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Last hurdle for cash to complete Bethnal Green's 1943 air raid memorial

PUBLISHED: 18:18 02 March 2015 | UPDATED: 18:18 02 March 2015

Crowds gather at 72nd annual remembrance to 1943 Bethnal Green air raid shelter disaster

Crowds gather at 72nd annual remembrance to 1943 Bethnal Green air raid shelter disaster

Stairway to Heaven Trust

The East End of London remembered its civilian war dead yesterday in what may well be the last annual remembrance of the 1943 Bethnal Green air raid disaster before a permanent memorial is finally in place.

Fire crews from Bethnal Green fire-station pay homage to their wartime predecessorsFire crews from Bethnal Green fire-station pay homage to their wartime predecessors

Campaigners have been struggling for a decade to get a fitting memorial erected next to the entrance of the Underground station that was being used as a public shelter on the evening of March 3, 1943, when 173 men, women and children died on the staircase leading to safety.

The rush to get under ground during a false air-raid alert was Britain’s worst wartime civilian disaster—a woman carrying a baby tripped on the dark, narrow stairs and the crowd fell on top of her.

Even East End's cockney Pearly kings and queens pay homage to those killed in 1943Even East End's cockney Pearly kings and queens pay homage to those killed in 1943

But now the Stairway to Heaven Memorial Trust, which organises the annual remembrance at St John on Bethnal Green parish church, a few yards from the station entrance, are close to raising the last of the £400,000 fund, just £20,000 to pay the rest of the refundable VAT.

Yesterday’s anniversary service, which raised £4,100, included actress Somi De Souza reading the poem ‘I am there’ before the names of all 173 victims were read out, while candles were lit for each one by the Rector Alan Green and assistant priest Christine Hall.

Candle for each vicitm... lit by assistant priest Christine Hall and Bethnal Green's Rector The Rev Alan GreenCandle for each vicitm... lit by assistant priest Christine Hall and Bethnal Green's Rector The Rev Alan Green

“They were civilians who were not involved in the fighting, but just going about their normal day,” the Rev Green said. “Their memorial should also help remember all who die in conflicts around the world today and to try to prevent them.”

The service was followed by a procession with VIPs and Pearly Kings and Queens passing a line of fire-crews from Bethnal Green fire-station, standing in honour of their wartime comrades, to lay wreaths and flowers on the near-completed memorial in Bethnal Green Gardens. The wreath-laying was blessed with sunshine and a clear blue sky for the handful of survivors—now mostly in their eighties and nineties—and their families who still had to brave the winter cold.

Stairway to Heaven Trust secretary Sandra Scotting said: “Completing the memorial is all thanks to the generosity of the people of east London and families of those involved in the disaster.

“Donations of £10,000 from Canary Wharf Group and £25,000 from Tower Hamlets Council have also meant the final part of the memorial, the ‘stairway’, can now at last be ordered.”

The last phase is expected to take eight months to be shipped, carved and put in place by the end of the year, in time for the 73rd annual remembrance in March, 2016.

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