Stories: Victoria Wood

This is the individual story of Victoria Wood (née Stelfox) as told to her daughter, Deborah Davis

My mother, Victoria Wood (née Stelfox) was in the shelter on the night of the tragedy with her mother, Ada Stelfox and her two sisters, Iris June and Beatrice. The family had been evacuated to Norfolk in autumn 1939 to stay in the servants’ quarters at Ringstead Rectory without my grandfather, Ernest Stelfox. He was a carpenter by trade and had stayed behind in Bethnal Green as an ARP Warden in the Heavy Rescue. He couldn’t write that often and sometimes the letters got lost so my grandmother never knew if he was dead or alive. My grandmother found it very difficult to cope on her own with three small children and it was hard to manage on the money that my grandfather was able to send her. So the family returned to London in 1942 to live in Old Ford Road.

My grandfather had seen some terrible sights during his work as an ARP Warden so, whenever he could, he made sure his family had bunks down in the tube station, which he felt was the safest place for them. At the time of the disaster my mother was six years old, Iris June was eight and Beatrice was two. My grandfather had made sure that they were inside the shelter before he went off to work for the night, so they were in there well before all the trouble started. My mother says that they didn’t really know what was going on, nobody said what was happening, but they weren’t allowed to leave the shelter. Down inside the shelter was so deep that they hadn’t even heard the guns going off in Victoria Park. My mother, my grandmother and my aunts were not allowed to leave the shelter until the next morning, by which time the toilets were overflowing and they were hungry and thirsty, although someone found some milk for little Beatrice. My mother will never forget the look on my grandfather’s face when he reached them and found them all alive and well. He had been helping to move the bodies, desperately afraid that he would find his own family amongst them.

My grandfather insisted that the family went back to Norfolk whilst he stayed in London for the rest of the war. He was shattered by the fact that he’d thought he was putting his family in the safest place possible and such a disaster happened there.