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Wartime Tube disaster survivors want to record heartache stories

PUBLISHED: 16:35 13 March 2008 | UPDATED: 13:07 05 October 2010

Margaret today, the baby who survived the 1943 disaster, and (right) picture of her mum Ellen who was killed

Margaret today, the baby who survived the 1943 disaster, and (right) picture of her mum Ellen who was killed

carmen valino

A SPECIAL reunion is being planned to bring together as many survivors of the 1943 Bethnal Green Tube disaster as possible to retell their own stories for posterity. Organisers of the planned memorial in Bethnal Green Gardens are looking for a Saturday afternoon venue they can use free or hire at low cost

By Ted Jeory

A SPECIAL reunion is being planned to bring together as many survivors of the 1943 Bethnal Green Tube disaster as possible to retell their own stories for posterity.

Organisers of the planned memorial in Bethnal Green Gardens are looking for a Saturday afternoon venue they can use free or hire at low cost.

The idea had been prompted by the success of the 65th anniversary service earlier this month, when survivors who heard about the event taking place contacted the Stairway to Heaven Trust secretary Sandra Scotting with their own recollections.

People who had never seen each other in 65 years turned up for the service earlier this month at St John on Bethnal Green church and laid wreaths at the station steps, when doves were released into the air.

One of them wasMargaret McKay who told her story to the memorial gathering of her struggle to piece together the life of the mother she never knew.

She was just six months old when her mother, 28-year-old Ellen Ridgway, carried her into the shelter when the stampede occurred.

Ellen was killed in the crush, but somehow baby Margaret was pulled clear by rescuers, still alive. She is now 65.

"I was only 10 or 11 when I was first told of it," said Margaret.

"I was playing in street and someone said my 'mum' was actually my step-mother. It was quite something to be told."

She emigrated to Australia at 20, but returned after six years and now lives in Kent, desperate to fill in the gaps in her life.

Her father George Ridgeway was serving in the Armed Forces in North Africa in 1943, at the time of the disaster, but did not tell her anything about her mother before he died in 1981.

What Margaret does know is that before the war, George and Ellen were packers for the Swallow cardboard box factory in Shadwell.

She found from their marriage certificate that he lived at 40, Three Colts Lane, Bethnal Green, while Ellen lived at 13, Jersey Street.

Her maternal grandfather was Alfred Edwards, a news vendor, who married Ellen Redding and lived at 19, Camden Street, Bethnal Green.

After the disaster, baby Margaret was cared for by her other grandmother, a Mrs Morgan, for three years until George returned from the war.

"Apart from that, I know next to nothing about her, not even which school she went to," Margaret told the Advertiser. "I just feel the need to get to know her."

Anyone who can help Margaret's research can call the Advertiser news team on 020-7791 7799, or email ela.editorial@archant.co.uk and we will put you in touch with her.

The disaster claimed the lives of 173 men, women and children in Britain's worst wartime civilian disaster. There were 60 children among the dead on that cold March evening.

The victims had all suffocated, crushed to death by a panicked stampede caused by a mistaken belief that the sound of anti-aircraft rockets being fired in Victoria Park was a German air raid.

But it was not reported at the time because of wartime censorship for fear of damaging the country's morale, until censorship was lifted at the end of hostilities in Europe in 1945.

Now, 65 years on, London Underground bosses have finally agreed to plans for a permanent memorial.

But the monument of 19 upturned steps will not overhang the station entrance itself, as had been proposed, because transport chiefs feel it would be too dangerous.

Instead, it will be moved 9ft into Bethnal Green Gardens next to the station entrance.

It should help boost the campaign's £15,000 coffers towards its £650,000 target.

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