Stories: Ethel Grover

A tribute to my aunt, Ethel Grover, by her nephew Donald Vickers

Re: The Bethnal Green tube disaster

I lived in 78 Royston Street Bethnal Green with my Mother and Grandmother (Dad was in the Army fighting the war). My mother went out to work as a sewing machinist working at Steins in Bethnal Green Road. My Aunt Ethel lived with her husband Joe just around the corner at 302 Globe Road. They had no children. Joe worked as a welder at Buck and Hickmans (he served in the 1914/18 war and was exempt from this one, working on munitions I think).

My aunt was an embroideress working from home. She embroidered military cap badges, etc therefore when a siren went off she and her 2 neighbours would drop everything and go across the road, down Sugar Loaf Walk into Victoria Park Square, by St. John’s Church and go down into the tube station (approx 5 minute’s walk) which they would have done on that fateful evening.

Nan stayed at home to look after me, and to be there when I came home from school (I was 8 years old at that time and went to Globe Road School). The School also doubled as a Rest Centre for the local people who had been bombed out. I used to volunteer to give out tea and biscuits (anything to get out of lesions!!). So, on that day in March, on hearing the sirens, my aunt and 2 neighbours, following their usual pattern, went down the tube – their shelter from the bombs.

When Uncle Joe came home from work Aunt Ethel wasn’t home. This was not unusual, as after a raid was over she would call at our house just to check all was OK, then go home. On this day he came round our house to meet her, but of course she was not there. After this I am not clear as to what happened as there was a lot of comings and goings (we had no telephone in those days).

Later my Mum went out with Uncle Joe. On their return they told my Nan that there had been a terrible accident down the tube station with a lot of people hurt and dead, but they had no word of my auntie and had to wait until the following day to look for her. My Mum asked me if I knew what she was wearing that day. Because my auntie had no children of her own she saw me most days. She would meet me from school and buy me treats (mostly ice cream, I seem to remember). She always wore a broach on her coat or scarf. One in particular had a centre that spun round like a small rose. I said that she was wearing this and a bluey green scarf. Armed with this information they went looking. I always thought that they could not find her in St. John’s Church crypt, but they eventually found her at St., James the Less Church. They were looking for a young-looking auburn haired lady of 48 years old. When they found her, her hair was snowy white and she looked like an old lady.

Interestingly her death certificate states that the autopsies were postponed.

<certificate image to follow>

P.S. Both her neighbours, that she went down with, survived.