ADVERTISER 150: How Britain’s worst wartime civilian disaster at Bethnal Green is covered up
- Credit: Archant
The 1943 Bethnal Green air-raid shelter disaster is our next stop on our nightly look at the big news to mark the East London Advertiser’s 150th anniversary. The press and even the local authority can say nothing about warnings ignored about the dangerous shelter conditions because of a gagging order by Home Security Minister Herbert Morrison under wartime Emergency Defence Regulations. But years later, the facts are exposed...
1943: Wartime censorship means we can’t tell the facts behind what really happened when 173 men, women and children are crushed to death in what appears to be a stampede to get into the Bethnal Green public air raid shelter.
It is another 70 years before the full facts are unravelled of a cover-up by wartime Minister for Home Security Herbert Morrison—who blames public panic—and the Official Secrets Act gagging order on Bethnal Green borough council.
There is no German raid on March 3, but a lone, unidentified aircraft is seen over London. Ack-ack gun crews on the ground respond. New anti-aircraft rocket guns are also being tested, unannounced, in Victoria Park. The vibrations shake the district and crowds run for the shelter—the half-built Bethnal Green Tube station on the unfinished Central line extension—on the corner in Green-street (today’s Roman Road). Even buses and trolleybuses stop as passengers get off and head for the shelter.
But there is no safety railing on the narrow, unlit staircase down into the station. A woman trips on the stairs and the crowd falls on top, crushing one another by the sheer weight of bodies.
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In just 90 seconds, 173 people suffocate – toddlers and babies among them, the youngest just five months old.
A magistrate’s report by Laurence Dunne later says “the stairway converted from a corridor to a charnel house in 10 to 15 seconds”.
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Official records blame the people for the stampede and Bethnal Green Council for negligence. Morrison even brazens it out in the Commons to avoid calls for his resignation.
But researcher Rick Fountain studies released government documents in 2012 that he says show Bethnal Green Council had warned in 1941 of the danger the narrow shelter entrance posed —two years before the tragedy—but its warnings were brushed aside.
A government inquiry and a High Court hearing behind closed doors immediately after Britain’s worst civilian wartime disaster gags borough councillors and the East London Advertiser under wartime Defence Regulations.
The council is also barred from giving evidence to the inquiry on “national security” grounds.
“They were silenced by threats and saddled with the ignominy of a shocking catastrophe,” Rick tells the Advertiser 70 years on. “The people of the East End were now defamed as cowards who had cracked under the bombings, despite having endured the Blitz for two years before.”
The council had asked four times for permission to spend £88 on a brick surround to make the shelter entrance wider and safer, but was told by the Civil Defence authorities that it would be a waste of money.
Days after the disaster, safety railings and better lighting are finally installed.
It is another seven decades before the people of Bethnal Green are finally vindicated.
One of the survivors pulled clear from the crush by air raid warden Maud Chumley is a 13-year-old Alf Morris from Old Ford Road.
Alf, now 86, recalls: “There were unidentified aircraft that night—even the BBC shut down so the pilots wouldn’t be able to home in the broadcast signal.”
1944: Claims for compensation are made in the High Court in July, by Annie Baker from Braintree Street who had lost her husband George, 38, and daughter Minnie, 14.
But the wartime security gag means Bethnal Green Council is barred from giving evidence about its three earlier safety warnings.
Morrison ands those in government get away with it while the people of Bethnal Green are made to take the blame for something not iof their doing—that could have been avoided.
ROLL CALL OF 173 MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN IN BETHNAL GREEN AIR-RAID SHELTER DISASTER ON MARCH 3, 1943, WHO NEED NOT HAVE DIED:
AARONS, Betty Diana, 14, of 39 Maitland House, Bishop’s Way.
ASSER, Jessie Louisa, 33, Daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Sharman, of 152 Grantley Street, Stepney.
BAILEY, Mary, 72, of 27 Whitman House, Roman Road.
BAILEY, Rose Ethel May, 41, of 27 Whitman House, Roman Road.
BAKER, George Stephen, 38, of 90 Braintree Street.
BAKER, Minnie Amelia, 14, of 90 Braintree Street.
BASS, Eileen Dorothy Margaret, 7, of 39 Portman Place.
BEAKEN, Eileen Louisa, 17, of 29 Morris House, Roman Road.
BEAKEN, Ethel Louisa, 53, of 29 Morris House, Roman Road.
