United Kingdom 1939 - 1940:
The London District began 1939 with several Regular Army battalions from the Guards regiments stationed in the District. Their role was to perform the ceremonial and state duties in and around the capital. The two regiments of horse guards were based at Hyde Park Barracks, and Windsor. The five battalions of foot guards were based at Chelsea Barracks and Wellington Barracks (two each), and at the Tower of London.
Even with the declaration of war on 3 September 1939, some of the guarding duties remained in London, although practically all ceremonial duties ceased. As the Regular Army Guards battalions were deployed on active service, increasingly service battalions were used to mount guards at locations such as Buckingham Palace.
The London District remained a key formation on the Home Front during the Second World War, coordinating the response to the bombing of the capital city and guarding vulnerable points.
In 1936, the 2 London Division was disbanded in order to facilitate the conversion of several infantry units to an anti-aircraft role. This left the London District with one T.A. divisional formation, retitled simply as The London Division. This formation comprised units from both the former divisions, with the surplus units being converted into anti-aircraft units. Most of these newly converted units came under command of the 1 Anti-Aircraft Division, which was responsible for the anti-aircraft defences for Greater London.
In April 1939, with the decision taken by the Government to double the size of the Territorial Army by duplicating existing formations, the London Division formed a second line formation entitled the 2 London Division. Due to the shortage of units and equipment, neither were organised to the full scale establishment of an infantry division, but formed ‘Motor Divisions’, with enhanced mobility but at reduced establishment.
Neither of the divisions saw active service with the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.) in France in 1939 and 1940, but remained in the U.K.. Following the evacuation of the B.E.F. in June 1940, the 1 London Division became one of the main formations deployed on anti-invasion duties. As the 56 (London) Infantry Division, the 1 London Division saw extensive service in Iraq, Tunisia and Italy. The 2 London Division became the 47 (London) Infantry Division, remaining in the U.K. throughout the Second World War.
The Attack on the Guards’ Chapel
On Sunday 18 June 1944 the congregation assembled for morning service in the Guards’ Chapel in Wellington Barracks, St James’s Park, central London. The service started at 11 am. Lord Hay had read the first lesson, and the ‘Te Deum’ was about to begin, when the noise of a V1 was heard. The engine cut out. There was a brief silence, ‘an intensive blue flash’ and an explosion – and the roof collapsed, burying the congregation in ten feet of rubble.
This was the most deadly V1 attack of the Second World War, and Jan Gore’s painstakingly researched, graphic and moving account of the bombing and the aftermath tells the whole story. In vivid detail she describes the rescue effort which went on, day and night, for two days, and she records the names, circumstances and lives of each of the victims, and explains why they happened to be there.
Her minutely detailed reconstruction of this tragic episode in the V1 campaign against London commemorates the dead and wounded, and it gives us today an absorbing insight into the wartime experience of all those whose lives were affected by it.