A survivor's account of the 1944 Dames Road disaster

Monday 12 October 2020

It had been my intention, two years ago, to stop posting new articles on this site, for reasons explained in the previous post. However, I have just been given access to an account of the 1944 Dames Road disaster, already covered here, by a 91 year old man who lost his mother and two sisters in the bomb blast, which is so moving and poignant that it deserves serious attention on this blog.

This site still attracts 20,000 visitors per month and is close to having had a total of one million hits, so I am confident the article will attract some of the attention it deserves.

It is a long read, but I feel will be worth every moment you can devote to it. It is with considerable humility that I express my thanks to Bill Blackman for sharing his words, memories and photos with us, and to his daughter, Sue, for enabling the story to be told here.


           91 year-old, Bill Blackman, today. Below is his story of the horror



A V1 bomb struck a passing trolley bus on Dames Road on 27 July 1944, killing an unknown number of people. Our article here, for the first time, was able to identify 34 of them. It showed that among the dead were Gladys Blackman, 39, of Billet Road, Walthamstow and her daughters Jean, 10, and Wendy, aged 4. Gladys' husband, William, was abroad, on active service with the RAF.


Site of explosion today on Dames Road - Holly Tree in distance

As well as her daughters, Gladys had two sons, Donald, who was with her on the bus and appears to have been the explosion's only survivor, and William (Bill), who was fifteen and at work, so unable to be part of the visit to his grandma's.


Mother Gladys Blackman - one of three family members killed

As will become clear, the number of deaths, in fact, probably exceeded 70; the true number was not disclosed at the time on grounds of national security, during the war, as the previous article explained. What we do know is that Cyril Demarne, who later became West Ham's Chief Fire Officer, described the incident as: "the most horrific thing I have ever witnessed."

Correspondence with the Blackman family explained that Gladys was in the habit of taking her children to Manor Park each Friday afternoon to visit their grandmother. They were returning home on the trolley bus, on the afternoon of 27 July, passing through Forest Gate, when it was hit by the missile in Dames Road.

What follows is Bill's account of how, after returning home from work on the fateful day, he discovered the extent of the tragedy and its impact on his life, and those of surviving family members. It is taken from a memoir he wrote for his family called: What a lucky sod I am ...

As will become apparent, he worked at a company called Wrighton, near the family home, close to the Crooked Billet roundabout. Bill describes life there, in another extract from his writings, at the end of this article. Immediately prior to this is a short section, describing the fate of his brother, Donald.

What follows is Bill's account, in his own words. He was 15 at the time of these events.

Bill hears the bomb blast

It was the 27th July 1944 around about an hour before knocking off time at Wrighton's. I was in the stores collecting parts for the next day's work schedule which us lads did every evening, when we heard, the by then, famliar sound of a doodlebug quite near and then the stuttering sound of the engine before it suddenly shut off and what seemed unexplained silence before the terrifying explosion. "That was a close one", somebody said, as we ran for the rear entrance of the factory building into the parking area for the firm's lorries. This was a very open area, with the North Circular Road running alongside, so we could see for miles around, unrestricted by buildings.

As we stood in a group, looking at the huge black mushroom of smoke and debris rising in the sky, there was the usual talk of how close it was to us. I remember the elder of the group suggesting it could be Leyton or Wanstead. As I stood watching the plume of smoke rising ever higher in the sky, as I had done on so many occasions over the past months, somehow this was different. People's chatter around me became just murmurings for a time. I seemed to be in a world of my own and in a different place. I have never been able to explain these feelings on that awful day. All I knew, in that instant, was that all was not right and that something dreadful had happened.


A V1 bomb, of the kind that caused the blast

Arriving home and hearing his brother is hurt

Arriving home from work that day, being a Friday, I knew I would find nobody in, because Mum used to vist her Mum, my Nan, every week, so as always, I used to help out by laying the table ready for a meal, by which time Mum, my sisters and my brother would be at home. But this Friday things were not going right, they were late and already I felt uneasy from my earlier experience. I started to look at the clock every few minutes until ages after the time they would normally be home.