BEAKEN, Matilda Jean, 44, of 29 Morris House, Roman Road.
BEGER, Emily Jemima, 57, of 29 Haverfield Road, Grove Road.
BENDON, Elizabeth, 38, of 73 Cyprus Street.
BENNETT, Emma Maud, 48, of 15 Moore House, Roman Road.
BOSWORTH, Edith Priscilla, 50, of 10 Burnham Estate, Globe Road.
BOSWORTH, Irene Priscilla, 17, of 10 Burnham Estate, Globe Road.
BOWLING, Bessie, 59, of 1 Milton House, Bethnal Green Estate.
BOWLING, Eliza, 31, of 1 Milton House, Bethnal Green Estate.
BOXER, Annie Louise, 25 of 20 Hunslett Street.
BROOKS, Henry Norman, 10, of 11 Swinburne House, Roman Road.
BROOKS, Jessie Elizabeth, 46, of 11 Swinburne House, Roman Road.
BROOKSTONE, Israel, 67, of 41 Teesdale Street.
BUTTERFIELD, Alan, 3, of 349 Corfield Street Buildings.
BUTTERFIELD, Charlotte, 28, of 349 Corfield Street Buildings.
BUTTERFIELD, George, 28, of 349 Corfield Street Buildings.
CHANDLER, Doreen, Mary 14, of 34 Claredale Estate, Claredale Street.
CHANDLER, Lilian Mary, 35, Wife of 34 Claredale Estate, Claredale Street.
CHAPMAN, Charlotte Elizabeth, 25, of 21 Hersee Place, Roman Road.
CHAPMAN, George James, 23, of 17 Swinburne House.
CLATWORTHY, Iris Jean, 8, of 156 Bancroft Road, Stepney.
CLATWORTHY, Joan Betty, 9, of 156 Bancroft Road, Stepney.
COLEMAN, Maude Louisa, 54, of 236 Globe Road.
COLEMAN, Richard, 34, of 12 Whitman House, Roman Road.
COLLETT, Doreen, 10, of 9 Stainsbury Street.
COLLETT, Ronald, 8, of 9 Stainsbury Street.
COLLETT, Rose Emma, 50, of 9 Stainsbury Street.
COURT, Patricia Marie, 23, of 61 Russell Road, Chingford.
DAY, John Lewis, 69, of 12B Buxton Road, Walthamstow.
DONGRAY, Annie, 22, of 57 Driffield Road, Bow.
ELLAM, Annie Eva, 43, of 29 Wessex Street, Stepney.
ELLAM, Frances Lilian, 20, of 31 Wessex Street. Stepney.
ELLAM, Pauline Patricia, 2, of 31 Wessex Street, Stepney.
ELLAM, Rosina Ellen, 17, of 31 Wessex Street, Stepney.
EMERY, Clara, 77, of 41 Hollybush Gardens.
FLETCHER, Alexander 3 of 334 Corfield Street.
FLETCHER, Elizabeth, 28, of 334 Corfield Street.
FORBES, Irene Catherine, 17, of 27 Bishops Way.
FORBES, Leonora, 57, of 27 Bishop’s Way.
FOWLER, Mary Ann, 45. No address details.
FRENCH, Lilian, 29, of 73 Cyprus Street.
GEARY, Carol Ann, 5 m, of 9 Perry Place.
GEARY, Sylvia Sadie, 5, of 9 Perry Place.
GROVER, Ethel, 48, of 302 Globe Road.
HALES, Joseph Alexander, 54, of 2 Crossland Square, Sale Street.
HALL, Annie Jessie, 52, of 148 Mansford Street.
HALL, Edna Phoebe, 13, of 148 Mansford Street.
HALL, Irene, 8, of 17 Burnham Estate, Globe Road.
HALL, Mary Ann, 47, of 17 Burnham Estate, Globe Road.
HAMMOND, Rhoda, 44, of 18 Approach Road, Victoria Park.
HARRIS, Olive Margaret, 17, of 86 Royston Street
HAWLEY, Leonard Joseph, 64, of 143 Antill Road, Roman Road.
HAYMAN, Mary Ann, 19, of 26 Burnham Estate, Globe Road.
HEWITT, Mary Kathleen Ivy, 27, of 1 Digby Street.
HIGGINSON, Emily, 62, of 10 Seabright Street.
HILLIER, Mary Ann, 61, of 3 Kirkwall Place.
