Today a service is being held in the hospital garden to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the bombing of St Thomas’ during the Second World War.
Between September 1940 and May 1941, the hospital was bombed six times, miraculously there was only a total of ten fatalities, but the hospital’s infrastructure and services were badly affected at a time when they were under immense pressure from both military causalities and civilian victims of the Blitz.
From 7th September 1940 – 21st May 1941, Britain was ravaged by the Blitz, a period of sustained strategic bombing by the German Luftwaffe. London, major ports such as Portsmouth and Liverpool and industrial centres like Sheffield were all targeted, London itself was bombed for 57 consecutive nights. It is estimated the Blitz killed more than 40,000 civilians, over half of those in the capital.
St Thomas’ Hospital, in a key strategic position across the river from the Houses of Parliament, was an early target. The first direct hit occurred at 2.30am on 9th September 1940 when a large bomb fell on Block 1, which included Gassiot House, where the Florence Nightingale Museum is located today. Gassiot House served as the Hospital’s nurses’ home, six members of hospital staff were killed including two nurses.
On 13th September 1940, St Thomas’ was again hit by a large bomb, this time falling on ‘Jericho’ the night nurses’ dormitory and a temporary building known as ‘E Hut’. On this occasion there were only minor injuries and no fatalities.
The most destructive attack occurred two days later on 15th September, when a very heavy bomb made a direct hit on the main hospital corridor, causing the collapse of medical outpatients, wrecking the kitchen, canteen, Dispensary and Administrative blocks, and putting all essential services at St Thomas’ out of action. Four members of staff died, three were critically injured, and 38 other patients and staff also suffered injuries.
On the 27th September 1940, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) visited the hospital to view the damage and meet the staff.
St Thomas’ was hit a further three times in October 1940, and in April and May 1941, with no further fatalities and only minor injuries occurring.
During the period of the Blitz much of the hospital’s night time activity was moved to the basement where it was considered to be marginally safer. Due to a city wide blackout, which required that all exterior lighting be turned off, and black out blinds or panels to be installed so that enemy aircraft would not be aided by lights on the ground, much of the medical staff’s work was carried out in near darkness.
These white rabbits were painted on the basement walls to aid doctors, nurses and patients with navigating the warren of basement corridors at night, and can still be seen today.