Category Archives: War Memorials

It Isn’t Far from Lee to Gommecourt ….

The route to the southern edges of Picardy from south-east London is a straightforward one these days; the town of Albert can be reached in around four hours via the Channel Tunnel from Lee or Hither Green.  A variant of the journey was taken by numerous young men just over a century ago

This week sees the centenary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916 and many of those that made that short journey never returned, killed in the initial onslaughts and buried in a foreign field.  The story of the first day has been told numerous times before both factually (such as here) and fictionally, although few more eloquently or poignantly than by Sebastian Faulks who described a scene a day or two before the offensive began:

As they rounded the corner, he saw two dozen men, naked to the waist, digging a hole thirty yards square at the side of the path. For a moment he was baffled. It seemed to have no agricultural purpose; there was no more planting or ploughing to be done. Then he realized what it was. They were digging a mass grave. He thought of shouting an order to about turn or at least to avert their eyes, but they were almost on it, and some of them had already seen their burial place. The songs died on their lips and the air was reclaimed by the birds.

Sebastian Faulks (1994) Birdsong (London, Vintage), p215

The sheer enormity of the scale of human loss becomes obvious when looking at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website – there are almost 18,000 names of deaths on first day of the battle.

This post focuses on the role of a local regiment – the 56th Division, 1st/5th Battalion of the London Regiment (London Rifle Brigade), they were a ‘City’ Regiment but many of their soldiers were from south east London. Their role that day was essentially a diversionary one to try to divert German troops away from a more significant push further south on the Somme, the secondary aim was to help secure the northern flank around Gommecourt thus pushing the German’s back to positions that would be less easy to defend.

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Map Source Wikimedia Commons

Initially the London Regiment met with success and took the first and second German lines, but there was much more resistance from the third line and the British suffered considerable causalities and were driven back to their original lines.  Of the 826 from the regiment at the start of the day 275 were listed as dead by the end of the day on the CWG site.  Just 89 came through the day alive and unwounded.

There were are least a dozen local men who died that day at Gommecourt with the London Rifles.  It is worth reflecting on some of those young south London lives cut short on the first catastrophic day of battle where the worth of the human life seemed to count for so little. They will have climbed out of their trenches at around 7:30, none seen again alive and with most their remains were never identified.

James Frederick Wingfield – 36 Burnt Ash Road

James was a 30 year old Rifleman of the 1st/5th Battalion of the London Regiment (London Rifle Brigade)  He was the oldest of 8 children (in the 1911 census) of son of James Peter and Elizabeth, the former was Company Secretary for a wine merchant.  The family originated in East London, where James had been born in South Hackney and by 1911 were living at 9 Effingham Road; in Civvy street, James was an Accounts Clerk.

In the intervening five years Frederick had married Ada Gertrude Glanville and had moved just around the corner to 32 Burnt Ash Road – her parent’s home – probably close to the postcard depiction below of around that time (source e bay February 2015).

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There is no known grave for James Wingfield and he is remembered along with 72,194 others at The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme to missing British and South African men, who died in the Battles of the Somme of the First World War between 1915 and 1918.  It is just a couple of miles down the road from Gommecourt.  James and another local man who died the same day, 20 year old Arthur Webber from 69 Eltham Road, are also commemorated on the War Memorial at the former St Peter’s Church site.

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© Copyright Stephen Craven and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.


Cecil Ravenscroft – 94 Mount Pleasant Road

Cecil was a 19 year-old rifleman born in Chicester in East Sussex in 1896, to Byfleet Charles Ravenscroft who hailed from Worcestershire and Catherine from Swansea.  They seem to have been a family that moved around a lot this oldest brother was born in Lewisham in 1890, but in the following year’s census they were in Ifield in West Susseex (now part of Crawley).  In the 1901 census they were back in Lewisham, although only visiting someone in Brockley Park.  Cecil’s younger brother, Charles was born in Lewisham in 1895.

Cecil’s father died in 1911, before the census was conducted on 2 April.  The family was living at 49 Albacore Crescent and the 14 year old Cecil was working as a clerk, perhaps in the ‘City.’

