Forest Gate during the Blitz

Friday, 31 July 2015


The most significant series of events of the last century to affect the constituent parts of Newham: East Ham and West Ham - including Forest Gate - were the World War 11 bombings.

The whole physical structure of the borough was transformed by the destruction caused. Everyone today "knows" that the East End was badly hit, that local people were "plucky" and that sporadic visits to the sites of destruction by royalty litter the folklore of the area.


Distinctive outline of the Thames
 made targeting East London
 easy for the Luftwaffe, even
 when the radar was rudimentary

No sane person can deny the extent of the destruction.  Anyone with half an eye on architectural styles can spot areas hit by bombs, where late nineteenth buildings have been replaced by post-war structures - the lower east side of Woodgrange Road simply being the most obvious local example.

Whole swathes of the borough - particularly in the south, on the banks of the Thames - where the strategically crucial docks and other war-related industries were located - were flattened by German bombers, as they sought to disable the British war effort and demoralise the local population.

But, relatively little reliable detail of the profound reconfiguration of our area actually survives.

There is no definitive, hit-by-hit history  of the bombing of London in general and Newham, in particular - just lots of fragments, that often don't correlate too well with each other.

Hundreds of books have been published about London, the war and enemy bombings and some give very compelling eye witness accounts of specific incidents, such as Cyril Marne's of the Dames Road trolley bus doodlebug of 1944, recently covered on this site, here. But there is no overarching comprehensive account publicly available.

A website www.bombsight.org was launched recently to much acclaim.  It locates all the main bomb hits of the Blitz (October 1940 - June 1941), and can be searched by post codes, offering very useful maps to site visitors.  But it only covers a fragment of the war and offers no detail of casualties, the impact of individual hits, photos of the bomb sites, or eye witness accounts - certainly not of the Forest Gate area. Hopefully, these will follow, as the site is developed, over time.

Some official records exist and are in the public domain. The former West Ham Council Civil Defence team published a summary of air raids on the borough, between 28 August 1940 and 8 May 1945. ARP (Air Raid Precaution - the civil defence organisation) records provide details of bomb hits, and they can be analysed by area. 

The War Graves Commission, in 1954, published a list of British civilian dead (including local people), West Ham Council produced its own roll of civilian remembrance from the war. 

Many of these records, however, are incomplete, and do not reconcile with each other. For example, the list of bomb hits obviously refers to the location of the dropped bomb, but the list of civilian dead is by the deceased's address, which is not necessarily where they were killed. 

It is not unreasonable to assume that when bombs fell in the early hours, in a particular road on a given day and people from that road were reported as having been killed on that day, that the deaths were as a result of the bomb in question.

But other people, with addresses elsewhere may have been in the area when a missile struck, and could have been killed, but they would not have been recorded as a victim of that bomb.

That was certainly the case of the Dames Road Doodlebug incident (see above). The eye witness account talks of several bodies being thrown about as the crowded trolley bus was blown up. By definition, most of those people were travelling and may not have lived in the immediate vicinity of the explosion. The civilian deaths would have been recorded by the home address and not the location of the explosion. 

Another dramatic example of this was probably the worst air raid to affect West Ham. It occurred on 10 October 1940.

Several hundred people, bombed out of their homes, gathered in the South Hallsville school, Canning Town, waiting for evacuation. The transport did not arrive and the school received a direct hit from a high explosive bomb.  The official council figure indicates that 73 people were killed and hundreds injured. 

To this day, survivors and their relatives are convinced that in fact many hundreds were actually killed, and the total number was hushed up, for fear of adversely affecting morale.

it is difficult to tell, because of the circumstances, many of those killed did not live in the vicinity of the school, so their deaths would have been recorded at the locations of their homes. It is unlikely, however, that a true total list of fatalities and casualties will ever be established.

This is the first of two articles on WW11 bombing in Forest Gate.  It attempts to bring together the various records and supplement them with surviving photographs and some eye-witness accounts of specific incidents.  It also reproduces some articles from the Stratford Express, which were heavily censored, extremely vague, and again, underestimated the numbers of deaths inflicted.


The opening paragraph of this article
 from the Stratford Express of 25 April
 1941 illustrates the censorship under
 which papers worked under, and how
 little real information readers could
 gain from them. We presume it refers
 to the Eric Road bombing, see below
 - but the road, or even the district are
 not mentioned and the copy is vague in
 the extreme. It reads: "We are now
 permitted to relate some incidents which
 occurred in a violent raid a few weeks ago
. It was more severe than any in the  vicinity
 for some months and resulted in a
 considerable  number of fatalities.
  It carries on in the non-informing way.
 In fact, that bomb resulted in at least 17
 deaths, not that you would know it, or
 the location from the report

This post deals with the first half of the war, up to the end of 1943; it is mainly focused on the Blitz (October 1940 - June 1941). Next week's installment covers the second half of the war - particularly the horrific V1 and V11 bombings.

