In the early hours of the morning of the 4th May 1942, Exeter suffered a severe bombing attack destroying large areas of the historic heart of the city. During this raid, the Cathedral received a direct hit on St James’s Chapel which was reduced to rubble.
After the end of World War II, the chapel was rebuilt. Its design is a reconstruction of the ancient chapel but with some 20th century details. The carvings include a portrait of George Down with his stonemason’s tools. He was the Master Mason when the chapel was rebuilt. Nearby is the carved head of a rugby player commemorating a rugby match between Exeter Rugby Club and Oxford University. This match was played in 1951 to raise funds for the restoration of the post-war Cathedral.
In November 2017 a memorial was unveiled in this chapel commemorating Polish airmen who defended Exeter during the war. Serving under the command of the RAF, the Polish 307 Squadron were heavily outnumbered night-fighters. During the main night of the Exeter Blitz they prevented four enemy bombers from releasing their load of bombs on the city below, saving it from potential destruction and preventing greater loss of life. 21 members of 307 Squadron were killed whilst they were stationed at Exeter.