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The V2 Woolworths rocket bomb disaster 25th November 1944

National Fire Service people and Heavy and Light Civil Defence rescue squads search for survivors of a V2 rocket bomb on London during the autumn of 1944. Image: War Illustrated.

A V2 rocket bomb which descended from the sky on the Woolworths and Coop stores in the New Cross Road Saturday lunch-time 25th November 1944 became the most devastating Home Front disaster caused by the world’s first long-range guided ballistic missile.

New Cross experienced mass destruction of buildings and human life.

This catastrophic event happened a stone’s throw from Deptford Town Hall, now an important building used for teaching by Goldsmiths, University of London.

The people’s history dimension of this event is more bound up with the history of Goldsmiths than has hitherto been fully realised.

Goldsmiths now owns the site of the former St James’s Church, which has been converted into gallery and teaching spaces and is part of the memorial and human geography of what happened in the Second World War.

It has not been fully appreciated that people died in the buildings now used as teaching spaces by Goldsmiths such as 286 and 288 New Cross Road. These buildings along with the neighbouring Deptford Town Hall were badly damaged in the blast.

All windows and doors at the front had been blown in. 288 New Cross Road was being used as a ration book issuing office and was busy on the day. Post office sorting was being done behind and people working there were injured.

The other buildings on the corner of New Cross Road and St James’s- numbers 280, 282, and 284 New Cross Road- were completely destroyed and everyone in them either killed or injured.  The prefabricated single storey buildings erected in their place in the late 1940s have continued to be used as Goldsmiths teaching rooms.

The founder of the League of Coloured Peoples, Dr Harold Moody, would have taken part in the rescue and saving lives operation. He was in the network of emergency medics drawn from local GP surgeries and hospitals. The historian Stephen Bourne in Under Fire: Black Britain in Wartime 1939-45 published by the History Press in 2020 wrote:

‘On Saturday, 25 Novmber 1944, Dr Harold Moody left his surgery in Queen’s Road, Peckham, to attend the aftermath of a V-2 rocket incident in New Cross Road. This was in the very heart of working-class Deptford in south-east London. It wasn’t far from where 168 people were killed and more than 120 were seriously injured, mainly mothers and their children who were among the Christmas shopping crowds’ (Bourne, 190, 2020).

Stephen Bourne explained: ‘Dr Moody attended as part of a team called in from the surrounding area. They struggled night and day amidst the chaos and carnage to bring comfort to the survivors’ (ibid).

121 people had been seriously injured and needed treatment among the rubble.

The wreckage area covered a wide expanse of the junction between  St James’s, New Cross and Goodwood Roads.  Woolworths had been obliterated along with half of the neighbouring Coop store. The office buildings on the corner of St James’s Road and New Cross Roads were also destroyed and the prefabricated 1940s style single story blocks which replaced them and now used by Goldsmiths are evidence of devastation wrought on this side of the explosion.

George Arthur Roberts BEM MSM (1891-1970) Great War veteran, Leading Fireman WW2 and educator. Image: By Figures CC BY-SA 4.0

There is also strong evidence that there was another Black doctor practicing in the area and giving his medical services to the victims of the V2 strike.

In the 1994 publication Rations and Rubble: Remembering Woolworths The New Cross V2 Disaster Saturday 25th November 1944 there is an account by Patricia Blay who was 14 years old and working in the post office of the Cooperative Store next door to Woolworths.

She survived the blast and recalled: ‘We lived in Childeric Road and my mum came looking for me. She came round the front and they were laying the people out in the street that were dead. She went searching for me like mad but couldn’t find [me]. The doctor on the corner came out and sent to the army where my dad was and got him sent home on leave. That was Dr Chundun, the first black doctor that we’d ever seen, but he was very nice’ (Steele, 1994, 24).

Dr Walter Chundun would have performed a very active role in emergency medical assistance to the victims of the disaster. He was a serving Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps having been first commissioned as a lieutenant in April 1940 with promotion the following year. Dr Chundun practiced at 12 Clifton Rise (east side) New Cross and 102 Foxbury Road Brockley up until 1981. He demobilised from the British Army in 1946 with the rank of honorary captain in the RAMC.

Dr Chundun was born in what was then Dutch Guiana (now Suriname) on 16th November 1906 and travelled from British Guiana (now Guyuna) to study medicine in Scotland where he qualified in 1937  as a licensed doctor of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and the Royal Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. Both the Scotsman and Edinburgh Evening News papers described these as ‘Triple qualification successes’ in their editions of 28th October 1937.

One of the hero doctors attending the victims of the Woolworths V2 disaster- Dr Walter Chundun features in this group photograph of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, summer 1935. He is standing fourth from left second row from the front. He was then a 29 year-old medical student before qualifying in 1937. Archive photograph by very kind permission of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.

Dr Chundun married Sheila A Deakin in Marylebone in 1965 and took British citizenship in 1967. He would have been a witness to the ‘Battle of Lewisham’ on Saturday 13th August 1977 when hundreds of far-right National Front activists tried to march from New Cross to Lewisham but were challenged by thousands of counter-demonstrators.

Violent clashes between the two groups and police took place on Clifton Rise and a plaque was erected on the corner with New Cross Road in 2017 to mark the 40th anniversary of the event.  Dr Chundun passed away in Greenwich in 1994 where he had been a director of the Shooters Hill Residents Association with the address of 63 Shooters Hill Road.

Heroism was also in abundance throughout the Second World War on the part of founder member of the League of Coloured Peoples and decorated Trinidad born Great War veteran George Arthur Roberts.

Between 1939 and 1945 he was a leading fireman at New Cross fire station and attended four bombing attacks and fires at Goldsmiths which devastated the building and left the swimming pool turned mortuary a roofless and blackened shell in May 1945.

Crews and appliances from his New Cross station would have been the first on the scene of the Woolworths disaster on Saturday 25th November 1944. Stephen Bourne wrote: ‘It is likely that George A. Roberts, the Trinidad-born fireman based as nearby New Cross Fire Station, would have attended the scene also (Bourne, 190, 2020).

George would be awarded an MBE recognising his pioneering discussion and education groups in the fire service.

Much has been written about an event which tore the heart out of the local community; largely because so many women and children died. Norman Longmate in his book Hitler’s Rockets: The Story of the V2s devotes pages 207 to 212 to a detailed description and analysis along with eye-witness accounts.

After WW2 Deptford Borough Council set about rebuilding on the site of the Woolworths tragedy and by 1947 the building now standing was constructed enabling Woolworths to return to the New Cross Road and with the provision of two storey maisonettes for council tenants above. Image: Goldsmiths History Project

In 1994 there was a major project on the part of Deptford History Group and local organisations to fully commemorate what had happened thirty years before. An exhibition in the New Cross Library, public meetings, the unveiling of the Lewisham Borough Council plaque, and publication of the 55 page book Rations and Rubble: Remembering Woolworths The New Cross V2 Disaster Saturday 25th November 1944, edited by Jess Steele provided an outstanding commemoration to those who died and tribute to those who took part in the rescue operation.

 

Lewisham Council Local History and Archives Centre has provided a list of the details of those who died and could be identified. At present it does not include all of the 168 cited in the street memorials said to have been killed. This ongoing online memorial project seeks to identify them all and to provide more information about the lives of those killed.

Image: Tim Crook for Goldsmiths History Project.

On the outside of the rebuilt Woolworths store, now occupied by Iceland, there are small plaques which briefly state ‘In memory of the 168 people who died and those injured in the V2 rocket attack that landed here 25th November 1944.’

This had been the 251st V2 rocket successfully launched into Britain and counted as one of the worst civilian disasters of the Second World War.

People died in the pancaked Woolworths store and Coop next door.

An army lorry was overturned and destroyed and everyone sitting in the number 53 double decker bus and those at the bus queue were struck down.

Debris stretched from Deptford Town Hall to New Cross Gate station and it took three days to retrieve all the casualties.

Mrs Barbara Smith told the BBC’s WW2 People’s War Project:

‘One Saturday morning I was visiting a friend near my home. As I arrived at her door, a V2 fell. I said to her, “I must hurry home, that was a V2.” It had fallen at the bottom of my road on the Woolworths store in New Cross. As I hurried home I saw many people who were injured, and others were dead and lying on the pavements and in the road. Ambulances and fire engines were parked nearby, attending to the injured and dying. The air was filled with grit and dust. There was a huge crater on the Woolworth site where the V2 had fallen.

The first four houses in my road [Goodwood Road] were demolished. We were number 9 and my house was badly damaged, a four storey Victorian house, but it was still standing. The tall flight of front steps were damaged, windows fallen out, ceilings down, furniture damaged. How thankful I was that my family was alive and only slightly injured. Unfortunately the dog was missing. She had run out when the V2 fell.

I had been at the Woolworths store visiting every Saturday morning with a friend, but that particular Saturday, I’m glad to say that I hadn’t gone.’

St James’s Church is the nearest church to the location of the disaster.

A new church building is situated nearby. Again the memorial to Deptford’s fallen in the Great War is in tablet form with names inscribed.

The victims of the Blitz in the Second World War are memorialised by an open stone book on a plinth and a garden has been planted in memory.

Back cover of Audrey Russell’s 1984 autobiography ‘A Certain Voice.’

By 25th November 1944 the media were no longer fully shackled by censorship. Even the BBC’s Audrey Russell was sent to the scene to record interviews and make a voiced report though the acetate discs of her work have not survived and the recordings seemingly never broadcast at the time.

In her autobiography A Certain Voice she wrote:

‘In all some 500 rockets hit London in seven months. In some ways our method of covering these incidents was a bit naïve. The routine procedure was to contact the engineer assigned to the job on arrival at the office, and then wait. Wait to hear an explosion and telephone the police for directions. Sometimes when the police had not yet been informed, we would start out in the direction of the bang. On one occasion, when en route for somewhere else on a Saturday afternoon, there was a terrifying explosion – we were barely four minutes away by car from probably the worst rocket incident in London. This was at New Cross, Deptford, a direct hit on Woolworth’s killing over 100 people. Naturally I always dreaded what we would find when we got there.

There was a certain grim routine marking the beginning, the middle and the end of a mopping-up operation. There nearly always came a point when the extent of a tragedy seemed to be summed up by the number of utility sackcloth shrouds being unloaded from the equipment trucks. (For some years I was unable to look at that particular fabric without recoiling at the memory)’ (Russell, 1984, p. 46).

War Illustrated used graphics in a publication in late December 1944 to explain how the V2 rocket was fired some 60 to 70 miles into the sky and took four minutes from launch to target to come down from space at 2,000 miles an hour.

The rescue and salvage operation was among the biggest to be mounted in London. 100 National Fire Servicemen attended, including George Roberts from New Cross, multiple cranes, and heavy and light rescue squads from Deptford and surrounding boroughs.

The entire First Aid Post operation headed by Dr. Knight and situated in purpose built headquarters at Barriedale to the north side of the Goldsmiths College grounds coordinated the emergency medical services.

By Monday 27th November national newspapers published reports though still avoiding any identification of the specific location.

The News Chronicle‘s headline was ‘Bomb In Crowded Street Killed Women Shoppers- Chain Store Was Demolished.’

“Women and children, busy about their shopping were killed recently when a bomb fell in a crowded street in Southern England. Dead and injured were scattered about the roadway.

A chain store, which was one of two shops demolished, and another large store, which was badly damaged, were filled with customers, mostly women and children.

A large proportion of the fatal casualties occurred in those two shops and in the road outside, where a passing bus was wrecked.

Fire in the ruins hindered the rescue squads, who toiled through the night,  clearing wreckage with the aid of cranes.

Thirty hours after the bomb had fallen bodies were still being brought out of the ruins.

Apart from those killed or seriously injured, many received minor injuries from flying glass and falling masonry.

Mrs Bessie Payne, who occupied a flat over the badly damaged store, with her five-year-old daughter Beryl, was buried.

“I was in the kitchen,” she said, “when the walls collapsed and the ceiling fell on me.

“I was buried almost up to the neck, but by wriggling violently I managed to free myself. Then I hunted through the choking dust until I heard Beryl crying.

“She was nearly buried, but I managed to free her. I have lost everything, but I am lucky to be alive and to have Beryl safe.”

The Daily Mirror‘s front page headline was ‘Bomb Hits Stores’:

“Through a winter afternoon and night and on into the following morning grim-faced men kept toiling to release women and children believed to be buried in the debris of a multiple store in Southern England hit by a V-bomb recently.

The bomb fell when the shop was crowded with mothers and children, many of them doing their Christmas buying. Fatal casualties were numerous, and many injured were taken to hsopital.

The same bomb also wrecked another store and families had to be rescued from the explosion-stripped skeletons of their homes facing the store.

Women queuing outside a fish shop nearby were swept over by the blast.

Twenty hours after the bomb fell, rescue squads were still digging in the glare of mobile lighting units.

Red-eyed rescue men who had been working furiously for fourteen hours dug with renewed speed as a woman’s voice drifted up through the debris. She was dead when, later in the afternoon, they got her out.

The crater left by a V2 bombing in London at the end of 1944. Image: War Illustrated.

Two cranes pulled away girders and raised giant buckets of debris, uncovering the last remaining victims amidst crushed saucepans and household goods which the women had been examining when death struck.

Near the rescuers, treated almost with reverence by the grimy men, lay a pathetic little pile of children’s fairy stories, nursery rhymes and painting books.”

The Daily Express reported:

“Ambulances stood silently by as rescuers worked with hydraulic cranes. Nearby lay a little pile of children’s fairy stories, nursery rhymes and painting books. Beside them, salvaged intact, were rows of tumblers, bottles of lemon squash, tins of evaporated milk, packets of envelopes and assistants’ invoice books. Price cards were scattered over the road and trodden underfoot.”

Another dramatic eye witness account was provided to the TimeReel ITN documentary London’s War: The Road To Victory in 2010:

“I remember seeing a horse’s head laying in the gutter. And further on, there was a pram hood all twisted and bent.

And there was a little baby’s hands still in its woolly sleeve. Outside the pub, there was a bus. And it had been concertinaed. Rows of people were sitting inside all covered in dust and were all dead.

I looked over to where Woolworths had been, and there was nothing. There was an enormous gap, clouds of dust and I could see right through to streets beyond.

But there was no building; just piles of rubble and bricks. The only thing still standing was the Coop. And it was still settling.

And the rubble and debris was still settling down and from underneath all that, I could hear people screaming.”

The South London Press, a bi-weekly newspaper serving south London, published an account of what happened on its front page for its Tuesday 28th November 1944 edition headlined ‘Shop V-bombed: “People heroic”:-

The South London Press building during World War Two in the Elephant and Castle. Image taken by Dr Neil Clifton. CC BY-SA 2.0

‘It can now be revealed that the V-bomb which recently scored a direct hit on a chain store killed many people on the spot. Others died in hospital.

