Guards' Chapel, Wellington Barracks

18 June 1944

By Anna Maria Ruggiero

At 11.20am, 18 June 1944, a V1 flying bomb hit the Guards' Chapel on Birdcage Walk SW1, not far from Buckingham Palace.The blast demolished most of the building and caused large loss of life. The Chapel - built in 1838 and also known as the Royal Military Chapel, St James's Park – formed part of Wellington Barracks, home to the Brigade of Guards. Parts of Wellington Barracks had previously been damaged after the rear of the building facing Petty France was hit by a high explosive bomb on 16 November 1940.

On Sunday, 18 June 1944, a mixed military and civilian congregation had gathered at the Guards' Chapel for morning worship. The choir had just started the Sung Eucharist when a V1 flying bomb cut out and nosedived onto the Chapel roof. The direct hit completely destroyed the roof, its supporting walls and concrete pillars and the portico of the Chapel's western door.

Tons of rubble fell onto the congregation. 121 soldiers and civilians were killed and 141 others were seriously injured. The high death toll included the officiating Chaplain, Revd Ralph Whitrow, several senior British Army officers and a US Army Colonel. The Bishop of Maidstone, senior cleric present at this morning service, was one of the few left uninjured

As the clouds of dust subsided, first aid teams and heavy rescue crews arrived to find a scene of utter devastation. An initial City of Westminster ARP assessment put the number of casualties at 400-500. At first, the debris appeared impenetrable; the smashed remains of walls and the collapsed roof had trapped dozens. The doors to the Chapel were blocked; the only access point for the rescue teams lay behind the altar. Doctors and nurses were obliged to scramble in between the concrete walls to administer morphine and first aid. Several rescuers and survivors later recalled that the silver altar cross had been untouched by the blast and candles continued to burn. The rescue services and Guardsmen from the Barracks immediately began freeing survivors from the wreckage and carrying them out. The operation to free them all took 48 hours. 

The Guards' Chapel incident was the most serious V1 attack on London of the war. The flying bomb left only the apse of the Chapel intact. Nearby mansion flat blocks - among them Broadway Buildings and Queen Anne's Mansions in Petty France - also suffered blast damage, including one used by US news correspondent Walter Cronkite.

Dr R.V. Jones (Churchill's Assistant Director of Intelligence and scientific adviser tasked with countering the V-Weapons threat) was working nearby, in the SIS (MI6) offices at 54 Broadway. He recalled:

"One lasting impression I had was that the whole of Birdcage Walk was a sea of fresh pine leaves, the trees had all been stripped and I could hardly see a speck of asphalt for hundreds of yards" (R.V.Jones: 'Most Secret War; British Scientific Intelligence 1939-1945').

As the V1 campaign against London intensified, the Guards' Chapel attack received much publicity in the international press and was highlighted by journalists and in government statements as a particular atrocity.

The Chapel itself was almost completely ruined. The rubble included the remnants of over two thousand small memorial plaques, dedicated to the service of Guardsmen since 1660. 

Despite the damage, part of the Chapel was re-opened for services in time for Christmas 1944. Today’s Guards' Chapel was rebuilt on the same site during 1962-1963. Just inside the Chapel's west entrance, a large engraved wall memorial and book of remembrance record the soldiers and civilians who died in the 1944 attack. The original altar cross and six silver candlesticks still adorn the Chapel's altar.



Photo:Damage to Wellington Barracks, November 1940

Damage to Wellington Barracks, November 1940

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:Damage to Wellington Barracks, Petty France, November 1940

Damage to Wellington Barracks, Petty France, November 1940

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:Damage to Wellington Barracks, Petty France, November 1940

Damage to Wellington Barracks, Petty France, November 1940

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:Damage to Wellington Barracks, Petty France, 1940

Damage to Wellington Barracks, Petty France, 1940

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:City of Westminster ARP Message Form, September 1940

City of Westminster ARP Message Form, September 1940

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:ARP Message form, Wellington Barracks, November 1940

