ADVERTISER 150: East End schools wrecked in the Blitz by nightly air raids

Göring’s Luftwaffe takes its nightly toll on the East End for five consecutive months

Görings Luftwaffe takes its nightly toll on the East End for five consecutive months - Credit: Archant

Our nightly journey through the news pages down the years marking the East London Advertiser’s 150th anniversary is now trying to cope with reporting the Second World War under strict National Defence censorship. Schools are being used as emergency auxiliary fire and medical stations, which we can’t report at the time, while east London’s children have been evacuated—but many schools are right in the Dockland target area for Göring’s Luftwaffe...

Saunders Ness School where landmine has exploded just hours before

Saunders Ness School where landmine has exploded just hours before - Credit: TH Archives

1940: Schools in Poplar borough being used as temporary fire stations are destroyed by direct hits in air raid, with massive loss of life to the emergency services.

Ricardo Street School suffers a direct hit on November 1. Two women and 10 firemen are buried in the rubble. Five later die from their injuries.

The worst incident on the Isle of Dogs in the Blitz is on September 18, 1940, when Saunders Ness Road School (today’s George Green’s Secondary) suffers a direct hit around 11pm.

Saunders Ness School where landmine has exploded just hours before

Saunders Ness School where landmine has exploded just hours before - Credit: TH Archives

A parachute mine dropped by the Luftwaffe hits the main building and kills 26 people, including a mobile first aid unit which had only arrived that night.


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A police report at 11.42pm reads: “HE (Heavy Explosive) bomb. Saunders Ness Road. Want plenty of assistance. Many trapped.”

An eye-witness account by a Fireman Sharpe, held by The Island History Trust, recalls “a dull thud and a flash” as the building collapses around him.

Wrecked fire-engine caught up in air-raid when Whitechapel fire-station is hit

Wrecked fire-engine caught up in air-raid when Whitechapel fire-station is hit - Credit: LFB Archives

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Two women are missing, Joan Bartlett and Violet Pengelly. He remembers running up the staircase and calling out, but there is no answer—the women are among the toll of dead.

It takes three months to clear the debris and the last body is recovered on Boxing Day.

1941: Worse is to come when a third Dockland school is hit the night the Luftwaffe launches one of its biggest raids of the Blitz on London on April 19.

A wrecked City morning after a Luftwaffe night air-raid

A wrecked City morning after a Luftwaffe night air-raid - Credit: LFB Archives

A land mine hits the roof of Old Palace School at 1.30am and drops down a stairwell. Brigade crews from Hackney and Homerton being stationed there are assembled in the playground when the bomb hits.

Rescuers arrive too late to save the 32 firemen who die that night, the most London Fire Brigade losses in a single incident ever.

The story remains unpublished because of emergency Defence Regulations.

The full details are finally uncovered six decades later by the Firemen Remembered charity which unveils a memorial in April, 1997, at Lansbury Lawrence Primary School, on the site of the old school destroyed 56 years before.

It is a reminder to today’s younger generation of the heritage of wartime London and the sacrifice their grandparents made when Britain stood alone to free the Continent of Hitler’s Nazi tyranny.

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