Tag Archives: Minard Road

One Night in the Blitz – the Air Raids on Lewisham of 8 December 1940

Last year Running Past looked at two of the most intense nights of World War Two bombing in Lee on the 27 and 29 December 1940.  We turn our attention to a night earlier in December 1940 when Lee, Hither Green and parts of the Corbett Estate were again hit  – the night of 8-9 December 1940 – most of the bombs fell in a short period around 11:00 pm on the Sunday evening.   

As was the case with the raids almost three weeks later, Lee wasn’t the real target and was a stopping off point on a major raid on London during which German bombers dropped over 380 tons of high explosive bombs and at least 115,000 incendiaries. 250 Londoners were killed on 8 December and 600 more seriously injured. Several streets in Lee, such as Brightfield Road (below), were hit in both raids.

As we have found with other posts on the Blitz, including the first night and the raids on 27 December and 29 December 1940, it is worth remembering that not every incident was reported to the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) HQ at Lewisham Town Hall, some being just reported to the Fire Brigade but others never going through official channels. This is particularly the case with incendiary bombs which residents were often able to put out themselves.

This particular night was clearly chaotic at the ARP HQ with some incidents clearly being reported and/or written up several times – as far as possible the narrative and maps have attempted to strip out the duplicates. There were around 70 incidents reported in just Lee, Hither Green and the Corbett Estate with no doubt lots not reported and large numbers elsewhere in the old Borough of Lewisham.

So, what were incendiary bombs? They were cylindrical bombs around 35cm long, and 5cm in diameter. Inside was a mechanism that ignited an incendiary compound that filled the cylinder, thermite, on impact. They were often dropped in ‘breadbaskets’ typically containing 72 incendiaries.

There appear to have been at least three ‘breadbaskets’ dropped on Lee at around 10:50 pm– one around Wantage Road, another on Burnt Ash Road, although the numbers were smaller there and a third around Brightfield Road. There were around 70 incendiaries that the ARP logged – with most, the note on the log was ‘fire put out without significant damage to property.’ The fires in Brightfield Road were of a different class to those elsewhere though– the ARP log noted that they were ‘distinguished’ – presumably a typo. Several of the houses in the postcard above were hit, whilst the photograph was taken over 30 years before, the street scene, that much will not have changed by 1940. The locations recorded from the raid in Lee are mapped below.

There were relatively few injuries – those that there were tended to be from the aftermath and/or trying to put out fires – four were injured in Burnt Ash Road, including a child who was blinded at 90 Burnt Ash Road and an ARP warden was injured in Micheldever Road.

At around the same time as incendiaries rained down on Lee several were dropped around what was then Campshill House in Hither Green Lane, Ryecroft and Campshill Roads (at the top of the map below).  A few minutes later there were a couple in the streets to the north of Brownhill Road – Ardgowan and Springbank Roads (there is a separate post on attacks on Springbank Road.) There were also incendiaries dropped in Fernbrook Road – 67 and 101 were both damaged along with another two at 127 Manor Park and Leahurst Road area (see Lee map above).  No doubt a few more fell but weren’t recorded.

At about 11:05 it seems that a ‘breadbasket’ was dropped on the eastern side of the Corbett estate with several hits on Verdant Lane and a lot falling in Minard Road (pictured below) – although they mainly landed in the street. Whilst this would have destroyed cars in 2021, this presumably wasn’t much of an issue in 1940.

While in the main, it was incendiary bombs that hit Hither Green, Lee and the Corbett Estate that night, there were a few high explosive bombs dropped too. The earliest was in Nightingale Grove at the junction with Maythorne Cottages (the eastern side of the ‘tunnel’ and current main entrance to Hither Green station.) It failed to explode, but the road was closed and, presumably, residents evacuated at around 10:00 pm. Three and a half years later, more or less the same location was hit by a V-1, causing several deaths and the destruction of a lot of homes.

Around 45 minutes later another one exploded at the junction of Mount Pleasant and Fordyce Roads causing a crater in the road and damaging the water supply.  Another unexploded high explosive bomb was reported at 59 St Mildred’s Road around 1:00 am, it was probably dropped earlier in the evening and the residents were evacuated.

The most destructive high explosive bomb was reported at 11:30 pm – at the junction of Dacre Park and Eton Grove, close to Lee Terrace.  Two houses were demolished and several others were damaged beyond repair.  Dacre Park was blocked for a while and four were reported as being injured. 

One of those injured was William John Sherriff, a 21-year-old merchant seaman from Port Talbot in South Wales; William was taken to Lewisham Hospital but died there the following day.

While of a similar size to the site from the Fernbrook Road V1 and several around Boone Street, the old Brough of Lewisham did not prefabs built on it; the site was cleared and flats built on it soon after the war, pictured below.

As noted earlier, Lewisham wasn’t the primary target of the raid – the bombers moved on towards central London where a high explosive bomb demolished the south and east sides of the Cloisters of St Stephen’s Chapel within the Houses of Parliament. The BBC buildings in Portland Place were badly damaged that night too.

