1943 wartime Bethnal Green disaster memorial plans hit by theft fear

The proposed memorial in London’s East End to victims of Britain’s worst wartime civilian disaster has been scaled down because of the fear of vandalism.

The memorial at Bethnal Green for the 173 men, women and children crushed to death in a stampede trying to make for an air-raid shelter in 1943 won’t be covered in bronze engravings as had been planned, the East London Advertiser has learned.

It follows a wave of thefts and vandalism when plaques have been wrecked, including the war memorial at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park in Mile End which has been targeted twice in the past 12 months.

Instead, the memorial envisaged at Bethnal Green Gardens, overlooking the staircase leading down to the Underground station where the tragedy occurred, is to be covered in seasoned and sustainable wood.

“This is to stop thieves stripping the bronze away,” the memorial trust’s Sandra Scotting revealed.

“It’s sad, but there’s been a spate of thefts. So we’re using sustainable hardwood which is robust, durable and weathers beautifully.”

The modified plans also cut �200,000 from the original estimate. Half the cash has now been raised, with the �100,000 ring-fenced contribution pledged by Tower Hamlets Council two years ago now being formally released to the fund.

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The Stairway to Heaven trust has matched the donation with �120,000, which leaves just �150,000 left to find. Work on the foundations can now go ahead in the summer.

Survivors of the tragedy, the 90 others injured in the stampede—thought to have been caused by the sound of rocket guns being tested at Victoria Park—packed Sunday’s 68th anniversary gathering at St John’s Church just yards from the scene of the disaster.

Readings were given by the memorial trust’s new patron, TV personality Tommy Walsh, in the multi-faith service. The names of all 173 victims were read out, while 173 candles were lit on the altar.

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