Speakers commemorate 80 years since House of Commons bombing
Winston Churchill and his private secretary Brendan Bracken visit the wreckage; credit: Parliamentary Archives, HC/SA/SJ/7/2/33, copyright holder unknown
Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle and new Lord Speaker Lord McFall have commemorated the 80th anniversary of the destruction of the House of Commons Chamber in the Blitz, paying tribute to three members of parliamentary staff who died in the Luftwaffe attack on the night of 10 -11 May 1941.
The two speakers laid wreaths of fresh flowers at Parliament’s Second World War memorial off Westminster Hall to pay their respects to those who lost their lives when Parliament was hit on the final major air raid of the Blitz.
The attack also inflicted the highest number of casualties, with 1,436 people killed and more than 2,000 seriously injured across London. The Speaker also paused the Speaker's Procession so that Reverend Tricia Hillas could lead a short service at the entrance to the Commons Chamber, by the arch that then Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered be retained in its bomb-damaged state as a reminder of the ordeal.
Sir Lindsay said: “The Luftwaffe thought they had destroyed our House of Commons and our legislature - but they hadn’t reckoned upon the resilience of our democracy in the face of adversity. Today we remember the staff that tried to save the Palace, and the lives of those who were lost - both here and across the nation.”
Lord McFall added: “It is right that both Houses of Parliament are coming together today to remember the bombing of Parliament over 80 years ago.” He paid tribute to the “immense commitment of Parliamentary staff to public service,” both during the War and in the pandemic.
In the raid, firewatchers Auxiliary PC Arthur Stead, 33, and PC Gordon Farrant, 29, were killed instantly when the tower above the Royal Gallery received a direct hit. Captain Edward Elliott, Staff Superintendent of the House of Lords, was seriously injured, losing his legs when a bomb fell through the House of Lords but did not explode. He later died of his injuries.
We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us
The House of Commons Chamber was completely destroyed, with MPs relocating to the House of Lords temporarily. Churchill insisted the Chamber be “restored in all essentials to its old form, convenience and dignity,” with the crowded intimacy of the old chamber fully replicated. “We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us,” he famously said. Westminster Hall was also hit in the raid, along with the House of Lords, the Royal Gallery and Law Lords Corridor
Work on the new chamber began in May 1945 and was finished in October 1950. It cost more than £2m – almost twice the original budget.