By the time of Cecil’s death, the remaining members of the family were living at 94 Mount Pleasant Road. He was buried at Hébuterne Military Cemetery, about a kilometre south of Gommecourt.

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Picture from CWGC Website which allows reproduction of images and material elsewhere

Frank Dension Chandler – 23 Vanbrugh Park

Corporal Frank Chandler was born in Camberwell in 1893, his parents were Gibbs William and Lizzie Chandler who were from Camberwell and Isle of Dogs respectively – they were living at Liford Road, Camberwell in the 1891 census.  In 1901 the family was still at Lilford Road, Frank was the fourth oldest of the six children of the family, but his mother Lizzie had died in 1898.

some chandlerBy 1911 they had moved to East Dulwich Grove, his father having married Alice from Hamstead in Kent in 1907; by 1916 the family was living at 23 Vanbrugh Park. In Civvy Street Frank (pictured – source here) worked for Lloyds broker’s Nelson Donkin & Company

Like James Wingfield, there is no grave for Frank and he is remembered at Thriepval.

 

Richard Hopf – 9 Davenport Road

Rifleman Richard Hopf had been born in Catford in 1888, his parents Emilie and Paul were from Germany.  Paul  seems to have died sometime between the 1886 and the 1891 census.  The family was not recorded in the 1901 census but in 1911 Richard was living was his mother and four siblings in Westdown Road in Catford – he is listed as a Counting House Clerk.

In the early stages of the war there were a lot of attacks on German nationals, something that the blog covered in relation to Deptford a couple of years ago, many were deported.  With an English born family, who presumably would have had to stay behind, Emilie remained in Catford.  Several of the family subsequently Anglicised their name to ‘Hope’, including Richard’s older brother, Paul.

Richard Hopf is listed as dead on the CWGC website and was ‘buried’ at the now peaceful looking Gommecourt 2 Cemetery.

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Returning to the Somme, the initial push on that first terrible day foreshadowed what was to come – there was to be little success at Gommecourt – the OS Trench maps from around the end of the ‘battle’ six months later, show almost no progress from the initial lines.  Gommecourt was still under German control.


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I will leave the final words about that the catastrophic losses from those initial assaults to someone who has written extensively about the Somme and particularly about Gommecourt, Alan McDonald

The men of the 56th and 46th Divisions had been sacrificed to no end. It was predictable, it was unnecessary, it was criminal.

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Remembering the WW2 Dead in Lewisham, Lee & Blackheath

As Remembrance Sunday 70 years on from the end of the Second World War approaches this week, it is perhaps worth reflecting on some of the local people who lost their lives during the conflict.  I did a similar piece last year in relation to WW1 combatant deaths, but for WW2, I wanted to focus more on those who lost their lives on the ‘Home Front.’

One of the main differences compared with the WW1 is the number of women who died in the conflict.  While there were deaths in WW1 – such as those I have covered in the blog in relation to the Gotha bombing of Sydenham Road and the Zeppelin attack on Hither Green – they were a very small minority. The extent of aerial attacks by both German and Allied sides in WW2 changed this, as did the changing role of women in the armed forces.  A memorial in Whitehall commemorates both the changes in roles of women during the War and their deaths.

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Albion Way Shelter

At about 4 pm on 11 September 1940, a brick street shelter suffered a direct hit, as a German bomber discharged his remaining bombs as he returned to Germany.  Unsurprisingly there were a large number of casualties, with 41 dying inside the shelter and nearby.  Those who died included

  • William Abbott (56) a shop assistant of 8 Murillo Road;
  • Marjorie Wickens of 7 Taunton Road (19), who was an air raid warden; and
  • Elizabeth Grant of 19 Brightfield Road (19)

All three were buried and commemorated at Hither Green Cemetery.

Deptford Central Methodist Hall

The Central Hall was also hit on 11 September 1940, probably in the same raid as Albion Way, 50 were buried in the rubble whilst sheltering in the basement.  There were 26 deaths – including

  • Phoebe Turner of 60 Harvard Road (45); and
  • Lillian Allum of 47 Effingham Road (40).