Then, glancing out from the window for the umpteenth time, my legs nearly gave way as I saw a policeman coming to the front door. I know that although I was only 15 years old that this was about to be bad news. "Hello, son", he said, trying his best to be calm and assured as possible, "is your Mum or Dad about?"

By this time my mouth had completely dried up, as I explained that Dad was serving abroad in the RAF and that Mum was visting my Nan. A sudden change appeared on his face as he was trying to work out his next move. Then he was just saying: "hang on a minute", as he left me standing there with the front door open and he made his way next door, to Mr and Mrs Western.

After what seemed like ages, the policeman returned accompanied by little Mr Western trotting along to keep up. "Can we come in?" the policeman said, "I have a message for Mum when she gets home." By the time all three of us were seated in the front room, the policeman leaned across, and touching my hand he was saying something like: "Tell your Mum that your brother has been hurt in an explosion and has been taken to St Mary's hospital in Hackney." Although by this time my mind was in a whirl, I can remember blurting out, "But they were all together."

I'm sure Mr Western had realised at this point the situation, because Mum and Mrs Western were great friends, so Mrs Westen would have known Mum's weekly routine. The policeman and Mr Western left me sitting there for a while, they disappeared into another room. I could just about hear them having a hurried conversation. Next thing, I remember Mr Western was taken to the police station in search of some up-to-date information about my Mum and sisters.

Confirmation his mother and sisters have been killed

It semed to me hours before Mr Western returned home. I knew in an instant by the look on his face that my life as I had known it had ended. Mr Western, for some reason known only to him, threw me a packet of Senior Service cigarettes into my lap, and said: "Have one of those, lad". While holding on to my shoulders, he tried his best, I know, to explain that both Mum and sisters Jean and Wendy had perished by the blast from a passing V1 flying bomb that hit the houses next to the trolley bus they were travelling on, in Dames Road, Wanstead.


Sister, Wendy, aged four killed in explosion

It's so hard to describe how one feels or copes with such shocking news, except I can remember my brain seemed to shut down momentarily. Looking around me, Mr Western was still talking to me, Mrs Western had burst into tears, but I could hear no sound, just see Mr Western's lips moving. Is this something the brain does, to act like a safety valve against shocking news and events? I don't know, but I seemed to be this strange trance-like state for some time before suddenly everything came to life and I realised what had just happened to me.

Alone in the world

At just 15 years, I was alone in the world. Dad was abroad in the RAF, thousands of miles away. But I did not cry, I just couldn't. I just remember a lump in my throat so big I thought I would choke.

By this time, Mrs Western, bless her, had rallied herself and asked if I had eaten at all that evening. I don't think I could have eaten anyway. I do remember Mr Western made me light up a cigarette. Being the first time, I just spluttered and nearly choked myself. By this time it was quite late and I just wanted to sleep. I remember a discussion about sleeping arrangements, in which for one night it was suggested, I sleep with their son Dennis - the same Dennis that I used to sit next to at school. I'm sure he wasn't keen and I was adamant that I wanted to sleep in my own bed, next door.

I know I worried poor old Mrs Western, because of the air raids at night. She used to say that she did not mind as long as I used the air raid shelter to sleep in, but I preferred my comfy bed indoors, and although being on my own all night, I somehow felt more secure in my own bed, and just went next door at meal times.

Wonderful neighbours

There is no doubt, and I have to admit it, that during those first few days after my loss I was only thinking about me and what I was going to do, and did not give a thought to how this was affeceting my lovely neighbours. The Westerns, without a single thought for their own way of life, just took me in, fed me and made sure I had all I needed, even buying me a suit for the upcoming funeral; which I must add, was the first suit I ever had.

