Sir Ian McKellen tracks Hitler's first V1 flying bomb targeting the East End
PUBLISHED: 07:00 13 June 2016 | UPDATED: 13:13 14 June 2016
A young Ian McKellen had just celebrated his fifth birthday in Lancashire in wartime Britain when the world's first flying bomb missile hit London's East End.
Now more than seven decades and a global acting career later, Sir Ian lives within walking distance of the site where Hitler’s V1 “Doodlebug” bombing campaign began on June 14, 1944.
He often pops along to see the blue plaque on the graffiti-strewn railway bridge at Grove Road in Mile End marking the site where a row of terraced houses was destroyed.
Today is the 72nd anniversary of the tragedy in which six East Enders were killed—including a teenage mum and her six-month-old baby boy.
“I often pass this plaque and stop to read it because it’s close to where I live,” Sir Ian explained.
“I imagine those days when the East End was under attack during the Second World War.
“Anyone in London is aware of changing landscape, with new buildings going up and old buildings being pulled down.
“But these buildings round here weren’t pulled down—they were destroyed by bombs.”
His nostalgic trip was part of a campaign being launched tomorrow by English Heritage to promote blue plaques and encouraging the public to hunt them out.
The plaque in Grove Road is one of 900 across London reminding us of our national heritage.
“The memories linger,” Sir Ian tells you. “It’s important for the recent generations to realise the disaster of the bombing in this area.”
The East End is steeped in blue plaque tradition, marking historic figures like William Booth who founded the Salvation Army in a house in Whitechapel in 1865, Sylvia Pankhurst who began here Suffragette campaign from a house in Bow at the turn of the 20th century and even the place where Mahatma Ghandi stayed at Bromley-by-Bow’s Kingsley Hall on his visit to London in 1931.
But there’s nothing new about the blue plaque. Last month was the 150th anniversary of the scheme.
William Ewart of the Society of Arts founded in 1866 what would become the blue plaques scheme “to increase the public estimation for places which have been the abodes of men who have made England what it is.”
Now the heritage scheme reaches the digital age with the launch tomorrow of a Blue Plaques app to help the public discover those plaques that are closest to them—like the one in Grove Road that Sir Ian came across commemorating the first doodlebug flying bomb to hit Britain in the Second World War that is now his regular haunt.