World War II Timeline


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


12th March – Germany announces union with Austria
October – Lord Rosebery 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. (NPG66/6/1/6 © reserved)
November-December –  'dug out' area built in the Gallery basement to house sculptures and paintings that cannot be moved easily


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. (NPG66/6/1/6 © reserved)
3rd September – Britain and France declare war on Germany


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


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.


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. (NPG66/6/1/6 © reserved)


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


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)