Since I am now living on the other side of the world to my family and most of my friends this blog is about things I enjoy, things I notice, people I meet, people I miss, history, planning for the future, love and life in general! I guess it's about whatever pops into my head which I want to share with my friends and family... and who knows? I might make some more friends along the way!

25 January, 2010

Tragedy on my doorstep, part 2

Not too far from where I live, just a few stops along the Northern Line, is a station called Oval. It is so named because it is quite close to Kennington Oval where cricket matches are held, presumably in the summer months... I recently took a train to this station for a very different reason. I was looking for evidence of an event that occured in 1940, but it was not until I was writing this & my previous blog that I realised the two events occured almost exactly 24 hours apart. The night after the people of Balham lost 67 of their own to a German bomb, the people of Kennington were similarly struck, but this time the cost was even higher.

Unlike Balham Station, the local authorities were loath to allow people to take shelter at the Oval Underground. The station had been completed, but never put into use, which wouldn't have precluded it from being used as a shelter. The barbed wire, which the authorities had placed around it, however, did prevent the local population from seeking refuge on the platforms as so many thousands of Londoners did that autumn.

The 'lucky' few who had a garden large enough to hold an Anderson Shelter, would stay in their own private place, about the size of a small bathroom, open to the elements, often flooding in heavy rain, and with just a few inches of soil over the top of a curved, corrugated roof to protect them. They did, none-the-less, provide some modicom of privacy.

For the rest of the population who wanted to feel that little bit secure during the nightly bombing raids of the Blitz, there were the public air-raid shelters. These shelters were in a 'trench formation', and were similar to those which were photographed on Clapham Common...

The trenches were covered in cement slabs, covered in a layer of sandbags & soil, and contained wooden benches. The amenities were menial, based on the assumption that a bombing raid would last 1-3 hours and people wouldn't need much in the shelters for such brief periods. In reality bombing raids often continued in waves all night, and when they were brief, the people were loath to relocate to their beds, only to be woken a short time later to return to the shelters... it was more likely that the average person would spend 12 hours at a time, sitting on wooden benches, in damp conditions (there are accounts of the mould & moss growing on the cement ceilings). They were prone to flooding, and with no lavatories on site, they smelled apalling most of the time! (An account of a similar trench shelter in nearby Wandsworth mentions a bucket in the corner behind a hessian 'curtain' for use as a toilet) People would smoke in the shelters as there was no sense of this being a dangerous activity at the time.

None-the-less, people felt safer when they were under the ground, even just a few feet, and so night after night they returned to the apparent safety of the public air-raid shelters which criss crossed the playing fields of Kennington Park.

On the night of 15th October the trenches were filled with women, children, men, the elderly & the infirm - families in general - & they had no hope when the bomb made a direct hit on the north east corner of the trenches. At the time the authorities were overwhelmed by the appalling scene which they came upon. Not only were there injured & dying people trying to escape the nightmare, there were body parts strewn for many feet in all directions... to make matters worse it had been wet recently & the soil in which the trenches were built was unstable, making it almost impossible to dig out survivors. After a night of rescue & recovery, it was agreed that there was nobody left alive in the collapsed trenches, and with recovery workers in danger of being suffocated by the unstable soil, it was agreed to call of the recovery excersize after a couple of days. The unrecovered bodies were covered in lime, and covered over, and it is estimated that there are the remains of approximately 50 people still under the ground.

I visited this site on a bitterly cold day, in january, to see the normal activities of people... folk walking dogs, children on scooters, parents with youngsters, a group of young people playing football... It is hard to imagine that these daily leisure activities go on over the last resting place of so many people, who, just 70 years ago were doing the same things!

There is now a memorial stone in the park, quite close to the site of the bomb landing. It bears a beautiful inscription, a qupte from the poet, historian & author, Maya Angelou: "History, despite it's wrenching pain, cannot be unlived but if faced with courage need not be lived again."

Let us hope that more people learn the history of this beautiful park, and remember... & do what they can to prevent it happening again.

