Local writer Ben Priestley was investigating the first few days of The Blitz in the East End and piecing together the damage to neighbourhoods and the lives lost, when he discovered that the existing records may not be complete. He lays out what’s he’s uncovered and asks for your help to fill in any holes.
This September marked the 80th anniversary of The Blitz. Although it did not properly begin until 7 September 1940, the first air raid happened two weeks earlier in the night hours between 24 and 25 August.
High explosive bombs were dropped on 28 and 30 Surat Street (which no longer exists), which lay immediately north of Meath Gardens. One-and-a-half houses were demolished, six to eight residents were made homeless, three people were trapped and four were injured, thankfully none of them seriously.
Later that night, Mr Levene of 82 Lyal Road died of a heart attack at home during the raid. If the heart attack was brought on by the bombardment, he was likely the first person to die as a result of the bombing of the East End in the Second World War. By the end of the war five years later, he was to be joined by 513 other local civilian war dead.
From various records it is possible to piece together a picture of the raids and the names of those who died in the bombing in the old Metropolitan Borough of Bethnal Green. After the war, The Imperial War Graves Commission compiled a complete record of all the civilians who died as a result of enemy action. Called simply ‘Civilian War Dead 1939-1945’ it lists all those who perished by borough or by county.
By cross-referencing the War Graves Commission list of names of those who died with the detailed Air Raid Damage reports for each of the air raids on the borough held in the Tower Hamlets Archives, a shocking story of devastation emerges. This research also raises questions; it is possible that there are still some civilian war dead these records missed?
On the first two days of the Blitz over 7 and 8 September, according to the War Graves Commission, 56 residents of the borough were killed and the face of our local area was changed forever.
Over this 48-hour period, the first 1,000 kg high explosive bomb was dropped and, in one of the worst single mass casualty events in the borough during the whole war, the Columbia Market Air Raid Shelter took a direct hit, killing 38 with another 48 hospital cases, many of whom were later to die of their wounds.
The names of those who died in the Columbia Market Shelter, or later of injuries sustained, are commemorated on a memorial unveiled on 7 September 2015 in the Rose Garden of Ravenscroft Park, Columbia Road.
Others who died over this 48-hour period have no memorial, but deserve, no less, to be remembered. Seven people died at 84-86 Braintree Street, as a result of a direct hit on Anderson shelters. A 1,000 kg high explosive bomb fell on Grove Road between Roman Road and Thoydon Road to the south. It created a large crater in the road where it fell and totally destroyed, or rendered uninhabitable, almost all of the 14 houses which stood between 150 and 176 Grove Road. 10 casualties were reported rescued.
Some were not so lucky. 158 and 160 Grove Road were among the houses destroyed in this raid. At number 158, Henry and Lilian Entwhistle and their daughter Beryl were killed. Whilst her parents died immediately , 9-year old Beryl passed away later in Bethnal Green Hospital.
Next door at number 160, Helen Maddams and Elizabeth Miller died as did Henry Stockwell and his son Henry (Jnr) who appear to have been visiting Helen, and/or Elizabeth, when the bomb struck.
The force of the blast in Grove Road blew manhole covers out on nearby Roman Road. The only dwelling which survived this blast was the Vicarage for St. Barnabas Church which you can still see standing alone, at number 172 Grove Road between the post-war Lanfranc Estate and the newer development on the corner of Grove Road and Roman Road
Esther Miller died in the Roman Road shelter and Lilian Nyman in the Bethnal Green shelter. The shelter at Hadleigh Street collapsed. At 12 Cordova Street, three people were badly scalded, presumably as a result of an explosion damaging a hot water tank.
At Sceptre Street by the railway arch a member of the public reported to the authorities that there was a man lying in the road with his limbs blown off. Not surprisingly given that this was the start of the Blitz, there was widespread panic among residents. The police were asked to send reinforcements to Grove Road as Air Raid Wardens were unable to keep crowds back who were hampering rescue efforts. Panic was also reported at Georgina Gardens towards the terrible scenes at the Columbia Market Shelter.
Below are the names and places of death of all those residents who are listed in the Imperial War Graves Commission record as having died in the Borough on 7 and 8 September 1940. These records suggest that the War Graves Commission list may not be complete – for example, it does not refer to the seven people who are listed in the Air Raid Reports as having been killed in the Anderson Shelters at Braintree Street. Was there a mistake in the reporting that night, or does the official record need to be revised? Mr Levene, who died on 24 or 25 September is certainly not included in the War Graves Commission list, although his name is recorded in the Air Raid Report for that night.
