During World War II, the City of Westminster in central London was the target of near constant bombings and air raids from September 1940 to May 1941, and then again for periods in 1943, 1944, and from June 1944 until March 1945. This resulted in a change in London’s public health overall. The City of Westminster is large and lead in improvements to health and sanitation factors. The war set back the City’s improvements mostly because of the bombings. Westminster had been working on improving their quality of medical care and food sanitation before the war started and the bombings set them back. Because of the bombings and air raids, Westminster needed whatever help they could get from the Government. They were forced to eat food that would not usually pass health inspection and receive sub par medical care because their need had increased so much in so little time. The health reports changed from 1939-1945 reflect the impact of the war on health in this district of London.
The Report of the Medical Health Officer of the City of Westminster in 1939 stated that the year of 1939 was relatively healthy. The report had been delayed due to the beginning of the war. The population of children fell below 60 percent, and the infant mortality rate was 33.4 per 1000 births, which was the lowest on record. There were no maternal deaths. The death rate had increased and the birth rates decreased. Overall, in 1939, the beginning of the war, the City of Westminster was healthy.
Between 1940 and 1941, the Parliament was housed in the Church House of Westminster to protect them in case the Palace was damaged during bombings. Bombs and air raids targeted the Palace fourteen different times. The Commons Chamber was completely destroyed on one occasion causing the Lords to have to meet in secret areas. The rest of the city quickly changed the purpose of many of their well-known buildings in order to offer more refuge from the war. They made an Abbey Air Raid Precaution Headquarters in the Pyx Chamber, the Museum was made into a dispensary and dressing center, and the College Hall became a fire/bomb watching station. These are just a few of the well-known centers. The worst attack recorded was on May 10, 1941 when Westminster Hall and the Commons Chamber were attacked by air raids. The Hall could be salvaged while the Chamber went down in flames. To date, there are still repairs and improvements being made to the Westminster Hall. Some of the locals were glad that the Hall was saved over the Chamber because the Hall has more history.
In 1941, the Report of the Medical Officer of Health for the City of Westminster stated that despite the bombings, the district remained relatively healthy. The emergency health services centers stayed intact and this proved helpful in maintaining the district’s health. There were a large number of casualties at the beginning of 1941 due to air raids and blackouts. The city improved their way of going through the government-provided food rations in order to throw out the food that was not fit for consumption. The death rate per 1,000 infants rose to 74.8. This is considerably higher than the 1939 rate of 34.4. This could be due to infants not being able to survive the conditions after the bombings that ensued. Many people lost their homes and were no longer able to care for their newborns. In this report, they had a new death cause listed as “other violent causes.” In this category there were a total of 324 cases listed. Although the air raids and bombs caused a severe increase in casualties, the City of Westminster remained relatively healthy and a center for health services in London.
In the 1945 Report of the Medical Officer of Health for the City of Westminster, Andrew Shinnie states that it is a short one because there is a paper shortage in the city due to the war. The war is now over, but the city is still being affected by its occurrence. Throughout the entire war, 2,495 people were treated in the hospital for severe injuries, 2,744 people could be treated at first aid stations, and 1,104 were immediate fatal causalities from the air raids. 4,720 houses were damaged beyond repair and remained inhabitable and 1,225 households were given shelter. This still left the majority of households that lost their houses homeless. This resulted in steady, high numbers of adult and infant death rates. The infant death rate remained around 71.4. This is a slight improvement from 1941 probably due to a end of the bombings. The number of deaths from malignant growths and cancers increased possibly due to the negative impact bombings can have on the environment. The residents of the City of Westminster stayed as healthy as they could throughout the war and this was mostly because they were able to keep their standards of health care high.
Overall, the health of the City of Westminster stayed fairly consistent throughout the war. Before the war, this city was responsible for setting the standard for proper health care and sanitation, and this is the main reason they were able to stay so healthy after being the target of war time bombs.
Written by Kristen Spence
Shinnie, Andrew J. MOH Report for the City of Westminster, 1939.
Shinnie, Andrew J. MOH Report for the City of Westminster, 1941.
Shinnie, Andrew J. MOH Report for the City of Westminster. 1945.