Tommy Walsh urges MPs to help finish East End wartime disaster memorial
PUBLISHED: 21:24 27 February 2013 | UPDATED: 21:40 27 February 2013
TV celebrity builder Tommy Walsh has made an impassioned plea to MPs for help to raise funds to commemorate Britain's worst wartime civilian disaster.
He is patron of the Stairway to Heaven Trust which doesn’t have enough cash to finish off the memorial to the 173 people crushed to death in the 1943 Bethnal Green air-raid shelter tragedy.
The 70th anniversary service is being held at St John’s parish church in Bethnal Green on Sunday, followed by wreath-laying at the unfinished memorial that’s already cost £280,000—but needs another £117,000 to complete the task started eight years ago.
“We need help to make sure it’s not London’s forgotten disaster any longer,” Walsh told MPs at a Parliamentary reception at Westminster last night.
“We’re determined to raise the balance as soon as possible, as there are still a few living survivors who desperately need to see this memorial finished and know that those involved are finally remembered.”
The disaster on March 3, 1943, followed air-raid warning sirens going off and rocket guns being test-fired in Victoria Park nearby.
Those in the street wrongly and tragically thought a surprise German air-raid had begun and rushed to the public underground shelter.
But a woman carrying a baby down the narrow staircase tripped and the crowd fell on top of her—killing men, women, children and several babies.
The news was suppressed through wartime national security censorship and it went largely unnoticed, even after the war.
One survivor was 11-year-old schoolgirl Babs Nichols, now 81, who was invited to last night’s reception arranged by Bethnal Green’s MP Rushanara Ali.
Babs recalled: “I fell down the staircase, but luckily was near the back of the crowd and my sister managed to pull me clear.
We couldn’t find mum, but she was rescued and we found her later.”
The family heard the sirens and headed for the shelter—but missed the bus and got there late.
“We would have died if we had caught that bus,” Babs added.
But 173 other East Enders weren’t so lucky—crushed to death on the narrow, dimly-lit staircase that didn’t even have safety railings.
Their names will be read at Sunday’s service before wreaths are laid at the unfinished memorial a few yards from the disaster scene of 70 years ago.