The Gallery under attack

Bombs continued to fall over London. Sightings of zeppelins and air-craft were frequent, and in June 1917 the true nature of the attacks on London was revealed in James Milner’s journal:

‘Received telephone message 11.27 am that enemy were attacking, the war office staff was at once notified & the members descended to the ground floor. Number of the lady clerks took advantage of the basement which I opened up as a refuge for the most nervous. Gun fire or explosions were heard almost immediately after the warning was received. Temporary attendant Udall who arrived on duty at 1.15 reported that he was at Liverpool Street Station, about 11.40, where great damage was done & many people killed & injured, he himself having narrowly escaped death or injury from a bomb which exploded about 50 yards from him, but a woman standing near was truncated. Fire brigade reported normal conditions at 12.22.’

During 1917 hundreds of soldiers and civilians staying at a nearby YMCA took refuge in the Gallery’s basement while bombs fell.

In August 1918 the last bombs of the First World War fell on London. The city was a much safer place and the Gallery began gradually to re-open to the public. Forty portraits were returned from safekeeping and put on display in the National Gallery. The exhibition was intended for troops returning from the frontline.

At the end of 1918 the whole Collection had returned from storage, but the Gallery buildings were still occupied by the Separation Allowances Department. After they left, on 18th October 1919, work to re-open to the public began in earnest. On 31st March 1920 the staff ceased to act as Special Constables and resumed their normal duties. It was not until July of that year that the whole Gallery re-opened to the public.

Click on images below to enlarge

© National Portrait Gallery, London

NPG82/2/1: Special Constabulary Report Book, 13 June 1917, describing a staff member's experience in a bombing raid
© National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

NPG82/2/1: Constabulary Report Book, 25 September 1917, describing soldiers and civilians sheltering from bombing raids in the Gallery's basement
© National Portrait Gallery, London