HISCOKE, Ivy Winifred, 22, of 65 Gretton Houses.
HOYE, Lillian, 13, of 106 Rowan Road.
HOYE, Louisa, 44, of 106 Rowan Road.
HOYE, Margaret, 7, of 106 Rowan Road.
HOYE, Rosina, 19, of 106 Rowan Road.
HUTCHINSON, Joan Peggy, 10, 16 Bonwell Street.
HUTCHINSON, William G, 7, of 16 Bonwell Street.
INGLE, Agnes Maud, 28, of 247 Globe Road.
JOHNS, Peter Alan, 7, of 208 Bancroft Road, Stepney.
JOHNSON, Caroline Ivy, 14, of 208 Bancroft Road, Stepney.
JOHNSON, Ellen Emma, 6, of 18 Mulberry House, Victoria Park Square.
JOLLY, Sarah Ann, 51, of 41 Burnham Estate, Globe Road.
JONES, Estella, 59, of 33 Old Ford Road.
JULIER, Henry, 18, of 91 Bishop’s Way.
KOROBENICK, Matilda Eliza, 33, of 66 Newcourt House, Pott Street.
LAND, Barbara Anne, 7, of 1 Bullards Place, Roman Road.
LAND, Martha Elizabeth, 56, of 43 Monteith Road, Old Ford, Bow.
LAPHAM, Ronald Roy, 15, of 10 Approach Road, Victoria Park.
LAWSON, Anthony William, 7, of 172 Rowan Road.
LAWSON, Patricia Eileen, 3, Daughter of William Lawson, of 172 Rowan Road.
LAZARUS, Maurice, 42, Light Rescue Service, 157 Bethnal Green Road.
LECHMERE, Florence Rosetta, 66, of 3 Entick Street, Stepney.
LECHMERE, Thomas Allen, 66, of 3 Entick Street, Stepney.
LECHMERE, Thomas Charles, 43, of 3 Entick Street, Stepney.
LEGGETT, Benjamin George, 33, of 16 Bandon Road.
LEGGETT, Rose Maud, 31, of 16 Bandon Road.
LEGGETT, Roy Benjamin, 7, of 16 Bandon Road.
LEWIS, George Ronald, 9, of 10 Moore House, Roman Road.
LEWIS, Lilie Elizabeth, 14, of 10 Moore House, Roman Road.
LOFTUS, John Samuel, 13, of 32 Grendon House, Shore Place, Hackney.
LOFTUS, Louisa Ellen, 15, of 32 Grendon House, Shore Place, Hackney.
MAGUIRE, Jean Mary, 8 y 10 m, of 28 Butler Estate, Roman Road.
MASON, Charles, 50, of 23 Russia Lane.
MATHERS, Ruby, 18, of 16 Beale Road, Bow.
MEAD, Eliza, 67, of 66 Newcourt House, Pott Street.
MEAD, Florence Elizabeth, 35, of 7 Peary Place, Roman Road.
MEAD, George Jnr., 12, of 7 Peary Place, Roman Road.
MEAD, George Snr., 40, of 7 Peary Place, Roman Road..
MEAD, Kenneth, 10, of 7 Peary Place, Roman Road.
MEAD, Maureen, 4, of 7 Pearcy Place, Roman Road.
MORRIS, Derek, 6, of 25 Montfort House, Victoria Park Square.
MORRIS, Florence Maud, 30, of 25 Montfort House, Victoria Park Square.
MYERS, Geoffrey, 6, of 55 Cleveland Way, Stepney.
MYERS, Sophia, 40, of 55 Cleveland Way, Stepney.
NEVILLE, Alfred, 45. No address details.
NEWMAN, Doris, 9, of 24 Tagg Street.
NEWMAN, George John, 45 of 24 Tagg Street.
NEWTON, Sarah Ann, 28, of 25 Wessex Street, Stepney.
NIXON, William Henry, 14, of 7 Burn’s House.
PAPWORTH, Rosina, 27, of 41 Hartley Street.
PATTERSON, Mary, 44, of 8 Brierly Street.
PERRYMENT, Iris May, 17, of 74 Morpeth Street.
POOLE, Sarah Amelia Elizabeth, 59, of 87 Mansford Buildings, Mansford Street.
PRICE, Rose Elizabeth, 27, of 37 Viaduct Street.
PUSEY, Emily, 48, of 7 Shelley House.
PUSEY, Henry, 51, of 7 Shelley House.
