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Canning Town Bomb Disaster - A Lucky Escape

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posted on 2024-06-05, 17:37 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

South Hallsville School Agate St. Canning Town/Custom House Sept. 1940

I was born after the War but have heard the tale of my mum's and brothers' lucky escape. It was told to me by my older brother.

The boys aged 3,2 and 1, along with my mum and dad, went to the school to wait for buses to ferry them away from the dock area and the awful bombing raids. Dad was staying at home to continue to work, before going into the Royal Navy to do his bit. So Mum, the boys and Dad were crammed into the basement of the school, which was used as an air raid shelter for the area, along with other anxious parents and some elderly people.

Well, toddlers as my brothers were, they did the usual rolling on the floors and climbing over luggage. It sounded like bedlam to me. One man started moaning and getting annoyed with the boys, which in turn annoyed my dad. With other people arriving and the boys grizzling, my dad said to my mum, "Come on, we're going home, the boys need their beds."

Mum's reply was " We will miss the bus," and Dad assured her there would be other buses the next day. So, home they went.

Sadly for the people left behind, along with the surrounding area, the school was bombed. Bombs ripped through the building which collapsed into the basement with many killed and injured. The story given to the people of the area was that there was a mix-up. Instead of the evacuation buses going to Canning Town, instead, they went to Camden Town. But after a lot of research it appeared that in fact, there were NO buses arriving as there was no one manning the telephones to make the arrangements.

Many bodies were never found, and there is a restriction on the site, that it cannot be built on until a hundred years has passed. Our little family unit luckily survived the War, but the same cannot be said for members of our wider family circle.

My Mum's half-brother, Ralph Henry Charles Dickel, died during Operation Pedestal in WW2, a member of the crew of MV Waimarama which was sunk amid a convoy trying to resupply Malta, located in the Mediterranean. Nine out of fourteen merchant ships were sunk in the convoy to Malta, and 80 of 107 crew aboard were killed.

My Mum's sister Rose married Daniel Percy Beckford in 1937. He was killed on board HMS Hunter in Narvik, Nordland Norway, aged 25. He was a stoker, 1st. class. The British war destroyer was badly damaged by German destroyer, Georg Thieland. It then collided with HMS Hotspur and sank in the middle of the fjord. Daniel was buried in Plymouth, Devon and 2 months after his death, my cousin, his first child was born in Devon in 1940. He was named Daniel Percy.

My pride and admiration goes out to the women of those times, the losses, hardships and fears every day, doing the best they could to provide for their families, whilst their men were away doing their best for our country.


Person the story/items relate to

Ellen & Patrick McClenaghan and their family

Person who shared the story/items

Jean Williams

Relationship between the subject of the story and its contributor

They are her parents and siblings.

Type of submission

Shared at Hadleigh Library, Essex on 4 November 2023. Organised by Hadleigh Castle u3a.

Record ID

97095 | HAD006