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Names of 172 Bethnal Green tube disaster victims remembered in 70th anniversary memorial ceremony

Original memorial plaque. Pic: Bennett 4 Senate

A memorial to the 173 people who died on March 3, 1943 – 62 of them children – was unveiled to hundreds in east London following a service at St John at Bethnal Green church.

Yesterday marked the 70th anniversary of the Bethnal Green tube disaster – “the worst civilian disaster of World War II,” reported the BBC.

The disaster happened when people flooded the tube station upon hearing air raid sirens and were crushed in the panic. New anti-aircraft weapons were fired as a test, causing a panic.

Babette Clarke, 11 in 1943, was trying to get underground but missed the bus. She told the BBC: “As they went up they whistled like the bombs did as they came down and that’s what caused the pushing because people thought it was bombs coming down.”

Cheryl Baker, pop singer and TV presenter, read John Donne’s poem No Man is an Island at the service.

Father Alan Green presided over the service, stressing the importance of remembering the names of those who died 70 years ago. Due to a censorship on war-time reporting, the identities of the victims were not publicised at the time of the disaster.

He said: “The problem with the previous memorial and the cover up was the names were not publicly acknowledged so each year we have centred on reading out those names and lighting 173 candles which we place on the altar to mark those lives.”

There was a plaque placed at the station in the 1990s, but the first part of a new ‘Stairway to Heaven’ monument has now been completed in time for the anniversary.

Around £100,000 is still needed for the Bethnal Green Memorial Trust to add a canopy and complete the memorial.

Dr Toby Butler, from the University of East London, is collecting audio interviews from survivors, rescuers and family members to add to the monument.

He said to the BBC: “It’s going to be an incredibly important landmark in east London.”

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One Response to Names of 172 Bethnal Green tube disaster victims remembered in 70th anniversary memorial ceremony

  1. Carole Heath

    March 20, 2014 at 10:42 pm

    This was a terrible disaster what happened at Bethnal Green underground station during WW2 all those people crushed to death. I saw a programme on TV recently where one of the people interviewed was saved by a policeman her mother I think was killed. the woman interviewed said she was only a baby at the time. I come from Bethnal Green myself my mother used to say at the time of this terrible disaster they thought it may have been pickpockets in the crowds which panicked people and sadly they rushed down the stairs and fell on top of each other. It is long overdue the memorial to these unfortunate people who sadly died. The plaque leading to the entrance where it happened was not put up until many years after. I don’t remember it there when I was a child living in Bethnal green. I think personally that the people where panicked by the guns which I believe in Victoria park that’s one story I have heard from survivors who have been interviews in programmes about the disaster. I also think Churchill had it all covered up so the moral of the people was kept up. A woman in my flats where I used to live in Bethnal Green lost her sister and mother in the disaster a very sad day for the civilians of Bethnal Green March 3rd 1943. I am glad at last a fitting tribute has been erected.

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