West Ham Civil Defence statistics claim that although the first air raid was on the opening day of the war 3 September 1939, the first bomb did not land in Newham until almost a year later 28 August 1940.  ARP figures, however, indicate that the first bomb hit Forest Gate six months earlier! Just the first and most obvious lack of reconciliation between different bombing records and accounts.

These, admittedly less than reliable, Civil Defence statistics, suggest that there were a total of 1,227 air raid alerts affecting the borough and 194 actual raids. Many of the raids, of course, resulted in multiple bombings. They estimated that there were 3,221 hits in the borough; about a third of which were high explosive bombs, a third incendiary bombs and the remainder a variety of other missile devices - some of which remained unexploded.


The bombed interior of one of Forest
 Gate's then most recognizable landmarks,
 the former Methodist church building on
 Woodgrange Road. 

Their figures suggest that 1,207 West Ham civilians were killed in these raids, with 2,545 received hospitalisation and 3,322 received treatment at a first aid post. This is almost certainly an underestimate.

What follows is the ARP's listing of bomb incidents in Forest Gate, by date and location. In brackets and italics are the names of civilian fatalities identified by either the War Graves Commission or West Ham council's rolls of civilian dead most likely to have been the result of the bomb hit recorded.

Public spaces, or buildings identified in the records are presented in bold italics.

Using those figures, it can crudely be estimated that there were approximately 245 incendiary devices of different kinds dropped on Forest Gate during World War 11, and 124 Forest Gate civilians were killed during the war. 

But, for reasons explained above, we cannot deduce from this that 124 Forest Gate civilians were killed in the district during the war, or that only 124 people were killed in Forest Gate!

Contemporaneous photographs, and some Stratford Express reports have been inserted following details of some of the most significant bomb hits.

We are sure what follows is far from definitive, so would be delighted to receive any corrections or additional eye witness accounts from the surviving band of war time residents of the area - which we will happily append to this post, with full credit being given to the source (if they wish).

Next week - Part 2 - 1944 - 1945.


WW11 Forest Gate Bomb hits, by road
1940

March
29th - Latimer Road

June
29th - Gower Road

August
15th - Woodgrange

September
3rd - East London Cemetery

7th - Margery Park, Odessa, Sebert, Station Road, Wellington, Avenue Road, Upton Lane

8th - Upton Lane, Forest Street, Hampton, Latimer (Forest Gate Station)

9th - Osborne, Capel, Clova, Disraeli (Deaths: Ada Louisa Barnes, aged 40, 81 Disraeli; Ada Dorothy Barnes, aged 14, 81 Disraeli; Brenda Beach, aged 12 months, 81 Disraeli,;Dorothy Beach, aged 25, 81 Disraeli; Leonard Beach, aged 24, 81 Disraeli), Dunbar x 2, Upton Lane, Sebert, Wyatt (West Ham Cemetery)

10th - Romford x 2, Earlham Grove, Clova

16th - Sidney, Woodford x 4, Woodgrange, Dames, Forest Lane x 3

17th - Upton Lane

18th - Odessa, Ridley, Wellington

20th - Odessa, Sebert, Tower Hamlets (Deaths: Alice Scott, aged 69, 140 Tower Hamlets Road; Isabella Scott, aged 34, 140 Tower Hamlets Road, William Scott, aged 44, 140 Tower Hamlets Road), Wellington

23rd - Cranmer, Hampton, Odessa x 2 (Deaths: Elizabeth Clarke, aged 46, 29 Odessa; George Clarke, aged 46, 29 Odessa; Harry Clarke, aged 14, 29 Odessa; Lily Clarke, aged 8, 29 Odessa; Arthur Clayden, aged 37, 29 Odessa; Lily Clayden, aged 8, 29 Odessa; Margaret Clayden, aged 8, 29 Odessa; Mary Clayden, aged 67, 29 Odessa; Annie Hopgood, aged 26, 23 Odessa), Upton Lane

24th - Capel, Disraeli, Clova (Deaths: George Hamer, aged 87, 70 Clova; George Frederick Hamer, aged 56, 70 Clova; Mary Hamer, aged 79, 70 Clova; Cecil Partridge, aged 52, 68 Clova Road; Daisy Partridge, aged 56, 68 Clova Road; Hubert Partridge, aged 42, 68 Clova Road; Lilian Partridge, 68 Clova Road), Romford (Upton Lane School)(Death: Ronald Harris, aged 17, 32 Wellington)

28th - Windsor


The top of Windsor Road after the bombing,
 and the debris had been cleared
29th - Knox, Skelton


Communal grave of early air raid casualties,
 established September 1940 in East London Cemetery
October
1st - Sprowston (East London Cemetery)

2nd - Forest Lane, Odessa, Woodford (Forest Gate Hospital : Death: Elizabeth Sinclair, aged 61 at FG Hospital, Wanstead Flats)