Lee Park

There were at least seven who died in the bombing on Lee Park on 17 September in 1940 –  which would have been roughly to the left of the picture below, towards the Lee High Road end of the street.  The church was Christ Church which was bombed at around the same time and has been covered in the blog before.  Those who died were:

  • Emily Collins (62) of 35;
  • Ethel (66) & George Crawford (70) of 31a;
  • Ethel Pollard (39), daughter of the Crawfords also of 31a;
  • Emma Green (90) from 40 Dacre Park who was visiting 35 Lee Park and died of her injuries later in the year; along with
  • Maud (30) & Samuel (32) Nuttal at 31 Lee Park

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Boone Street

George Loader of 34 Boone Street died aged 85 in the Blitz on 21 September 1940. This probably became one of the sites for prefab bungalows after the war.

Sandhurst Road School

A large bomb was dropped during the day of 20 January 1943 killing 45 children and teachers, the casualties included:

  • Anne & Judith Biddle, 5 year old twins from 22 Muirkirk Road;
  • Pauline and Eunice Davies – Sisters of 9 and 7 from 57 Killearn Road;
  • Dennis and Ronald Barnard 10 and 9 from 120 Further Green Road;
  • Mary Jukes (38) from 3a Newstead Road; and
  • Harriet Langdon (40) from 65 Manor Park

There is a poignant memorial to those who died in Hither Green Cemetery.

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Hither Green Railway Station

There was a V-1 attack on the station on 29 July 1944 – the day after the Lewisham High Street V-1 explosion, which was covered on the blog a year or so ago.  There were four deaths including a mother and daughter from Walworth, Emily (25) and Jean (1) Champion, Violet Kyle of 11 Morley Road, who died in the Miller Hospital in Greenwich, and William Pontin (38) of Weybridge.

Blackheath Village

There was considerable damage to Blackheath Village on 8 March following a V-2 rocket hitting the Methodist chapel in what is now called Blackheath Grove –  there will be a specific post on this in a few weeks, 134 were injured and there were five deaths including Daisy Denny, Alice Drain and Eve Taylor who all lived in and around Blackheath, and Eve Leibe lived a little further away in St Mildred’s Road.

Note

Unless linked otherwise, the source for all the casualty information is the  Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Alfred Figes – (Probably) The Oldest World War 1 Soldier

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.

The Ode for Remembrance, taken from a Lawrence Binyon poem, ‘For the Fallen’ paints the generally accepted picture of young combatants, echoed in Wilfred Owen’s ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth.’ So one of the stranger inscriptions on the WW1 memorial on the ‘Lewisham side’ of the Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery is that of Alfred Figes who died in 1916 at the age of 79.  While Kitchener had been keen to get former soldiers back into the army, the theoretical age limit was 42.  So Alfred Figes signed up as ‘William Word’ and, unless he was phenomenally young looking, the recruiting officers turned a blind eye to his advanced years, presumably in the same way as they ignored the youth of others, like Catford’s Herbert Burden  The posters are both from Wikimedia Commons, more details left and right.

The Kentish Times  (quoted in the Lewisham War Memorial wiki) reported his as having been given a military funeral following his death at home in late 1916 at 79 Bradgate Street (now Road) in Catford.  

It is unclear when Figes signed up, but he may well have seen action at The Bluff on the Ypres Salient where his regiment, the 3rd Battalion of the Rifle Brigade fought in the first part of 1916.

WW1 wasn’t Figes only period in the army, he had fought in the Indian Mutiny in 1857.  His period in the army may have followed a spell in prison; in 1854, someone of the same unusual name was found guilty of dog stealing and was sentenced to a month’s imprisonment with hard labour – the newspaper report described Figes and his co-defendant Charles Smeyd as ‘flash looking fellows’. By the 1881 census he was a booksellers assistant living in St James, Westminster and was married Elizabeth Harvey in 1870 and had two children.

It was clearly a family tradition in continue first names – his first son (a postman living in Lewisham in the 1901 census) and grandson were both called Alfred.  The then 63 year old Alfred was a publishers assistant living at 32 Foxberry Road in Brockley in 1901.

