The saying goes that champions adjust. So how does that premise apply to championship venues? Consider the tale of the All England Club and how it changed during World War II. As the war began in 1939, tennis’ most iconic venue fully transformed itself. The tournament was suspended for the duration. Parking lots were converted into farmland to grow vegetables and house rabbits, ducks, pigs, chicken and geese. Buildings housed the Red Cross, Civil Defense services and other war-related organizations. Military regiments paraded across the grounds.

Across the English Channel, the German government might well have held memories of a frustrating moment that happened at Wimbledon. In July 1937, on Wimbledon’s Centre Court, Germany’s greatest player, Gottfried von Cramm, lost a pivotal Davis Cup match to American Don Budge. Had Von Cramm won, Germany likely would have become only the fifth nation to win tennis’ premier team competition, the Nazi swastika flying high across the tennis world.


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Of course, Von Cramm’s loss was but one small reason the Third Reich felt antipathy for Wimbledon—a village just ten miles from London Bridge. The club was located near a prominent airfield and two factories that had important war-time implications; one made spark plugs, the other manufactured machine guns. Wimbledon was also home to two significant members of the British military, War Minister Leslie Hore-Belisha and Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding of the Royal Air Force.

Over the course of World War II’s six years, more than 1,000 bombs fell on Wimbledon. Approximately 14,000 homes were destroyed, along with 150 deaths, more than 1,000 men and women injured, and over 2,000 left homeless.

So, it was that on the night of Friday October 11, 1940, five 500-pound bombs landed near and on the All England Club. Two landed on the Wimbledon Park golf course. One annihilated the club’s tool house. Another at the club’s north-east entrance. And a fifth went through the Centre Court roof, landing in a corner of the competitors’ stand and taking out approximately 1,200 seats. Fortunately, no one was killed.

Though Centre Court was back in order by 1947, not until 1949 was all the damage to the club fully repaired.