ALL I hoped was that when Dad returned from abroad they were rewarded with some kind of recompense. All I know is that I will be eternally grateful to them for all their love. I can remember having about a month off work. How this came about, and who did all the arrangements for me and for the funeral, I will never know. Not having Dad around, it must have been some of my relatives, but I suspect the Westerns were involved with that also.

Home alone

Not going to work and not venturing out much at all was probably not a good thing, I don't know, all still seems such a blur. Dad took several weeks before arriving home, so I sat around on my own, most of the day, going through the routine of going next door at meal times and then coming back indoors afterwards. Mrs Western had three daughters-in-law staying with her at the time, while their husbands were at war. Their constant chat at the meal table somehow got on my nerves, and I was glad to get back to being on my own. I know you would think I wanted to be with company, but I felt more at ease in my own space. 'Comfortably numb' springs to mind.


Sister, Jean, aged ten, killed in the explosion

So many questions

After these sad times some people have, even in recent times, posed the question: "How did you feel and how did you get through this terrible time? What do you think about the Germans?" My answer is: "In life, there are times when you get knocked back, so you either stay down or get up, and just get on with living." To the latter question: "People don't make wars, bloody governments do."

The only time I fell into the: "Why me?" situation was during the early days, when I would stand watching from the window facing the main road, seeing buses going by, full of people, to and froing to work, people scurrying by, going about their everyday business along the pavements. And I remember thinking, just watching people getting on with life: "How is this happening? Don't you know what's just happened in my world?" Perhaps I was just being shown that life does go on.

Telling the family

The next few days were taken up travelling around London in a bid to contact relatives, to inform them about our sad loss. I must have been accompanied by an adult. I can remember Uncle Charles being around, he was Dad's brother. But I think again it was mainly Mr Western. I know my first visit was to my Nan in Manor Park, who was my Mum's mother, and where Mum had been before being killed on the way home.

What was unusual about this visit was than whenever we all used to visit Nan we nearly always found her in bed with some ailment or other. Sometimes she would claim to be too ill to see us, by calling from the bedroom window. But on this day, as we stood knocking on the door and calling out, a neighbour informed us that at this time of day, about 11 am, she would be up the pub, at the end of her street. It was the first time I had ever entered a public house, and being so young and a stranger, I felt a hundred eyes on me as I looked around for Nan.

We probably spotted one another at the same time. On seeing me there on my own, she knew it was bad news I had. All she kept saying was: "I told her not to get on that bus". I left her being comforted by all in the pub. I know some of them reached out for me, but I just wanted to get out of there, and home.

I learned sometime after that Nan did walk to the bus stop with Mum and my sisters and brother that day, with her jug in which to fetch her stout at the same pub, on her way back home. Nan told me that when the bus pulled up, being rush hour, it was full and only standing room. Nan told Mum not to get on, but to wait for the next one. Nan said Mum replied: "I need to get home, Bill will be home from work", and that having a little one in her arms, somebody would give her a seat. Nan always insisted it was just fate, and never did stop saying it.

I can only think that Uncle Charles informed all the Blackmans. the only other family member I remember being the bearer of bad news to was my Aunt Doll, who was Mum's sister. Aunt Doll lived in Bethnal Green in a large block of smelly old flats. Having no air-raid shelters, people in those parts of London used the underground station platforms as shelter from the start of the Blitz. Every night at dusk hundreds of people would gather up their blankets and precious belongings and head for the underground, to bed down for the night in any space they could find on the platform.

A white line had been drawn about a yard from the platform edge. This narrow walkway was for the passengers to board and alight from the trains which still kept running til the early hours. How Mums with babies and young children were ever able to get any rest at all in that situation is entirely beyond thinking about.

I eventually spied Aunt Doll among the sea of faces, and although Mr Western was still with me, it became my lot to once again break the sad news. After the familiar cuddles and tears, I left Aunt Doll and my cousin Pat being comforted by scores of people on the platform.