But why a man in his late 70s thought the need to volunteer for service is anyone’s guess?  It could have been a wish to revisit days of his youth, it could have been a response to the recruitment campaigns, or it could have been a desire to serve with his sons who seem to have volunteered. While he died as a soldier, it is also unclear is whether he actually died as a result of war wounds or old age, that he is commemorated on the memorial at Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery would suggest that he might have been the former.  If it was as a result of he is probably the oldest combatant victim of the war – the oldest British volunteer currently seems to be accepted as being Harry Webber who was 67, the same age as the oldest German combatant.

By a strange co-incidence, Alfred Figes daughter, Clara, married Alfred, the older brother of Herbert Burden who is depicted in the ‘Shot at Dawn’ memorial at the National Memorial Arboretem.  Herbert was one of the youngest soldiers shot for ‘cowardice and desertion’ during WW1.

Following the Meridian I – Suburban Footsteps

Today, 13th October 2014, is the 130th anniversary of the a decision at The International Meridian Conference in Washington in 1884 which led to

the adoption of the meridian passing through the centre of the transit instrument at the Observatory of Greenwich as the initial meridian for longitude.

The line is well known and a tourist attraction at Greenwich, although it was 4th in a series of ‘lines’ ‘drawn’ at Greenwich – the first by Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal, was 7.75 metres to the west. The blog has been there before with an unsuccessful anarchist attempt to blow up the Observatory.

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While the Observatory would be an obvious place to start, I am going to resist logic and run my way back from the southern edge of London following as close to the Prime Meridian as possible, taking in a transect of the city. Fittingly, our starting point is another invisible and artificial construct – the boundary between Croydon and Surrey. Our starting point is a footpath (roughly where the large tree on the left is) around 100 metres west of a road called Park Road, remarkable only for its absence of a park. Oddly though the footpath had been tarmaced in the dim and distant past, the reasons for this became clear within 50 metres – there was a sign to Greenwich via National Cycle Route 21, a route I run down, further to the north, several times a week.

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The Prime Meridian is no respecter of rights of way and heads north over school playing fields. Our first turn to the north is a footpath more or less parallel to an old Roman road that went from London to Lewes – while there have been a few Roman coins found in the area, there is little to get excited about. Our first obvious sign of the meridian is a sun dial at the front of Addington High School, which was first installed in 1953 and re-furbished about 5 years ago. It is a great idea that would be even better if it wasn’t partially under a tree and had an upright that looked less like a bit of left over piping. There is an online ‘guide’ to the various meridian markers that helped identify this, and many of the others en route back to the Observatory.

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The meridian skirts the eastern edge of New Addington, which is an odd peninsula of development sticking out into the greenbelt; its development as Croydon overspill started in the 1930s through the First National Housing Trust which bought a couple of farms with the intention of developing a village based on Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City principles including 4,400 homes centred around a village green.

WW2 interrupted the growth of New Addington, and post war Croydon Council developed the estate further bringing a lot more homes than were originally intended, some light industry and eventually decent public transport links through the Croydon Tramlink in 2000 which reduced its isolation.

Some of the industrial units are more or less on the meridian and are imaginatively called the Meridian Centre on Vulcan Way. Originally, I had intended to at least ‘pop-in’ to one of the units which is home to probably the closest brewer to the ‘line’, CronX, which is part owned by a friend. However, despite being only a mile or so in to the route, I was already way behind time and in any case drinking and running aren’t the best of bedfellows, particularly for runners like me with clumsy feet.

Being surrounded by greenbelt, the route away from New Addington is rural; I am very tempted to follow the path suggested in the Greenwich Meridian Trail guide through woods and fields towards Coney Hall. I know the path quite well, in the opposite direction, as it is the first couple of miles or so of a cross country ‘mob match’ route I run most years. However, my aim is to stay as close to the meridian as possible, so after a brief run across some fields, I picked up a lane into the inter-war suburbia that is Coney Hall. One of the roads passed is rather tempting to turn down given its name, although I resist the temptation….

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Like New Addington, Coney Hall is an enclave of 1930s housing, built on a former farm sticking out into the greenbelt, however, that is where the similarity ends – Coney Hall is Mock Tudor suburbia with its half-timbered gables. It foreshadows much of what is to come for the next few miles.