4th - Hampton (Deaths: Hilda Humphreys, aged 23, 73 Hampton Road; Joyce Humphries, aged 23, 73 Hampton Road), Latimer

7th - Nursery Lane

8th - East London Cemetery, Dames

9th - St James', Romford x 3, Balmoral, Odessa (Forest Gate Hospital)

14th - Earlham Grove, Sebert, Station Road, Romford, Woodgrange

15th - Dames, Forest Lane, Leonard, Vansitart (East London Cemetery, West Ham Cemetery, Forest Gate Hospital) Deaths: Mrs Sabbon, aged 62, 102 Earlham Grove

16th - East London Cemetery

17th - Dean

18th - Sebert

22nd - Upton

27th - Romford

28th - Glen Parke

November
15th - (Death: Charles William Bryant, 67, an APR of 1 Dunbar Rd, killed Royal Albert Dock)

18th - Dunbar, Upton Lane x 3, Skelton

23rd - Ridley

December
3rd - Odessa, Sylvan, Whytevlille, Romford x 4, Woodgrange, Upton Lane, x 2, Kitchener x 2, Knox, Glen Parke, Gower, Green Street, Chaucer x 2, Claremont, Disraeli x 3, Earlham Grove, Clova x 3 (Emmanuel Church)

4th - Clova

9th - Margery Park, St James, Tower Hamlets, Whyatt, Romford x 7, Clova, Crosby, Earlham Grove x 4, Leonard, Upton Lane (Forest Gate Hospital, Upton Lane School)


 
What at the time was the maternity hospital on
 Forest Lane, after one of the six hits,
 in total it received during the war 
19th - Odessa, Forest Lane

29th - Upton Lane

1941

January
11th - Disraeli

19th - (Forest Gate Police Station)

29th - Clova, Osborne, Green Street

March
8th/9th - Claremont x 3, Forest Gate Station,  Vale, Romford x 3, Vale (East London Cemetery)

19th - Wellington, Windsor, Talbot, Sidney, Knox, Hampton, Green Street x 3, Clova, Bignold, Atherton (Godwin School)

20th - Eric Road (Deaths: Albert Clements, aged 15, 25 Eric Road; Joyce Clements, 12, 25 Eric; Sarah Louise Clements, aged 52, 25 Eric; Ivy Denham, aged 26, Eric; Elizabeth Goddard, aged 70, 19 Eric; Frederick Ellis, 41, 161 Station Road; Alfred Middlehurst, aged 35, 20 Eric Road; Babrara Murrell, aged 2, 24 Eric Road; Doris Murrell, aged 18, 24 Eric Road; Dorothy Murrell, aged 13, 24 Eric Road; Rose Murrell, aged 16, 24 Eric Road; Susan Murrell, aged 46, 24 Eric Road; Thomas Murrell, aged 20, 24 Eric Road; Elizabeth Spooner, aged 51, 22 Eric Road; Annie Tallintire, aged 53, 21 Eric Road; Betty Tallintire, aged 14, 21 Eric Road; Charles Tallintire, aged 65, ARP stretcher bearer, 21 Eric Road)


Iconic photograph of Eric Road after
 the bomb. It is a small side
 road, just off Station Road

Parachute mine, of the kind that hit Eric Road
April

8th - Sebert (Godwin school)


Godwin school, after 1941 bombing
16th - Ridley

17th - Woodgrange (Methodist Church)(Deaths: Lucy Bruce, aged 68, 5 Claremont; William Bruce, aged, 68, 5 Claremont; Myer Cash, aged 65, 6 Claremont; Rosetta Cohen, aged 23, 3 Claremont;  Ruth Cohen, aged 19, 3 Claremont)


Above the bomb damaged Methodist
 church on Woodgrange Road

Once more, the Stratford Express
 report is very vague about location or
 details, but it probably refers,
 in very vague terms to the
 bombing of the church, which
is vaguely mentioned in the third
 paragraph in a small article,
 the week after the hit.

18th - Romford

19th - Earlham Grove x 3, Romford (Princess Alice Pub)


Bomb site left where original Princess Alice
 pub stood, junction of Romford and Woodgrange Roads
20th - Margery Park (Deaths: Herbert Kaye, aged 60, 1 Woodgrange Road)

29th - Romford (Queen's cinema)


Queen's cinema, soon after 29 April bomb
December
9th - Margery Park

1942

July
27th - Vansitart

1943

January
17th - Palmerstone, Romford (Death: Ronald Kirby, aged 18, a firewatcher)

18th - (Forest Gate Station)

March
3rd - (Forest Gate Hospital)




























3 comments:

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  2. My mum and 9 others in the family lived at 234 Upton Lane. The houses next door were bombed, unsure of the dates. 234 survived, my mum is still around, and I took my 12 yr old daughter to see it recently - she was quite moved, me too :) Thank you for the site, most interesting. Trevor Baker (Ryan family)

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