standing forlornly as he received his gift and said goodbye to us, presumably to start a new life with relatives”. John Gent, a retired London Transport worker, talking in 2010.

This is the nineteenth square of my London Faces Patchwork. It is a patchwork of papers gleaned from the pavements of the city in which I live. There are twenty-five squares making up the whole piece. You can see it here.

During the Blitz, Londoners took shelter into their own hands and went deep underground. The government had forbidden this. During a raid, people would simply buy a ticket and occupy the station. 60,000 people would gather underground. Eventually, the government had to bow to pressure.

This station is Swiss Cottage, London Borough of Camden. It was closed in 1940, so the chances are it was not in use at the time of the photograph. Records show that 41 ‘high explosive bombs’ were dropped in this area.

Sadly, the shelterers are unnamed.

I have only just noticed that the arm in the Turner square looks like it belongs to one of the shelterers. Happy accident.

The picture was taken from ‘The London Bus And Tube Book’ by Nicola Baxter. Design Consultant, Jeremy Rewse-Davies. Editorial Assistant, Sharon Appleton. Photographer uncredited. Published by Hodder and Stoughton, 1994.

Bought by Bromley Libraries in 1994, and sold to me, in a rather knackered state, in 2010.



6 thoughts on “Underground Shelterers

    • Yes, I know, it had the same effect on me.
      My friend John Loader, who is also an artist, left this comment on my Facebook page: A sad little story that reminds me of another (not so devastating!).
      A week before my Mother’s 11th birthday the shipyards in her home town of Clydebank were blitzed over two nights, along with the town. 48,000 people made homeless, among them my Mother. She had been looking forward to her birthday present of a blue coat, sadly lost in her bombed out home.

      • It is the small things that seem to hit the hardest because sometimes I think the big things are too hard to take in. This is so touching, that this detail has survived all these years…

      • I know, and I like the fact that John Gent, (although, speaking decades later) took the time to name Derek Barnes, even though he probably hasn’t seen or heard from him since. And now every time I see a piece of Meccano (or blue coat) I will think of this.

  1. Pingback: London Faces Patchwork | Alison Sye

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