When The Blitz came to Southwark

News Desk (20 October, 2016)

In September 1927, Bermondsey’s Dr Alfred Salter is said to have foretold the coming of another world war, where Southwark would become an area of “smashed buildings, wrecked factories, devastated houses, mangled corpses

12661Keetons Road School 1940

In September 1927, Bermondsey’s Dr Alfred Salter is said to have foretold the coming of another world war, where Southwark would become an area of “smashed buildings, wrecked factories, devastated houses, mangled corpses and bodies of helpless men”, writes Alex Yeates…

Come the year of 1940, his prediction became a reality, as Nazi bombs rained down devastation across London. The history of Southwark during the Blitz has been detailed by historian Neil Bright in a book published last month, which seeks to show how the modern day borough was formed out of a number of unique tales during the war.

The first person to be killed in Bermondsey during the blitz was Sarah Hough, whose house in Storks Road had a bomb land on it. Although initially surviving and being rushed to St Olave’s Hospital, she died. Later that night, two bombs exploded in the railway over the Lindsey Street Arch air-raid shelter, where five seeking refuge lost their lives.

civil-defence-camberwell-1940

Civil Defence Camberwell 1940

One Southwark street in particular experienced the Blitz in full force. Arnott Street, just off the Old Kent Road saw twelve die on the fateful night of September 6, 1940. Annie Leary was one resident who was paralysed in the blast, but embodied the famous Blitz Spirit. In an interview with the Daily Express a few weeks later she said: “Hitler can’t a break a Cockney’s Heart!”

The following day is remembered as a “lovely late summer, early autumn day” where football fans eagerly awaited the local derby of Millwall vs Charlton at the Den in New Cross. Alan Tizzard, a Rotherhithe boy at the time, recalled what followed:

“On that sunny summer afternoon I was sitting on the kitchen step whittling away at my model when the sirens sounded. No sooner had the sirens sounded than planes came into sight. They were high by the standards of the day, maybe 20,000 feet. They were twisting and turning, bobbing and weaving. To me this was a grand show.

llewellyn-street

Llewellyn Street

“So far my sight of war had been at a distance and this knocked the cinema into a cocked hat. From the front of the house we did not see the approach of part of Luftwaffe Zwei; from across the Channel they came in from behind us. A sudden shower of spent cartridge cases rained down all around us. What had been the dull ever-changing drone of the fighters in dogfights high above our heads with their guns making no more than a phut changed to pandemonium.

“The stakes had changed. We were now part of it.”

As the Blitz’s intensity heightened, on September 7 during the night people were taking shelter at Keetons Road Rest Centre, a former peacetime school. The people were mainly evacuated from Downtown and were settling in for the night. Just after midnight a bomb exploded near the rear of the school which was quickly followed by another. Many were killed and injured as the centre was full of evacuees.

st-mary-magdelene-church

St Mary Magdelene Church

Horrified by the events at the school, King George VI paid a visit to the scene and is said to have been “visibly moved”. He spoke to the school caretaker, Mr Miles and his family, who recalled:

“The King spoke to me as man to man. You could see how shocked he was by the damage. He was kind and had a warm feeling for ordinary people no matter how humble. And I shall never forget the pain and suffering in his face when he caught sight of the bodies of the raid victims among the debris.”

As the first four months of The Blitz drew to a close, it was recorded that Southwark had taken a large number of losses. In Bermondsey 376 people had died, as well as 449 in Camberwell. To read more about Southwark in the Blitz by Neil Bright, visit www.amberley-books.com/coming-soon/southwark-in-the-blitz

Contribute
Mark says:

The Blitz happened because the British had already bombed German cities since May 1940.

Jackie Wallace says:

I have just read Mr Bright’s book and it was thoroughly enjoyable.

WesternApproaches says:

So ?

Mark says:

Hitler made clear in his speech on 4 September 1940 that he had ordered the Blitz in retaliation for what the RAF was doing.

WesternApproaches says:

The worst liar, propagandist, racist, and war mongering evil man and you choose to believe him because you are anti-British ?

Mark says:

The official RAF records show we began bombing German cities on 10 May 1940.

WesternApproaches says:

So what ? served the ‘um right.

Tim Atkins says:

I lived in Webster Road and opposite there were prefabs which I was told were built on the site of bomb wreckage. The front of our house appeared to have some brickwork repairs and I wondered if these were the result of these same blast. I also wondered if there are lists of the casualties of this blast and the one by Spar Road railway arch where I was told people were sheltering believing they would be safer without realizing that the railway would be a prime enemy target.

James Donovan says:

I was looking into my grandmothers brothers and remmembered that my father said to me that his Uncle Billy Foy had his share of bad luck. They lived in Bermondsey and when my grandmother moved to lewisham she was called “Bermondsey Sal” Her family, the Foy family, had lived in Bermondsey since the 1700s. Why was Billy Foy a sad story. Well he was gassed in the first war, his oldest son killed in Cranham Road bombing in Sept 1940 and his youngest son died when the HMS Repulse was sunk off Singapore in 1941.

Does anyone remember my family, maybe not, but they are Bermondsey

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