World War II Timeline

1935

British Museums and Galleries are instructed by the government to make plans for the evacuation of their collections in the event of war


1938

12th March – Germany announces union with Austria
October – Lord Rosemore agrees to lend outbuildings at his estate, Mentmore in Buckinghamshire, to the Gallery for use as a wartime 'refuge'
Click to see a photograph of Mentmore House. The Gallery evacuated its portraits to Mentmore's outbuildings during the war. (NPG22/1/4 © reserved)
November-December –  'dug out' area built in the Gallery basement to house sculptures and paintings that cannot be moved easily


1939

Spring – Gallery carpenters begin work installing shelving at Mentmore
23rd August – Home Office instructs the Gallery to evacuate its portraits
24th August – First batch of portraits arrive at Mentmore, and others are moved into the 'dug-out'
Click to see a photograph of Gallery attendants with frames stored in the billiard room at Mentmore. (NPG22/1/4 © reserved)
3rd September – Britain and France declare war on Germany


1940

8th January – Rationing starts in the UK
July – Gallery Director Henry Hake moves into the Gallery and spends the nights either there or at Mentmore
August – 6 bombs fall in the grounds of Mentmore
July-September – Britain fends off German air attacks in the Battle of Britain
7th September - 'The Blitz' begins – German bombing of British cities
17th & 18th November – 2 landmines fall and explode close to Mentmore


1941

November – Two bombs fall on the Gallery, one destroying a staircase, the other falling into the courtyard near Hake's bedroom. No one is hurt.


1942

March– Small part of the Gallery is re-opened to the public with an exhibition of handicrafts by members of the armed forces called 'London District Command Forces'
13th June – Small exhibition called 'A Series of Portraits Illustrating Founders of Empire' is shown to the public
July-August – Some portraits are moved from mentmore to Westwood Quarry near Bath, others are moved from the Gallery to Mentmore
Click to see a photograph of frames and sculptures stored in the billiard room at Mentmore. (NPG22/1/4 © reserved)


1943

January – 'A small part of the Gallery's usual space is re-opened for an exhibition of recent acquisitions' – these have to be removed from the walls and stored in the dug-out each night


1945

8th May – Victory in Europe (VE) day
8th May – Gallery closes and cleaning and restoration work begins
14th July – Gallery officially re-opens with a display of portraits of members of the Kit Cat Club
Click to see photograph of staff (NPG22/1/4 © reserved)