This blog entry is dedicated to the estimated 104 people who lost their lives that night, & the countless people of Kennington who's lives were never the same again as a result.

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Tragedy on my doorstep - pt 1

While I have been looking into the history of Clapham during WWII, I have learned of two horrific incidents which occured during the Blitz, and both of which took the lives of many civilians doing their best to just get from one day to the next. One was in nearby Balham Tube Station, a reasonably short walk from where I live, and the other was at Kennington Park, just a few tube stops from Clapham.

The Balham disaster happened just before 8pm on the night of 14th October, 1940 & cost the lives of 67 people, although the modest plaque which currently commemorates this tragedy does not take into account 3 Undergroud workers who died amid the citizens seeking refuge that night. A series of specific circumstances caused the casualties, although none of them died from the initial bomb blast, nor shrapnel, nor even - as one might expect - as a result of fire. The victims were either crushed in the panic to leave the station, or drowned in a slurry of water, sewerage & mud. The word horrific is used a lot these days, but I think it applies to the way these 67 people died.

The initial bomb blast created a masive crater in Balham High Street, breaking through to the platform below, & rupturing water, sewerage & gas pipes. The surge of water caused the crater to enlarge, and washed thousands of litres of slurry (including raw sewerage) into the tunnel below. We know the crater grew quickly as a bus driver, who was in the vicinity of the blast, was concussed & slightly injured, so he parked his bus near the crater, and sought medical attention from a nearby first aid station. While he was being treated the crater grew enough to swallow his bus. Dramatic photographs of this were in most national newspapers the next day, although details of casualties were suppressed in order to both deny information to the enemy, and maintain morale in the general public.

There are estimated to have been up to 500 people sheltering in Balham Station that night, although more conservative estimates suggest it was closer to 200, the popularity of the Underground platforms as air-raid shelters, and extensive photographic evidence show Tube stations crammed with families, althogh at that hour commuters were not travelling through the station.

At the first sign of a bomb blast many people surged towards the the escalators & the exits above. The first casualties probably were due to suffocation & being crushed in the stampede... The majority of deaths, however, were due to drowning...

You might ask how it is possible to drown on an Underground platform? Anyone who has ever visited London has travelled on the tube, and anyone who's travelled on the tube knows those tunnels go on & on for ever! Surely the water & mud were simply siphoned off into those long, wide tunnels? Wrong.

The Northern line, which runs through Balham, also runs directly under the River Thames, close to the Embankment & Charring Cross Stations, and the government were fearful that a catastrophic flood could occur if the line were breached close to the river, especially at high tide. For this reason many of the stations in the Northern Line were fitted with water-tight doors, and as one of the lowest stations on the line, Balham was one of them. The very system that was supposed to prevent the people at Balham from drowning in the waters of the mighty River on which London is built, is the very reason the deluge was able to fill the area so quickly.

This year sees the 70th anniversary of this tragic event, but so few people who travel through the station will even be aware of the significance of the date. It is just one, of so many tragic & remarkable stories of London World War II. I, for one, will be very aware of the date, & intend to remember the 67 people who lost their lives to a Nazi bomb, and a sad twist of fate.

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24 January, 2010

History on my doorstep...

When I moved to Clapham, about 3 months ago, I was interested in the history from a Victorian perspective. Let's face it, the Victorian era is the most dominant one in this area, as Clapham & the surrounding suburbs of London were mostly built & formed during the reign of Queen Victoria. The rows & rows of terrace houses which fill the streets of this pretty place are all beautifully histocial Victorian dwellings, and the streets of shops & even nearby Clapham Junction Station are all from that era.

