History

RAF Church Marks 80 Years Since Blitz Bombing

Explore the history of St Clement Danes Church and its close bond with the Royal Air Force

A Royal Air Force church synonymous with the nursery rhyme ‘Oranges & Lemons’ is marking 80 years since it was bombed during World War Two.

St Clement Danes Church received a direct hit from an incendiary bomb in the London Blitz on May 10, 1941.

A site of worship for more than 1000 years, the church we see today was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1682.

Jules Sherwood, Development Director at St Clement Danes spoke to BFBS, the Forces Station broadcaster Tim Humphries about the devastating fire, saying: 

“The inside of the church was beautiful oak panels and of course that caught fire. 

“The wind itself from the firestorm that was raging all around the church basically fanned the flames."

St Clement Danes Church On Fire May 10, 1941

Credit: St Clement Danes Church

St Clement Danes Church on fire - May 10, 1941

“The tower and the gothic steeple above acted as a chimney.

"The flames were shooting through the chimney several hundred feet in the air and sadly the church was completely destroyed. 

“The bells fell to the ground and all that remained of the church the following morning was the exterior walls, everything else had been destroyed.”

After the bombing, the church lay derelict for around 10 years. At the time, the Royal Air Force was looking for a site to commemorate it's dead – particularly those who died during the Second World War.

The Reverend David Osborn, Resident Chaplain at the church explained further, saying: 

“It did make some sense to look for a building that had been destroyed by air warfare to actually start the process of rebuilding following the Second World War. 

“The whole thing of reconciliation and bringing people together in a very decent, honest and very structured way to make sure that people understood this was a Christian place where there’s love and forgiveness and reconciliation.” 

After a worldwide appeal and restoration, St Clement Danes was re-consecrated as the Central Church Of The Royal Air Force in October 1958.

St Clement Danes Church Marks 80 Years Since Bombing

Credit: St Clement Danes Church

St Clement Danes Church as it is today

Today visitors can view unique historical RAF memorabilia. Embedded in the floor there are more than a thousand slate squadron and unit badges and draped around the walls are the Colours and Squadron Standards from disbanded units.

Among the precious artifacts, there is also a living memorial of books of remembrance, to those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. Rev David Osborn said:

"Every single person that’s died in service … since the Air Force was formed in 1918, is commemorated by name and we keep those books up to date. 

“We’re currently on book 11 and all those people who have died in service are commemorated there. 

“It’s just a wonderful memorial to those who have served and given their lives in service in the Royal Air Force.” 

The Church is for the whole of the RAF including personnel, families, veterans as well for other air forces around the world. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, this international link has only grown further with Rev David Osborn hosting services through podcasts.

Jules believes that the 80th anniversary of the bombing of the church is an opportunity to look to the future. He said: 

“This important milestone for the church is going to be ... a door opener to the church's future. 

“Later this year, on Battle Of Britain Sunday in September, we will be launching a fundraising campaign to improve the church and ... rebuild the steeple of the church which is now suffering from some of the damage that was caused on 10th May 1941.”