Notes

  • In several locations the term ’many’ was used in the ARP log – this includes the both the eastern and western sides of Burnt Ash Road, Effingham Road (around the current Brindishe School), the eastern end of Burnt Ash. In these cases, I have assumed at least four incendiaries fell.  Some also aren’t exact – one group of four were noted as being on Micheldever between Wantage and Burnt Ash Roads.
  • The numbers are undoubtedly an underestimate – incendiary bombs that harmlessly fell in gardens or roads probably wouldn’t have been reported.

Credits

  • Most of the information for this post comes from the Lewisham ARP Log – it is a fascinating document, which is part of the collection of Lewisham Archives.
  • The postcard of Effingham Road is via eBay in February 2018
  • The maps are created via Google Maps

The First Night of the Blitz in Lee, Hither Green, Catford and Lewisham

The afternoon of 7 September 1940 saw wartime football matches at the Valley, where Charlton lost 4-2 to Millwall, and a few miles away Crystal Palace beat yet to be rivals Brighton 5-2 in the wartime South Regional Competition.  The almost normality was about to come to a shuddering halt with the first raids of the Blitz, when German bombers came ‘en masse’ on a Saturday afternoon, some up the Thames, some from the south – it was to be the start of eight months heavy bombing of London.

A Heinkel He 111 bomber flying over the Thames at the start of the Luftwaffe’s evening raids of 7 September 1940

One of the waves came over the Surrey hills and were recalled by a then young cyclist

It was the most amazing, impressive, riveting sight …Directly above me were literally hundreds of planes … the sky was full of them. Bombers hemmed in with fighters, like bees around their queen…

Running Past has covered many of the V-1 and V-2 attacks of the second half of the war – including ones in Lewisham High Street, Lewisham Hill, Hither Green Station (pictured below) and Blackheath Village.  On the 80th anniversary of the start of the Blitz it seems appropriate to reflect on what happened that afternoon and into the early hours of the Sunday. We’ll look at that the first night of the Blitz from the perspective of the Lee, Catford and Lewisham areas that Running Past generally focuses on.  Hither Green largely escaped that first night with one significant exception a partial collapse of the railway bridge on Ennersdale Road with 20 injured and several trapped at around 20:25 which was noted in the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) Log.

For many of the other attacks on the area, Running Past has used the ARP log for the old Borough of Lewisham.  However, in the early days of the Blitz the records seemed to be only partial, they seemed to be overwhelmed by incidents. There is better documentation for that first night in the records of the London Fire Brigade which are part of the collection of the Metropolitan Archives.  There were typed official green slips record each incident and a separate bound volume listing all the fires attended.  These were all pulled together for the 70th anniversary and a datasheet published in The Guardian, and elsewhere.  As we shall see though, even these aren’t perfect, serious incidents to homes in Limes Grove, Lewisham Road and Ennersdale Road railway bridge were not included.

The data shows the sheer scale of the attacks on the dockland communities on both sides of the Thames from late afternoon onwards, with a second wave of attacks from around 8:30 pm – seemingly the fires from the first attacks helping guide the Luftwaffe for a renewed onslaught as the natural light faded.  The attacks will have seen Londoners scurrying to their shelters – both household ones and communal ones such as those in Manor House Gardens and lots in the streets around Lewisham High Street.

The first bombs in the area – seemed to have been on Lewisham High Street furniture suppliers, Bolsom Brothers which was ‘severely damaged’ at 16:14 and the same with part of Chiesmans department store six minutes later.

There were a series of reports at 17:55, around Blackheath and Lee with damage to three houses in Brandram Road, including number 30, the original house is no longer there.  The ARP log noted another incident in a similar location around 19:09 but this could well have been the same one.  A couple of bombs failed to explode at the almshouses – given the communal shelter there (pictured below) there could have been a large loss of life had they exploded.

Around 20 minutes later 51-57 Lewisham Hill were hit – the damage noted in the Fire Brigade reports was to contents rather than the structure.  However, they were all marked as badly damaged in the LCC Bomb Damage maps – a mixture of repairable at cost, damaged beyond repair and completely destroyed, so either the Fire Brigade reports were incorrect or they were hit again either later in the Blitz or during the sporadic attacks that preceded the V-1 flying bombs – one of which caused enormous damage a little further down the Hill.  53 (the Victorian house and 55-57 are pictured below)

Bombers returned to Brandram Road at 18.31 with damage to 1, 2 and 4 although fortunately not the adjacent church – the worst damage seems to have been to a garage at number 2.

The second wave of attacks started from around 8:30 pm, and for the first few hours Lee, Catford, Hither Green and Lewisham were ignored with the much of the firepower being targeted on Lambeth, Southwark and Wandsworth areas.  By around 10:30 though dockland areas were re-targeted and half an hour later bombs started falling on Catford and Lee.

At 11:00 pm here was some limited damage to 34 Winn Road, part on an estate built by Wates just before the war; with an incendiary bomb being dropped on a nearby field in Alnwick Road. Around the same time an incendiary bomb fell in the street on Glenton Road, seemingly outside Holy Trinity Church – the extensive damage to the church was to come later in the Blitz. A bit further south ‘slight damage’ was recorded to 31-37 Abernethy Road, part of the late Victorian Firs Estate (top picture below).