Many of the dead were women and children, including babies in arms.

Doctors dealt with many injured at the scene of the incident, and others were treated at First-aid posts. Some sought First-aid in nearby houses, and many people were taken to hospital.

The bomb fell when shopping was at its peak. The store was crowded.

Blast wrought widespread havoc to shops and houses.

The blast did a good deal of damage to the interior of a town hall. [Deptford Town Hall]

The incident officer, Mr. S. Burslem said: “I shall never forget the wonderful way in which people struggled to give assistance to others, although suffering and wounded themselves.

On the part of all the services and public involved there has been heroic teamwork all the way through.”

The assistant chief warden for the borough, who is in business nearby as an electrical engineer, said: “On the roadway and pavements were bodies, some terribly injured, including very young children.

Yet in all this hell I never heard a murmur. Those spared and comparatively free from injury were all running to help others, soon sizing the terrible situation up and doing what good they could until the arrival of the services.

The control-room itself was full of smoke. It was barely possible to breathe, yet everyone was calm and the work of restoring some order and putting vital services into organisation proceeded with efficiency.”‘

The back cover of the excellent booklet researched and written by the Deptford History Project in 1994 ‘Rations and Rubble’ which recorded the voices of surviving victims, rescuers and relatives of those killed in the New Cross Road V2 disaster. Many of the contributors have since passed away.

 

Images of the destruction and aftermath have been archived by Lewisham Council.

These include a view of the wrecked houses on the corner of New Cross Road and St James’s.

Then there is the view of the obliterated Woolworths store on New Cross Road, what is left of the Coop and being able to see through to Batavia Road.

A few days after the debris clearance the photograph below provides an open view from half way down Goodwood Road to Deptford Town Hall. The entire corner of Goodwood Road and New Cross Road has been flattened. Three huge metal containers are on the roadside which had been used by heavy cranes to clear most of the rubble.

The devastation and salvage operation after the V2 rocket attack on the New Cross Road 25th November 1945. Image courtesy of Lewisham Local History and Archives Centre.

Another photograph shows the devastation and destruction from Batavia Road looking across the flattened Woolworths site over New Cross Road towards St James’s with the church in the far distance. A small piece of the shelving from the ground floor premises of Woolworths has survived.

A fifth photograph presents the scene from the Deptford Town Hall side of New Cross Road, with the tramlines in the road, to half of what is left of the Co-operative Society store and looking over to the flattened site of Woolworths and wreckage of houses on the other side of Goodwood Road.

The Mary Evans picture library licences photographs preserved in the London Fire Brigade museum.

There are six high resolution and dramatic pictures of National Fire Servicemen engaged in the rescue operation working in smoke and debris, and these are curated in the site’s search facility under the reference ‘Goodwood Road’.

Goodwood Road in April 2024 showing how the V2 explosion destroyed all of its housing from the New Cross Road half way down to the surviving Victorian two storey terraced housing on the right of the picture. Image: Tim Crook for the Goldsmiths History Project.

There are two panoramic daytime scenes in Goodwood Road and New Cross Road showing the heavy lifting cranes and smoke still billowing up from a fire at the back of Woolworths.  It can be presumed these were taken on the day after the V2 struck.

An aerial RAF reconnaissance photograph from 1946 of the junction between St James’s, Goodwood and New Cross Roads provided a sobering depiction of the extent of the V2’s destruction. The black and white image of this area is grey-white waste-land of where buildings had once stood and after the affected site has been cleared of rubble, debris and structures wrecked beyond repair.

Mothers and their children

One of the many unutterably sad aspects of this disaster was the number of mothers and their children killed because they had been shopping on a Saturday in the New Cross Road where the Woolworths and Coop stores were places for domestic groceries and a little bit of fun in terms of sweets, toys, soft drinks and other beverages.

There were cafés, Woolworths had a popular tea-bar, where friends and families met and socialised. The victims included a young married couple in their twenties.

This means that 42 year old Florence Ethel Banfill died along with her three year old son Brian John Banfill.

31 year old Ivy Brown died along with her her 18 month old daughter Joyce.

45 year old Matilda Caroline Fish  was killed along with her 17 year old daughter Jean Caroline Maud Fish.

31 year old Kathleen Frances Fitzpatrick  was killed with her 3 year old daughter Carol Ann Fitzpatrick.

27 year old Julia Elizabeth Glover  was killed along with her children 7 year old daughter Sheila Glover and 1 month old infant son Michael Thomas Glover.

28 year old Alfred George Messenger was killed at the same time with his wife 23 year old Gladys Vera Messenger. The V2 rocket blast orphaned their two young daughters aged six and four.

38 year old Muriel Phyllis Millwood was killed with her 9 year old daughter Joan Pauline Millwood.

44 year old Lucy Amy Taylor died along with her 9 year old son Laurie John Taylor.

44 year old Dorothy Sarah Taylor was killed at the same time and along with her 15 year old daughter Joyce Doreen Taylor.

31 year old Lillian Florence Tribe died along with her 6 month old infant son Peter Tribe.

40 year old Violet Kathleen Woodland was killed at the same time and along with her 17 year old daughter Barbara Woodland.

On at least two occasions servicemen stationed abroad or in another part of the country would be contacted and told they had lost their wives and children in a V2 attack on the Home Front in London.

The memories of those who survived

Bill Finch remembered he was actually in Goldsmiths’ College when the V2 landed on Woolworths at about 12.25 on Saturday 25th November 1944.

This is because the London County Council meals service was headquartered there during the war and using the kitchens, dining room and other facilities while the College’s Training Department was in exile and evacuated to what is now Nottingham University.

A cheap meal for children in the area was put on at 12 noon and Bill was there because his mother was working in the canteen at New Cross Gate Station and his sisters Stella and Edna were working at the engineering works MB Motors behind the Maquis of Granby pub.

Bill told Deptford History Group researchers in 1994: ‘We had fold-up tables and the blast knocked the legs from under the tables and all the dinners slid down onto the floor. I run out and as I came round the bend I could see all the smoke and debris rising. I thought it was the station which had been hit. This would be three or four minutes after the explosion. I ran down and there was just people laying all over the place. There was a queue of shoppers outside the shoe shop and they’d been cut to pieces by flying glass. I’ve never seen a sight like it. Other bombs leave heaps and heaps of rubble but this looked as though it had been reduced, as though the biggest steam roller in the world had rolled straight over it.’

He found his sister Stella turning bodies over on the road looking for their mother. Fortunately for the Finch family all had survived. The blast did not extend as far as New Cross Gate station and had detonated before Edna, Stella and the other women at MB Motors would usually pop into Woolworths at lunchtime to shop for cosmetics.

Patricia Blay was 14 years old and a junior Post Office worker in the Royal Arsenal Coop. Incredibly she had been only 50 feet away from seat of the blast. She explained: ‘Nothing. No sound, no nothing. I didn’t feel anything at all. The blast went the other way.’ In later years she treasured the letter sent to her by the Post Office commending her pluck and presence of mind in collecting all the valuables and cash and locking them into the shop-safe in the aftermath of the blast and before she was rescued from the debris.

Sylvia Yeldham’s father, William Chuter, was a postman working in the sorting office just beside the Deptford Town Hall. They were living in nearby St Donatt’s Road. Sylvia was 12 years old at the time and still at school.

She along with her mother, Annie, and brother Michael rushed to the site of the explosion to find out what had happened to him as the rumour reaching them was that the V2 had hit the Town Hall.

They found survivors covered in dust and prams with small children inside bleeding from the flying glass. Sylvia’s father had been injured when the strongroom door fell across the base of his back. He required months of hospital treatment, never fully recovered, and suffered pain throughout his life.

The entrance to the post office sorting room next to Deptford Town Hall where Sylvia Yeldham’s father William Chuter had been severely injured 25th November 1944. Image: Tim Crook.

Sylvia Omit’s father, Bill Wakeman, was a clerk in the ration book office at 288 New Cross Road. On that fateful day, which happened to be her ninth birthday, he and two male colleagues had swapped with three women who usually worked in front of the first floor windows.

His face would catch the force of flying glass. He lost two fingers and would be disfigured for life. Years afterwards, Sylvia remembered her mother picking out little slithers of glass coming to the surface. Her birthday would also become known as ‘the New Cross day.’

Yet he certainly escaped death as the three women who took his place and those of his fellow clerks by choosing to work on the ground floor of the building were all killed.

Saturday mornings at Laurie Grove public baths, now used by Goldsmiths as artists’ studios and teaching rooms, was a popular pastime for boys in New Cross. A group of friends would have a swim and then make their way to Woolworths for a hot drink of Bovril and a bun. Consequently, a group of them would be caught up in the V2 tragedy.

Entrance to the Laurie Grove Baths in the 21st century very much as it was on 25th November 1944 when 12 year old Derek Millen and his friend 11 year old Norman Wilkins went in for their Saturday morning swim. When they went to Woolworths in the New Cross Road afterwards for a cup of hot Bovril, and a German V2 rocket landed on the building at 12.26 p.m., Derek would survive. His friend Norman would not. Image: Tim Crook for the Goldsmiths History Project.

Mike Bradshaw was nine and a half and living at 12 Avonley Road opposite the New Cross Hospital where his parents Harry and Gladys ran a newsagents. He would have gone with his friends Norman Wilkins and Derek Millen to the Baths and the Woolworths treat afterwards. But on that particular Saturday he decided to stay at home because he wanted to read his new copy of Comic Cuts.

11 year old Norman Wilkins died in the blast. Derek Millen survived suffering a broken collar bone and burnt hair. He was lucky to have been standing next to an RAF man who had gone into Woolworths to have a cup of tea. When buried in the debris, the airman held his hand and told him to shout so they were among the first to be dug out.

The victims and their identification

This is a new work in progress investigating and exploring the ancestry and life traces of each and every one of the people who died in the V2 disaster. These were people who made up the humanity of New Cross and neighbourhood in 1944. They had heritage and families. They had jobs, lived in homes and had futures. They constituted the very heart of the community. They had voices, dreams, hopes, fears and souls. They were and are much more than mere names and statistics. They leave an important legacy for living families and deserve memory and commemoration.

The former Deptford Borough Council should be credited with commissioning and creating a large burial plot and memorial for Civilian War Dead in Grove Park Cemetery which bears the inscription:

‘A Tribute To The Memory
Of Those Who Lost Their Lives
By Enemy Action In The
Borough Of Deptford
During The War 1939-1945
And Are Buried In This Plot’

Many of the victims of the Woolworths V2 tragedy in the New Cross Road on 25th November who are buried at Grove Park have their names inscribed on the stone memorial.

The plaques and memorials in the New Cross Road cite 168 people who died. So far it has been possible to fully identify a total of 167 of the fatalities from public records of civilian and military casualties.

Deptford Borough Council did inter what were described as ‘unidentified remains’ in grave 25 of their Civilian War Dead plot at Grove Park Cemetery. In the official burial register this is recorded as number 2298 ‘Unknown’ killed by enemy action in the New Cross Road on 25th November 1944 and buried 7th December 1944.

It could be argued this represents one human being who was never identified. On the other hand this could have been sensitive handling of human remains which may have belonged to any of the other 167 victims who had been identified.

I have decided to list this person as the 168th victim with the identity of ‘Unknown.’

Close-up of the London Borough of Lewisham memorial plaque on what had ben the rebuilt Woolworths store building. Image: Tim Crook for Goldsmiths History project.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records names and details of 161 civilian deaths in the 25th November 1944 V2 strike. This includes people who died in hospital afterwards from injuries received.

Six servicemen have also been recorded separately as having been killed in the incident. They were serving variously in the British Army, including the Home Guard, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.

Consequently, at the time of writing 167 named individuals can now be listed as civilian and service victims who died in the bombing. The issue of one remaining individual to make up the number of 168 has been resolved with the title of ‘Unknown’ as explained above.

During the London Blitz it was not unknown for people’s bodies to be destroyed by blast and incineration, or indeed, in macabre terms, to be dismembered and mutilated beyond the extent that they were capable of identification.

However, even given the fact we are dealing with forensic pathology of nearly 80 years ago, medical and coroner’s services were usually very skilled in eventually ensuring that every missing person was accounted for.

Where no trace of a missing person’s body could be found, it was law and practice for the Coroner to hold an inquest and issue a verdict as to their fate.

Longmate’s book quotes from a report compiled by ‘the casualty services officer from regional headquarters’ that at Deptford Town Hall ‘an improvised collecting post for casualties and first aid post came into being.’

The report said the  V2 rocket detonated at 12.25 p.m and states ‘the heavy mobile first-aid unit, in charge of Dr Knight, from Barriedale FAP [First Aid Post] was called at 12.38’ and arrived a few minutes later.

The Barriedale First Aid Post as it is in April 2024. The single storey building constructed by Deptford Borough Council in 1940 is currently used as a workshop by art and design students. Image: Tim Crook for the Goldsmiths History Project.

The report also says: ‘The original mortuary having been destroyed, a temporary mortuary was established at the premises of Pearces Signs, to which bodies and fragments of bodies were taken.’

It is not clear which mortuary the report’s author is referring to in terms of  ‘having been destroyed.’

The Pearce Signs’ building had been badly damaged and it can be presumed it would have been used as a preliminary collecting point.

Deptford Council had specifically converted the Goldsmiths College swimming pool for the purpose of being used as a mass casualty mortuary. It had been damaged in Blitz incidents, but it was not fully destroyed by fire until May 1945.

Since the Goldsmiths’ College campus was effectively Deptford’s emergency medical services headquarters with the new Barriedale building constructed in the early 1940s to add to the resources, it is possible the converted swimming pool could have been used.

On the other hand the previous damage may have been so great they were forced to find somewhere else to do the distressing work. Such a situation must have been so frustrating and challenging.

To assist with identifying  over 100 fatalities additional mortuary staff had also been seconded from Bermondsey and Lewisham.

Remembering those who died

23 year old Kathleen Alice Adsley lived with her father Joseph, mother Alice and older brother Edward at 11 St. Norbert Green, Brockley, Lewisham. Born in New Cross in August 1920 Kathleen worked as a dressmaker.  Her father worked as a general labourer in the highways section of Deptford Borough Council. She was clearly successful in her work because at the relatively young age of 23 she left an estate worth nearly £175 which in today’s values is the equivalent of £10,663.63 (13th November 2023).

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16 year old Evelyn Lillian Amos lived with her parents Frederick and Edith at 1 Cranbrook Road, Deptford. Frederick was a bus conductor and Evelyn’s older brothers William, a coal heaver, and Stanley, a shop assistant were also living at home.

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48 year old Frances Ellen Axton (maiden name Shorey) was living with her husband Charles Arthur Axton at 34 Oareborough Road, New Cross. She was born in Deptford on 12th March 1897 and at the time of the 1939 Register was living at number 5 Oareborough Road with the occupation of ‘unpaid domestic duties.’   Oareborough Road no longer exists.

