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Bethnal Green Disaster 3rd March 1943

by loughton library

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Contributed by 
loughton library
People in story: 
Alf Morris
Location of story: 
Bethnal Green
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
02 December 2005

My name is Alfred Morris, I lived at 106 Old Ford Road, Bethnal Green E2. I am now 75 years old. At the time of the Tube Disaster, I was 13 years of age. My parents had been taking me to the Bethnal Green Tube since 1941. It was the only shelter in Bethnal Green where you could get a night’s sleep.

At this period, the shelter was not organised. We, as children, had to line up outside the entrance from about 4:30pm until it opened at approximately 6:30pm. Then we would go down the escalators which were not working to the eastbound platform and put a blanket on the place were we were going to sleep that night. This was before the Tube Disaster. At this time, the tube took a direct hit. The bomb fell in the middle of the road in Green Street (i.e. Roman Road now) at the junction of Victoria Park Square. It was heard in the tube. I was standing on the eastbound platform with a jug of tea in my hand. The lights, which were hanging down all swung and people started screaming but Mr Hastings and another man tried to calm every one down. Also at this time the Bethnal Green Tube was unfinished and was just like a building site.

After the direct hit in 1941 the Bethnal Green Council closed the tube and reorganised the shelter. Work was carried out putting a thick wall across the end of the eastbound platform and concrete slabs were put in place. Also three tier banks were put in along the westbound tunnel and they were sectioned off in alphabetical order. When the tube re-opened we all obtained a ticket from the tube office so this is how the tube was organised.

Now to tell you what happened on 3rd March 1943. The Tube Disaster. The radio went off at approximately 7:55pm. My Mother and Father told my Aunt who was living with us to go to the Bethnal Green Tube Shelter from where we lived in 106 Old Ford Road. My Aunt and I were walking along Old Ford Road when the searchlight came on in Bethnal Green Gardens. This was RDF controlled (RADAR) When this searchlight came on it went straight onto an aircraft. That is when the anti-aircraft gums started firing. But this particular night the rocket guns in Victoria Park fired. By this time we were in the middle but on the left hand side of the staircase. The wall of the staircase was jagged and unfinished concrete and there was a small hand rail. Also there was one light at the top of the entrance as you must understand there was a complete blackout in force. I was being carried down the staircase by a large crowd of people. At this time the noise of the rocket guns could be heard and someone in the crowd shouted

“There’s a bomb coming.”

That is when the people started to push forward. I was about the third stair from the bottom but could not move as my legs were trapped. This is when an air raid warden called Mrs Chumley pulled me out of the crush by my hair and then put her arms under my arms and pulled me out. Also my Aunt had to leave her coat and shoes in the crush to get out. We were then told to go to the bottom of the stairs and taken to the duty warden. At this time the people were falling so fast that it completely blocked the entrance and nobody was able to get up or down. The first information about what had happened came at approximately 9:30 to 10pm when fire officers and wardens came walking through the tunnel and people began to ask what the trouble was but they said nothing because of panic. We had to wait until morning which was the 4th March to hear that many of our friends and relatives had been killed. The following night newspaper reporters were offering children large amounts of money to say what had happened but we were told not to say anything by older people. Later on in March the council built another entrance with gangways standing at the park gates that is located at the zebra crossing in Roman Road near the rear of St John’s Church. This entrance had three gangways leading to the entrance where the accident happened.

Now the cause of this disaster was the searchlight in Bethnal Green Gardens. If this searchlight had not come on all the people would have walked down to the shelter just like every other night. The worst aspect of the disaster, there were no bombs dropped that night. As regards to the public enquiry the searchlight was never mentioned but this searchlight, if it had not come on, the rocket guns in Victoria Park would not have fired and therefore this terrible tragedy would never have happened.

I am enclosing a PRO report that there were aircraft in the area that night that is why the searchlight came on

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