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London Transport: London Underground 1940s

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Inside London Underground Tube trains mid-20th century

The London Underground was always known as the 'tube'. The only compartments that I knew in the 1940s were full-length, seating perhaps 50 passengers. In many ways, they were much as they are today. However there were some significant differences:

Grips and pole supports for standing passengers

The trains got very crowded at times. So passengers had to stand. As the ride could be jerky, there were grips and poles for them to hang onto. The grips consisted of dangling black balls that fitted neatly into the palms of hands. Perhaps they were unhygienic because they were later replaced by other designs.

Inside an old tube train showing the hanging ball-style grips and a man gripping a support pole

Inside an old tube train showing the hanging ball-style grips and a man gripping a support pole. Detail from a photograph in the London Transport Museum. Judging from the clothes, the man holding the pole appears to be presenting to a much more recent audience.

Controls for guards

Every compartment could, if necessary be placed at the back of the train and used for the guard. So the controls with their coloured buttons were plainly visible in every compartment, and were a great temptation for children to press. I was always told not to, but I suspect that many a child did press, so they were probably disabled unless a guard was actually there.

Controls for the guard, inside every old London Underground compartment

The controls for the guard, inside every tube compartment. Note the pull-down guard's seat, the red emergency stop handle and the wooden floor. Photographed in the London Transport Museum.

The guard's seat/the emergency seat

Beside the controls was a pull-down spring-loaded seat presumably for the guard but known as the 'emergency seat' when no guard was there. It was hard and uncomfortable with no arms, but as a child I enjoyed sitting in it - and was always allowed to do so.

The windows of the tube in wartime

I certainly didn't spend my war-time tube journeys looking out of the windows. Because it was wartime and London was in fear of German bombing, all the windows had milky-looking mesh netting stuck over them to stop glass splinters flying from bomb blast. I very much wish I had a photo, but no museum I have seen shows these windows. Probably when the war stopped, they were so rapidly and eagerly stripped that no-one bothered to photograph them.

This mesh must have been fairly easy to buy, unlike non-essential items, because we had it up loosely at the windows at home in place of net curtains. New net curtains, being non-essential items, were no-where to be bought - and my parents had started to set up home only in the year before the beginning of the war.

More about the netting on the train windows

Guest contribution

There were notices on trains about not peeling off netting:

Please do not peel the window netting. It is there for your protection.

Some graffiti added in response was:

Thank you for the information but I can't see the bloody station!

Peter McDonagh
as told to him in 1916 by the then 95 year-old Mr Jackson who was a a radio operator/air gunner in WW2

Text and images are copyright


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