Guards' Chapel, Wellington Barracks

18 June 1944

By Anna Maria Ruggiero

At 11.20am, 18 June 1944, a V1 flying bomb hit the Guards' Chapel on Birdcage Walk SW1, not far from Buckingham Palace.The blast demolished most of the building and caused large loss of life. The Chapel - built in 1838 and also known as the Royal Military Chapel, St James's Park – formed part of Wellington Barracks, home to the Brigade of Guards. Parts of Wellington Barracks had been badly damaged four years earlier, after the rear of the building facing Petty France was hit by a high explosive bomb on 16 November 1940.

On Sunday, 18 June 1944, a mixed military and civilian congregation had gathered at the Guards' Chapel for morning worship. The choir had just started the Sung Eucharist when a V1 flying bomb cut out and nosedived onto the Chapel roof. The direct hit completely destroyed the roof, its supporting walls and concrete pillars and the portico of the Chapel's western door.

Tons of rubble fell onto the congregation. 121 soldiers and civilians were killed and 141 others were seriously injured. The high death toll included the officiating Chaplain, Revd Ralph Whitrow, several senior British Army officers and a US Army Colonel. The Bishop of Maidstone, senior cleric present at this morning service, was one of the few left uninjured

As the clouds of dust subsided, first aid teams and heavy rescue crews arrived to find a scene of utter devastation. An initial City of Westminster ARP assessment put the number of casualties at 400-500. At first, the debris appeared impenetrable; the smashed remains of walls and the collapsed roof had trapped dozens. The doors to the Chapel were blocked; the only access point for the rescue teams lay behind the altar. Doctors and nurses were obliged to scramble in between the concrete walls to administer morphine and first aid. Several rescuers and survivors later recalled that the silver altar cross had been untouched by the blast and candles continued to burn. The rescue services and Guardsmen from the Barracks immediately began freeing survivors from the wreckage and carrying them out. The operation to free them all took 48 hours. 

The Guards' Chapel incident was the most serious V1 attack on London of the war. The flying bomb left only the apse of the Chapel intact. Nearby mansion flat blocks - among them Broadway Buildings and Queen Anne's Mansions in Petty France - also suffered blast damage, including one used by US news correspondent Walter Cronkite.

Dr R.V. Jones (Churchill's principal scientific adviser tasked with countering the V-Weapons threat) was working nearby, in the SIS (MI6) offices at 54 Broadway. He recalled:

"One lasting impression I had was that the whole of Birdcage Walk was a sea of fresh pine leaves, the trees had all been stripped and I could hardly see a speck of asphalt for hundreds of yards" (R.V.Jones: 'Most Secret War; British Scientific Intelligence 1939-1945').

As the V1 campaign against London intensified, the Guards' Chapel attack received much publicity in the international press and was highlighted by journalists and in government statements as a particular atrocity.

The Chapel itself was almost completely ruined. The rubble included the remnants of over two thousand small memorial plaques, dedicated to the service of Guardsmen since 1660. 

Despite the damage, part of the Chapel was re-opened for services in time for Christmas 1944. Today’s Guards' Chapel was rebuilt on the same site during 1962-1963. Just inside the Chapel's west entrance, a large engraved wall memorial and book of remembrance record the soldiers and civilians who died in the 1944 attack. The original altar cross and six silver candlesticks still adorn the Chapel's altar.

 

 

Photo:Damage to Wellington Barracks, November 1940

Damage to Wellington Barracks, November 1940

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:Damage to Wellington Barracks, Petty France, November 1940

Damage to Wellington Barracks, Petty France, November 1940

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:Damage to Wellington Barracks, Petty France, November 1940

Damage to Wellington Barracks, Petty France, November 1940

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:Damage to Wellington Barracks, Petty France, 1940

Damage to Wellington Barracks, Petty France, 1940

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:City of Westminster ARP Message Form, September 1940

City of Westminster ARP Message Form, September 1940

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:ARP Message form, Wellington Barracks, November 1940

ARP Message form, Wellington Barracks, November 1940

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:ARP Message Form, Wellington Barracks, November 1940

ARP Message Form, Wellington Barracks, November 1940

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:ARP Damage Report, Guards Chapel, 18 June 1944

ARP Damage Report, Guards Chapel, 18 June 1944

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:ARP Message Form, Guards Chapel, 18 June 1944

ARP Message Form, Guards Chapel, 18 June 1944

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:Bomb Map: Wellington Barracks

Bomb Map: Wellington Barracks

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Guards Chapel, Wellington Barracks, Birdcage Walk, SW1