I should have resisted a minor detour to the west of the meridian, but there is a rather attractive Grade II* listed 15th century church – St John the Baptist – which stands on a hill overlooking fields. Almost next door is Wickham Court – an old manor house of a similar age and with links to the Boleyn family, glimpses of what is now a fee paying school are possible through the trees.

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Along the crest of the same hill as St John’s there is a marker of the meridian, an odd little obelisk, like a small Ordnance Survey triangulation point..

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In 1997 there was a rather grandiose scheme to plant a series of trees to make the meridian visible from the air. While it wasn’t an enormous success, Bromley was an enthusiastic adopter of the scheme though and offered trees and a large scale map to residents on the ‘line’. Unfortunately, there was neither a requirement to actually plant on the ‘line’ nor to mark the tree – so the trees that have survived are largely indistinguishable from any others.

There were a couple planted a little further up in hill in Coney Hall, but both are long gone; but through the parkland and into South Walk one of the two planted there remains with a large tudorbeathan backdrop (see above).

The roundabout on Glebe Way is almost crossed by the meridian according to the Guide, but then it is ‘tacking’ across footpaths and roads looking for our next marker or in fact two of them. There is a sundial and obelisk on the edge of the grounds of Hawes Down Junior School which are now around 60 years old and rather attractive, although difficult to spot through the quite dense boundary hedge.

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There is conveniently a bridge over the railway, a short distance from its terminus at Hayes which opened in 1882. Hayes is an old village, with an attractive church, St Mary the Virgin, which has parts going back to the 15th Century. The village had links to the Cade Rebellion of 1450 but the nearest to rebellion around here these days would be a vote for UKIP, with the Tory vote approaching 60%. Sadly, we see nothing of old Hayes, it is the best part of a mile from the bridge – this is very much suburbia here.

Our next marker is still in mock Tudor territory but noticeably the houses are smaller here than in Coney Hall, it is at the end of a terrace rather than the large semis ¾ of a mile to the south. While the tree is now but a stump the owners have marked the passing of the Prime Meridian with a sign.

While I run on onwards and northwards, there is nothing else in this borderland between West Wickham and Hayes to indicate the passing of the Prime Meridian through the kitchens and lounges of commuter land. It is an area I know fairly well at night – these are streets I sometimes run along with my running club – but during the day they seem unfamiliar, unremarkable and unaffordable to most.

Crossing over that main artery of many a Beckenham Running Club route, Pickhurst Lane, there are several more of Bromley’s meridian marking trees in the leafy avenues towards Shortlands.

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We are passing close to Enid Blyton country here, she lived for a dozen years a couple of hundred metres away at 83 Shortlands Road and wrote ‘The Adventures of the Wishing Chair’ whilst there in the 1930s. In my search for meridian trees I should have perhaps been on the look out for a ‘Magic Faraway Tree’, written much later though. There is though a rather imposing war memorial just off the ‘line’ but on my route.

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The run continues next week from Shortlands towards Greenwich, and the territory begins to change.

Charles Cox & The Army Cyclist Corps

I first noticed the name of Charles Cox of the Army Cyclist Corps on the WW1 memorial on the Lewisham side of Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery several years ago. At the time I was reading John Foot’s excellent history of Italian cycling ‘Pedalare! Pedalare!’. This included sections on cyclists in WW1 – including the amazing tale of the one legged Enrico Toti, and in WW2 where Giro and Tour de France winner Gino Bartalli used his cycle to smuggle false papers allowing Jews to escape from Mussolini’s regime. I was unaware though of their World War 1 British counterparts, and it got me interested.

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The main role of the army cyclists was patrolling the coastline. Some units were sent into active service to provide reconnaissance and communications support. However, they tended to be ineffective in trench warfare and spent much time trench holding duties and manual work. There is a Wikipedia photo below of them in the Somme in 1917.

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There were some very specific recruitment posters for them, the last line of one in Wikipedia makes me smile.

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As for Charles George William Cox, he was born in Bermondsey and later moved with his parents to 78 Alloa Road in Deptford. By the 1911 census, he was a postman living in West London with a manager at the sorting office who was also a Bermondsey boy – perhaps he had helped him get the job which oddly had to be listed in the London Gazette. He married Elizabeth Caroline Brown in December 1911 in Brentford. By the time he enlisted, Cox’s address was given as 2 Benbow Road in Hammersmith.