The bombers returned to the skies above Abernethy Road around 11:45 pm, possibly ‘guided’ by a fire from the previous attack – the Fire Brigade report suggested that four houses of 41-47 were ‘severely damaged.’ As that numbering didn’t exist – in reality, these were almost certainly houses on Manor Lane Terrace about 30 metres away (lower picture above).  The damage to 31-37 seems much more serious than recorded and both groups of houses had been demolished by 1949. Neither site seemed to have been big enough for prefabs and the Victorian housing was replaced with council homes in the 1950s or 1960s.

In the early hours of Sunday morning the Luftwaffe turned some of their attention to Catford and the streets to the south of Brownhill Road.  The first attacks were at 0:18 and 0:20 on 141 Braidwood and 129 Killearn Roads, both suffered roof damage from an incendiary bomb – any sign of which was hidden behind a replaced roof and rendering.  At around the same time another incendiary hit a shed at Sandhurst Road School – the target of a much worse attack in early 1943 and there was some damage to 54 Laleham Road from another incendiary.

Twenty seven minutes past midnight saw an explosive bomb hit Jutland Road with seventeen houses damaged, several seriously – while some of the houses were repairable others weren’t with three houses being rebuilt (see below) – not in the style of the immediate post-war council housing so, presumably, private sector housing.

There was slight roof damage, now not obvious, from incendiary bombs to 86 Torridon and 91 Ardgowan Roads (the latter may have been hit twice as there was another report for it at 1:10 am) at the same time with some damage to fences to a couple of houses in Fordel Road. A few minutes afterwards saw the front bedroom of 127 Minard Road ‘severely damaged.’  The house was rebuilt well, with no obvious damage visible from the outside.

In between these attacks there had been an explosive bomb dropped on Sportsbank Street, which still had the stand for the former velodrome being used as warehousing, which damaged three houses, and ‘severely damaged’ three others – probably at the Laleham Road end.  The homes were rebuilt as council housing after the war (see below).

A few minutes earlier, at 138 Engleheart Road had been hit by an explosive bomb leaving two houses destroyed and two damaged beyond repair.  At 140 Ellen Moseley (37) was injured and died later in Lewisham Hospital – she was living in Hythe in Kent in 1939.  Again the homes were rebuilt post war.

Not every incident was recorded, and this was the case with the two in Lewisham where there was the biggest loss of life in the first night of the Blitz. The first of these was the bombing of 159 Lewisham Road (opposite Connington Road) where five died. Neville (20), Gwendoline (19) and Hilda Osborne (16) along with Charles Smith (23) and Christine Smith (nee Osborne – 24) who had married a few weeks before the bombing. They were all living at 213 Algernon Road in 1939 – Gwendoline  was a Photographic Clerk and Hilda an accounts assistant. Charles Smith was a Mechanical Engineering Draughtsman at the War Office as well as being in the Home Guard.

Despite the deaths and probable large amount of damage, the house (pictured above) was probably repaired during the war – it was marked on the LCC Bomb Damage Maps as orange – ‘general blast damage, not structural.’

The second unrecorded incident leading to significant loss of life was about half a mile further south; it seems that at some point during the night that 43 and 45 Limes Grove was hit. At 43 (the left of the houses below), Mayhew Edith Spedding died aged 56; she was the wife of George Spedding who was First Mate on a ship. In the 1939 Register she was listed there with George and what seem to have either been a couple of lodgers or it was a shared flat. It was a house that was split into two flats. Edith was badly injured in the bombing and later died at Lewisham Hospital.

Next door at 45, which was also two flats, lived the Bennions; both Edith Bennion (53) and her son William Arthur Bennion (18) were badly injured in the explosion, and like Mayhew next door, died later in hospital. They were survived by William Henry Bennion a mail porter and a school age daughter, also called Edith.

Lewisham had got off lightly compared with other areas, 11 deaths from the 430 who perished on that first night.  The all clear was sounded at around 5:00 am on the Sunday morning.  The respite was short though bombers arrived again over London the following night and did so every day/night for about two months and off and on for eight months.  Catford, Lee and Hither Green weren’t attacked every night but there will be more posts on the Blitz over the next few months.

The bombings changed the urban landscape, not as dramatically as they did in areas around the Thames, but most streets in the area have bits of post-war council housing amidst the Victorian terraces.  Most will tell a story of a family displaced and possibly injuries and deaths as a result.

Credits

Most of the information for this post comes from four sources:

The football results are from The Times of 9 September 1940.

Picture Credits

  • The Merchant Taylors’ Almshouses air raid shelter is from the collection of Lewisham Archives, it is used with their permission and remains their copyright;
  • The Heinkel He 111 bomber flying over the Thames is from Wikipedia and is on a Creative Commons
  • The Hither Green Station V-1 photograph part of the Imperial War Museum collection (produced here on a Creative Commons)
  • The rest are copyright of the author and are usable elsewhere, attributed, on a non-commercial basis.