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Peace dove gardens unveiled for London’s Blitz dead

PUBLISHED: 15:14 18 July 2008 | UPDATED: 13:27 05 October 2010

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A CROWD of around 100 East Enders watched cabinet minister Hazel Blears and 85-year-old Blitz survivor Alf Roffey cut the ribbon on the sculpture of a dove near Tower Bridge, after 20 years of dedication against bureaucracy to open a memorial park. But finally they stood proud this week for the official opening of the only public memorial to the thousands killed in the London Blitz

Hazel Blears (top) at the memorial, the first erected to the civilians killed in the Blitz (above) when London suffered German air raids for 57 consecutive days...

Below left: Blitz survivor Alf Roffey cuts ribbon with Hazel Blears, with cabinet colleague Ruth Kelly behind. Below right: London Assembly's John Biggs given a cake by resident Charlotte Baggins to make peace’ of another kind (See end of story)...

Ted Jeory

IT TOOK 20 years of courage, determination and dedication’ and bonded neighbours and communities together during a protracted fight against bureaucracy.

But finally campaigners stood proud this week for the official opening of the only public memorial to the thousands killed in the London Blitz.

A crowd of around 100 East Enders watched cabinet minister Hazel Blears and 85-year-old Blitz survivor Alf Roffey cut the ribbon on the sculpture of a dove at the heart of the Hermitage Riverside Memorial Garden in Wapping, near Tower Bridge.

The moment was greeted by applause and cheers after two decades of campaigning for the permanent memorial on the site of Hermitage Wharf—destroyed during a German air raid on December 29, 1940.

Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly, who lives a few hundred yards away, was also there for the opening, with husband Derek Gadd and their children.

She preferred not to speak publicly, but instead privately praised her husband’s help in the campaign, and left it to Communities and Local Government Secretary Hazel Blears to make the speech.

THE EAST END NEVER FLINCHED’

Ms Blears said: “As a government minister, there are some things you don’t want to do, but have to. This is definitely something I wanted to do.

“This will be a place where friends and families can come, but also where a new generation of East Enders can learn about the sacrifices. It will be a real symbol.

“The people of the East End never once flinched from what they had to do.

“The Blitz Spirit’ was born in Wapping among the working class people in the air raid shelters who then cleared away the rubble and went to work in the docks and the factories.

“So it’s really special that you have kept this last riverside site for the community.

“Without your courage, dedication and determination, it would have been concreted over.”

Not a single penny of public money has been put into the gardens, campaign chair Jeanni Howlett revealed.

Artist Wendy Taylor, who sculpted the dove memorial, even donated her fee to the cause.

The dove represents hope, with the cutaway shape of the bird symbolising the civilians lost during the 1939-45 war.

It is a gripping memorial to the time Britain stood alone, after the Fall of France, when London was being bombed continuously for 57 consecutive days between 1940 and 1941 by the Luftwaffe attempting to demoralise the population and knock Britain out of the war.

The Port of London was a strategic target. The docks were easy to locate for Hitler’s bombers, following the distinctive, winding course of the Thames.

BIGGS GETS A PEACE’ OF CAKE

At Wednesday’s memorial unveiling, a final act of peace’ occurred when London Assembly member John Biggs was presented with a cake by resident Charlotte Baggins from Wapping.

Some 15 years ago, an angry Ms Baggins had hurled a custard tart across the council chamber at the Town Hall as Tower Hamlets councillors prevaricated on the future of the memorial gardens.

The tart landed on a flushed councillor Biggs, who was a member of the authority at the time.

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