Which regiment he was in remains unclear – he enlisted in London, so it is likely to have been one of the three Kent Battalions. Their role was, initially at least, one of ‘guarding key points and patrolling the coastline to deter invasion and catch spies’.

Charles Cox was listed as ‘B Company’ which was based at the Training Centre in Tonbridge. How he died is unclear, it is possible that he might have been posted to India and was wounded in action – the First Batallion was stationed there from early 1916 onwards – or it could have related to injury or illness in Britain.

Where he died is also slightly unclear, one of his army records suggests that he died at home in Forest Hill, but ‘home’ would presumably have been either Bembow Road or Alloa Road, although it is possible that his parents had to move during the war. If he died in Forest Hill it could have been that he was at one of the auxillary WW1 hospitals, the Fairlawn, in Honor Oak Road. Wherever, he died, he died young, at the age of 28, and when in the cemetery I always go by the memorial and pause for a moment by the inscription of his name.

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Running the Great Orme

Llandudno is a rather attractive seaside resort and a varied place for running – with a wide sweeping promenade stretching for two miles between the headlands of the Great Orme and the Little Orme . Victorian seafront hotels are well maintained and painted in a limited range of pastel shades and provided the backdrop for the start of the run.

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I soon headed upwards towards the Great Orme, climbing around 200 metres quite rapidly, which even made my Sheffield Tour de France run seem quite modest.

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The views that unfolded at the top was stunning though.

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The half a dozen miles on the Great Orme broadly followed the undulating top of the limestone headland with the heather and gorse looking delightful. The run back into town was harder on the quads than I had expected but included a pair of unusual war memorials.

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A run earlier in the week had seen the Great Orme and a neighbouring hill of The Vardre from a different perspective on a very windy beach on the other side of the Conwy estuary.

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The Lewisham High Street V-1 Explosion

July 27th is the anniversary of the explosion of a V-1 rocket in Lewisham High Street in 1944, it landed on top of a street level air raid shelter outside Marks and Spencer’s but seriously damaged neighbouring shops including Woolworth’s and Sainsbury’s. It was 9:41 am on a busy Friday market day, so there was of little surprise that it was one of the worst single V-1 incidents with 51 deaths and 124 serious injuries in the shops, market and passing buses.

As would be the case now, those who died were from a relatively narrow radius – most had lived within 2 or 3 miles of Lewisham town centre. Frederick Bridges from Wisteria Road and Ethel Clark from Taunton Road both lived on roads I often pass.

There is a maroon plaque memorial at the site – still a Marks and Spencer shop – which was unveiled in 2011, and replaced an earlier footpath memorial which had become somewhat eroded.

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The victims are also remembered in a memorial at Hither Green Cemetery.

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The physical impact on the town centre was considerable too as the photograph on the Lewisham War Memorials wiki shows. There was damage for up to 600 metres from the site which led to the post war redevelopment of the town centre.

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The first V-1, that became known as doodlebugs, was launched at London on 13 June 1944 a week after the D Day landings. At its peak, more than one hundred V-1s a day were fired at south-east England from sites in Northern France decreasing in number as launch sites were overrun until October 1944, when the last V-1 site in range of Britain was captured, although there were a small number of later air launched attacks.

There were some attempts to use double agents to persuade the Germans that the V-1s were over-shooting their targets and landing to the north west of London, this may explain the reasons for the volume of V-1s that hit South London. The old boroughs of Croydon (171), Wandsworth (122), Lewisham (114) and Woolwich (77) were the 4 locations hit the most. The City of London and Westminster only received 17 and 29 attacks respectively.

Over 6,000 were killed in the V-1 attacks and 18,000 seriously injured. It is worth remembering though that there were much higher death levels of ordinary Germans in the Allied bombing campaigns. In Berlin, almost half of the city’s homes were destroyed, and a further third uninhabitable by the end of the war, with over 20,000 deaths. Lewisham is twinned with the Berlin suburb of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, where a bombed church remains as a memorial – the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church was still being being repaired in 2013 when photographed but now re-opened.

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