"Official figures" and the Walthamstow Guardian underestimating the toll, seven weeks after the incident

Identifying the corpses

The next duty we had to undertake before the actual burial was that awful visit to the mortuary, for the formal identification. I remember, beside the lovely Mr Western there was Grandad Bunn and my Uncle Charles, Dad's brother. When we all arrived, there was some discussion in an outer office as to who was going to do the identification. All seems rather a blur to look back, as to what took place. It seems that Grandad Bunn had already declined and then suddenly Uncle Charles said something like: "I can't be doing this", and left the room.

This left Mr Western and me, alone, with, I believe, a woman official, who was explaining that because Mr Western was not a relative, he could not officiate, and because at 15, I was under-age, and could not do it. She left the room to seek advice from someone senior to her. After some time, the woman returned and said we would both be allowed to view, provided that I was aware and felt able to provide the necessary identification. I believe if it had not been for the war situation, I would never have been allowed to do this; but as in many cases, things went by the board.

Suddenly and quickly I was ushered into the room were Mum and my sisters were laid. A very quick flash of the sheet and Mum's face appeared. First time I had seen a dead person. Although there were a few facial wounds, she looked serene and as I always recognised her - by her beautiful black wavy hair. For reasons best known to the authorities, to identify both my sisters, I was just shown several items of clothing, and asked if these were my sisters' and whether the wore them on the day of the incident. I somehow felt let down by all this strange procedure, but suddenly we were told it was all over, and that we could go.

More unwelcome news

It was a blessing to be out there and walking into the garden, outside the mortuary. I took a deep breath and looked around for the others. It seemed that "Dada pop", as we called him had already gone home, and I spied Uncle Charles, sitting on a bench, feeling sorry for himself.

Walking away from that sad place towards the bus stop and home, Uncle Charles suddenly exclaimed to me: "Of course, you know that Dada pop Bunn is not your real Grandad." Why he thought I needed to know at this moment of time, I shall never understand. I guess because we were all quiet and in our own little world, he thought he would break the silence, and start a conversation. Anyway, this bit of family history just went over my head at the time and I never thought or even remembered it until recently, when members of the family began some research into the family tree.

A few days later, Mr Western and I visited the hospital in Hackney to see my little brother Donald, who incidentally was the only survivor from the bus of 70 passengers. Donald was only six years old and looked so very tiny laying there, his head and face completely swathed in bandages, with just his eyes, like two black holes, visible. Donald didn't wake and hardly moved at all during our first visit. He may well have been in some sort of coma. Mr Western was called aside by a doctor and was most probably given an update on all the issues confronting my poor little brother. I was told nothing and never asked.

The funerals

Came the day I was dreading, the funeral. Very hard to describe, all a bit of a dream-like experience. I remember bathing and getting dressed in my new black suit the Westerns had bought me. One of the Westerns knocked, asking if I was ready, so that we could all go together. Watching and waiting for the hearse to arrive, I can remember being totally bemused and amazed by the amount of wreaths and flowers that neighbours were leaving, piled up in our gateway and on the pavement outside.

People had started to gather ouside along the pavements, until it seemed the whole street had turned out. The question I had asked earlier: "Don't they know what has happened in my world?" had surely been answered. It seemed that at that moment, the whole world knew and I truly felt supported for the rest of the day.


A photo of Wendy (4), Jean (10) and Donald (6) taken two weeks before the explosion to be sent to their father, in the RAF

Suddenly, the funeral cars appeared outside. The time had come for those few steps to the car. It seemed ages waiting, whilst all the lovely flowers were placed on the coffins in the cars. Maybe a strange thought to have, but I remember thinking what beautiful coffins they were. Mum's was a lovely varnished brown one, and my sisters' were pure white, which I thought very special.

Time to go. As I walked to the car I really did feel love and support from the people around. A little wailing, some called out, some reached out to touch; I really did feel that they cared. As we drove along, I sat betwen Mr and Mrs Western, I could not believe how many had turned out to watch us go by. Many of the men doffing their caps, as they used to, in those days.

