When war broke out in September 1939, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane was requisitioned to become the headquarters of ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association). This organisation was dedicated to entertaining allied troops with a variety of plays and revues. Dressing rooms were used as offices and the stage hosted rehearsals and auditions, all throughout the war years.
At around 11.55pm on 15 October 1940, a high explosive German bomb hit the rear circle causing damage and a fire- although thankfully it did not explode and was defused. Considerable damage was sustained to the circle with debris all around; the fire brigade extinguished the fire. Theatre workers who were asleep in the area where the bomb fell thankfully escaped with only minor injuries.
Eventually the Theatre Royal was restored and reopened to audiences on 19 December 1946, to resume its place as one of the nation’s most treasured musical houses.
The casing of the bomb was later mounted and notated, as you can see in the photo above, and has spent many years sitting in a corner of the corridor that leads to the Royal Circle Boxes (Prince’s Side), usually passing unnoticed to most who wander by on their way to the boxes, bar or toilets.
But for those of us who passed it every day whilst working there, it is a timely reminder to treasure this building, and but for a twist of fate we might have lost this priceless central jewel in London’s theatre crown.