It was an L-shaped street of terraced houses demolished to make way for Folkestone Gardens.

She began working after leaving school at the age of 12 and by the time she was 15 she was packing chocolate. Before her marriage she was an assembler working for Wincles Operators.  She married Charles in 1922 who would outlive her by 34 years when he passed away in Southwark in 1978.

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71 year old Frederick William Bailey like many of those who were killed, resided only a few minutes walk away at 13 Jerningham Road.  In 1911 Mr Bailey was working as a grocer’s assistant and living with his family at 24 Oareborough Road- previously mentioned as one of the lost streets of Deptford and now the site of a park.

He was 37 years old and his wife Lily a year older. They had three children, daughter Florence, aged 15, and sons Frederick, 12, and Edwin 10.

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45 year old Dora Mildred Grace Baker was the wife of builder Frederick Joseph Baker and they were living at 5 Lewisham Way, Deptford. Dora died at St. Alfege’s Hospital in Greenwich on 25th November 1944 from the injuries she suffered in the V2 explosion.

5 Lewisham Way is a three-storey terraced Victorian building opposite Goldsmiths College with a shop/restaurant on the ground floor, which at the time of writing (July 2024) was Takeshi-Sushi and Pan Asian. Dora’s birth was registered in Greenwich in 1897 and she was baptised at St James’s Hatcham 13th October 1898, the church closest to Goldsmiths.

In the 1901 census Dora was recorded living with her parents James and Matilda at 6 Walpole Street, St Paul Deptford, Greenwich- the house and street no longer appear to exist. James was a 28 year old dock clerk from Devon. At the time Dora had a younger brother Ernest and sister Violet, then infants aged 2 and a few months.

Dora married her first husband Frederick C Hollis in 1916. In 1941 she married her second husband Frederick J Baker in Deptford in 1941.  She left her second husband probate of £154 15s 2d which at the time of writing had the equivalent value of around £5,761.

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42 year old Florence Ethel Banfill died in the rocket attack along with her son who was only three years old. Her husband Bartholomew was left grieving for the loss of his wife and young son.

They lived in nearby 19 Childeric Road New Cross.  Bartholomew, who was 40 years old at the time, worked as a storekeeper for a builders merchant. Florence had lived in Childeric Road most of her life.

She married Bartholomew in 1929. Ivy Grant recalled to the Deptford History Group in 1994 that she remembered Mrs Banfill had lived nearby to her and that she and her husband had gone years waiting to have a baby. It was an appalling tragedy that she and her little boy would be killed in these circumstances and with the background of struggling for so long to have a child.

Mr Banfill would pass away in Bromley in 1977 at the age of 75 outliving his first wife and son by 31 years. He did however remarry Constance Brent in Lewisham in 1951.

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3 year old  Brian John Banfill of 19 Childeric Road New Cross as outlined above died with his mother Florence in this air raid disaster.

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30 year old Robert Bass from 84 Douglas Way in Deptford died from the injuries he received in the blast after being taken to the Miller General Hospital in Greenwich High Road. He was married to Jessie Victoria née Bates who was 31 at the time.

The house they lived in is no longer standing and part of the Margaret McMillan Park. Robert was a deal timber porter and the V2 bombing left their sons, 9 year old Robert and 7 year old William, without a father. Jessie remarried in 1946 to 28 year old Leonard Bedford who was a New Cross resident and worked as a ‘reinforced contractor’ in the building trade.

Robert has a memorial in the Grove Park Cemetery with the inscription:

‘PEACE- In loving memory of Robert Bass. died Nov. 26th 1944 aged 30 years.
A dear husband and dad.
You gave us all you had to give
but most of all you gave us love.
Jessie, Roy, Billy.’

His wife Jessie Victoria Bates Bedford who passed away in 1988 and their son  Robert James “Bob” Bass (19134-2015) are also commemorated on the headstone. Jessie and her second husband Leonard (1918-1989) are also buried in the plot.

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61 year old John James Bateman was a Police Sub-Inspector assigned to the Air Ministry living at 203 Rochester Way, Blackheath.

He had served in the Duke Of Cornwall’s Light Infantry during the Boer War of 1899 to 1901 and re-enlisted for the Great War of 1914-18 in the same regiment with the rank of Corporal, Acting Warrant Officer Class 2.

He was awarded the Silver War Badge and other campaign medals, and after the First World War pursued a career in the Metropolitan Police reaching the rank of sergeant in Lewisham in 1939. He left probate in 1946 of £1,000 which in today’s values is the equivalent of £51,647.22.

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74 year old Elizabeth Lillian Jane Beaton was living at 186 New Cross Road at the corner of Pepys Road. She was the widow of William Beaton and originally came from Hampshire. Her father John Harris had been a boilermaker for a Portsmouth naval dockyard.

Born in Brighton, Elizabeth’s parents had brought her up on Portsea Island before moving to the Mile End area of the port. Her late husband William had been a bricklayer and they had married in Portsmouth in 1893. Elizabeth had had two younger brothers Alfred and Arthur who started their working lives as errand boys.

Elizabeth had been a corset maker and she and William moved to Eastleigh at the turn of the century where he got a bricklaying job with a builder’s firm. They had two children, Lillian Gertrude May and William Edward who were 46 and 43 respectively when she was killed in the New Cross Road V2 attack.

Elizabeth Beaton is buried in grave 19 in the plot for the Civilian War Dead with a memorial erected by Deptford Borough Council at Grove Park Cemetery.  Her name is inscribed on the Memorial’s Panel One.

New Cross Road looking down from the Gaumont cinema towards Deptford Town Hall on the left with the location of the Woolworths V2 attack beyond. Photograph was taken in the middle 1950s. Image: Goldsmiths History Project.

31 year old Harriet Amy Bentley lived at 7 Cambridge Drive in Lee.  Harriet was born Harriet Duffy 17th May 1913 and worked as a drapery shop assistant.  Her father was a carman working for Lion Cartage in Bermondsey and she was brought up at 28 Reculver Road, Deptford in a large family home with five sisters and two brothers.

The original house is no longer standing and the street entirely rebuilt. She was only 20 when she married 49 year old printer’s compositor Albert Edward Henry Bentley in Deptford in 1934. Bentley had been a mechanic in the Royal Naval Air Service and RAF during the First World War and would outlive her by 18 years when he died in New Cross General Hospital in 1962 at the age of 77.

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51 year old Theodore Ludwig Berning was a married man living at 32 Downhill Road in Catford. He had been born and brought up in London’s East End Jewish community starting out his working life in 1911 as a salesman at the age of 17.  This was a part of London experiencing overcrowding, poverty and deprivation at the time.

In February 1909 there is a reference in a local newspaper to ‘a lad of 15’ named as Theodore Berning appearing before the Thames Police court for stealing cash from automatic gas meters. He had told the magistrate he was ‘only looking for a job.’ This does not necessarily mean this was the Theodore Berning being profiled here. It may be the case of another youth with the same name and age.

His German born father William had been a trouser presser and he was brought up in a household with two brothers and three sisters in the St George in the East district of Wapping-Stepney which is now in the Borough of Tower Hamlets. In 1901 his 15 year old brother William was working as an office boy and his older brother Henry, 17, as a tailor’s apprentice.

It seems Theodore may have been switching his forename in the public records with ‘Frederick.’ If this is the case he married Dorothy Elizabeth Leatham in 1917 and they had a son called Theodore Frederick in 1918. They were living at 29 Thirza Street, Ratcliff in 1921 and Theodore was working as a cinema attendant at the Ballaseum in the Commercial Road.

Electoral rolls last recorded Theodore Berning living in this part of East London up until 1931.

It seems possible he reappeared in the public records as Frederick Berning, a packer for food produce manufacturers, living with his wife Elizabeth in Waltham Forest in the autumn of 1939. Their son Theodore Frederick W Berning enlisted in the Army and was posted as a missing but found casualty in France in 1940 with the rank of Acting Corporal in the Royal Army Service Corps.

An Elizabeth Berning, who is likely to have been Theodore’s widow, passed away in Bromley in 1977 at the age of 79. She had survived him by 33 years.

Theodore Berning is commemorated and buried at Deptford Borough Council’s Civilian War Dead plot in Grove Park Cemetery.  His name is inscribed on Memorial Panel 1 with burial in Grave 15.

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60 year old William John Bradford had been living with his wife Catherine at 6 Headley Street, Peckham. The house and street no longer exist. Headley Street used to run west from Gordon Road, north of Sturdy Road and is now a path in Consort Park.

William was a window cleaner working on his own account and had married Catherine Duff  in Camberwell in 1915. Catherine had been born in Dublin.

They had a daughter Kathleen who was 28 when her father was killed by the V2 bombing. Catherine Bradford passed away in Camberwell in 1974 at the age of 86. William Bradford is buried in Deptford Borough Council’s Civilian War Dead plot of Grove Park Cemetery with his name inscribed on the memorial.

Post WW2 map of Goldsmiths’ College in Deptford showing the locations of the College, Deptford Town Hall and V2 rocket attack. Image: Goldsmiths History Project

67 year old James Henry Bradon was the husband of Louise May Bradon and they both lived at number 42 Comerford Road in Deptford.

The terraced Victorian house is still very much looking on the outside as it was in 1944. James was a Thames Lighterman-who are special boatmen or sailors of the river who carry goods on the Thames. They ‘lighten’ (that is, unload) a ship and transfer her cargo to another vessel, or to shore.

They are also the working brothers of Thames Watermen who carry people and their goods. Both Lightermen and Watermen are members of the same City of London Company which was originally constituted many centuries ago.

James was born in Greenwich in 1877 and baptised at Christchurch in East Greenwich. His father Charles William was a barge builder. James Henry married Louise May Tansley from Portland in 1903 and by 1911 they were living in Deptford Green with their son James Charles and Constance Francis.

By 1921 they were living in Rotherhithe New Road with James working for the Thames Steam Tug Lighterays Company and his son James Charles also working there as an apprentice Lighterman at the age of 17.

By 1939 and the beginning of the Second World War, the family had moved to Comerford Road and they were letting out rooms to a shipping clerk and three people working for a sugar confectionary company.

After her husband’s death in the V2 raid, Louise May continued living at 42 Comerford Road until her death in 1965 and left an estate of £3,102 which in November 2023 was worth £74,069.55. Her son James Charles Bradon was by then a well-established and respected Thames Lighterman and Waterman.

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37 year old Florence Elizabeth Harriet Branscombe was living with her mother Elizabeth Branscombe at 9 Raymouth Road, Rotherhithe. Her father Frederick James Branscombe, who had been a fish curer, passed away when a pensioner at the age of 76 in 1943 in Camberwell.

The V2 rocket disaster left Elizabeth at the age of 67 grieving for her husband and adult daughter in less than a year.

Florence had been a shop assistant.

Her surviving older brother, also called Frederick, worked in the Lyons Confectionary Company’s chocolate factory in Shepherdess Walk, Clerkenwell. Elizabeth Branscombe died in Lewisham in 1966 at the age of 89, some 22 years after her daughter’s terrible death.

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65 year old Andrew Poulton Brazier was living with his 72 year old wife Elizabeth at 43 Manor Avenue, Brockley which at the end of September 1939 had multiple occupancy. Public documents show his actual age was 67 as he was born 24th October 1877. Lewisham’s Local History and Archives Centre state he was ‘a civil defence worker.’

In 1939 he described himself as a textile commercial trader and throughout most of his working life he had been a commercial traveller.

When he was 23 in 1901 he was working as an assistant in the silk department of a large store. His father, also called Andrew Poulton Brazier, was a hosier manager and the large family, including his mother, three working sisters and one brother were living at 41 Cressingham Road, Blackheath.

His older 28 year old sister Lily was working as a teacher. By the time of the Great War Andrew had volunteered as a gunner for the Royal Garrison Artillery and his army records state he was a widower with ‘one boy’ who served in France in an anti-aircraft company.

The 1911 census had recorded him living with May Lucy (née Potter) in Twickenham whom he had married in the same year and she had been working as a mantle maker. They had a son Andrew Robert Brazier in 1912.

It seems May Lucy Brazier died in Kensington the following year within a year of her son’s birth.  Andrew Poulton Brazier remarried Elizabeth Gooden in 1920 and they were living with his son from his previous marriage in Nunhead at the time of the 1921 census.

He was still working as a commercial traveller specialising in drapery. During the Second World War Andrew Robert Brazier served in the army as a lance-bombardier and his father’s estate of £147 in effects, worth £5,242.01 in October 2023,  was left to his stepmother Elizabeth.

Andrew Poulton Brazier is buried in Grave 22 of Deptford Borough Council’s plot for Civilian War dead at Grove Park Cemetery and his name is inscribed on Panel 1 of the large stone memorial. 

288 New Cross Road had been a sorting office, but during WW2 it was taken over to administer the rationing system and issuing of coupons. People were killed inside and outside the building on 25th November 1944 when the V2 struck immediately across the road. Image: Tim Crook.

6 year old Nicholas Oliver Bright was the only son of George, 49 and Grace Bright, 47, who were living at number 44 Peckham Hill Street, Peckham. Their house is no longer standing and is the site of a Burger King fast food restaurant.

Nicholas was born on 28th November 1937 in Camberwell and was actually killed on the day of his mother’s birthday and three days short of his own. It is possible that he could have been a signwriter and painter like his father. It was a family tradition. His grandfather Walter Ellis and great uncle Walter Arthur had been sign writers as well.

George Bright married Grace Millwood in Camberwell in 1920. Grace was a tin worker employed by John Feaver tin manufacturers in the Tower Bridge Road. George Bright passed away in Ramsgate in 1958. He was 63. Grace died in 1992 at the age of 94.

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31 year old Ivy Brown lived at 48 Evelina Road, Nunhead with her husband George Henry Brown who was a soldier in the Eighth Army. They had married in 1941.

It seems Ivy was shopping either in Woolworths or the Coop with her 18 month old daughter Joyce who was also killed in the V2 bombing. She had been seen walking from the stores towards New Cross Gate Station, but it is presumed she had gone back for some reason.

Ivy was the daughter of a First World War hero- Private William Eastman who was killed in action 3rd May 1917 in Chérisy, France when a private serving in the 8th Battalion East Surrey Regiment on the Western Front. He had been awarded the military medal for bravery.

The fighting at Chérisy village, was part of the Arras campaign in the Pas-de-Calais area of  France. William had been in the 18th Division which captured it from the Germans on the 3rd of May 1917, but then lost it the same night.

Ivy was only three when her father was killed. Before the war he was a greenhouse hawker working in the old Convent Garden fruit and vegetable market when it was situated in the Soho area of London. He volunteered for service in 1914 at Deptford Town Hall, and the Imperial War Museum hosts a portfolio of images of him at work as a hawker, in uniform, and a family picture with his wife and children.

