The Coronation Avenue Tragedy
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!
Our grandfather’s Abraham Frommer’s name isn’t on the Abney Park monument, because his body wasn’t found by our family and identified for some time after the bombing. It was a time of enormous air raids and many casualties across London and the mortuaries and hospitals must have been hugely under pressure. My father had the grim task of going round all the possible hospitals with casualties to try and find him amongst the living and the dead. The Abney Park memorial says “plus 7 unidentified casualties”— of which he was one. Two of his three sons, my uncles were at that time interned on the Isle of Man, and his daughter, my mother, was evacuated, in St Albans with her nine month old baby. My father eventually found and identified him. That area of the shelter had been flooded and full of gas from ruptured mains. The rest of the shelter was badly damaged and thpse inside trapped. My aunt Grete and our toddler cousin Don were amongst them, pulled out alive. My mother was the only family mourner able to attend his funeral. He lies alongside a row of other Jewish casualties from that disaster at Marlow Road cemetery, and there are other air raid victims alongside them.
Judy - he is recorded on the CWGC site which is most important and you should ask about having him added to the Abney memorial by petitioning the cemetery owners etc
In researching the flats where I live (imperial Avenue) I read with sadness your deeply moving account of your Grandfather's death and the fact his name is not beared on the memorial stones in Abney Park Cemetary. I just wanted to offer you my sympathies regarding this sad fact. I also offer you thanks for sharing your story. There is so much history in and around the places we live which can be lost through the passage of time and with the ever changing landscape that exists in our urban centres. Thank you for sharing your personal account of your connection to this area and may your grandfather's and all those others who suffered the ultimate sacrifice during this terrible period be remembered always in your hearts, memories and accounts of their lives and untimely deaths.
We also have two relations not shown on the memorial who died in the Coronation Avenue bombing - Rishka Gendin and her daughter Leah. It could also have been my grandmother and mother, who decided late in the day to remain home instead of sheltering with their relatives with whom they were very close. Baruch dayan emet.
Where are they buried Barbara??
My mothers grandmother and grandfather ( Glasscock) I don’t see listed either her two Aunts are listed also a Glasscock and Hawes my Mother 6 yrs old at the time and Grandmother were on their way to the shelter but for some reason turned and headed home a choice that saved their lives very sad
Carol. If you have documentation to prove your great-grandparents' died in the disaster, you can apply to the War Graves Commission to have them recorded as Civilian Casualties of War. In the case of my great aunt, as her remains were never identified and she does not have a death certificate, the WGC refused to list her based on family testimonies, but you might be more successful. I haven't tried approaching the cemetery management to find out how to have their names added to the memorial (unlikely as it looks full to me). Good luck.
Hi. Many thanks for such a moving account of our local history. Gone but certainly not forgotten and wont be. The memorial at Abney Park has now been cleaned and fully restored : https://abneypark.org/news/2020/9/15/abney-park-trust-restores-war-memorial-ahead-of-the-ww2-bombings-80th-anniversary
Barbara - there is no Rishka Genzin/Gedin listed by the War Graves Commission - only Leah. Are you sure she died???? Leah was 25 - you can see her listed by goolging cwgc.org.uk and searching
Martin Sugarman. Thank you for the link to Leah's entry on the WGC site. I have found her and her mother, who used the English name Rose, on the 1939 Register but haven't managed to find death certificates or burial places for them yet. Oral family history says they died the same night but I haven't got the paper trail yet.
Please let me know when you get the death cert for Rose/Rishka by applying to GRO for one. Alternatively if you can find a token on a family grave in her memory, this may allow me to fight a case with CWGC for having her named; but we need a paper trail to get the CWGC to do this - ie soe kind of definite proof - eg an anouncement in JC would help??? If you know where she lived you can ask the Local History libarary for records of deaths for that incident. Even a note saying 'no body found/identified' can persuade CWGC to give her recgnition as war dead
Will do. Your help is greatly appreciated.
I've just heard from Martin Sugarman of AJEX that Minnie Abler has successfully been added to the CWGC list of civilian casualties of war. Congratulations to her family and well done everyone who was involved.
I was in Abney Park today (10th May 2021) searching for relatives not related to this incident and did notice the memorial shown in the pictures above. Those concerned might be pleased to know that it has been completely cleaned and the nice light stonework is devoid of the green staining and looking like new. I only looked it up because I was startled and curious as to how so many died in a single incident although I did suspect a WW2 bomb. Very tragic but good to see they are not forgotten.
Hi I found an old black and white photograph of a bombed street, and on the back is written bombed by the germans on 13th October 1940 its a bit crumpled but it was in an old teapot in a charity shop. i wondered if I could send it to you its no use to me but obviously someone kept it a long time.
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