Families spend first night in rest centre as Army defuses Bethnal Green’s wartime bomb
- Credit: Vickie Flores
Families are spending the first night with tea and biscuits at a secondary school in London’s East End as the Army starts defusing an unexploded wartime bomb near their homes.
The whole neighbourhood around Temple Street in Bethnal Green has been cordoned off while Army bomb-disposal experts this-evening try to make safe the UXB device dropped in a German air-raid more than 70 years ago.
The ‘danger’ zone takes in parts of main roads and bus routes including Hackney Road and Cambridge Heath Road. All traffic has had to be diverted since the bomb was discovered at lunchtime on a building site in Temple Street.
A rest centre similar to wartime centres opened during the 1940 London Blitz has been set up at Bethnal Green Academy in Gosset Street nearby, for those having to quit their homes.
Police were called to Temple Street at 12.45pm and started moving some families and businesses out “as a safety precaution”, Scotland Yard said, while bomb-disposal experts were brought in.
The local authority began an emergency public safety procedure.
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“We have set up a rest centre in a school nearby,” a Tower Hamlets spokesman said.
“The surrounding area is cordoned off to pedestrians and traffic and we are taking advice of police and Fire Brigade.”
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The authority also seemed to be taking advice from wartime press censorship and refused to disclose where the rest entre was, despite local journalists and a BBC TV crew already waiting outside.
A media officer at the Town Hall told our reporter: “We’re not letting the press know where the rest centre is because we are concerned that residents may be ‘hassled’ by members of the press!”
Meanwhile, families took matters into their own hands and contacted the local press and used 21st century social media.
Bernie Lewis, 75, and his wife Joyce, were among the first 50 residents turning up at the school.
They were out shopping opposite their home in Winkley Street, off Temple Street, when police turned up and told them the area was being evacuated.
“I thought if it was a 500lb bomb—we’d better get out quick!” Bernie said.
The police escorted him back to his flat to collect his medication, then to Bethnal Green Academy.
They weren’t bothered about having to kip rough for the night.
“I remember the war ending when I was five,” Berny recalled. “One of my first memories when I was three was one of the evacuations.”
That was when Hitler’s V1 ‘doddlebug’ flying bombs began reining down on London in 1944—the first one destroying a row of houses in Mile End killing six people, including a teenage mum and her baby.
But this is a new experience for the families sheltering tonight at Bethnal Green Academy, too young to remember the Second World War.
Only five staff were in the rest centre to look after the first arrivals when Bernie and Joyce walked in at 5.30pm.
But at least, for Bernie, there were “plenty of good tea and biscuits—so all’s well.”
Not all families in the ‘danger’ zone were being evacuated.
Former foreign exchange dealer Gary Marsh, 51, watched private residents the other side of Teesdale Street from his ex-council estate being evacuated—but he and his social-rented neighbours were not.
“It’s like a ghost town,” he said. “The police just told us to stay put—at our own risk.
“My block is less than 300ft from the bomb and they didn’t ask me to leave.”
Staff in the ground-floor offices of Tower Hamlets Community Homes were evacuated, but not Gary or his neighbours living directly above.
“We’re stuck here,” he added. “We can’t go out and run the gauntlet of the Law and not be allowed back.”
Families on the nearby Minerva estate were also left put, despite being inside the cordon. They could leave, but were not allowed to return, even though other families were still there.
The cordoned-off zone includes the 20-storey Claredale House, London’s first council high-rise tower built in 1958, now converted to private apartments. The zone is also two blocks from London’s famous Columbia Road flower Market.