Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 3, 2012

Bethnal Green in calmer times

March 3, 1943: During the bombing of London, 173 people are crushed to death at Bethnal Green. London’s underground railroad system, which began construction in 1854, was a way to link travelers from the City of London with outlying train systems. An Act of Parliament was passed but funding was scarce. Work began in 1860 and the Metropolitan Railway opened in 1863. The first tube lines opened in 1890. More railways were added over time. The Bethnal Green station was still under construction in 1943 and was used as an air raid shelter.

London was bombed intermittently throughout World War II. There were bursts of attacks by the German Luftwaffe. The Blitz of London from September 1940 through May 1941 had caused 43,000 civilian deaths and over a million houses were destroyed. While devastating to Londoners, it was a strategic defeat for the Germans. By 1943 response to air raid sirens was routine. RAF bombers had carried out heavy raids over Berlin on March 1. The retaliatory air strike came and at 8:17 PM the air raid sirens went off. Used to the drill, an orderly group headed for the underground and safety. Within ten minutes, already 1,500 people were safely below street level.

It was a rainy night. People were streaming toward the station and the stairway acted as a natural bottleneck. The stairs became slick from rain-wet feet. There was no handrail yet installed – the station wasn’t yet finished and there was a shortage of funds and metal due to the war. At 8:27 PM a new, unidentified, and terrifying sound split the night. The crowd surged forward, toward the safety of the underground. A woman (possibly carrying a baby, reports vary) tripped on the stairs. As she stumbled forward, other were knocked off their feet. Within 15 seconds, 300 people were crushed in the stairwell. There were 173 dead, 69 of them children.

The terrifying noise was coming from only a few hundred yards away. New anti-aircraft guns fired 60 salvos from Victoria Park. Although reported in the papers the next day, the location of the tragedy was not given. There was a concern about morale in the region. The true cause of the disaster is no more clear today than it was when it happened. Several factors led to the panicky response. Those listed above along with a dearth of supervision in the form of metropolitan or air raid police have been cited. Whatever the reason, it was the largest civilian loss during the war. The largest loss from a wartime bomb occurred at Balham where 68 people were killed.

It made our hair stand up in panic fear. – Sophocles

I have seen soldiers panic at the first sight of battle, and a wounded squire pulling arrows out from his wound to fight and save his dying horse. Nobility is not a birth right but is defined by one’s action. – Kevin Costner

Panic is a sudden desertion of us, and a going over to the enemy of our imagination. – Christian Nevell Bovee

Fear cannot be banished, but it can be calm and without panic; it can be mitigated by reason and evaluation. – Vannevar Bush

Also on this day:

Vincent van Gogh – In 1853, Vincent van Gogh was born.
Football – No, Soccer – In 1891, the Penalty Spot Kick was created.
Comstock Law – In 1873, The Comstock Law was enacted in the US.


One Response

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  1. Bobby Dias said, on March 3, 2012 at 9:19 am

    That was the most dead by one bomb in Great Britain during World War II, many times in Germany single bombs killed hundreds each time. Germans are also human beings. The Japanese suffered tens of thousands dead each of two times. The Japanese are people too.

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