Stories: Eileen Bridger (née Dyson)

I was the telephone operator at Bethnal Green Town Hall during the war. I lived with my family, the Dysons, on Bethnal Green Road, and I was 23 in 1943. My husband Richard Bridger, was a battery surveyor in the Royal Horse Artillery, 8th Army – serving first in Africa and then in Italy. He was away from 1941 to 1945, as were his two brothers Jim and Tom. The Dyson family had 3 sons in the services, and my sisters Margaret, Phyllis and myself living at home.

Living in Bethnal Green during the war is difficult to describe to anyone who didn’t experience it. We gave up going to the shelters, even though our windows were blown in and we had to go up on the roof to put the incendiary bombs which fell, into buckets of water. I can’t now believe that we lived through it.

On the night of 3 March 1943, I was on control duty in the Town Hall. This meant we responded to emergencies by sending out ambulances and fire engines. It had been a quiet night. When the call came that there had been an incident at the Tube Station, it seemed unbelievable. It was very difficult to get emergency services to the Station, as they were all deployed somewhere else nearby. Gradually stories started to come in that men who had been standing at the top of the steps having a cigarette, shouted that there was an air raid, and people had panicked and started to rush down the steps.

My father in law Jim Bridger was a warden down inside the Tube Station, and from what he experienced that night he had a nervous breakdown.

I remember that the bodies were laid out in the street waiting for ambulances to come. It was a dreadful night for everybody involved.

My mother in law, Margaret Bridger, was the mayor of Bethnal Green at the time of the disaster. Of course there was an enquiry and she had to make a report. The enquiry (I believe) pointed to the council’s lack of care in not putting a handrail down the centre of the staircase, and of course as Mayor, Mrs Bridger had to accept ultimate responsibility for the council’s actions. This coupled with her husband’s breakdown led to the Bridger family leaving Bethnal Green. In any case their house had been bombed, and they had had to sleep in the basement of the Town Hall, with the rest of us who were on night duty.