This image most likely includes a photograph of Ivy when she was an infant with her mother Alice Maud, sisters Elsie and Alice, and brother William. Her brother can be seen next to her far right.

It is a poignant turn of fate that Ivy’s daughter would be killed at roughly the same age Ivy was when this photograph was taken and three generations of William Eastman’s family, including himself, would be destroyed by the violence of war in the 20th century.

In the case of his youngest daughter and granddaughter this would happen not when they were in uniform in battle but on the Home Front while shopping.

The family lived at 55 Selden Road, Nunhead during the Great War. By the beginning of the Second World War in 1939 Ivy was living at number 22 Selden Road with her two sisters. Ivy was 26 years old working as a wax paper machinist along with her sister Alice. Her eldest sister Elsie was working as a laundry folder and checker. Their mother is believed to have passed away in 1925. The Selden Road they lived in during the first half of the 20th century has been largely redeveloped.

The family’s grief and consternation over the deaths of Ivy and her daughter Joyce was recalled by her brother Charles Williams for the Deptford History study Rations and Rubble. He explained that Ivy’s husband George had been sent back to Britain because he had contracted tuberculosis.

He had been at a hospital in North Wales and wrongly informed that his mother had been killed. Charles explained: ‘He came home, sick as he was, and we met him at the station and he discovered the real news which was very bad for him. Needless to say he died, about four years [corrected from ‘months’ in Rations and Rubble text] later. The shock of it…his whole life had gone, his wife, his baby. He gave up. The three of them are now buried at Camberwell Cemetery.’

George Brown passed away on 1st February 1948. He was 29 years old.

Ivy Brown is indeed buried in New Camberwell Cemetery along with her daughter Joyce and her husband George Henry Brown.

The headstone for Ivy and Joyce is inscribed: ‘In fondest memory of my dear wife Ivy Brown killed by enemy action 25th November 1944. Also Joyce Brown 25th November 1944 aged 18 months.’

George’s headstone has the inscription: ‘George Henry Brown who fell asleep 1st February 1948 aged 29 years. Sadly missed by all.’

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18 month old Joyce Brown was the daughter of Ivy Brown who died in the same incident and is profiled above.

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12 year old Sylvia Rosina Brown  was the younger daughter of 43 year old Albert John and 41 year old Lilian Gertrude Brown, and they lived at 56 Oareborough Road in Deptford.  Oareborough or Oareboro Road, as has already been explained, is now a lost road or street of Deptford having been cleared to be part of Folkestone Gardens. Lilian and Albert married in Greenwich in 1927.

Sylvia was born in Deptford on 11th January 1932 to very hard-working parents. Her father was a timber porter and described as ‘heavy worker’, and mother was a factory hand for Armour Mills in Lewisham which manufactured lace and silk goods. In her young life Sylvia went to Elementary School in Deptford, and would join her mother every summer in the hop-picking holiday tradition of many thousands of east and south-east Londoners. When war broke out in September 1939 that’s where Sylvia was with her mother Lilian staying in the Hopping Huts at High Tilt Farm near Cranbrook in Kent.

She was then only seven years old. They would have travelled out there and back on one of the South Eastern Railway and London Chatham and Dover Railway Hop Pickers’ Specials from London Bridge which would transport Londoners to the towns and villages at the centre of the hop-growing agricultural industry mainly in Kent, Surrey, Hampshire and Sussex. The final chapters of W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage and a significant  part of George Orwell’s A Clergyman’s Daughter include evocative fictional accounts of London families taking part in the annual hops harvest. In Orwell’s case his writing could be described as documentary as it is based on his personal experience and the diary he kept of joining hop-picking families one summer in the early 1930s.

While Sylvia, her mother, 11 year old sister Lilian Edith and other relatives were still in Kent finishing up the hop harvest at the end of September 1939, her father Albert was working in London and staying in Trundleys Road, Lewisham. Sylvia’s sister Lilian was 16 at the time of the V2 disaster, would marry Walter Mackenzie in 1947 and would pass away at Hope Close in Grove Park, Lewisham in 1990 at the age of 62 leaving an estate of £115,000 which in today’s values is the equivalent of £271,761.07.

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40 year old Maud Alice Bush of 27 Pepys Road, New Cross Gate, Deptford was the daughter of Henry Bush. She was critically injured in the V2 explosion and taken to the Miller Hospital in Greenwich but died from her injuries on the same day. Public records indicate Maud’s mother Alice Maud Burningham married Henry Charles Bush in Camberwell in 1902. Maud Alice was born in Peckham 20th December 1903 with her twin sister Winifred. She was single and a working woman all her life until it was cut short by the V2 rocket blast.

She and Winifred worked as skilled machinists in the clothing industry for Messrs Rogers, a well-known manufacturer of shirts. Her father, known to his family as ‘Harry’ had been a railway inspector for the South Eastern and Chatham Railway which had a monopoly of railway services in Kent and to the main Channel ports for ferries to France and Belgium before merging with other railway companies to form Southern Railway in 1923 which on nationalisation after WW2 became the Southern Region.

By 1921 Harry appears to be living on his own at 60 Haydock Road, Deptford with his four daughters, Maud Alice and her twin sister Winifred, both 17, Nellie Mabel, 15, Florence Ivy, 13, and 33 year old housekeeper Blanche Frances Charlesson from Cork in Ireland. There was also a ‘paying guest’ called Elizabeth Marmion working as a cashier for one of the famous J Lyons and Company teashops and Corner Houses. Nellie Bush was an apprentice at ‘Fancy Needlework’ for Haywards. Mother Alice Maud may have moved away or passed away.

By 1939 and the outbreak of WW2, the household was more or less the same at 27 Pepys Road, but now all women and minus Harry. Again, it is possible he had passed or moved away. 51 year old Blanche Charlesson was described as doing unpaid domestic duties. Elizabeth Marmion, 57, was still there and working as a cashier for J Lyons. Three of the Bush sisters, Maud, Winifred, and Florence were working as machinists, and Nellie was now a full-time needleworker. Another woman had moved in, 58 year old welfare worker Alice Fowler.

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44 year old Reginald Bradford Calder had a dramatic and adventurous life. At the time of his death he was living with his 42 year old wife Violet Hagen Calder and two daughters at Greenways, The Glen, Farnborough Park, near Orpington in Kent. The Glen is and was a private road of well-to-do houses. Detached homes in this private gated estate sold for more than £3 million in 2023. Reginald was an accountant and auditor. A track of newspaper articles reveals in 1924 he was acquitted of hitting his mother when she went for him with a dagger in an extraordinary domestic dispute, was hailed a hero for rescuing men from drowning in Barmouth, Wales in 1936, fined for speeding in 1941, and then killed in one of the worst V2 rocket bombings of the London Blitz on 25th November 1944.

The Bromley and West Kent Mercury published a charming obituary about him on 1st December 1944 saying he had ‘many friends in City circles and in Bromley and Catford where for many years he lived at 83 Daneby Road as a practising accountant before moving to Farnborough Park.  The Mercury said he was ‘greatly respected for his professional capacity and his personal qualities. He was one of the kindest and most helpful men, as many can testify, and his passing will be sincerely regretted.’

He served with the Gordon Highlanders during WW1 and in 1920 was appointed secretary of the ‘Services Rendered’ Club in Greenwich. He married Violet Hagen Winter in Greenwich 1924. Violet was the adopted daughter of William and Eleanor Greenway and had been brought up at their home, 10 Deloraine Street, Deptford. William worked as a flusher and then watchman for the London Country Council. Deloraine Street is another ‘lost street’ of Deptford in the sense there are no longer any houses there, just allotments. It seems they were pulled down because of war damage from bombing during WW2.

Violet was a Clerk and Policy Typist for the Licenses and General Insurance Company on Victoria Embankment next to Temple Station when she met Reginald. She found she had married into a family full of domestic drama.

Only a few months after they wed in 1924 there was an explosive row at the Calder family home in Reading, Berkshire. Reginald’s father Herbert and younger brother had been locked out by his mother Winifred. Reginald and Violet had driven from London to try and help sort things out after getting a desperate phone call from his father and arrived at a quarter to one in the morning. It is an indication of his success that at the age of 24 he could afford to drive a fast car in only the second decade of motoring and had his own phone at home.

A policeman was also outside the house, 197 Cranbury Road,  having been called to the disturbance. Reginald forced back the catch of a window to get in but when doing so, his mother turned to the officer and insisted ‘Constable arrest him! He is wanted for fraud all over London.’ There had been a background of marital trouble between Herbert and Winifred, Winifred accusing him of domestic violence and in the turmoil of families experiencing such internal conflict Winifred’s two daughters sided with her mother and Herbert’s younger son living at home, Dudley, sided with him.

Reginald at 24, having flown the nest and just married, found himself in the middle. After much shouting through the night the battle recommenced in the morning. Winifred insulted her daughter-in-law Violet with ‘a rude and wicked remark.’ Winifred claimed Violet pushed her and thumped her. Reginald claimed Winifred produced a dagger, he held her wrists, asking Violet to take the knife from her, as his mother said nobody would be leaving the living room alive. In the ensuing struggle, mother was disarmed and, said her son had given her a black eye. She prosecuted him for assault at the Borough Police Court. Every attempt to reach a settlement beforehand had been unsuccessful. Winifred admitted she did have a dagger, but to do herself in if her husband started to ‘knock her about.’ Her youngest son Dudley did not help her case when he said his mother ‘had a mania for daggers and razors.’ The Magistrates dismissed the case against Reginald, and Winifred left the court in tears.

Reginald’s father Herbert was also a larger than life character having been born and brought up in what was then the colony of British Guiana, which on independence in 1966 became Guyana.  In the 1890s he was working as a ‘fifth class clerk’ in the government’s Land Department. His first marriage to Ida Isabella Calder in Guiana lasted only three months, largely because he travelled to England and met Winifred. In 1898, the Supreme Court of Guiana in Georgetown, Demerara granted an uncontested divorce to Ida for one of the shortest marriages on record there. At the 1924 court hearing Winifred accused Herbert of being divorced after only three weeks of marriage on the grounds of adultery. Herbert pointed out that if there had been any adultery, it had been 4,000 miles away from the spot and would have been with Winifred when he was in England.

Herbert had stayed in London after his divorce from Ida in British Guiana, lived with Winifred and eventually married her in 1902. He joined the London County Council as a tram conductor operating out of the New Cross Tram Depot. By 1911, they were living at 13 Trinity Grove Greenwich with their six children, Herbert William Leslie aged 12, Reginald Bradford aged 10, Gordon Alexander aged 7, Gladys Vera Anne aged 6,  Dudley Richard aged 4, and the then infant Mona Lily Maria not even a year old. Herbert’s job as a tram conductor saw him appear in court a couple of times. Once in 1905 when he was accused of overloading his tram in the Old Kent Road and acquitted, and again in 1911 when an unruly passenger was fined for attacking him. The fight broke out when Herbert had gone to help pick up a child slightly hurt after snatching a free ride and then jumping off and falling over.

The Reading dagger incident of 1924 had not been the first time the Calder family’s fiery domestic rows had played out in court. Two years earlier, the Greenwich Police Court, later Greenwich Magistrates, had to resolve a situation where father Herbert Lindsay Calder had this time locked out Winifred and their two daughters.  Winifred was suing for a separation order on the grounds of desertion. By 1922 Herbert Lindsay Calder had left the trams, served as a clerk for the RAF during WW1, had injured his thumb while in service, received £350 in compensation, and was now ‘an artist.’  Winifred said not very tactfully that he was more of an illegal bookmaker, ‘backing horses and running a book’ by taking bets from punters.

The entrance to the old Greenwich Police Court, later Greenwich Magistrates. Image by Tim Crook for the Goldsmiths History Project.

This court case arose from an incident where a local postman had called the police after seeing Winifred out on the street in the rain with two of her daughters and a pile of her clothing that Herbert had thrown out after her. Winifred complained that he had threatened to murder her if she came back.

Herbert Calder told the Greenwich Magistrates that indeed he was an artist but ‘there was nothing doing just now in that direction’ and he was out of work. He said Winifred was ‘an impossible woman’, that they never spoke to each other in the house except when she chose to use ‘filthy language.’ Winifred said that he had fallen for another woman, something he denied, and he said she had told his children that he was not their father and they had ‘another daddy.’

The voice of mediation came in the form of the Calder’s eldest son Herbert William Leslie, then 23 and having been an engineer in the RAF at the end of the Great War. He gave evidence to explain that his father ‘was a very fine man’ and had only struck his mother once some 14 years before due to provocation. He said his mother Winifred ‘was a good mother in many respects’, but when she lost her temper she had a habit of threatening members of her family with a knife which they often had to struggle to take from her and she had also threatened to poison them with arsenic. The Magistrate decided to dismiss the summons and let the family sort out and indeed live with their differences. As we know issues came back to court two years later and the question of knives, or in that case, a dagger, arose again. Then the second son, Reginald Bradford, had to intervene.

There is a happy end to the story of Herbert Lindsay and Winifred. They did stay together and live with each other’s temperaments. By the time of the Second World War in September 1939, they were living at 69 Melbourne Grove in Dulwich. Herbert was now 67 years old and working as a ‘wine traveller’ and one of their daughters, Mona, now 28, was a professional dancer and still living at home.  Herbert would pass away in 1948 at the age of 76 having lived four years longer than his second son Reginald killed by the V2 at Woolworths in the New Cross Road.

The sad postscript though in respect of Winifred is that in 1952 she put an advert in the Sydenham Forest Hill and Penge Gazette: ‘Widow (late Herbert Lindsay Calder, traveller) homeless four years, unable to get two unfurnished rooms or one large with kitchenette; over four years on Lewisham House List; old resident Lewisham before being bombed out. Please help- Mrs. Calder, 8 Moatlands House, Cromer Street WC1.’

The 1930s were a boom time for accountant auditor Reginald Bradford Calder and his wife Violet. The cars got bigger, the houses larger and more salubrious and they had two daughters. They were on holiday in Barmouth, North Wales in July 1936 when a swimmer got trapped in seaweed and three men who launched a boat to rescue him got into trouble when it capsized. Reginald and Violet were on the beach among the hundreds of holidaymakers watching and hearing the cries of the stricken swimmer and then the boat turning over with his rescuers in the choppy seas. Reginald swam out to them with another holidaymaker and brought them all safely to shore. His heroism would be reported in the Daily Mirror and regional press.

The kindness of his personality averred to in his obituary was in evidence during the trial of a nurse prosecuted for stealing Violet’s clothing from their house in Catford in 1933. When Reginald heard the Detective Sergeant who caught her red-handed saying she had pleaded: ‘Please give me a chance. I don’t know what made me do such a thing’, Reginald told the court he had no wish at all to press the charge ‘if it was her first lapse.’ It turned out, however, Iris Mary Good had not been good, had not been a nurse at all, had got the job in the Calder household on false pretences and could have done more harm than good as she had no training as a nurse. She was eventually tried at the Crown Court, found guilty and sent to Holloway Prison for nine months.

