At 4.25am on 13 June, 1944, the first V-1 flying bomb used by the Germans during the Blitz fell in London. The first one to strike the city landed on Grove Road, decimating the railway bridge, nearby housing and killing six people. We dive into the history behind this tragic event.
Have you heard of the V-1 bomb before? If you haven’t, that could be because it goes by lots of different names. Known as the ‘doodlebug’, ‘buzz bomb’, or its German codename ‘Cherry Stone’, this weapon was, contrary to its misleadingly innocuous nicknames, a weapon of vengeance and destruction, deployed to cause some serious damage during the start of World War II.
A doodlebug is a bomb with wings; an aeroplane with no pilot. It is similar to a cruise missile, but a bit bigger. This weapon coined its endearing name ‘buzz bomb’ from the loud, vehicular noise its pulse engine made when hurtling through the sky. Doodlebugs have been described as making tearing and rasping sounds, but when their motors cut out at a predetermined distance, they became eerily silent, dropping to the ground without a trace.
Because of its limited range, the thousands of V-1 missiles launched into England were fired from launch facilities along the French and Dutch coasts.
On that fateful night, when the first V-1 was launched by The Wehrmacht, locals recalled the sound as similar to a motorbike or a steam train in poor condition struggling up a hill. Residents described the sight as though they were witnessing a burning plane crossing the sky with a sword of flame as a tail.
When the V-1 hit Grove Road, six people died, 30 people were injured and 200 were made homeless. The bridge that carries the Great Eastern Railway across Grove Road from Liverpool Street to Essex was badly damaged. Surprisingly, railway traffic was restored within 40 hours, as a temporary bridge was used instead, serving customers until 1948.
Now in its place hangs an enamelled steel blue plaque. This was erected on 13 June, 1987 – 41 years after the bomb had fallen – by the Greater London Council in 1985 following a proposal from Joseph V Waters, a lifelong East Ender, one of whose brothers had been injured by the bomb. However, the plaque was later stolen in 1987; it was replaced with an English Heritage ceramic blue plaque the following year.
Sir Ian McKellen paid his tributes to the site in 2016, stating in interviews that ‘it’s important for the recent generations to realise the disaster of the bombing in this area.’
Following violent bombing, the land surrounding Regent’s Canal was devastated. The area was left derelict until plans began to renovate it in the 1950s – the idea of creating Mile End Park was born. This wasn’t to be realised until nearly 50 years later with the financial help from lottery money and the Environment Trust.
Surprisingly, one property was left standing after the catastrophic V-1 bombing incident of that June day in 1944. Carl Boedecker, 62, owned this four-bedroom Victorian house for 22 years before putting it on the market in 2016 for £1.25 million.
When interviewed, Boedecker explained his fondness for the property, ‘the home has a real history to it…it was one of the main attractions which drew me to the place as well as the Mile End Ecology Pavilion at the back of the house.’
The tragedy of this event and the widespread bombing to the East End in general will never be forgotten. Although commemorating such a devastating moment in history is difficult, it’s comforting to know that the ecological haven that is Mile End Park rose from the ashes of a destroyed Grove Road and its surrounding area caused by V-1 bombing.
Enjoyed reading this? See what other heritage points are marked with a blue plaque around Bow here.
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