And what a plan! D-Day and Parliament in wartime

An online exhibition by the Parliamentary Archives

June 2014 is the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings

On 6th June 1944, after many months of planning and the build-up of a massive force of troops, the Allied forces of World War Two invaded Normandy, northern France, in an attempt to liberate Europe from Germany's occupying army. D-Day was the greatest seaborne invasion in history. Some 160,000 troops (including British, American, and Canadian forces) embarked 5,000 craft in southern England and landed on five beaches on the Normandy coast, supported by approximately 13,000 aircraft.

The Normandy coastline, "The Evening Standard", 26th June 1944 (LG/I/3/3/46).

Later that day the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, reported the landings to the House of Commons: 'And what a plan! This vast operation is undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever occurred.'

Churchill

Churchill's speech on D-Day (Hansard, 6 June 1944, cols 1209-1210).

Parliament and the Second World War

D-Day marked the beginning of the end of the Second World War in Europe. Since 1939 Parliament had witnessed the progress of the conflict, and had itself felt the effects of the many bombing campaigns on London - the Palace of Westminster was hit fourteen times during the war. The most serious attack occurred on the night of 10-11 May 1941. On that night the Palace was severely damaged, the chamber of the House of Commons was destroyed and three people were killed.

Part of the bombed out Palace (ARC/VAR/12/485)

Bombed building

During World War II many procedures were put in place to protect Parliament and the Palace of Westminster.

In 1937 an Air Raid Precautions (ARP) Committee for the Palace met for the first time. It ordered the construction of air raid shelters and the establishment of a control centre and a first aid unit. Air raid rehearsals were carried out, and a system put in place to give warning by telephone of an air raid. Firewatching began in January 1941, with a few volunteers. However, from May 1941, all men employed in the Palace were expected to undertake such duties.

Air Raid Precautions (ARP) sign (HC/SA/SJ/13/5)

ARP

In 1940 a Parliamentary Home Guard unit - "The Palace of Westminster Company" - was established, consisting of around one hundred Members and staff of both Houses. During the war, the Company took part in fire-watching duties, manned a gun at the exit to Westminster Underground Station and undertook a wide variety of training schemes. During the State Opening of Parliament in 1942 they formed a guard of honour for the King in the Royal Gallery and in that same year were inspected by Churchill.

The Palace of Westminster Company (HC/CL/CH/3/10)

Home Guard Office

As is clear from the photograph further above, parts of the Palace were damaged during the war. However, it was due to the efforts of everyone concerned with protecting it that even more of the building was not destroyed (for example, Westminster Hall though damaged, remained intact).

It is also remarkable that the Palace continued to be used throughout the war. Following the bombing of May 1941, most sittings of the House of Commons took place in the chamber of the House of Lords - the House of Lords met in the Robing Room.

The last time the Palace was damaged by a bomb during World War II was in July 1944.

Wartime memories

If you or anyone you know has memories of the events described on these pages why not e-mail them to us at: [email protected]

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