It is not clear what business Reginald was on that Saturday lunchtime 25th November 1944 when he was killed by the V2 rocket. Perhaps he had been speeding down the New Cross Road in his car on the way to the City or West End, or he had been sitting on the number 53 bus when it too was destroyed in the blast.

My reference to his possible speeding is based on the fact he was fined thirty shillings (£1.50 in today’s currency) in April 1941 for driving too fast in Bromley. It was unusual for non service personnel to be able to afford to run a car during the war years. If his car was caught in the blast, might it have been possible he was driving more cautiously than normal so as to avoid committing another motoring offence and this was why he would die in the explosion?

His widow Violet would remarry Herbert E Gibbs in 1956 and she would pass away in Bromley in 1979 at the age of 77, some thirty five years after she lost her first husband in the V2 attack.

Reginald Calder’s death in the New Cross V2 disaster was obviously a terrible blow to his family, but the talented Calders more than stepped up to the fight against Hitler and the Nazi regime that was causing so much death and suffering through its indiscriminate bombing of London and the rest of Britain.

Reginald’s two younger sisters Mona Lily Marion and Marjorie Leonora, born in 1911 and 1915 respectively, became professional dancers and performed and entertained in theatres and music halls throughout London and England during the war years. Mona would later recall to her daughter incidents where she was often only seconds from stepping off a tram before an area was bombed.

The contribution of the country’s entertainment industry in maintaining and boosting civilian morale may not have received the same recognition as ENSA’s work with frontline troops. It merits full appreciation.

The Crown Unit’s documentarist Humphrey Jennings recorded for posterity the dimensions of this service in the 1942 film Listen To Britain. From the moment you see two servicemen sitting on a bench overlooking the sea, the gradual fade-up of dance-music montages into the sequence of elegant ballroom style dancing which was a huge recreation and escape for people at this time.

And the culture of sartorial and dignified dancing elegance was exemplified by Marjorie Leonora who in her professional name of Lola Cordell teamed up with Alan Gold whom she would later marry.

People aspired to dance like the enthralling Gold and Cordell. As Pathé News said in 1939, just after war had been declared, Gold and Cordell in their performance of ‘Drawing The Line’ were ‘reminding you of the time when dance was an elegant thing. Judge for yourself!’

Pathé would bring the couple back into their studios in 1941 to film another ‘graceful presentation from that talented pair Gold and Cordell’- and said this with a flourishing emphasis on their names.

The Pathé production in these films was of the highest standard using the latest camera and lighting techniques. The narrator talked about how the dancing ushered everyone ‘into the world of romance’ and said of Gold and Cordell: ‘two stars with twinkling feet.’

Marjorie and her sister Mona lived long and successful lives. Mona passed away in 2014 at the age of 103 and Marjorie in 1997 at the age of 87.

Gold and Cordell featuring in this poster for the ‘Grand Celebrity Concert’ at the Royal Albert Hall on 20th June 1943. Image: Courtesy of Diane Robb.

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21 year old Doris Eileen Edith Card worked for the British Red Cross Society during World War Two and her duties could have included being a First Aid Post (FAP) nurse and helping to organise and pack Red Cross parcels for British Prisoners of War abroad. Her father was 55 year old London Passenger Transport Board bus driver Walter James Card, and her mother was Jane Elizabeth Card who was 47 at the time of the V2 bombing. Doris lived with her parents and 23 year old sister Gwendolyn at the family’s semi-detached home in number 36 Olron Crescent in Bexley.

Red Cross First Aid Post nurses going to a bombing incident in London in the spring of 1941. Image: War Illustrated, April 1941.

Gwendolyn Jessie Alice Card was a shorthand typist and part-time ARP Warden with Bexley Council. She would marry Clifford Langley in 1945. Gwendolyn would live long enough to enjoy her 95th birthday before passing away in Bridgnorth Shropshire in 2016. Doris Card’s father outlived her by ten years passing away in Bromley in 1954.

Members of the Red Cross Society making up Red Cross parcels for British POWs in London during WW2. Image: War Illustrated 1941.

Her mother Elizabeth Jane née Bannister was brought up in a large family with six brothers and one sister  in Deptford where her father had been a railway coalman for the South Eastern and Chatham Railway.

She was 23 years old when she married Walter Card at the end of 1921 and had been working as a general servant in her parents’ home at 50 Railway Grove Deptford, which would ironically also be damaged beyond repair by another V2 rocket bombing at the end of October 1944.   She would outlive her daughter Doris by 54 years and passed away in Shrewsbury in 1998 at the age of 100.

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26 year old Mary Carroll  was an Irish woman living at 24 Girton Road, in Sydenham, Kent. She was the daughter of James and Norah Carroll, of 15 St. Laurence’s Terrace, Lower Grange, Waterford, in the Irish Republic. Her family home in Waterford is now part of a convenience grocery store. She is commemorated in Waterford’s Rolls of Honour for people killed during the 20th century’s two world wars.

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40 year old Joan Ivy Singleton Clamp was killed when working in the offices of her husband’s firm Clamp and Son at 280 New Cross Road- almost opposite Woolworths and the seat of the V2 rocket bomb explosion. Joan was a successful professional surveyor living with her husband, the auctioneer Ernest Edward Clamp, in the well-to-do neighbourhood of Sandilands in Croydon Surrey. Their house at number 39 is still standing. In 1944 it was a symbol of the affluent suburban building boom of the 1930s where successful middle-class people bought their own detached houses with large gardens and could still afford to hire a live-in servant. In the example of the Clamps, the September 1939 Register records that Mary Wells, then 34 years old, was there working and living with them as their domestic servant. Mary would have been their effective housekeeper- cooking, cleaning and most likely doing their shopping. In 1947 Mary would marry John Gallagher in Croydon.

The Clamp and Son building at 280 New Cross Road was destroyed in the V2 explosion along with numbers 282 and 284 which had been on the corner of St James’s and New Cross Road. They would be replaced with single storey ‘prefabs’ still there at the time of writing. On the other side Deptford Borough Council constructed a special one storey Civil Defence HQ where the original Pearce Signs workshop had been. Fast forward to the present it is now the site of Goldsmiths Loring Hall of residence for the university’s students. The bus stop remains in the same position. Image: Goldsmiths History Project.

Joan Clamp was born in Uxbridge, the daughter of grain merchant Edwin Singleton Brame and her mother was Kate Ivy née Hosking. Joan was brought up in Surbiton with her three younger sisters Kathleen, Margaret, and Dorothy. All the Brame daughters had the second middle names of their parents.

Ernest inherited his family’s well established firm of auctioneers and estate agents which in 1901 was based at 65 New Cross Road. It had been founded by Ernest’s grandfather in 1849. In 1901 his father Richard described himself as a furniture dealer and bailiff and Ernest had two brothers and a sister. By 1921 his father had passed away and he was living with his mother Margaret at 98 Maple Road Surbiton which is where he met and married Joan Brame in 1923. He was 33 and she was 18.

In 1923 Ernest inaugurated the opening of the New Cross Gate Auction Mart, built to the designs of architect J Halstead Waterworth at 280 New Cross Road, almost opposite New Cross Gate station. The new Messrs. Clamp and Son venture was celebrated with a ‘smoking concert’ and included a live music programme. Joan Clamp developed her surveying career in her husband’s firm working as clerk and assistant to the Estate Manager and Surveyor.

Various adverts for Clamp & Son between 1922 and 1955.

By the time of Ernest Edward Clamp’s death in 1953, Clamp & Son auctioneers were still trading from 394 New Cross Road opposite New Cross station– which was the last headquarters of the business. Ernest died at the age of 63 still grieving over the loss of his brilliant wife Joan in the V2 bombing nine years before. It is not believed they had any children.

When Joan was killed she had accumulated an estate reported for probate in May 1945 at £4,168. This is worth £148,630.69 in the values of 3rd December 2023. Her friends and family decided to raise a bequest for the Croydon General Hospital in her name. It was reported in the 5th May 1945  edition of the Croydon Times:

‘Memorial to V2 Victim: Plaque in Croydon General Hospital

A plaque will be erected in Croydon General Hospital to the memory of Mrs Joan Clamp, who was killed in November last, when a V2 bomb fell at New Cross. This memorial is the result of a fund which raised £170 as a gift to the hospital from Mrs. Clamp’s relatives and friends.

Entrance to Croydon General Hospital. Early 20th century postcard. Image: Public Domain.

The words to appear on the memorial plaque will read: “Erected by the friends of Joan Clamp in affectionate memory, 25th November, 1944- through enemy action.”

The Board of Management are deeply grateful to those who chose this method of keeping her name in memory, and by which the hospital is greatly assisted in its efforts to prolong and save the lives of others.’

Croydon General Hospital joined the NHS in 1948 and the building was demolished in 2004. It is not known what happened to Joan Clamp’s plaque. The site is now the location of the new Harris Invictus Secondary School.

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42 year old Henry Charles Cole was described as a corporal in the Home Guard in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission file on his death by V2 enemy action at 12.26 on Saturday 25th November 1944. He was the husband of Violet Marie Cole and they were both living at 20 Revelon Road, a terraced Victorian house in Brockley at the time of his death.

The 1939 Register records that he was also a volunteer for the Auxiliary Fire Service- clear evidence of his sacrifice and commitment to civilian defence. Henry was working as a ‘motor driver’ with a light vehicle licence and they were living in 73 Gellatly Road, Nunhead.

He had been born 10th November 1902. Violet was a couple of years younger having been born 4th December 1904. They married in Greenwich in 1924. Violet née Dinmore had been brought up by her uncle, painter and decorator William Mears in 34 Maxted Road, Peckham with her three cousins William, Sidney and Phoebe.

Henry’s father Charles William was still living in the family home 24 Linden Grove, Camberwell at the time of his son’s death in 1944. He was a widow as Florence Clara Cole had passed away at the age of 45 in 1922. Henry’s  younger brother, also called Charles William, was living with his father and working as a radio despatch clerk.  Henry had two sisters Helen Florence and Florence Kezia. His father had been a machine driver for the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company manufacturing Sub Marine cables in 1921 and in his later life worked as a carpenter. When Henry Charles was 18 he was working for Leyland Motors. Henry’s widow Violet passed away in Croydon in 2004 at the age of 99, some sixty years after her husband was taken away from her by the V2 bombing in the New Cross Road. They did not have any children.

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71 year old James Alban Cole was a confectioner and tobacco dealer with his own shop at 182 Bellenden Road in Peckham. It is still a shop, currently a pizza restaurant called ‘Made of Dough’, and previously a hairdressing salon called ‘Chaz Hairdressers.’ At the time of his death he was living with his wife Kate at number 167 Peckham Rye which is no longer a stand-alone house but the site of a modern block of apartments.

James Alban Cole was born in Homerton/Hackney in 1873. His father Fletcher was a carpenter from Suffolk. James Alban was a commercial traveller and salesman throughout his working life and settled down in what would be most people’s retirement years in Peckham to run the tobacco and sweet shop in Bellenden Road. James met and married furniture assistant Kate Judges at the Holy Trinity Church in Sittingbourne, Kent in 1902 where her father Frederick was also a carpenter and joiner and gave her away at their wedding. James was 28 and Kate 23.

She was brought up in the family home at 7 Station Street in Sittingbourne. The house is no longer standing and the site has been redeveloped. James and Kate had one son, Stanley Alban Cole, born in December 1913 and at the start of the Second World War he was working as a clerk in an engineering works. He was 31 when his father was killed by the V2 rocket. He passed away in Stevenage in 1995 at the age of 81.

 

Deptford Town Hall facing the location of the Woolworths V2 blast site during the Second World War. Image: Goldsmiths History Project.

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45 year old Frederick William Cornford  was a machine fitter and moulder living in a Victorian terraced house at 94A Bovill Road, Forest Hill, Lewisham which is very much the same as it was in 1944 apart from all the modernisations and maintenances expected over the passage of nearly 80 years. His death would leave a widow and teenage daughter grieving.  Doris Cornford was 41 and their daughter Muriel 16. Frederick and Doris had married in Lewisham at the end of 1927.  Doris née Cooper would pass way in Lewisham fifty years later in 1994 at the age of 90.  Doris was brought up in a huge working class family living in various addresses in Chaplin Street, Forest Hill. She had four sisters and three brothers. Her father Thomas was a chimney sweep who died at the age of 46 in 1908 when Doris was only 4 years old.

Frederick was born in Lewisham in 1899 and brought up at 9 Dalmain Road Lewisham by his parents William Henry and Agnes Mary. The street has been rebuilt since the Cornfords were living there in the early part of the twentieth century. William worked as plasterer for the Pitcher Construction Company in North London. Frederick was always a machine worker- effectively an engineer- and employed by Key Glass Works in Cold Blow Lane adjacent to Millwall’s old football ground when he met Doris.

The Deptford and Lewisham area was still the centre of much engineering and manufacturing industry during the early to middle 20th century and Frederick was very much part of the large local skilled workforce employed by it. He had four younger sisters, Florence Emily, Linda Elizabeth, Katie Lilian and Ethel.   One of the cruelties of the V2 atrocity is that Frederick Cornford’s parents outlived him.

His father William Henry died in Lewisham in 1967 at the age of 92, and his mother Agnes passed away in 1960 aged 82- decades after their son’s death on the Home Front. Frederick’s only daughter Muriel would marry Norman Collett in 1952. How Muriel must have wished her father could have been alive to give her away at her wedding some eight years after the terrible event in the New Cross Road.

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18 year old Queenie Doris Cox was a docker’s daughter, one of three sisters born in Lewisham to parents Reuben and Florence Cox. At the time of her untimely death Queenie had been living with her parents in the London County Council tenement block at 12 Cayley Close on the Honor Oak Estate in Lewisham.

Many of the tenements of this interwar council estate have been demolished including Cayley Close where Queenie was brought up with her sisters Ruby and Iris. Her father Reuben had to rise early in the morning and attend the wharfs and docks on Thames riverside for what was known as ‘the call-on’ from large gatherings of dockers hoping to be picked for work. This was the tough tradition and insecurity of dockland employment for labourers at this time. Several men were often competing for every job and older men would usually be passed over.  The working conditions were hard and there would be no compensation for injuries at work which were common. Wages would be paid in public houses with corruption behind the scenes when dockers bribed stevedores to guarantee being hired for jobs. Reuben would ply his docker’s trade at Butler’s Wharf on the south bank of the River Thames, just east of London’s Tower Bridge, now housing luxury flats and restaurants.

