ADVERTISER 150: How we report the Poplar schoolchildren killed in German air-raid
PUBLISHED: 19:00 05 December 2016 | UPDATED: 08:00 08 December 2016
Our nightly review for the East London Advertiser's 150th anniversary reaches the Great War of 1914-18 and the first civilian tragedy on British soil—the German air-raid that hits Upper North Street School in Poplar, killing 18 infants and many other people. We report the nation's shock and the angry public mood in the East End...
1917: A German air-raid targeting the India & Millwall Docks goes badly wrong when a when a lone 110lb bomb hits Poplar’s Upper North Street Elementary School nearby.
It is 11.30am on June 13... the bomb strikes the rooftop and crashes through three classrooms, killing 18 children, most under six years old.
It crashes through the roof into the girls’ classroom, then down through the floor into the boys’ classroom before finally busting into the infants’ classroom on the ground-floor and exploding, sending tons of rubble crashing down.
The infants are among 104 people killed in the East End that day, in the first air raid over London in the Great War.
The two infant class teachers manage to evacuate surviving children before returning to search for others in the rubble.
Panicked mothers in the neighbourhood arrive, desperately hoping their youngsters are not among the dead. Rescuers search the rubble for days.
Five-year-old Rose Simons is rescued after three days, when her 12-year-old brother Jim refuses to give up hope and continues digging long after the crowds have left.
The Mayor of Poplar says the children “had truly suffered for their country”.
Among the dead is five-year-old Alfred Batt, son of the school caretaker Benjamin Batt who lives on the premises. The shock of his son’s death on premises he’s responsible for is too much for the caretaker, who dies a broken man months later.
This first civilian disaster on British soil of the Great War, reported as “an atrocity” rather than the collateral of wartime enemy action, leads to riots on the streets of the East End against immigrants and shopkeepers with foreign names.
The East London Advertiser reports the public mood in a scathing anti-German editorial: “Here, in the midst of their studies, death sudden and swift descended among the children like a flash, out of the sunny summer skies, hurling tiny victims into eternity and inflicting injuries on others of which they will feel the effects the whole of their lives.”
A funeral procession takes place a week later on June 20 along the East India Dock Road, lined by tens-of-thousands of people, many openly weeping.
Fifteen children are buried in a mass grave at East London Cemetery, the other three in family graves.
Surviving youngsters later recall hearing a whirring sound in the air before the whole roof crashes down on their class.
The Advertiser’s editorial comment that week: “One can only marvel at the manner in which our people met the terrible ordeal so suddenly thrust upon them.
“They behaved in a manner which makes us proud of east London.
“Englishmen are known as clean fighters and do not understand the Gospel of Hate in Germany.
“It is useless to put the kid gloves on when fighting with a man-eating tiger—the only thing to do in self-protection is to go out and kill the beast.”
Money is collected in public donations from all over the country for a memorial, which is erected after the war.