Would it be possible to create as full a record as possible of all those people who died in Bow and Bethnal Green during WW2? There will still be living family and friends of those who were killed in the bombing living in the Borough, or elsewhere. With your help it might be possible in time, to build an online memorial to all the civilian war dead of Bow and Bethnal Green with their family stories, photographs and epitaphs.
If anyone is reading this who has a link to anyone on the list below, please do get in touch with Roman Road and we could make a start on this project right now. What better way to honour the civilian war dead of our local area, 80 years after the first bombs fell on our borough?
A list of all those commemorated on the Columbia Market Shelter Memorial can be found here: https://www.iwm.org.uk/memorials/item/memorial/70487
If you have any information regarding the bombing of Bethnal Green that happened on 24 or 25 August, and/or 7 or 8 September 1940 please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
Known records of the civilians who lost their lives in the first few days of The Blitz
|Surname||Forenames||Age||Date of death||Place of death|
|Entwhistle||Henry Walter||36||07.09.1940||160, Grove Road|
|Entwhistle||Lilian Ada||34||07.09.1940||160, Grove Road|
|Entwhistle||Beryl||9||07.09.1940||Bethnal Green Hospital|
|Maddams||Helen||51||07.09.1940||158, Grove Road|
|Miller||Elizabeth||56||07.09.1940||158, Grove Road|
|Miller||Esther||69||07.09.1940||Roman Road Shelter|
|Nyman||Lillian||5||07.09.1940||Bethnal Green Shelter|
|Stockwell||Henry Charles James||10||07.09.1940||158, Grove Road|
|Stockwell||Henry Earnest||37||07.09.1940||158, Grove Road|
|Button||Florence Rosina||39||08.09.1940||Columbia Market|
|Button||Ronald Charles||8||08.09.1940||Columbia Market|
|Carman||Sidney||19||08.09.1940||Queens Hospital for Children|
|Clausner||Joseph||55||08.09.1940||Bethnal Green Hospital|
|Cohen||Jessie||23||08.09.1940||Bethnal Green Hospital|
|Davis||Frederick George||34||08.09.1940||Columbia Market|
|Davis||Lilian Florence||29||08.09.1940||Columbia Market|
|Deighton||Robert Alfred||70||08.09.1940||Columbia Market Shelter|
|Ettridge||David Edward||8||08.09.1940||Columbia Market|
|Farmer||Florence May||29||08.09.1940||Columbia Market|
|Felgate||Leah Mary||3||08.09.1940||Bethnal Green Hospital|
|Gardner||George Earnest||60||08.09.1940||Columbia Market|
|Hallam||May Mary||36||08.09.1940||Columbia Market|
|Harris||Marie Louise||18||08.09.1940||Bethnal Green Hospital|
|Jacobs||Nathaniel||39||08.09.1940||London Chest Hospital|
|Kappes||Joan||3||08.09.1940||Bethnal Green Hospital|
|Moss||Emily Jane||65||08.09.1940||23, Lansdale Place|
|Murray||Donald Arthur||15||08.09.1940||Columbia Market|
|Murray||Hugh George Charles||20||08.09.1940||Columbia Market|
|Murray||Ivy May Mildred||13||08.09.1940||Columbia Market|
|Neport||Joyce Margaret||13||08.09.1940||Columbia Market|
|Neport||Samuel William Arthur||5||08.09.1940||Columbia Market|
|Parrott||Henry Alexander Harold||19||08.09.1940||Bethnal Green Hospital|
|Robinson||Joan Mary||9||08.09.1940||23, Lansdale Place, Globe Road|
|Stocker||John Robert||41||08.09.1940||Columbia Market|
|Westover||Albert||48||08.09.1940||Bethnal Green Hospital|
|Wickes||John||40||08.09.1940||21, Lansdale Place|
|Wickes||John||17||08.09.1940||21, Lansdale Place|
|Wickes||Rosetta||15||08.09.1940||21, Lansdale Place|
|Wickes||Rosina||42||08.09.1940||21, Lansdale Place|
If you liked this article, you might also like to read about the first Doodlebug of WWII that was dropped on Grove Road.
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