Butler’s Wharf on the south bank of the River Thames, photographed from Tower Bridge in London by Oosoom CC BY-SA 3.0

Queenie died on 25th November 1944 at an age when she was promised so much in terms of the life ahead of her. There is evidence she was good at school. At the time of the 1939 Register census, she and her older sister Ruby were staying with Council Watchman Christopher Balcombe and his wife Maud in their country house called ‘The Sheding’ on the Rabies Heath Road in Bletchingley near Godstone, Surrey. As Ruby and Queenie were still at school this may well have been the result of their wartime evacuation. Sister Iris, who was eight years old at the time, stayed with their parents in London.

Queenie’s parents Reuben and Florence married in Lewisham in 1924. Reuben was 23 and Florence 28. Reuben was from a working class Bermondsey family closely connected with Thames River trades. In 1921 his older brother Robert was an unemployed seaman and three sisters, Ethel, 14, Emma, 11, Edie, 9, and youngest brother Alfred, 7,  all living at home with parents Thomas Henry and Alice Sophia Cox at number 52 Enid Street, a house long since demolished to make way for the Neckinger Estate.

Florence or ‘Florrie’ as she was known to friends and family, outlived her daughter Queenie by 31 years, passing away in Southwark in 1975, aged 79. Reuben lived another 37 years after Queenie’s death by enemy action and also died in Southwark six years after his wife in 1981, aged 80. And what of Queenie’s sisters? They would both have long lives. Iris Violet, who was only 13 when Queenie was killed, would marry Gerald Donoghue in Deptford in 1950. She died in Sussex in 2008 at the age of 77. Older sister Ruby Florence married Edwin Pratt in Lambeth in 1948. It seems she married again and passed away as Ruby Florence Scott in Croydon in 2006 at the age of 81.

Ruby Scott was interviewed by the Deptford History Group in 1994 and recalled hearing the crash of the V2 at their home on the Honor Oak Estate at 12.26 not knowing if her sister had been affected. Her family all thought ‘Oh, someone’s got it.’  Queenie had been on her way home from work having left at 12 noon. Ruby told the researchers:

‘All the weekend we didn’t know where she was but by Saturday night we was getting worried […] We went round the hospitals and morgues but we didn’t find her. Then Sunday night someone come and told us that they’d found the handbag. The things from the bag were missing and also they had taken a ring that she was wearing that belonged to me off her finger. There was a lot of blood, but she was so badly…some of her limbs were missing I was told afterwards…that my mum and dad couldn’t go and see it. It was a woman that married my grandad in later years who identified her. But we never ever saw her, we only saw the coffin’ (Steele, 1994, p. 19).

Ruby allowed a photograph of Queenie aged 17 in 1943 smartly dressed in hat, coat, shoes and handbag and smiling to the camera to be published on page 19 of Rations and Rubble.

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48 year old Horace Alfred Crisford was a veteran of the First World War and WW2 Special Constable. A year before his killing by V2 explosion he and his wife Edith had received the worrying news that one of their sons, Laurence, had been wounded in battle while serving in the British Army in Italy as a driver with the Royal Artillery.

Horace had been born in Southwark in 1896 and served as a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps in France during the Great War receiving the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal which he wore with pride every Armistice Day and as ribbons on his Special Constable’s uniform.  His family had been working class. His father Robert had been a market basket carrier in Bermondsey. By the time of the 1911 census Horace was 15 years old and had started his working life as a shop assistant.

For most of his working life Horace had been the delivery driver for Elizabeth Handley-Seymour of New Bond Street, distinguished dressmaker to the Court, who designed for the Royal Family, aristocracy and theatrical celebrities of London from the 1910s to 1940, when she retired.

Horace’s employer was glamorous and famous, and best known as the designer who made the wedding dress of the Duchess of York (later Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother) and later, her Coronation dress in 1937.

Image: File: Queen Elizabeth Bowes Lyon in Coronation Robes by Sir Gerald Kelly. Created: between 1938 and 1945 date  Public Domain

Horace’s wife Edith Johnson was born in New York City and was seven years older than him.

At the time of the 1939 Register, the beginning of World War II, the whole Crisford family were living at 20 Cranfield Road in Brockley, a semi-detached late Victorian house still standing and looking on the outside as it did when Horace’s widow Edith learned of her husband’s death on 25th November 1944.

In late 1939, their sons Laurence and Robert were still living at home. Laurence, who had been born in 1918 was working as a clerk in the Royal Victoria Victualling Yard in Deptford, and Robert, born in 1923, was a clerk working for a poultry maker.

The cruelty of Horace’s death at the end of 1944 is that he would be denied the privilege and pride of seeing his sons’ marriages. Robert Edward married Ellen Munck in Salisbury Wiltshire in 1945, and Laurence Alfred married Phyllis Jarvis Humphrey in Newnham, Sittingbourne in Kent in 1947.

Charming reports of the marriage and reception appeared in local newspapers: ‘When the couple left for their honeymoon at Folkestone, the bride wore a grey costume with blue accessories. Her handbag was a gift of the bridegroom (Laurence’s brother Robert). The bride’s gift to the groom was a signet ring. Mrs and Mrs Crisford’s future residence will be London. Many useful presents, money, and cheques, were received by the happy couple, and several congratulatory telegrams. The groom has spent the last five years in the Army overseas, while the bride was for four and a half years a member of the W.A.A.F.’

There is something enormously nostalgic and poignant in seeing the weekly local newspaper for the village of Newnham take the trouble to report: ‘The bride, who was given away by her eldest brother, was charmingly attired in a white satin gown with a full length veil and a coronet of orange blossom, and carried a bouquet of pink and white carnations and fern.’ The loss of local newspaper journalism in recent decades means people no longer have the privilege of this kind of reporting.

Horace left probate worth £461 which in today’s money is worth £25,209.92. When his widow Edith passed away in East Grinstead in 1982 at the age of 93, her estate of £25,000 would be worth £108,807.35 today.

Their sons had long and fulfilling lives. Laurence died in Bungay Suffolk in 2012 at the age of 93 like his mother, and Robert had passed away in Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire at the age of 84 in 2007.

Horace Alfred Crisford was buried in Grave 18 of the plot for Civilian War Dead established by Deptford Borough Council at Grove Park Cemetery and his name is inscribed on Panel 1 of the War Memorial.

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38 year old George James Alfred Daniels  was born on the Old Kent Road in 1906 into a family steeped in the traditions of the printing trade. His father Frederick was a vellum binder working for the Drayton Paper Works in Fulham. George began his working life from the age of 14 as an errand boy and then joined his father in the printing industry and by 1939 he was a printer’s guillotine cutter.

He married Lilian Maud Belcher in Deptford in 1934. Lilian was working as laundry calenders hand at the time of his death and they resided at 36 Burchell Road in Peckham- an end of terrace late Victorian house adjacent to what is now the George Mitchell Primary School.  A calenders hand in the laundry trade was somebody who folded by hand work after it had been taken off the ‘calender’, or ironing machine.

Lilian had had a tough upbringing in Peckham and Bermondsey. Her father Arthur had been a bricklayer’s labourer and died when she was a child. Her mother Katherine had to work as charwoman at the time of the 1921 census, with her oldest son Arthur Lewis, then 18, working as a porter for Cheamers Furriers and looking after Lilian, her younger sister Hilda and brother William.

Lilian was left on her own when her husband George was killed in the V2 explosion. They had not had any children. George left probate of £187 to her which in today’s money (December 2023) was the equivalent of £10,226.15.

Lilian was 37 years old when George was killed. She never remarried and passed away in Lambeth in 1978 at the age of 71.

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38 year old Kathleen Isobel Davies was a near neighbour of Goldsmiths’ College, University of London.  She lived with her husband, William Frederick Davies, at 23 Barriedale, New Cross, round the corner from the specially built base for emergency medical squads sent to air raid incidents in Deptford including the one which would claim her life.

Kathleen was born in Charlton on January 13th 1906 and her parents Vincent and Ella Cockram hailed from Somerset and Devon. Her father Vincent began his working life as a nurseryman and assistant gardener and by the time of the 1901 census he was working in Hayes , Middlesex. He married Ellen Sorton at St Mary’s Church in Uffculme Devon on Boxing Day 26th December 1903. He was 26 and she was 24.

By 1911 the young family was living at number 37 Bolan Street in Battersea. Vincent was a park gardener employed by the London County Council. The houses in Bolan Street were severely damaged during the Blitz  and the street’s post WW2 demolition led to the loss of the name with the area being incorporated into the new Ethelburga Estate.

During the First World War, Vincent Cockram served in the British Army’s Cyclist Corps and later in the Royal Army Service Corps. He survived the conflict and was demobbed in 1919.

His daughter Kathleen Isobel Cockram married William Frederick Davies in Stoke Newington in 1931. She was 25 and he was 27. William worked as a shipwright.

In 1936 they had a daughter Beryl and at the beginning of the Second World War, Kathleen and Beryl evacuated with her mother to Devon. At the end of September they were staying at 62 Lime Tree Walk in Newton Abbott. William Frederick stayed in London and carried on working while living in Barriedale, Lewisham.

It is presumed Kathleen and Beryl returned to London following the first Blitz of late 1940 and early 1941.  How tragic that Kathleen would be killed in the second Blitz of flying and rocket bombs in 1944, leaving her daughter Beryl, now 9 years old, to be brought up by her single parent father. William Frederick would carry on living at 23 Barriedale, Lewisham until his death at the age of 84 in 1988. He left a probate estate of £68,090, which in 2024 had a purchasing power of £231,914.39.

Kathleen was buried in Grove Park Cemetery on 6th December 1944 in plot B/473.

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53 year old Rosina Dodds  was born 21st September 1891 and had worked for much of her life in a biscuit and chocolate factories mainly as a quality control ‘checker.’

She lived at 49 Nynehead Street and the site has been redeveloped since the Second World War.  She was the widow of rifleman James Charles Dodds,  a soldier killed in the Great War whom she married in 1915.

It seems likely they met and fell in love at work as the 1911 census shows that he was working as a tin worker in a biscuit factory when living with his parents, five brothers and two sisters at 8 New Church Street Bermondsey.

At the time of the 1921 census, Rosina was 29 years old, head of the household, and living with her brothers Edward and Henry at 31 Adams Gardens, Rotherhithe. It seems the site has been redeveloped as the Adams Gardens Estate. 

She was working in the George Payne’s confectionary chocolate factory in Tooley Street, Bermondsey.

Her late husband James had been killed while serving as a private in the 21st Battalion London Regiment known as the ‘First Surrey Rifles’ in Belgium on 15th May 1917. He was 26 years old and he was buried and commemorated at the Bedford House cemetery enclosure No. 41.1.59 in West Vlaanderen, Belgium.

Rosina received his British War medal and Victory medal posthumously and arranged for the inscription ‘A Good Heart Loved By All’ to be carved into his CWGC headstone.

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64 year old Arthur Thomas Doswell  was living at 45 Endwell Road, Brockley and the husband of Annie Louise Doswell. Arthur was a veteran of the First World War having served as a private in the Scots Guards in the very first year in France with embarkation there on 11th November. He was awarded the 1914 Star, British War, and Allied Victory medals which were nicknamed ‘Pip, Squeak and Wilfred’.

Arthur was brought up in a large Camberwell family living at 57 Bournemouth Road. His father, also called Arthur Thomas was a silversmith and polisher and his mother Mary originally from Kent. At the time of the 1881 census, the Doswell family household included his 15 and 5 year old sisters Emily and Mary Elizabeth still at school, and his three year old brother Henry. There were five other people lodging in the house which has long since been demolished and redeveloped.

His wife Annie Louise Campbell also hailed from a large Camberwell family. In 1901 when she was 19 years old and working as a boots paste fitter she was living with her parents at 27 Graylands Road with seven younger sisters and her 17 year old brother Joseph who was a brass finisher. Graylands Road no longer exists having been replaced by council estate development.

She married Arthur Doswell in 1906. By 1921 Arthur and Annie were living at 59 Kimberley Avenue, Nunhead [The house has been replaced with a modern terraced bungalow]. Arthur was a carpenter and joiner for Wallington Jones Cold Storage. They had two daughters Annie and Alice and a son also called Arthur.

At the beginning of WW2 in late September 1939 they were still living in Kimberley Avenue. Arthur’s son was now working as a railway clerk.  They had moved to 45 Endwell Road during the war and Annie remained living there as a widow until her death in February 1951 at the age of 69. She left her estate of £316 and 16s to her son Arthur Alfred Doswell, now working as a civil servant, which when taking into account inflation would £8,241.87 at the time of writing (19th March 2024).

Arthur Doswell was buried at Grove Park Cemetery at Plot D.812 on 1st December 1944. The grave is unmarked. 

The reconstructed post WW2 building in New Cross Road as it is in April 2024 showing the extent of the destruction to what had been the Woolworths and Cooperative stores. The ‘Top Notch Barber’ and N&S Tech occupy the boundary and edge of the original Victorian structure which survived. Image: Tim Crook for the Goldsmiths History Project.

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31 year old Doris Violet Drain was the daughter of William and Florence Beverley, of 85 Blackheath Hill, Greenwich. She was living with her husband Robert Drain in her parents’ home. The house has since been redeveloped as Hollymount Close. It would have been visible to traffic climbing and descending the hill travelling to and from the A2 route to Kent.

In 1939 Doris was a shorthand typist. If she had been born in this century, her academic success at the John Roan School (for girls) would have most likely meant she would have gone to university. She excelled as a scholar in Greenwich with local weekly newspapers regularly reporting her awards and prizes during the 1920s. Barbara Reed provided an online lecture on the history of the progressive John Roan School in 2021.

In the 1921 census the Beverley family was living in the terraced house 102 Blackheath Hill which is still standing.

This was across the road from their WW2 home. Doris’s father William Jeffrey Beverley was a ‘Wire Worker’ employed by G. A. Harvey and Co (London) Ltd of Greenwich Metal Works, Woolwich Road, London, SE7, which specialised in galvanizing metal industrial tools and objects using copper, zinc, aluminium and other metals. Also living there was Doris’s younger brother Harold George who was only 2 years old. The household included Mrs Florence Beverley’s mother Jane Marsh, a 62 year-old widow, and Florence’s brother George Harold Marsh, a 24 year old boot and shoe-shop assistant by trade but at the time of the census was under hospital treatment.

Doris married Robert Edward Alfred Drain in Lewisham in 1936. Robert had been born in Rotherhithe, was brought up in Deptford and New Cross and had been apprenticed in 1920 to become a Thames Waterman and Lighterman. His father, also called Robert Alfred, was employed by the London County Council as a motor engineer on the Tramway system.

By 1939 Doris’s husband was working as a road and water transport haulage contractor. She left him £408 (worth £15,114.89 in May 2024) after she was killed in the V2 bombing in 1944 and he would remarry two times- Iris K Humphries in 1947, and Bebee Levy in 1965 both Thanet, Kent. He would pass away at 57 Old Dover Road, Capel-Le-Ferne, Folkestone, Kent on 4th October 1991 leaving an estate valued at £52,523 (worth £116,722.93 at the time of writing).

