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Second World War, 1939-1945

Cookery classes in wartime economy at Chelsea Polytechnic, 1939-40 (Ref: C/SYL1/49)Cookery classes in wartime economy at Chelsea Polytechnic, 1939-40 (Ref: C/SYL1/49)The effects of the Second World War on Chelsea Polytechnic were substantial. Most memorably, the College buildings at Manresa Road were subjected to several enemy air attacks, the first of which on 15 September 1940 destroyed one room in the School of Art and did considerable damage to the roof, skylights, windows, door frames and glass throughout the building.

During September and October 1940 a number of incendiary bombs fell upon the Polytechnic, several through skylights into the School of Art and pharmaceutical laboratory. Extensive damage to windows was additionally sustained in April 1941 following the nearby explosion of large parachute bombs. In spite of physical damage, the work of the College continued unimpaired throughout the war, with classes only being cancelled on one day.

As during the First World War, the Polytechnic made a notable contribution to the war effort in training members of the forces. Following the development and use of radio in the services, the College established a 16 week instructional course for soldiers. At the request of the Admiralty, similar courses now 20 weeks in duration were run for the Wrens and naval recruits. In addition specialist courses were held for the Fleet Air Arm and for Telegraphist Air Gunners, with over 200 students and 80 students respectively attending each course during peak periods.

Chelsea Polytechnic Jubilee Brochure, 1945 (Ref: C/SYL1/51)Chelsea Polytechnic Jubilee Brochure, 1945 (Ref: C/SYL1/51)The Polytechnic became the setting for a number of additional war activities, with the requisitioning of part of the building for Civil Defence purposes, including a First Aid station and light and heavy rescue sections. Between 1940 and 1944, two laboratories and rooms were used by the Chemical Inspection Department of the Ministry of Supply. The Polytechnic Hall was also in frequent use: in addition to hosting the examinations of the University of London, the Pharmaceutical Society and Polytechnic Departments, the Hall was utilised by the Home Guard, the Girls’ Training Corps, and various associations of women teachers. During the summers of 1943 and 1945 the Central Council for Health Education also held its Summer Schools at the College.

Following the valuable contribution of Chelsea Polytechnic to the war effort, it was particularly fitting that the Jubilee celebrations of the College coincided with the advent of peace in 1945. A special brochure was produced by the College to commemorate the occasion.

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