Just off Stoke Newington Road in North London, there's a wonderfully evocative entrance arch to a block of social housing: Coronation Avenue. It's on Victorian Road, though the coronation it marked is that of Queen Victoria's son and successor, Edward VII.
Coronation Avenue and the adjoining Imperial Avenue were built by the 4% Industrial Dwellings Company and opened in 1903. It has almost 300 flats, most one-bed and bedsit, and is still run by the Industrial Dwellings Society.
This was the site of one of the most profound civilian tragedies to beset London during the Second World War - a loss of life on a scale akin to that of the terrible Bethnal Green tube disaster of 1943.
On 13th October 1940, during the German aerial Blitz of London, a high explosive bomb landed on Coronation Avenue. The writer Alexander Baron alluded to the event in his locally set novel With Hope, Farewell: 'The parish church had been burned down and several neighbouring streets demolished. A mile away, along the Stoke Newington Road, a parachute-mine had caused an entire block of flats to collapse into the communal shelter underneath, killing hundreds of people.'
That was why the number of casualties was so exceptionally high. The bomb managed to penetrate into a shelter beneath the building where many of the residents had sought refuge during the night-time air raid.
The BBC has posted the testimony of a youngster who survived the bomb explosion:
"Coronation Avenue buildings consists of a terrace of about 15 shops with five storeys of flats above. The shelter was beneath three of the shops. The back exit was in the yard between Coronation Avenue and another block of buildings, called Imperial Avenue. We went over the road to the shelter whenever there was a raid, and when the 'all clear' sounded in the morning, we would go back over the road, half asleep and very cold, and try to go back to sleep in a very cold bed.
"The shelter consisted of three rooms. The front entrance was in the first room, the rear entrance was in the third room, which had bunk beds along one wall. The rooms were jam packed with people, sitting on narrow slatted benches. I would sit on a bench and fall asleep, and wake every now and then, and would find myself snuggled up to my mother and sister. My father had the use of one of the bunk beds, because the men were given priority, as they had to go to work
"On 13 October 1940, the shelter received a direct hit. We had settled down as usual, when there was a dull thud, a sound of falling masonry, and total darkness.
"Somebody lit a torch - the entrance to the next room was completely full of rubble, as if it had been stacked by hand. Very little rubble had come into our room. Suddenly I felt my feet getting very cold, and I realised that water was covering my shoes. We were at the end of the room farthest from the exit. I noticed my father trying to wake the man in the bunk above him, but without success - a reinforcing steel beam in the ceiling had fallen down and was lying on him.
"The water was rising, and I started to make my way to the far end, where the emergency exit was situated. Everybody seemed very calm - with no shouting or screaming. By the time I got to the far end, the water was almost up to my waist, and there was a small crowd clambering up a steel ladder in a very orderly manner. Being a little more athletic than some of them, and very scared, I clambered up the back of the ladder to the top, swung over, and came out into the open."
In Abney Park cemetery nearby, the Borough of Stoke Newington - the area was then a borough in its own right, becoming part of the London Borough of Hackney in 1965 - built a memorial to those who died at Corporation Avenue and in other wartime enemy bombing raids. It lists - by my count - 88 people who died that night in Coronation Avenue:
It's a mute testament to the impact of war on civilians and communities. Altogether 17,500 Londoners were killed in Second World War bombing raids. I'd like to say that this memorial is well maintained - but at least some people visit, reflect and remember.
Lest we forget!
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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