QUORN, Emily Elizabeth, 42, of 5 Peel Grove.
QUORN, Gwendoline, 5, of 5 Peel Grove.
QUORN, William Frederick, 14, of 5 Peel Grove.
RAULINAITIS, Joseph, 32, of 9 Hammond Gardens, Old Bethnal Green Road.
REDWIN, Eileen Margaret, 7, of 236 Globe Road.
RELF, Rose Lilian Jnr., 13, of 192 Wilmot Street.
RELF, Rose Lilian Snr., 41, of 13 Georgina Gardens.
REYNOLDS, George Francis, 72, of 289 Cambridge Heath Road.
RIDDELL, Stella Annie Violet, 13, of 51 Burnham Estate, Globe Road.
RIDGWAY, Ellen, 28, of 24 Brierly Street.
ROCHE, Bessie, 42, of 123 Canrobert Street
ROCHE, Edward Jnr, 7, of 123 Canrobert Street.
ROCHE, Edmund Snr, 39, of 123 Canrobert Street.
ROCHE, Joan Mary, 10, of 123 Canrobert Street.
SCEATS, Lilian Doris, 15, of 30 Whitman House, Roman Road.
SEABROOK, Barry James, 2 y 9 m, of 86 Bonner Road.
SEABROOK, Sarah Florence, 62, of 158 Gretton House Buildings.
SEAR, William Herbert, 50, of 15 Patriots Square, Cambridge Heath Road.
SHARP, Irene Susan, 1 y 4 m, of Flat 5, King Street, Maidstone, Kent.
SHARP, Kenneth Edward, 5, of Flat 5, King Street, Maidstone, Kent.
SHEPHERD, Arthur Theodore, 42, of 19 Model Buildings, Pakenham Street, King’s Cross Road.
SINNOCK, Lydia Elizabeth, 62, of 6 Morpeth Street.
SMITH, Dorothy Ann, 11 y, of 9 Roman Road.
SPEIGHT, Edith Margaret, 47, of 9 Horwood House, Pott Street.
SPICER, Anthony Edwin, 9, of 10 Bonwell Road, Roman Road.
SPICER, Joan Pamela, 3, of 10 Bonwell Road, Roman Road.
STEVENS, Mary Ann Elizabeth, 54, of 36A Waterloo Gardens, Bishop’s Way.
STRETCH, Rose, 39, of 159 Wilmot Street.
STRETCH, William Jnr., 9, of 159 Wilmot Street.
STRETCH, William Snr., 49, of 159 Wilmot Street.
TARBUCK, George, 45, of 63 Newcourt House, Pott Street.
TARBUCK, Louisa, 44, of 63 Newcourt House, Pott Street.
TAYLOR, James William, 12, of 10 Lansdell Place, Roman Road.
TAYLOR, Sarah, 54, of 27 Wessex Street, Stepney.
THOMPSON, Kate, 63, of 83 Quinn Square, Russia Lane.
THORPE, Barbara, 1 y 10 m, of 20 Kerbela Street.
THORPE, Marie, 12, of 20 Kerbela Street.
THORPE, Olive, 36, of 20 Kerbela Street.
TILBURY, Clara Selina, 52, of 31 Burnham Estate, Roman Road.
TRAYLING, Irene Lilian, 20, of 9 Kirkwall Place, Globe Road.
TRICE, Isabella Rose, 39, of 42 Wessex Street.
TROTTER, Lillian Maud, 36, of 26 Morpeth Street.
TROTTER, Vera Lilian, 7, of 26 Morpeth Street.
VANN, Maud, 23, of 74 Hadrian Estate, Hackney Road.
VANNER, Florence Eliza, 49, of 68 Burnham Estate, Roman Road.
WARRINGTON, Doris Beatrice, 16, of 62 Blythe Street.
WELCH, James, 52, of 37 Digby Street.
WHITEHEAD, James Henry, 69, of 6 Viaduct Street.
WILSON, Edna Rosina, 15, of 37 Butler Estate, Roman Road.
WOOD, Alfred William, 63, of 5 Kenilworth Road, Roman Road.
WOOLNOUGH, Elsie Hilda, 37, of 35 Mansford Buildings, Mansford Street.
WOOLNOUGH, Olive Elsie, 12, of 35 Mansford Buildings, Mansford Street.
YEWMAN, John Robert Charles, 1 y 1 m, of 5 Peel Grove.