This page was added by Ronan Thomas on 12/10/2010.
Comments about this page

My father and uncle, Derek and Roy Glanvill, were aged 13 and ten at the time of this incident. They had just finished for the day singing in the choir at St James’s, Piccadilly, and had started the walk to their home on Wardour Street when they heard the ominous drone of a flying bomb cut out. The brothers looked up and saw the bomb cruising in their direction. It was a cloudless, otherwise quiet Sunday morning and the only person nearby was a man on the other side of he street. ‘People always say about instinctively diving to the floor,’ uncle Roy recalled recently, ‘but we were just transfixed and rooted to the spot, the two of us and the man across the road. We knew it could be the end but just stood there as it flew towards us. ‘Luckily kept flying over us, and we breathed a huge sigh of relief, until we heard the bang a few seconds later. ‘The next day we found out 150 soldiers had been killed.’

By Rick Glanvill
On 28/06/2012

My Grandfather Herbert John Barker was due on Church Parade that morning as duty Sergeant. He arranged for his post to be covered by another Sergeant who sadly was killed in this bombing. As a child in the 50's I heard this tale and often wanted more details of this attack which was so close to Buck House. A sad day in the history of the Brigade of Guards.

By John Barker
On 25/04/2013

My father Coldstream Guardsman William Trevor jones was one of the soldiers that arrived shortly after the impact and apart from the helping the injured and trapped people was one of the soldiers that rescued the colours from the chapel carnage

By Bryan Jones
On 27/11/2013

My Great Uncle Fred - Alfred Bowyer of Grenadier Guards was killed that day in the chapel. He was 24. He was supposed to be back home on leave but swapped with someone else. So so tragic.

By Lindsey
On 25/01/2014

Five musicians and the Director of Music were killed and 14 injured from the Coldstream Guards band on this day.

By Alan Cooper
On 13/04/2014

Today I was given a communion set which one of my folk had been given for safe keeping years ago, but hadn't a clue whence it came. On opening it we discovered, well-concealed, a letter from the MOD which revealed that it was originally owned by one of the chaplains killed in the Guards Chapel bombing, one R.H Whitrow, and subsequently passed on to one of my predecessors.

By Fr David Rowett
On 30/07/2014

I hold the care of a Shakespeare's Birthday Book filled with 900 autographs which belonged to Surgeon/Dr Thomas Leslie Crooke. His sister Olive Louisa Crooke born in Ireland April 1874  was a pioneer pharmacist serving under Sophia Jex-Blake , serving in WW1 and settled in Christchurch NZ died in the bombing of the Queen's Guards Chapel 18 June 1944 on her return journey home to the UK.

By Shane Duffy
On 18/09/2015

The service at the Guards Chapel on 18.06.44 was being conducted by my Father Rev. Ralph Henry Whitrow. The Bishop was to be the guest speaker. The bomb struck part way through the Te Deum in Matins. It was not a communion service as stated above. I have now received his communion set from David Rowett as above. Thankyou.

By Lucy Whitrow
On 20/09/2015

My dad David Belsten was a young grenadier guard who attended the service that morning, he was seriously injured but over time made a full recovery. He sometimes spoke about this incident with tears in his eyes remembering his comrades who lost their lives that fateful sunday morning.

By Kim Belsten
On 16/02/2016

My mother said that she and a friend were planning to go to this service, they were in the WRAF and working in London at that time, but after coming off night duty at 9 am they went to their flat to get changed for the service and fell asleep and did not make it to the service. They were shocked when they found out about the terrible bombing and they could have been one of they many casualties.

By Shelagh Toews
On 13/04/2016

I put a comment yesterday regarding my mother and I neglected to put her name...Dorothy Harris was her name then and her married name is Dorothy Dent.

By Shelagh Toews
On 13/04/2016

Hi;  I'm looking for information regarding Pfc James Franklin, US Army who was killed in an air raid in England on June 18, 1944.  Can you recommend a source for specific casualties on that date?  Thank you.

By Matt Parsons
On 11/03/2017

My Dad was on Westminster Bridge and saw the flying bomb pass overhead, he said he thought it would hit the Houses of Parliament.

By Gerard O'Connor
On 27/03/2017

My mother ,an ATS sergeant cook, was on duty when the chapel was hit and went to help with casualties. She subsequently was awarded the BEM but whether it was for this action we do not know. Her name was then Sgt I. L. Pearson.

By Roger Whatley
On 06/11/2017

My son's great grandfather, US Col. G.B. Guenther, assigned to Psychological Warfare at the time, was killed in this attack. He was once head of the Cairo office of the OSS.

By Kjerstie Nelson
On 14/12/2017

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.