Lincoln’s Inn Fields in World War II (1939-45)

The social life of the Fields was considerably enlivened during World War II by the presence of the Headquarters of the Royal Canadian Air Force Overseas at No.20 Lincoln’s Inn Fields from December 1941 to July 1946 (recorded by a small plaque in English and French to the left of the front door of Nos 20-23 Lincoln’s Inn Fields).

At the end of the war the RCAF presented its ensign to Holborn Borough Council (one of the three predecessor councils of the present London Borough of Camden), as a mark of ‘their great pride in their residence in the borough during the war of liberation’. In a reciprocal gesture Holborn Borough Council obtained permission from the London County Council to plant a maple tree in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The tree, a gift from the Mayor and citizens of Ottawa, was flown from Canada in an RCAF bomber and planted on a site opposite No. 20 Lincoln’s Inn Fields in a grand ceremony on 17 January 1945. The footpath adjacent to the garden on the north side was named Canada Walk.

The current granite memorial commemorating the wartime presence of the RCAF dates from 1998 (the old plaques having become worn and illegible). It was unveiled on 14 May by the Mayor of Camden and the Canadian Prime Minister, Jean-Luc Chrétien, in a ceremony equally grand to that of 1945, complete with a fly-past of Tornado jets.

During the War, local office workers and inhabitants, including the Canadian servicemen, used an underground concrete air raid shelter constructed under the Fields in 1940. The last of its surface features was removed by the London County Council in 1954-55, but the bunker itself remains – a Channel 4 Time Team excavation in March 2009 revealed the steps down to one of the entrances in the north-west quadrant of the Fields.

The area experienced its worst bombing on the night of 10 May 1941 when the Royal College of Surgeons on the south side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields was badly damaged and over half the specimens in the Hunterian Museum destroyed.

By comparison with the other Inns of Court (which were very heavily bombed during World War II), Lincoln’s Inn itself survived the duration relatively, although not entirely, unscathed. Within the Inn, the raid of 10 May 1941 almost entirely destroyed Nos 2 and 3 Stone Buildings with much of the upper floors of Nos 1 to 6 Stone Buildings being gutted by fire.

Parts of Lincoln’s Inn had also been damaged in air raids during World War I. A plaque on the wall of Lincoln’s Inn Chapel explains that a nearby round stone in the roadway ‘marks the spot where, on Wednesday the 13th of October 1915, at 9.25 pm a bomb from a German Zeppelin struck the ground and exploded, shattering the chapel windows and doing other material damage’.

Historical information provided by Friends of Lincoln’s Inn Fields

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