ARP Message form, Wellington Barracks, November 1940

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:ARP Message Form, Wellington Barracks, November 1940

ARP Message Form, Wellington Barracks, November 1940

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:ARP Damage Report, Guards Chapel, 18 June 1944

ARP Damage Report, Guards Chapel, 18 June 1944

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:ARP Message Form, Guards Chapel, 18 June 1944

ARP Message Form, Guards Chapel, 18 June 1944

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:Bomb Map: Wellington Barracks

Bomb Map: Wellington Barracks

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Guards Chapel, Wellington Barracks, Birdcage Walk, SW1

This page was added by Ronan Thomas on 12/10/2010.
Comments about this page

My father and uncle, Derek and Roy Glanvill, were aged 13 and ten at the time of this incident. They had just finished for the day singing in the choir at St James’s, Piccadilly, and had started the walk to their home on Wardour Street when they heard the ominous drone of a flying bomb cut out. The brothers looked up and saw the bomb cruising in their direction. It was a cloudless, otherwise quiet Sunday morning and the only person nearby was a man on the other side of he street. ‘People always say about instinctively diving to the floor,’ uncle Roy recalled recently, ‘but we were just transfixed and rooted to the spot, the two of us and the man across the road. We knew it could be the end but just stood there as it flew towards us. ‘Luckily kept flying over us, and we breathed a huge sigh of relief, until we heard the bang a few seconds later. ‘The next day we found out 150 soldiers had been killed.’

By Rick Glanvill
On 28/06/2012

My Grandfather Herbert John Barker was due on Church Parade that morning as duty Sergeant. He arranged for his post to be covered by another Sergeant who sadly was killed in this bombing. As a child in the 50's I heard this tale and often wanted more details of this attack which was so close to Buck House. A sad day in the history of the Brigade of Guards.

By John Barker
On 25/04/2013

My father Coldstream Guardsman William Trevor jones was one of the soldiers that arrived shortly after the impact and apart from the helping the injured and trapped people was one of the soldiers that rescued the colours from the chapel carnage

By Bryan Jones
On 27/11/2013

My Great Uncle Fred - Alfred Bowyer of Grenadier Guards was killed that day in the chapel. He was 24. He was supposed to be back home on leave but swapped with someone else. So so tragic.

By Lindsey
On 25/01/2014

Five musicians and the Director of Music were killed and 14 injured from the Coldstream Guards band on this day.

By Alan Cooper
On 13/04/2014

Today I was given a communion set which one of my folk had been given for safe keeping years ago, but hadn't a clue whence it came. On opening it we discovered, well-concealed, a letter from the MOD which revealed that it was originally owned by one of the chaplains killed in the Guards Chapel bombing, one R.H Whitrow, and subsequently passed on to one of my predecessors.

By Fr David Rowett
On 30/07/2014

I hold the care of a Shakespeare's Birthday Book filled with 900 autographs which belonged to Surgeon/Dr Thomas Leslie Crooke. His sister Olive Louisa Crooke born in Ireland April 1874  was a pioneer pharmacist serving under Sophia Jex-Blake , serving in WW1 and settled in Christchurch NZ died in the bombing of the Queen's Guards Chapel 18 June 1944 on her return journey home to the UK.

By Shane Duffy
On 18/09/2015

The service at the Guards Chapel on 18.06.44 was being conducted by my Father Rev. Ralph Henry Whitrow. The Bishop was to be the guest speaker. The bomb struck part way through the Te Deum in Matins. It was not a communion service as stated above. I have now received his communion set from David Rowett as above. Thankyou.

By Lucy Whitrow
On 20/09/2015

My dad David Belsten was a young grenadier guard who attended the service that morning, he was seriously injured but over time made a full recovery. He sometimes spoke about this incident with tears in his eyes remembering his comrades who lost their lives that fateful sunday morning.

By Kim Belsten
On 16/02/2016

My mother said that she and a friend were planning to go to this service, they were in the WRAF and working in London at that time, but after coming off night duty at 9 am they went to their flat to get changed for the service and fell asleep and did not make it to the service. They were shocked when they found out about the terrible bombing and they could have been one of they many casualties.