A very long journey to the cemetery at Manor Park. My relatives had made their own way, but I don't think there were many in attendance. Remembering the burial, I did notice that Mum was placed in first and Wendy and Jean were placed on top. I'm really pleased they were together, like that.

Living on auto-pilot

It is true to say that I tried to forget what had happened to me, and for probably several weeks I just survived on auto-pilot, just following a daily routine as near normal as possible. I think I had a month off work, so I just hung around indoors in our own house during the day, except at meal times. Then Mrs Western would knock on the wall, or call over the garden to tell me my meal was ready.

What guardian angels Mr and Mrs Western were. I remember nearly every evening, after supper, Mrs Western would plead with me to stay with them overnight, but I still insisted on sleeping on my own. At least I now slept in our air-raid shelter, which pleased Mrs Western, especially as the Germans had launched their last desperate attempt to win the war. Besides the V1s, they now had their latest weapon, the V2, which has a rocket that carried an enormous amount of explosive, at great speed.

This beast was silent after passing over our coast and travelling so fast it could not be seen until it hit its target. So, there was no warning given before an attack, and no way of stopping it. All we knew about it is, if one was near you, there was an almighty explosion. Thank God our boys were now advancing through France and Belgium and were able to destroy the launch sites of those terrible weapons, as they marched onto Germany and victory.


Bill, aged 15, in a photo taken two weeks before he explosion, to be sent to his Dad

Return to work

Dad had still not arrived back in England from abroad and several weeks had passed with no communication from him, or anyone, as to his whereabaouts, which was another worry. At last I returned to work and life was steadily getting back to something like normal. Except, the management at work decided to give me what they called a light job, which turned out to be in a small office, at the entrance to the factory, all on my own.  

The job entailed answering the phone and putting callers through to the right department, and giving vistors a chair, while they waited for someone to come down from the offices, to take them to the factory. I did think it was a strange job to give me. Goodness knows what callers thought when they heard a 15 year-old on the end of the telephone, but I guess the management thought I would be harassessed too much in the factory by well-wishers, especially as the staff were mainly women during the war.

I did, in fact, have a lot of workers call in the office, especially in lunch breaks to enquire if I was ok, now. I got used to this after a while and thought it was nice of them to care. So, all in all, it was a nice easy little job, and I admit I did feel a bit self-imporant, especially when I rang either one of the bosses to tell them that Mr So and So was on the line for them, only to be told to say they were not available, or not on site today. Not having a phone at home, the job was a bit special.

Dad arrives home

Came the day at last - Dad was about to arrive home. I had not seen him for probably three years. It was with a mixture of trepidation and excitement that I stood by the window waiting. We had a funny little custom at home.  If we were expecting company to turn up, like family or friends, we would watch for the trolley bus to go by the window and then wait for 3-4 minutes. If they had not arrived at the gate by then, we knew we had to wait for another bus to go by, and so on. God knows how many buses I waited to go past while I stood watching and waiting.

After what seemed like ages, one of the Westerns came in from the front garden and said; "There's a man in uniform coming up the road." I ran to the gate and stood watching as this tiny little man, weighed down by so many kit bags and stuff came towards me. His gait quickened slightly as he saw me. We grabbed each other and hugged and cried for some time together before I realised that Uncle Charles was there also. They had travelled up from Southampton together.

Poor War Office communications brings a pleasant surprise for Dad

The rest of that day was taken up by so much talk. There was so much to catch up on, so many questions to be asked. I did subsequently learn that the delay in Dad arriving back home was due to bad War Office communications about what had happened to his family, between his commanders abroad and those in this country. He was given to understand that his whole family had perished, and so - he assumed - had the house.

He was given an open-ended compassioante leave pass, to travel home and sort out his affairs. There were no travel arrangements made during WW2 to get servicemen home, as there are today. It was down to him as to how he could best make the journey from the middle of the desert. It must have seemed like mission impossible; no wonder it took him several weeks to accomplish. It must have been unimaginably traumatic for him to be told by Uncle Charles, when he arrived in Southampton, that his two sons were still alive and that his home was in tact. 