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39 year old James Dunlop is described in the records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as having been the son of Robert and Jane Dunlop, of Tullydraw, Dungannon, Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland and the husband of Jeannie Dunlop, of Annaghbeg, Donaghmore, also Co. Tyrone.

He was buried in Grave 21 of Deptford Borough Council’s plot for civilian war dead at Grove Park Cemetery on 4th December 1944 and his name is inscribed and commemorated on Panel 2 of the special War Memorial erected there. 

He is also remembered as a civilian victim of World War Two in Northern Ireland on the Dungannon war dead online database.

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59 year old Henrietta Frances Dyer

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29 year old Edith Phyllis Edwards

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18 year old Edna Mary Edwards

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66 year old James John Ellery

Deptford High Street between the First and Second World Wars of the twentieth century. Image: Goldsmiths History Project.

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55 year old Alice May Elston

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55 year old Alice Christina Errington

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44 year old Winifred Farnish

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57 year old William Arthur Farr

The newly repaired and rebuilt Goldsmiths College main building in 1947. Image: Goldsmiths History Project.

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67 year old George Faulkner

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45 year old Matilda Caroline Fish

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17 year old Jean Caroline Maud Fish

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69 year old Henry Abraham Fitch

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31 year old Kathleen Frances Fitzpatrick

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3 year old Carol Ann Fitzpatrick

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60 year old William Charles Fletcher

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80 year old William Frank

First V2 rocket to strike England impacted on Staveley Road in Chiswick at 6.49 a.m. on the 8th of September 1944. Initially, it was thought it might have been a gas explosion, but the shrapnel and fragments of the rocket recovered revealed the true nature of the menace. Image: War Illustrated 1945.

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44 year old William Walter French

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69 year old Margaret Gardner

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3 year old Kenneth Albert Gibbs

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44 year old May Marguerite Glick

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27 year old Julia Elizabeth Glover was born in Shadwell, the East End of London 23rd November 1916. Her father Henry Smalley had been a carman working for the Midland Railway Company. Her mother Julie was working as an office cleaner. At the time of the 1921 census Julia Elizabeth was four years old and of pre-school age living at 369 Cable Street with her parents and three brothers: Henry, Thomas and William.

The houses in Cable Street of that period are long gone through Blitz damage and redevelopment. 

The Smalley and Glover families lived and worked practically next door to each other in this part of London.

Julia Smalley married Thomas Walter Glover in Stepney in 1936. They had three children: daughter Sheila born in Shoreditch in 1937, daughter Irene born in Stepney in 1939, and son Michael Thomas born in Deptford in 1944.

At the time of the late September 1939 National Register/Census, Julia was living at 48 Springfield Road, Brighton with her infant daughters Sheila, two and a half years old and Irene who was 9 months old. Julia’s 11 year old niece Florence was also with them. It is most likely this was an evacuation move out of London.

Julia’s husband Thomas Walter was still living in London with his in laws at 369 Cable Street, Stepney and working as a bakehouse labourer. He would enlist as a gunner in the Royal Artillery in 1940 and serve throughout the Second World War.

Julia and Thomas’ daughter Irene died in Deptford when only four years old. At the time of the V2 bombing on Woolworths Julia was living with her 53 year old mother Julie at 57 Nynehead Street, Deptford a house since demolished with a block of flats now standing on the site.

Julia was killed with her remaining daughter Sheila, now 7 years old, and one month old son Michael Thomas when the rocket bomb landed presumably while she was shopping on the New Cross Road and most likely with Michael Thomas in a pram or her arms.

Words seem so inadequate in expressing the shock and grief that must have been experienced by her family; particularly her husband Thomas who would have had to come to terms with losing his young wife and three children in less than a year.

It is assumed he was informed while serving with his Royal Artillery unit overseas. There is a record that a Thomas W Glover married Doris C Rogers in Bethnal Green in 1947.

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7 year old Sheila Glover died with her mother Julia. See above. 

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1 month old Michael Thomas Glover died with his mother Julia and sister Sheila. See above. 

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46 year old Dorothy Elizabeth Griffiths  had been war-time volunteering in the basement at the nearby Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham College School at the bottom of Jerningham Road rolling bandages and other tasks. It was the custom for each of the ladies to take turns going to the local Woolworths’ store at lunchtime to get coffee and other hot beverages for everyone. It was her turn at 12.26 p.m. on that fateful day 25th November 1944.

We know this because Dorothy Griffiths’ family has been in contact with this project to provide as much information about her as they can, and they have made impressive efforts to commemorate her life and sacrifice in World War Two.

Dot, as she was called, was a mother of two young children, a wife to a member of the war-time merchant marine service and a war-time volunteer herself. She was born Dorothy Elizabeth Fairbrother on 17th October 1898, in Birkenhead, and was the fourth of six children born to Emma and James William (“JW”) Fairbrother.

Dot’s father JW Fairbrother was a man of local fame and accomplishment in Birkenhead. As a young man, he was well-known as an athlete, and later as an entrepreneur, and a very active Freemason. He was one of the first persons in Birkenhead to own a car, and started the first taxi business along with an auto repair business. He rose within the ranks of Freemasonry, becoming a founding member of several local lodges.

Dorothy Elizabeth ‘Dot’ Griffiths in 1922. Image by kind permission of the Griffiths’ family.

Dorothy Elizabeth Fairbrother married Alfred James Griffiths (1897-1952) in 1921 in Southampton. He worked in the maritime industry and as a Depot Clerk for HM Office of Works in Southampton. Southampton was the centre of their married life. But the early years of trying to build a family were marked by the tragedy of losing two daughters in early childhood.  Patricia was born in 1923 but died the same year. Doreen was born in 1926 and died in 1932.

By 1939 they were living at 10 Greville Road Southampton with their third daughter Ann and son Peter.

At the outbreak of the Second World  War Alfred was seconded to the Mercantile Marine War Service at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich.

The merchant marine were the unsung heroes of Britain’s ‘fourth service.’ Winston Churchill said in July 1941: ‘The Merchant Navy, with Allied comrades, night and day, in weather fair or foul, faces not only the ordinary perils on the sea, but the sudden assaults of war from beneath the waters or from the sky.’

He would confess that the only thing that really frightened him during the war was the U-Boat peril. Dot’s husband Alfred played his part in keeping the shipping lanes of freight and supplies open with a cost of roughly one in four merchant seamen’s lives.

2,535 British oceangoing merchant ships were sunk and 36,749 members of the merchant marine died.

Dot’s death in the explosion and devastation at Woolworths would leave Alfred grieving at their home in 9 Greenwich Park Street. Their two children had been evacuated out of London at the beginning of the war. Ann, aged eight, was sent to Romsey in the south, and later up to the Wirral to stay with relatives. Her brother, Peter, aged ten, was also sent to the Wirral. Her family believe it is likely they didn’t see much of their mother from the start of the war until her death.

Ann was 13 years old when her mother was killed in the V2 rocket attack on Woolworths.

Liverpool born Alfred Griffiths had served as a steward in the Royal Navy during the First World War and was based at Devonport (Viking I) and served on the HMS Destroyer Depot ship Blake between 1915 and 1917. He joined the Merchant Marine in 1918, again as a steward, serving on RMS Celtic, an ocean liner owned by the White Star Line sailing the transatlantic route between Liverpool and New York until the end of 1921.

He died from a heart attack on the Belfast registered ship SS Asturias at the age of 54 on 9th June 1952. He was buried at sea at 12 50 N 46 25 E which is in the Gulf of Aden. The Asturias at that time was a passenger liner taking migrants to Australia.

Dorothy Griffiths was buried at Charlton Cemetery, and like many of the victims of the Woolworths V2 disaster, in an unmarked grave. Her daughter Ann trained as a nurse, married in 1949 and emigrated to Canada with her family in 1954.

Her brother Peter also moved to Canada and worked for the Royal Canadian Mail for over 30 years, retiring in the early 1990s before passing away shortly afterwards.

Ann decided to order a gravestone for her mother in the early 2000’s. In the summer of 2009, Ann, along with her son, his wife, and two of Dorothy’s great-grandchildren attended the cemetery to look for the new marker.

They didn’t know exactly where she was buried, so they each took a section of the graveyard and began searching. After exploring the site for sometime, Dorothy’s nine-year-old great-granddaughter found the gravestone.

Dorothy Griffiths’ daughter Ann paying homage to her mother’s memory with her family at her grave in Charlton Cemetery. Image: By permission of Dorothy Griffiths’ family.

Ann had five children who were all brought up in Canada. In addition, she had ten grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren. Today, there are 23 direct descendants of Dorothy in Canada.

Due to the loss of her mother, Ann had little contact with her mother’s family after she left England. In the 1990s, she ran an advertisement in one of the local newspapers in Wirral asking for any Fairbrother relatives to contact her. The wife of one of her cousins noticed the ad and wrote to her. She eventually visited them. Many members of the Fairbrother family knew about Dot’s story but they had no idea of the extent of her family in Canada.

The monument to Dorothy Griffiths in Charlton Cemetery commissioned by her daughter. Image: By permission of Dorothy Griffiths’ family.

Special thanks to Dorothy Griffiths’ great grandson Andrew Martin and his father for the kind assistance they have provided in telling her story and that of her family.

Map of Deptford Streets during World War Two. Image: Goldsmiths History Project.

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52 year old Agnes Augusta Grout

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36 year old Ivy Josephine Gurr

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32 year old Thomas James Gushlow

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63 year old George Addison Hammond

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49 year old William Thomas Hammond

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76 year old Ada Ann Hannam

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17 year old Ruby Josephine Hansford

Other parts of London experienced the terror and destruction of V2 rocket attacks. This is the aftermath of one such incident at the famous Smithfield meat market in the City of London in 1944. This is now the location of the new incarnation of the Museum of London. Image: War Illustrated 1944.

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16 year old William Herbert Hastings

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13 year old Ronald Hawton

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37 year old Ivy Gertrude Hayes

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53 year old Grace Eleanor Hayter

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51 year old Mabel Hayter

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42 year old Alma Ellen Heading

Pepys Road in Deptford during the 1930s. Image: Goldsmiths History Project.

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18 month old Malcolm Robert Herbert

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27 year old Dorothy Maud Hill

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43 year old Emily Holmes

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43 year old Sarah Horn

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32 year old Maud Ellen Louisa Horrigan

 

It’s 80 years later (2024) and these prefabricated temporary single story blocks erected to replace the destroyed office buildings on the corner of New Cross Road and St James’s have become a permanent and poignant reminder of the devastation caused by the V2 explosion on 25th November 1944. Image: By Tim Crook for Goldsmiths History Project.

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19 year old Rose Howard

Rose was buried in a communal section D of Grove Park Cemetery where many victims of the V2 tragedy lie unmarked by any headstones.

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66 year old Walter Federick Humphrey

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33 year old George Hunt

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34 year old Edna Beatrice Jarmaine

The entrance to Deptford Town Hall where council workers were direct and surviving witnesses to the V2 disaster in November 1944. The building filled with smoke, many offices inside were damaged and along with surviving Pearce Signs buildings on the other side of St James’s, the Council Chamber on the first floor was used as a temporary mortuary. Image by Tim Crook for the Goldsmiths History Project.

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33 year old Gladys Rita Jones

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21 year old Dorothy Jordorson

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62 year old Florence Jessie Kelsey

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11 year old Ronald James Kenwood

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18 year old Ivy Rose King

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56 year old Harold Kingsley

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33 year old Florence Maud Kirby

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50 year old Annie Elizabeth Kirby

Junction of New Cross Road and Lewisham Way with tram lines and police officer controlling the traffic. Image from circa 1916 Goldsmiths History Project.

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22 year old Kathleen May Knott

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24 year old May Lawrence

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42 year old Lucy Mary Lawson

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16 year old William Denis Leberl

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36 year old Daisy Freda Lloyd

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45 year old Mary Ann Loader

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18 year old Winifred Phyllis Lockyer

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66 year old James Alfred Longly

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67 year old William Edward Mackenzie

In 1945 War Illustrated published this graph analysis of the toll of V2 rocket fatalities and incidents in England between September 1944 and March 1945. The greatest number, between 70 and 80 fell in the week ending February 15th 1945.

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60 year old Florence Ada Madden

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56 year old Ada Martin

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48 year old Amy Matilda McCall

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28 year old Alfred George Messenger along with his 23 year old wife Gladys were the only married couple killed together in the V2 blast. This tragedy was compounded by the fact it orphaned their two daughters- 6 year old Margaret and Irene who was only four.

Alfred was a brewer’s drayman born on 16th April 1916 during the middle of the Great War. His father was a shipping foreman and at the time of the 1921 census the family was living in Paddington.  Alfred had two younger sisters Winifred and Eileen.

Alfred featured in a news report on April Fool’s Day 1938 when the South London Observer covered the trial of two Peckham and Walworth men jailed one month at Tower Bridge Police Court for stealing bottles of beer from his lorry.

‘Alfred George Messenger, of Downham-way, Bromley, driver of the lorry, said that on March 17, he took a load lorry from the brewery and went to Five Elms’ off-licence, Dagenham. When he unloaded he found he was six pints of lager and six pints of stout short. The missing beer was worth 7s 7d.’

Alfred Messenger married Gladys Vera Horniblow in Lewisham in 1938. Their daughters Margaret and Irene were born respectively in 1938 and 1940. At the time of the September 1939 war-time Register they were living at 22 Sydenham Park, Sydenham and Alfred’s in-laws Frank Beck Horniblow, a retired commercial traveller, and Elsie Horniblow, a nurse, were staying with them.

In November 1944 Alfred and Gladys and their daughters were living at number 56 Armada Street which no longer exists. The houses were demolished through redevelopment in the 1960s and 1970s. The original location is now Armada Court in McMillan Street.

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23 year old Gladys Vera Messenger was born 20th May 1921 in Ormskirk, West Lancashire. Her parents married just after the Great War’s armistice in early 1919. Her mother Elsie G Long was nineteen years younger than her father having been born 12th January 1886.

Alfred and Gladys are buried in unmarked plots at Grove Park Cemetery in Lewisham, but their names are commemorated on the Deptford Borough Council stone memorial dedicated to civilians killed by enemy action during the Second World War.

Gladys’s father, Frank, died in Devon in 1943 at the age of 76, and her mother Elsie passed away at the age of 67 in Swindon in 1953.

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56 year old Charles Edwin Millett

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38 year old Muriel Phyllis Millwood

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9 year old Joan Pauline Millwood

View of the New Cross Road west of Deptford Town Hall at the junction with Laurie Grove circa 1916. Image: Goldsmiths History Project.