By Shelagh Toews
On 13/04/2016

I put a comment yesterday regarding my mother and I neglected to put her name...Dorothy Harris was her name then and her married name is Dorothy Dent.

By Shelagh Toews
On 13/04/2016

Hi;  I'm looking for information regarding Pfc James Franklin, US Army who was killed in an air raid in England on June 18, 1944.  Can you recommend a source for specific casualties on that date?  Thank you.

By Matt Parsons
On 11/03/2017

My Dad was on Westminster Bridge and saw the flying bomb pass overhead, he said he thought it would hit the Houses of Parliament.

By Gerard O'Connor
On 27/03/2017

My mother ,an ATS sergeant cook, was on duty when the chapel was hit and went to help with casualties. She subsequently was awarded the BEM but whether it was for this action we do not know. Her name was then Sgt I. L. Pearson.

By Roger Whatley
On 06/11/2017

My son's great grandfather, US Col. G.B. Guenther, assigned to Psychological Warfare at the time, was killed in this attack. He was once head of the Cairo office of the OSS.

By Kjerstie Nelson
On 14/12/2017

As a natural born Deutscher my great grandfather and namesake Colonel Gustav Bismarck Guenther was a great asset to the war effort in North Africa during WW2.  The original Time Magazine article regarding this horrific event stated that the bombing occurred during a funeral ceremony which is apparently not true. The close proximity of the chapel to other important landmarks means that this was most likely not the intended target of the missile but rather a deadly mistake that would do absolutely nothing to force the British to surrender. I hope to visit the chapel and pay respect to all who lost their lives defending our future.

By Gustav Guenther
On 25/01/2018

My cousin was Captain George Durant Kemp-Welch, son of Brian Kemp-Welch and Verena Venour. George was part of the Grenadier Guards and was killed during the incident. 

By Katherine Kemp
On 19/10/2018

my mother Vera Servant, a secretary in the ATS, working in the War Office, was running down Birdcage Walk late for the service when the bomb dropped. She recalled ‘dodging’ shrapnel‘ as she ran’. This was a seeding memory for her.

By Jane Franklin
On 22/10/2018

My husband’s grandfather, Leslie Owen, was the Bishop of Maidstone, one of the few apparently ”left uninjured” in the bombing.  He had served as an army chaplain in the first world war and was appointed as Bishop of Maidstone (Bishop of the Forces) in early 1944.  Sadly, however, he was not completely uninjured in the bombing of the Guards Chapel and should probably be listed as a subsequent casualty.  He died less than three years later in March 1947, at the age of 60, apparently as a result of lung damage sustained in the bombing.  

By Miranda Lawrance-Owen
On 10/11/2018

I haven't revisited this page for a while - my apologies. My book on the Guards' Chapel incident, called "Send More Shrouds: the V1 attack on the Guards' Chapel 1944" was published by Pen & Sword in April last year. (See It includes biographies of all those who died, including Gustav Guenther, George Kemp-Welch and Leslie Owen. I would be very pleased to hear from any ot the relatives who have commented, and to help in any way.

By Jan Gore
On 28/11/2018

It was to be many years after this tragic event occurred, that all traces of this bombing were to disappear. I remember as a child, being a son of a Scots Guardsman, in the 50s and early 60s, living in a married quarter, which then was next to the remains of the old Guards Chapel. Apart from being a choir boy at the chapel, we would often play amongst the rubble that was left behind after the bombing, little did we know then of the historical significance of this site. RIP to all those killed on this tragic day in 1944.

By Ian Whyte
On 11/03/2019

My father, Ronald George Hayward, and his future wife, my mother Nancy were due to be at the service, but their train was delayed from Surrey and they were somewhere around Parliament Square when the bomb hit.  I’m not sure why they were going to the service, but it may be because my Dad was serving at the War Office in Whitehall at the time.

By Kay Parke
On 16/09/2019

I’m adding this comment in loving memory of my aunt Sarah Hardy (Oldroyd) who sadly has just passed away aged 96.

