Remembering Poplar’s tragic little war victims, 100 years on

Mayflower Primary School pupils Zain, Saima and Anika are preparing for the memorial day   Pic: Sarah Oladokun

One hundred years ago next month a primary school in Tower Hamlets received a direct hit in a German air raid over London, killing 18 pupils.

The bomb crashed through the roof of the school in Upper North Street, Poplar, passing through packed classrooms before reaching the ground floor where it exploded in the nursery class.

It was the first daylight attack by enemy aircraft to hit London during the First World War and exactly a century later children at Mayflower Primary school , which was built to replace the one destroyed, will commemorate the school children who died that day.

It was on June 13, 1917 that the Upper North Street School was hit by a German Gotha plane, causing one of the most tragic mainland incidents of the First World War.

The original school had three floors of classes and on that day the girls were on the top floor at a singing class, the boys on the second learning maths and the infants were on the ground floor. The bomb made a direct hit through the school infrastructure, cutting through the top of the building and down to the infant class where it eventually exploded.

Most of the 18 children who died in the raid were in that infant class, and all aged about five. Many other children were injured in the blast, some of them very badly.

After the tragic event, the surviving children watched the bodies of their classmates being carried out of the school building by brave teachers and staff members.

A plaque at Mayflower primary school commemorating the 18 children who lost their lives in 1917    Pic: Sarah Oladokun

The disaster struck the hearts of the entire country but was felt most deeply in the East End as it was so close to home.

The school caretaker at the time, Benjamin Batt, whose five-year-old son Alfie died in the bombing, never got over the death of his young son, nor that he didn’t more for the school to prevent so many casualties. It is thought that the shock was too much for him and as a result led him to commit suicide in November that same year.

London saw one of its largest funeral processions a week later when the victims of the attack were buried. The public, much affected by this tragedy, sent over 600 wreaths and King George and Queen Mary sent a personal message to be read out at the public funeral service. The service itself was held at Poplar Parish Church and was led by the Bishop of London.

The Mayflower school will hold the 100th anniversary ceremony on June 15  at All Saints Church in Poplar, where 15 of the children’s funerals were held back in 1917.

Relatives of 16 of the children have been tracked from across the world and will be coming from countries including New Zealand, Canada and America. Family members of the teachers  who were present that day will also be marking the occasion.

Many of the students have been preparing for next month’s event and have taken part in various activities to prepare for the upcoming Memorial Day.

Saima Zaman, 10, a Year 5 student at Mayflower Primary school told Eastlondonlines: “We have been learning some key facts about the bombing 100 years ago which have been very interesting. There is even a plaque downstairs about the 18 angels.

“We’ve made some things with arts and crafts for the display and also written diary entries to understand what life may have been like 100 years ago.”

Classmate Anika Uddin, 10, told Eastlondonlines: “A few weeks ago we made 18 angel wings marked with the names of the children who died and painted them. We are currently writing  oems in the computer room  or a newspaper to remember those who died.”

Zain Khan, 10, expressed his interest in learning about WW1: “We’ve even been reading a book called Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo which is about war and it has helped us understand what life was like back then. I can’t wait to finish reading it.”

Their teacher Phoebe Ranson, 29, is very pleased with the progress her students are making and is looking forward to the event. Speaking to Eastlondonlines she said: “The children are really excited and looking forward to their work being published in a newspaper the most.

“They are especially enjoying taking part in the day-to-day activities leading up to June and being part of something big.”

Year 5 students at Mayflower Primary School working on their pieces for the Memorial Day    Pic: Sarah Oladokun

In early 2014, a BBC1 series by Jeremy Paxman titled  How the First World War transformed the lives of the British people, covered Britain’s Great War and read the log book of Upper North School with Mayflower Primary School Head teacher Dee Bleach.

More than 500 people are expected to attend the event. The day will include a performance by 300 local school children, followed by a church ceremony and a two-minute silence at 11:40am in remembrance of those who died.


  1. John May 30, 2017
  2. Anthony Deric Bareford June 4, 2017

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