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41 year old Robert George Moore

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52 year old Constance Dora Newell

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77 year old Thomas Acton Noble

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24 year old Josephine Marice Olivo

This is the late 1940s reconstructed block of shops on the corner of Goodwood and New Cross Roads. The V2 explosion extended its destruction across the road from Woolworths to wreck the premises, injure and kill people working and shopping at Schooling Confectioners, Dove Boot & Shoe Shop, Heading Greengrocers, Hudson’s Coal Merchant, Speech & Music Amplifying Co and a branch of the Post Office & Savings Bank. Image: Tim Crook for the Goldsmiths History Project.

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23 year old Joyce Kathleen Padbury

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47 year old Frederick George Harris Pell

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2 year old Pamela May Phillips

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13 year old Hetty Letitia Josephine Plunkett

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28 year old Angus Frederick Thomas Pugsley

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29 year old Iris Ricketts

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In 1945 the US Army captured an entire train carrying V2 rockets in Germany which had been loaded for distribution to mobile firing units. A feature in War Illustrated included images of engineers examining the weapon’s technology and components.

14 year old Ellen Elizabeth Roffe

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19 year old Mary Lavender Rogers

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62 year old George Phipps Routhorn

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43 year old Freda Marjory Mabel Sherwood

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28 year old Elsie Maud Shirley

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48 year old John Richard Siegert

286 New Cross Road now converted into ‘Goldsmiths Music Studios’ and premises used for the College’s student radio station. This two storey office building was the last building on the corner of New Cross Road and St James’s to survive the V2 blast. It is directly opposite what had been the Woolwich Arsenal Cooperative Store- half of which survived destruction. Image: Tim Crook for the Goldsmiths History Project.

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42 year old Benjamin John Simmonds

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15 year old Alan Charles Trevor Sinfield

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19 year old Ellen Irene Smith

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31 year old Margaret Annie Snell

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12 year old James William Snellgrove

Deptford Borough Council’s central library in Lewisham Way in the 1930s. It was constructed with a bequest from the Carnegie foundation. While still standing it is no longer a library service building. Image: Goldsmiths History Project.

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72 year old Annie Steer

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74 year old William Cuthbert Stephenson

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66 year old Edward Frederick Strickland

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33 year old Joseph William Sullivan

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11 year old Alma Rose Supple

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44 year old Lucy Amy Taylor

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20 year old Lillian Stella Dorothy Taylor

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44 year old Dorothy Sarah Taylor

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15 year old Joyce Doreen Taylor

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9 year old Laurie John Taylor

South East London Technical Institute in Lewisham Way during the 1930s. The Institute specialised in building, electrical and engineering technical training for an area with substantial building and engineering industries at that time. Image: Goldsmiths History Project.

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45 year old Emma Louisa Thatcher

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31 year old Lillian Florence Tribe

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6 month old Peter Tribe

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15 year old Eileen Muriel Turner

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48 year old Ellie Hilda Tye

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28 year old Winifred Doris Valentine

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37 year old Doris Vandyke

The old St James’s Hatcham- now converted into exhibition spaces, workshop and teaching rooms for Goldsmiths, University of London. For many years after the V2 tragedy, the vicar of St James’s would hold an annual service of remembrance for the victims though with the passing of relatives, survivors and witnesses by the 1980s this was discontinued. A new modern church has been built on the west side of the old church building adjacent to the memorial garden. Image: Tim Crook for the Goldsmiths History Project 2024.

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40 year old Lillian Elsie Vokes

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56 year old Lillian May Walker

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66 year old Elizabeth Caroline Warren

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44 year old Ethel Watson

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62 year old Arthur John Weaver

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45 year old Clara Portobellow Weeding

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74 year old Gilbert Oscar Weston

An empty Deptford Borough Council chamber in the Town Hall in the 1930s with windows overlooking the scene of the Woolworths V2 incident. On 25th November 1944 smoke and dust filled the chamber and offices at the front of the building and walking wounded staggered into the lobby for refuge. The building was turned into an emergency First Aid Post. Image: Goldsmiths History Project.

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52 year old Thomas George Frederick White

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11 year old Norman Henry Wilkins

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38 year old Harry Williams

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47 year old Violet May Willoughby

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39 year old George Ellis Wincott

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40 year old Violet Kathleen Woodland was born Violet Croker in Hoxton, in the East End of London on 13th February 1905. By the time of the 1911 census she was living in Taunton, Somerset. Her mother Phoebe was a laundry hand. Violet married her husband Charles William Woodland in Taunton in 1927. Charles was a millwright, an engineer who installs, dismantles, repairs, reassembles, and moves machinery and was working at the Woolwich Arsenal in south east London where his father was a police sergeant with the Metropolitan Police.

At the time of the national register in late September 1939 Violet and Charles and their family were living at Sulby House in Turnham Road Brockley.

In November 1944 they had moved to a terraced house at number 39 Shroffold Road, Downham, Bromley in Kent.

It is presumed that Mrs Woodland went to the New Cross Road for shopping at Woolworths, the neighbouring Coop and other shops with her 17 year old daughter Barbara. Neither would return alive.  It is difficult to imagine the unfathomable grief Charles William Woodland went through losing his wife and daughter in this way.

Mr Woodland, who had been born in Devonport on 9th June 1904, would live until the year 2000, passing away in Lewisham at the age of 95. There is evidence in the public records that they had other children in addition to their daughter Barbara.  In the 1994 booklet Rations and Rubble the contributor Bill Finch was quoted:

‘I went to school on the Monday morning at Childeric School and we had a kid there called Joey Woodland who I used to play football with. We were in the classroom and he was sitting there crying. The teacher, Mr Clee, really got stuck into Joey, telling him off. Then the headmaster, Mr Corran, came in and spoke to Mr Clee who went absolutely white. He hadn’t realised that Joey had lost his mother and two sisters. Course there were no words to apologise. They just sent him home and that was it’ (Steele, 1994, pp 46-7). [It has been established that Mrs Woodland and her one daughter died in the V2 incident.]

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17 year old Barbara Woodland, as explained above, was the daughter of Violet Kathleen and Charles William Woodland and living at 39 Shroffold Road, Bromley when she was killed with her mother in the V2 strike on the New Cross Road 25th November 1944. She was born in Lewisham in late 1927.

In 1947 a memorial garden to the victims of the Woolworths V2 tragedy was planted and dedicated. Goldsmiths’ College staff donated to the memorial fund organised by St James’s Hatcham along with F W Woolworth, the Haberdashers’ Company, Pearce Signs Ltd, J Stone & Co, Matawattee Tea Company, F W Braby & Co., Deptford Rotary Club, four local cinemas and a number of local public houses. It seems the original idea to remember the victims of the V2 explosion changed into creating a general World War Two memorial for all the people who died in the Parish between 1939 and 1945. Consequently, there is still no specific physical memorial identifying and memorialising those killed on 25th November 1945. A ‘Woolworths Tree’ was planted on 26th November 1994. Image: Tim Crook for the Goldsmiths History Project

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34 year old Phyllis Ethel Woods was living in her terraced family home of 87 Wellington Avenue, in Bexley Kent when she was killed in the New Cross Road on 25th November 1944. She was the daughter of her widowed mother Mrs Lydia Smith and at the time of the National Register taken on 29th September 1939 they were living in the Wellington Avenue home with her 29 year-old brother Walter who was a telegraph and telephone fitter for the GPO as well as serving as a fireman in the GPO’s ARP.

Phyllis had married Thomas Arthur Woods in 1935 in Lambeth and at the time of her death he was serving in the Royal Navy. Public records show that a year after their marriage they may have had a son called Thomas whose birth was registered to a Mrs Woods née Smith in Lambeth in 1936. If this was the case he would have been only eight years old at the time of his mother’s death.

Phyllis was brought up in a large family and at the time of the 1921 census they were living in 40 Moncrieff Street Camberwell. This part of Moncrieff Street has been demolished and rebuilt.

Her father had worked in the GPO and at that time she was living there with three sisters, Victoria, Lillian and Ethel as well as her brother Walter. Mrs Lydia Smith would pass away in 1953 at the age of 70- some nine years after her daughter Phyllis died in the V2 bombing at Woolworths.

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Unknown. The Metropolitan Borough Council of Deptford formally interred ‘unidentified remains’ in grave 25 of their Civilian War Dead plot at Grove Park Cemetery.  They designated this person as ‘Unknown.’  The individual, for it can be credibly argued that they deserve to be commemorated and respectfully recognised as such, is recorded with the burial number 2298 in the official burial register of the Cemetery.

The record states ‘Unknown’ killed by enemy action in the New Cross Road on 25th November 1944 and buried 7th December 1944.

This is a burial representing one human being who was never identified. It is possible that the sensitive handling of human remains by the more than one hundred mortuary staff from at least three London local authorities and their forensic pathologists means the remains could have belonged to any of the other 167 victims who had been identified.

This part of Deptford was densely populated and occupied with shoppers and shop staff and with many people in transit by car and bus along New Cross Road intersecting with two close and very busy overland train stations at New Cross Gate and New Cross.

Despite the infinite care taken to identify all victims of air raids during WW2, the fact that this incident caused the highest number of casualties from a V2 rocket detonation, the possibility that one unknown individual could never be identified cannot be excluded.

It seems extraordinarily insensitive to the many victims of V2 rocket attacks but immediately after the end of the war in September 1945, an intact example recovered from Germany (without the explosive charge of course) was put on display in Trafalgar Square to raise money for ‘London’s Thanksgiving Savings Week.’ Image: War Illustrated 1945.

 

Service people fatalities in V2 strike on New Cross Road 25th November 1944

It was inevitable that a casualty list of up to 168 fatalities would include people serving in the armed forces. They were either living locally and on leave, or simply passing through when caught in the blast.

Private George James Lewis. 19 years old.   Service Number: 14680575. Regiment & Unit/Ship: Army Catering Corps. Date of Death: 25 November 1944. Buried or commemorated at Grove Park Cemetery. Joint grave 6. Commonwealth War Graves Commission – Headstone Placeholder. Son of Frank Hubert William and Emily Florence Lewis, of New Cross. Personal Inscription ‘”Till We Meet Again” It’s not goodbye , Dear son and brother, but only au-revoir.’  Private George Lewis was killed at 12.26 in the New Cross Road on 25th November 1944 as a result of the V2 explosion.

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Captain Arthur Edward Barton.  57 years old. Service Number: 120075. Regiment & Unit/Ship: Royal Army Pay Corps. Date of Death: Died 25 November 1944. Buried or commemorated at Enfield Crematorium, Panel 1. Commonwealth War Graves Commission – Headstone Placeholder. Captain Barton was killed in the V2 attack at 12.26 in the New Cross Road on 25th November 1944.

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Vincent William O’Brien. 29 years old.  Service Number: 1068077. Regiment & Unit/Ship: Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. Date of Death: 25 November 1944. Buried or commemorated at Stockport Borough Cemetery. Sec. C.B. Grave 100. Commonwealth War Graves Commission – Headstone Placeholder. Son of William and Hannah O’Brien, of Shaw Heath, Stockport; husband of Annie Margaret O’Brien, of Shaw Heath, Stockport. Personal Inscription: ‘He gave his all his unfinished life.’ Leading Aircraftman Vincent O’Brien was killed in the V2 attack at 12.26 in the New Cross Road on 25th November 1944.

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Thomas Cornish Haysworth. 29 years old.  Service Number: P/LX 26897. Regiment & Unit/Ship: Leading Steward in the Royal Navy serving with H.M.S. Victory. Date of Death: 25 November 1944. Buried or commemorated at Wandsworth (Earlsfield Cemetery) Block 49. Grave 2. Leading Steward Thomas Haysworth was killed in the V2 attack at 12.26 in the New Cross Road on 25th November 1944.

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Stanley Albert Perriman. 38 years old.  Regiment & Unit/Ship: Member of the Home Guard and Air Raid Precautions. Date of Death: 29 November 1944. Buried or commemorated by Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich. Commonwealth War Graves Commission – Headstone Placeholder. Son of Ernest and Minnie Perriman, of 136 Union Street, Maidstone, Kent; husband of Dora May Perriman, of 8 Langley Gardens, Petts Wood, Kent. Injured at the V2 attack on 25th November 1944, at New Cross; died at St. Alfege’s Hospital Greenwich on 29th November 1944. 

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Sidney Taylor. 24 years old. Service Number: 1668068. Regiment & Unit/Ship: Aircraftman 1st class in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve serving in the 55 Repair Unit of Fighter Command. Date of Death 25 November 1944. Buried or commemorated at Birmingham (Brandwood End) Cemetery. Sec. 33. F.C. Grave 673. Commonwealth War Graves Commission – Headstone Placeholder. Son of Albert and Alice Taylor, of Balsall Heath Birmingham. Personal Inscription ‘Loved by all.’  Aircraftman Sidney Taylor was killed in the V2 attack at 12.26 in the New Cross Road on 25th November 1944.

Sid Taylor was born 23rd April 1920 in Birmingham. His father was a builder’s foreman. Sid was a carpenter by trade. Before being called up he was living with his parents and then 14 year old younger brother Charles who was working as an assistant groundsman at Bell Barn Road in the Balsall Heath area of Birmingham. One of his brothers put a memoriam notice on the front page of the Birmingham Mail just two days after his death stating: ‘In memory of my dear brother Sid, killed November 25, 1944. Always remembered by Bill, Beat and Pat.’

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See: ‘New Cross V2 attack: The professor honouring those lost on SE London’s darkest day’ by Mercury Man published 4th January 2024 by The Greenwich Wire at https://greenwichwire.co.uk/2024/01/04/new-cross-v2-attack-the-professor-honouring-those-lost-on-se-londons-darkest-day/?utm_medium=email 

Some of the content of this posting is duplicated at Remembrance at Goldsmiths- a question of resilience?

It was decided to set out the research and writing on this subject as a separate feature to give focus for the families of the individuals who died in the New Cross Road incident and offer space for additions and more biographical information from descendants. 

Many thanks to the staff of Special Collections and Archives at Goldmiiths, University of London including Dr Alexander Du Toit, and staff alumni Pat Loughrey, Ian Pleace and Lesley Ruthven.

The Goldsmiths History Project contributes to the research and writing of the forthcoming That’s So Goldsmiths: A History of Goldsmiths, University of London by Professor Tim Crook.

Bibliography

Rations and Rubble: Remembering Woolworths The New Cross V2 Disaster Saturday 25th November 1944, edited by Jess Steele, Deptford Forward Publishing 1994.

Hitler’s Rockets: The Story of the V2s by Norman Longmate, first published by Hutchinson 1985, republished by Pen and Sword Books 2009.

Under Fire: Black Britain in Wartime 1939-45, by Stephen Bourne, The History Press 2020.

A Certain Voice by Audrey Russell, Ross Anderson Publications 1984.

War Illustrated Volumes 1 to 11, 1939 to 1946.

Newspapers: South London PressNews ChronicleDaily ExpressDaily MailThe Northern Whig and Belfast Post.

National Archives, Lewisham Borough Council local studies and archives.

 

 

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