BETHNAL GREEN DISASTER TUBE DISASTER
3rd March 1943
This account of the above is from my recollection and based on what I have been told by some members of my family who are now all deceased.
I was 5 years old when the disaster happened and was the youngest of 8 children.
On that fateful evening, I was at home with my mother, Mary Ann and two of my sisters, Rose aged 16 and Irene aged 8 (also known as Renee). We lived at No.17 Burnham Estate, Burnham Street, E2 (a couple of minutes walk from the underground station.)
My other siblings were much older than I. Two of my brothers were in the Army/Navy and one of my sisters was working at a munitions factory in the north of England. The others who were not at home at this time were either out courting or visiting friends.
When the air raid siren started, my mother told Rose to take me to the station shelter as she was not feeling well. Renee also wanted to stay at home as she was an extremely shy child and was very close to my mother and was always at her side.
Rose and I left our home to go to the shelter and I understand that my father arrived home to make sure that we had all gone. When he saw that my mother and Renee were still at home, he persuaded them both to go with him to the shelter as he felt that it would be safer for all of them.
When Rose and I got to the station entrance, it was very crowded as other people were also trying to take shelter. We managed to squeeze our way into the narrow entrance of the station and started to make our way down the dimly lit stairs. Just as we got to the bottom of the staircase, we heard a commotion behind us and people started surging forward.
Rose was accidentally kicked on the side of her head and reacted by pushing me forward to avoid being caught up in the melee. She then managed to get herself free (as someone had fallen on to the back of her legs) and we were both quickly ushered away by some unknown adults to safety.
We made our way down to our bunks on the platform and spent the night there not having any idea of the events unfolding on the stairway to the entrance of the station above. As far as we knew, some people had slipped and fallen on the stairs but presumed that this was a minor event.. Rose and I did not know that our parents and Renee had followed us to the station shortly after we had left home ourselves.
The following morning, one of my older sisters, Hilda and her fiancé came down to the platform where Rose and I were and told us that there had been a terrible accident on the stairway of the station entrance and that many people had been killed.
I do not remember being told that my mother and sister had died under these circumstances or that my father had survived but had sustained broken legs. I do remember hearing that he was the only survivor who had broken bones (but cannot confirm if this was true).
The only direct memory I have is holding on to a man’s hand to cross Roman Road from the station to St John’s Church opposite which was being used as an emergency mortuary. I have no idea who the man was and can only assume that he could have been my paternal grandfather or my future brother in law, Henry Collier (who had assisted in the task of removing the bodies from the stairway the previous evening/night).
Both my mother and Renee were buried together a few days later at Manor Park cemetery where a number of the other victims were also buried side by side.
This awful disaster affected our family deeply and was generally not talked about.
Over the years, I have picked up little snippets of information but have no idea if, what I heard, was correct or not. I remember my brother, Charles (also known as Boy-Boy), saying that when he visited the emergency mortuary that next day, he noticed that there was fresh blood running from our mother’s face and was convinced for many years afterwards that she was still alive.
I also remember hearing that my father received the sum of £800 compensation for the loss of his wife and daughter. I have no idea whether this was the case as my father did not talk about the loss of my mother and sister. Unfortunately he died when I was 15.
Rose and I received the sum of £100 each as compensation and we both had to wait until we were 21 for this to be awarded to us.
When I turned 21, I went to the Bethnal Green Town Hall in Cambridge Heath Road and was asked to produce a typed letter that had been given to me after the disaster, along with my birth certificate. I was taken into one of the vaults and was given a cheque for about £131 in total, which was inclusive of interest added over the 15 year period since the disaster. This compensation was of little interest to Rose or I. Obviously, no amount of monetary award could ever replace our mother and sister nor heal the scars that affected all of our family. I am sure that this would also be the case of all of the other families who lost loved ones on that tragic evening.
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