Why was Buckingham Palace bombed during the Second World War and did the royal family evacuate?

Queen Mother said she heard the ‘unmistakable whirr-whirr of a German plane’

Sarah Young
Saturday 12 September 2020 14:18 BST
Buckingham Palace bombed during WWII

The Second World War, which lasted from 1939 to 1945, was a conflict that affected millions of Britons, including the royal family.  

Throughout the war, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) attempted to raise morale and often visited bombed areas to see the damage caused by enemy air raids.

While the royal couple took a keen interest in what was being done to help people who had lost their homes, it was not until their own household was targeted by the Germans that they could truly “look the East End in the face.”

On 13th September 1940, Buckingham Palace was hit by German bombs while King George VI and the Queen Mother were in residence, but what really happened and did anyone get hurt?

As we approach the 80th anniversary of the bombings, here is everything you need to know.

When was Buckingham Palace bombed?

During the Second World War, Buckingham Palace and its grounds were attacked a number times, with bombs directly hitting the building on nine of these occasions.

King George VI and the Queen Mother outside Buckingham Palace which suffered bomb damage on 13 September 1940

According to newspaper reports at the time, on 8 September 1940 a 50-kilogram bomb fell on the grounds of the palace, but it did not explode, and was later destroyed in a controlled explosion.

However, on 13 September, a single German raider dropped five bombs, two of which exploded in the inner quadrangle, while King George VI and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother were in residence.

A third bomb hit the Royal Chapel in the South Wing and a fourth was dropped on the forecourt, while the last fell near the Queen Victoria Memorial.

The palace was left with significant damage with many of the windows completely shattered.

Was anyone injured during the attack?

The attack left three workmen injured but King George and the Queen Mother managed to escape unharmed, according to reports at the time.

The bombing left three men injured

After surviving the attack, the Queen Mother later said in a statement: “I am glad we have been bombed.

“It makes me feel I can look the East End in the face.”

Did the King or Queen ever speak about the bombings?

In 2009, a letter from the Queen Mother describing the moment Buckingham Palace was bombed was shared with the public.

The note, which was written to the royal's mother-in-law, Queen Mary, told how the and Queen heard the “unmistakable whirr-whirr of a German plane” and then the “scream of a bomb”.

The royals had delayed heading down to the palace's air raid shelter because the King had asked his wife to take an eyelash out of his eye.

The Queen Mother said she heard the ‘unmistakable whirr-whirr of a German plane’ prior to the attack

“I saw a great column of smoke and earth thrown up into the air, and then we all ducked like lightening into the corridor,” the Queen Mother wrote.

“There was another tremendous explosion, and we and our two pages who were outside the door, remained for a moment or two in the corridor away from the staircase, in case of flying glass.”

She added: “My knees trembled a little bit for a minute or two after the explosions.”

Where was Queen Elizabeth?

Queen Elizabeth, then age 14, and her sister Princess Margaret were not at Buckingham Palace during the attack.

According to the ITV documentary Our Queen at War, when the war started, the King sent his daughters to stay at Windsor Castle for safety, before moving them to the Birkhall Estate in Aberdeenshire.

Her Majesty and Princess Margaret were looked after by the royal nanny, Marion Crawford.

Did the royal family evacuate from the UK during the war?

While King George and the Queen Mother were affected by the bombing, the incident went on to actually bolster the reputation of the Royal Family in the eye of the British public.

Despite being advised by the Foreign Office to immediately flee the country, the royal couple refused.

The Queen Mother declared at the time: “The children will not leave unless I do.

“I shall not leave unless their father does, and the king will not leave the country in any circumstances, whatever.“

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