Dr Noakes, Reader in Modern History is an expert on women and war and a social and cultural historian whose work focuses on the experience and memory of the Second World War.
She explained how underground stations became shelters: “In the years before the Second World War the outbreak of any future conflict was imagined as apocalyptic, with wave upon wave of enemy aircraft bombing cities until they were utterly destroyed or their inhabitants sued for peace.
“Campaigns in Britain for deep air raid shelters had been largely unsuccessful, and when the Blitz on London began in earnest in September 1940 most people would go to an Anderson shelter in the garden - if they had one - or one of the brick-built street shelters that had been erected in the poorer districts where gardens were rare.
“The government initially refused to open the Underground stations as shelters as they had done during the much smaller air raids of the First World War, owing to a fear that, once below ground, people would refuse to come out and also a belief that dispersal of the population was safer than concentration, as the casualties if a large Underground shelter was hit, could be catastrophic.
“On the 8 September 1940 thousands gathered outside Liverpool Street station, demanding entrance, and eventually the doors were thrown open and they were let in. From then on, sheltering in the Underground was tolerated if not encouraged: people would queue with their bedding outside the stations for much of the day to ensure a spot on the platform. Eventually 15 miles of platforms and tunnels were used and on one night a record 155,000 people used the Underground as a shelter.
“Lord Horder was appointed to investigate the conditions in shelters, which were often overcrowded, uncomfortable and unsanitary, and in October 1940 the London Passenger Transport Board agreed bunks could be built as long as they didn't obstruct passengers.
“Gradually conditions improved and some shelters had entertainment, health care and canteens. Although the shelters were underground, and so offered some respite from the noise of bombs and anti-aircraft shells, they were not always safe.
“Balham in South London was hit on the 14 October 1940 and 66 people killed. Some drowned when a water main and sewer burst. On 13 October 1940 16 were killed at Bounds Green and on 11 January 1941 Bank station was hit with 56 killed. The worst disaster, in terms of lives lost, came after the Blitz at Bethnal Green station, when 173 people were crushed to death on the stairs down to the station during an air raid.”
The author of several publications including War and the British and Women in the British Army, Dr Noakes is Deputy Director of the Centre for Research in Memory, Narrative and Histories and is a member of the Understanding Conflict: Forms and Legacies of Violence Research Cluster
. She is Course Leader for the MA in Cultural History, Memory and Identity.
A public talk on 3 November
introduces the audience to memories of the First World War at the outbreak of the Second World War, held at The Keep, which houses collections of the East Sussex Record Office, in Woollards Way, Brighton.