Future West Ham Chief Fire Officer, Cyril Demarne: "The most horiffic thing I have ever witnessed"

Insensitive people

Life once again was a good deal bearable. Dad and I had a great deal to talk about and I'm sure we helped one another overcome our sad loss. as soon as possible, we both visited St Mary's hospital to see how my brother Donald was progressing. Doctors warned Dad of the possible outcome of Donald's wounds, such as potential brain damage, blindness in one eye or deafness due to the effects of the blast. But, they could not make an assessment until the dressing had been removed and the healing time had elaspsed. Although the doctors were doing their utmost with care and dedication, it did seem to me that people in authority could be insensitive, compared to others, like Mr and Mrs Western and workmates. 

Another instance I remember was a visit I made to transport headquarters in Baker Street, to collect belongings of Mum's found in the debris, such as her handbag. After they were handed over, the chap in charge led us to a large window and I remember distinctly him saying; "Look down there, I cannot believe that anybody could survive in that", and there - down in the yard, about three floors below - was all that was left of the trolley-bus, that our family and all those others were killed in, on that fateful day. All that was identifiable were the chasis and the wheels. Needless to say, we both needed to get out of there.

The local vicar decided to call on us at home, to offer condolences and prayers for our loss. It would have been great if he had stopped there. But for some reason, best known to himself, he went on to explain the reason for the explosion: "We are all here to perform a task and when we have achieved it ..." This was as far as he got before Dad jumped in and said "Are you teling me that a three year-old little child had completed her task, and that it was finished?" His voice getting louder and and more stressed, he continued: "I think you had better leave."

 A new normality established

After a short while at home, Dad received a letter from the War Office, informing him of a posting to RAF Hornchurch, just a few miles from us, which was great. I never did know what his duties were at Hornchurch, but because he was a lone parent, he was allowed home every evening; so in fact, it became a nine-til-five job in uniform. He even used to cycle to Hornchurch every day.

Life was beginning to return to somewhere near normal. We shared some of the housework and got to see one another every day. Mrs Western still fussed around us, making sure we had everything, such as shopping and food, and now and then would bake a cake for us. What a dear person she was. Dad and I could not thank the Westerns enough and we all remained great friends for many years.

Dad and I used to visit the hospital as much as possible, to see Donald, who by now was making steady progress. Bandages and dressings had been removed so we could see the damage to his little face. He looked like a tiny little old man lying there, because his hair had been shaven, to allow access to his head wounds. But miracles do happen. None of the awful things the doctors told us could happen transpired, and the only damage left was on his memory and the awful scars on his body. Until even recent times, very tiny pieces of metal would surface on his forehead.


Walthamstow Independent, underestimating the toll

We were raided each day by V1 and V2 rockets, so much so that the authorities decided to evacuate the hospital - from mid-London - to safer parts, in the north of England. Donald finished up in Sunderland, which meant a day's travelling by train and a stop over night in a hotel, returning the next day. This could only be done at weekends, because of work, and must have been an expensive affair for Dad. So, hospital visits became fewer. After about 18 months, the British Red Cross arranged for Donald to convalese in Switzerland.

The war ends, and it's new jobs

Dad was demobbed from the RAF when the war ended and found work at the local waterworks in Ferry Lane Tottenham. Unfortunately, my job at Wrighton's was on the line after the war work contract ended, and the firm started making furniture again. I believe, because of what happened to me during the war, as an act of good faith, they found me a job in the stores. But, it wasn't to last, and I was finally laid off. Fortunately, work was easy to find and I soon found a job at Holmes Brothers Furniture, Leyton.


All there is to remember the deceased by. The bodies were originally put into a mass grave, but were later moved to another plot in the City of London cemetery, Manor Park. Later the bodies were exhumed and put into another plot, as the first plot of land was required to erect a block of flats. Bill had a small plaque (above) made for his mother and two sisters. 

