Search

Joan Martin, hospital doctor on duty during 1943 Bethnal Green air-raid disaster, dies aged 102

PUBLISHED: 12:16 01 February 2018 | UPDATED: 13:23 01 February 2018

Dr Joan Martin at the Stairway to Heaven Memorial unveiling. Picture: Mike Brooke

Dr Joan Martin at the Stairway to Heaven Memorial unveiling. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

A retired doctor who was the oldest person involved in the wartime Bethnal Green air-raid shelter disaster in east London has died this week aged 102.

Dr Martin (centre) cuts the tape at the memorial unveiling on December 7, 2017. Picture: Mike Brooke Dr Martin (centre) cuts the tape at the memorial unveiling on December 7, 2017. Picture: Mike Brooke

Dr Joan Martin cut the ribbon at December’s long-awaited unveiling of the Stairway to Heaven memorial at Bethnal Green Gardens to the 173 men, women and children killed heading into the underground public shelter during an air-raid alert.

She was the junior casualty officer on duty at the Children’s Hospital in Hackney Road on March 3, 1943, when the dead and those injured in the crush were brought in.

Dr Martin attended the annual memorial service at St John on Bethnal Green parish church every year since 2007 with her memories of that fateful night, telling her story exclusively to the East London Advertiser in 2014, when she was 99.

Dr Martin greeted by Margaret McKay, 74, the youngest survivor from the 1943 Bethnal Green disaster who was a baby of six months old. Picture: Mike Brooke Dr Martin greeted by Margaret McKay, 74, the youngest survivor from the 1943 Bethnal Green disaster who was a baby of six months old. Picture: Mike Brooke

“It was the worst night of my medical career,” she told the paper.

“I had two students from the London Hospital working with me when one dead person after another arrived on stretchers. The faces were wet and mauve.

“Then a small boy with a broken arm gave us some idea what had happened at the air-raid shelter.”

Stairway to Heaven Memorial Trust secretary Sandra Scotting, also one of its founders. Picture: Mike Brooke Stairway to Heaven Memorial Trust secretary Sandra Scotting, also one of its founders. Picture: Mike Brooke

Crowds were trying to reach safety during a sudden air-raid alert, surging down the narrow, unlit staircase into the half-built Underground station being used as a public shelter. A woman tripped and the crowd fell on top of her.

Dr Martin received the call at 8.45pm when to prepare for casualties.

“We piled the bodies in one of the consulting rooms,” she recalled. “They were beyond hope.

Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs meeting Dr Martin at December's memorial unveiling. Picture: Mike Brooke Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs meeting Dr Martin at December's memorial unveiling. Picture: Mike Brooke

“The next morning we were told not to discuss what had happened. To this day, I have tried to suppress the ghastly memories of that night—and still get in a panic if I’m in a crowd at a tube station.”

Dr Martin cut the ribbon for the memorial on December 17 in good health—but sadly had a fall three weeks ago and did not recover.

Sandra Scotting founding secretary of the Stairway to Heaven Memorial Trust, said: “Joan really enjoyed the day. I will miss her at this year’s 75th anniversary service next month. She had attended every year for the last 10 years, so it will be strange not to have her here this time.”

Dr Joan Martin (1915-2018), attending the 2014 annual service at St John-on-Bethnal Green church when she was 99. Picture: Mike Brooke Dr Joan Martin (1915-2018), attending the 2014 annual service at St John-on-Bethnal Green church when she was 99. Picture: Mike Brooke

Dr Martin made sure to be at the annual service, including the year when she was 96 when the Central Line had engineering works and she had to get out at Liverpool Street—but not knowing which bus to take to Bethnal Green decided to walk the two miles.

Dr Martin’s funeral takes place on February 15 in West London.

Latest East London News Stories

07:00

Potentially life-saving breast cancer screening appointments for women in Tower Hamlets have been delayed due to a shortage of staff to carry out the service.

Congratulations to Mayor John Biggs for being re-elected as mayor and to all our Tower Hamlets Councillors.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

If you’re a tenant looking for a home in Tower Hamlets we have bad news - figures claim the borough has some of the highest rents in England.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Letters, contributions and comments sent in to the Advertiser this week.

Friday, June 15, 2018

They call her ‘Ma’am’ as they pass the new ‘super borough’ Tower Hamlets and Hackney police commander walking down the corridor to her office ready for the day’s action.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Tower Hamlets Council is urging drivers to ditch their cars next Thursday in support of its ongoing Breathe Clean campaign.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Campaigners have warned that the council could fail to meet recycling targets if it doesn’t get more government money.

Friday, June 15, 2018

A council enforcement order to stop construction manufacturing work on an unregistered site that sprung up on the Isle of Dogs has been slapped on the owners—spelling victory for neighbours having to put up with noise and pollution all day.

Newsletter Sign Up

East London Advertiser twice-weekly newsletter
Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Most read news

Show Job Lists

Competitions

Having a brand new kitchen is something that lots of people want but can only dream of. Sadly keeping up to date and making our living spaces as nice as they can be is a costly and incredibly stressful business. Even a fresh coat of paint makes all the difference but isn’t easy or quick.

Who wouldn’t love the chance to go on a shopping spree. Imagine being able to walk into a shop and choose whatever your heart desires without having to worry about how much it costs.

Digital Edition

cover

Enjoy the
Docklands and East London Advertiser
e-edition today

Subscribe

Education and Training

cover

Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now