At the height of World War II, a seven-hour German bombing raid destroyed Britain’s House of Commons Chamber, and damaged Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace. Relics from the attack were donated to Australia in 1942 by the United Kingdom for installation in Australian Parliament House.
The relics will remain forever as evidence of what took place in the capital
of the United Kingdom as a result of the blitzkrieg that failed then,
that has failed since, and cannot succeed in any circumstances.
Prime Minister John Curtin, 7 October 1942
‘Blitzkreig’ – the lightening war – was the name coined for the devastating air-raids led by the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) against the United Kingdom during the Second World War. More commonly known as ‘The Blitz’ the attack was a strategic bid to cause mass destruction and weaken morale.
Beginning 7 September 1940, London and surrounding cities were bombed daily in aerial attacks. More than 40,000 civilians lost their lives during the eight-month campaign. The final air-raid on London began the night of 10 May 1941. The bombing continued through the night and left much of the city in ruins.
In 1942 relics salvaged from the bomb-damaged Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey were gifted to the Australian Government by the British Government. The gift was testimony to the shared heritage and steadfast bond between the two nations and intended to represent the central institutions of British public life then under wartime attack.
In October of the same year, Prime Minister John Curtin passed the relics into the care of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Walter Nairn, in a ceremony in King’s Hall (Old Parliament House). During the ceremony Prime Minister Curtin gave an undertaking that the relics would be incorporated into the structure of the new Parliament House once built. They would be held in safe keeping until they could be displayed permanently, as promised, some 48 years later in the new home of the Australian Parliament.
It is fitting that we should treasure these battle relics…,
for they remind us of our kinship in the past, our common aim
and purpose in the great struggle in which we are now engaged,
and of those great ideals which we are determined at all costs
to hand on to future generations.
Speaker of the House of Representatives Walter Nairn, 7 October 1942
These relics are reminders of the terrible cost of war, the power of courage and unity of purpose, and the strength of democracy in the face of adversity.
Introduction by the Curator
Image: Shield of stained glass from the British House of Commons Library assembled c.1942 stained glass gifted by the British Government to the Australian Government in 1942 (detail)