Sarah was badly injured in this tragedy and it effected her badly all her life. She was in the church that morning sitting in the pew and had kept seats for two friends who had bumped into friends outside the church. Sarah went ahead and kept them seats.She moved two seats to the left to allow her friends to be seated as they entered the church as the service had already started, and two minutes later both friends were killed instantly when the bomb hit, my aunt was seriously injured. How fate maps out your life. This tragedy haunted my aunt with guilt with her constantly thinking why did she survive. The last two years of my aunts life she relived this tragedy  daily. We have so much to thank this brave generation for.. 

R.I.P Sally your at peace now..

By Phil Oldroyd
On 04/02/2020

Phil, I've just found your comment this evening. So very sorry to hear about your Aunt. I think a number of the survivors were badly affected by this tragedy; several people have contacted me to say something very similar. Please would you be willing to tell me more about Sarah and her friends? I'd be fascinated to know more. My sympathies to you, Phil, and to your family.

By Jan Gore
On 09/02/2020

My father's brother, Francis Edward DATE b: 2 January 1912 - d: 8 March 2002 was a Grenadier Guard during WW11. Francis - Frank - recounted to my father Leslie George DATE that one Sunday he was unable to report for duty due to illness. He was excused duty that day, which also included being permitted to be absent from attending the normal Sunday morning service at the Guards Chapel on Birdcage Walk. He later found out that a bomb had landed on the Chapel killing officers and men. He is reported to have said "his battalion had been wiped out." For the rest of his life Frank talked about this incident which had a profound affect on him and his family. A religious man, he firmly believed it was God who had been looking out for him on that day when he had been too unwell for duty. This incident was read out at Frank's memorial service when he died in 2002, and the account has been passed down to my children in Canada, through Frank's daughter, my cousin, Diana.    


By Susan Date
On 28/09/2020

My mother was a Wireless operator in the WRAF billeted at Wellington barracks and working in what is now the Foreign Office at the time.  There were two shifts - days and nights . She was on days on the day and so working. Many of the night shift went to the service and lost their lives.

Speaking to Sir Nicolas Soames some years ago he told me that his grandmother Mrs Churchill and his Mother were evacuated that day from No 10 Downing Street to the Churchill family home by Military Police as a result of the near miss to No 10.  

By Brell Ewart
On 10/10/2020

My mother’s youngest brother was a Welsh Guardsman. He was one of the guardsmen not in the chapel, but was with his squad in the nearby Guards’ barracks. He was part of a detail that helped to find survivors. A martial arts and freestyle wrestling champion, he was no patsy. However finding bits of broken bodies of comrades and women caused him to suffer from what we now recognize as PTS. The event haunted him until he died in the late 1990s.

By Joseph
On 26/11/2020

Hello. I'm trying to reach Jan Gore. I'm an American journalist working on a project about the V1. Jan--if you can reach out at I'd appreciate it. Best, Suzanne 

By Suzanne Rico
On 18/02/2021

My mother in law Joan Rodrigues of the London Auxiliary Ambulance Service attended the incident. Does anyone know where her service record is kept? 

By Michael Maher
On 08/09/2021

Being Remembrance Sunday, it bought home to me how very little I knew about Miss Edith Kathleen Garland’s death.

Edith or Kay as she was known to her family was the great aunt I never knew.

But today, I feel closer to Kay. Harrowing as it has been to learn about the causalities and deaths on that day, I will remember them all for the rest of my life.

By Jane Stanley nee Garland
On 15/11/2021

My grandfather died in this blast of 1944. My grandmother was 6 months pregnant at the time. (with my mother)

My mother therefore never got to see her father. She was therefore named June. (the month of the incident)

By Peter Bassett
On 29/07/2022

My mother, Elizabeth Vera Morse, was in the chapel when it was bombed.  She was serving with the ATS at Buckingham Gate.  And she said many of her girls were killed.  I don’t think she ever got over it.  She died aged 53.

By Elizabeth Herbert
On 09/03/2024

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.