This is the end of the main extract from Bill's memoir, but he has offered more details on two aspects of it, firstly the fate of his brother, Donald and secondly a small piece about Wrighton's, his employers.


Donald was the only survivor of the 70 trolleybus passengers. Bill feels the only reason he survived was because he was found straight away by a passing market trader who was on his way home from market, with his barrow. He heard Donald crying before any ambulance arrived, and picked him up and ran with him, on his barrow, to Whipps Cross hospital (about 1 mile away). It was his prompt action that Bill feels saved Donald's life. 

The trader's swift action caused confusion among those who responded to, and have told the story of, the explosion, which probably explains why he is not mentioned as having survived or been separated from the rest of his family. It probably also accounts for the fact the the policeman who called on Bill did not appreciate the family connection.

By a strange coincidence, Bill later found out that his neighbour, Mr Western, knew the market trader, who told the story and helped Bill understand how Donald had become separated from the rest of the family, and, in fact, survived the incident.


Wrighton Furniture was in Billet Road, near the Crooked Billet roundabout, Walthamstow, and made bedroom furniture.  Bill takes up the story, and his employment there in another part of his memoir.


         World War 11 workforce at Wrighton's. Bill Blackman is in the front row

"By 1943 Wrighton Furniture had stopped making furniture and had moved to war work, as it was called. We were working on the production of a fighter bomber, 'Mosquito', assembling the fuselage and wings. It was famous as the only war plane made almost entirely from wood. It was, therefore, very light, compared to the other planes, so could fly much faster than other British, or German bombers.

Wrighton's was chosen to assemble the planes because its employees were used to working with wood and could use familiar tools. The fuselage, on which I worked, consisted of spruce bulkheads and ribs, or mainframe, covered with an inner plywood skin. There was then an interior of half inch thick balsa wood, followed by an outer plywood skin. The fuselage was about 28ft long and was assembled in two halves, right and left, which were brought together and bolted by lads climbing inside.

Each gang consisted of eight men or women and two juniors, of whom I was one. There were about twelve of these gangs working at one time on the shop floor. The whole process had to be completed in one shift. If there was a stoppage or an air-raid, you were expected to work overtime to finish. The interior balsa wood was stuck to the plywood, inner and outer skins, with a quick-drying adhesive. If you happened to be in the process when an air-raid warning went, then hard luck.

You were exected to stay put and finish the job. The procedure, in this case, was if the enemy aircraft were directly overhead a claxon was sounded by an air-raid warden on the roof. You had to lie face down on the floor, covering your head with your arms. Such fun!!"


  1. Thank you for sharing Bill Blackman's beautifully written memoirs. What a brave young lad he was.

  2. Absolutely heartbreaking account. Thank goodness for the close bonds of neighbours and friends helping him through it. I’m surprised there is no memorial plaque to the victims. I remember when the site was the science annex to Lakehouse school and there was no plaque even then.

  3. Stephen Blackman10 June 2022 at 18:00

    Thankyou so much for posting these incredible memoirs. I am incredibly proud to be the nephew of Bill Blackman and the son of Donald who are, without any doubt, the two bravest and most wonderful people I have ever met!

    1. Stephen, I hope Bill and Donald lived happy and uneventful lives. Bill’s account brought tears to my eyes, and I bless the memories of your grandmother and aunts

  4. Brought to tears by this incredible account of a tragic, tragic time. Thank you so much for posting this. I'm glad I stumbled upon it years after posting.

  5. Very sad and interesting story! I'm glad you and Donald made it out OK. War is always horrible to ALL sides...Thx for sharing!

  6. My grandparents worked and lived above their business in Dames Road at this time and my grandad was an ARP. My mum was about 6 years old at the time. I grew up in Forest Gate and for as long as I can remember, every time we drove down Dames Road she would recount the limited information that grandad told her after that dreadful incident. Bill Blackman’s memoir is so moving, humble and important I’m lost for words. I can only thank him.


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