Clapham Common at the end of the street in which I live, was the first place that caught my attention, from the WWII perspective. About a 3 minute walk from my front door, there is a large, flat(ish) platform covered in ashphalt. I did some 'googling', and found a reference in that 'ever-reliable resource', Wikipedia! These are, supposedly,"... mounds on the... common that are covered in the earliest forms of tarmac. The mounds were formed with left-over scraps by the local Victorians and covered in tarmac to form roller skating rinks." Yeah... with two close to Battersea Rise, & 3 more between Winsham Grove & Manchuria Road, it seemed an ulikely explaination, and friends & neighbours told me they thought they were 'bunkers' from WWII. I did a bit more digging, but couldn't find anything about 'bunkers' existing on Clapham Common, although there were definitely 'trench-style air-raid shelters' & Anti Aircraft Guns (or 'ack ack's' - using the WWII Phonetic alphabet for 'AA' guns)

I looked further, and found some reference to one local's belif that they were bunkers in which Canadian troops had been housed during the war, but I found a more reliable source which tells that the Canadians were housed in the Deep Level Shelter close to South Clapham Station, and this was further confirmed by other references...

The trench style air-raid shelters definitely did not have entrances in a formation like these... being very simple, and rudimentary forms of shelter. Although photos exist of these on Clapham Common, there is no resemblance to the remaining 'platforms' along either the west side, or the Battersea Rise section in the north west corner of Battersea Common.

My research would suggest that these are almost certainly nothing to do with rollerskating! In fact the reference in Wikipedia is the only mention of such an activity on the common I can find online! The air-raid shelter theory is also more likely to be later generations confusing the deep level shelter with the remnants of some activity they can see close to that shelter today. To my mind the size & shape of the platforms suggests they are the remains of the ack ack positions. They certainly were close to the South Clapham Station, as I have found first hand accounts of young men & boys coming to the common, via that station, to watch the guns in action. I have included both my photos of the platforms & a couple of reference photos I found online - see what you think for yourself...

So to do more research... I hope to visit Battersea Library soon, and see if I can't get to the bottom of this mystery, using the local history resources they hold there. I have this terrible compulsion to stop any truly elderly person I see in the street & ask them if they know anything about them...

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19 January, 2010


I'm kind of feeling uninspired, but I want to blog more... I always have this inner monologue happening & it seems a shame to waste it! I thought I might follow my friend who's blog is called Wooly Logic, and post more photos with some explainations!
So this is what I did on Sunday - I went for a power walk on Clapham Common, but I didn't power walk for long! I got chatting with my wonderful cousin Mavis, on my new mobile, and so I slowed my pace... silly since I'd worn just jeans, a T-shirt & a hoodie, foregoing the obligatory gloves, coat, hat & scarfe as I thought I'd be warm from walking!! The cold got to me, even before I'd reached the north-east corner of the Common, where I stopped to take photos of Trinity Church. This is the church where the 'Clapham Cult' was formed & would meet to discuss social justice issues, and particularly to campaign against slavery. It was this group that William Wilberforce belonged to, and he was instrumental in getting the laws in Britain changed. His story is told in the film "Amazing Grace"
There was an eerie feeling as it was so cold that there were few people loitering, and nobody at the church at all. The lighting made it stand out among the leafless trees, & I was so cold by the time I turned for home, again!

I started at a good pace towards the western end of the Common, close by which I live! But I was barely half way when I started shivering & wondering what I'd been thinking when I'd left home with so little clothing (seasonally speaking!)? I suddenly remembered that there was a pub, nearby, which I had been meaning to check out! The Windmill, on the common, has had a lot of good write ups... I shivered & managed to make it to the warm haven of this watering hole! The cider, whilst delicious, was very expensive, but the loos were amusing, and the whole feeling was one of comfort, & most importantly - warmth! I sat for quite some time, reading the book reviews in the paper, and sipping my cider, taking the occassional photo & generally feeling the blood start to flow to my extremities!
Finally I walked home, via the historic, and pretty bandstand, then on to my home. It was good to get back to a bowl of soup & later to phone Frank! I always sleep better when I hear the sound of his voice!

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18 January, 2010


I'm just pondering... I haven't written a blog for months, but sooooo much has happened in that time!

I am still in love, still with a wonderfully talented & sweet, if somewhat vulgar & politically incorrect, American! I haven't seen him for over 5 months at the moment, but I hope to see him in a few weeks... just got to work out the money situation!!

I am working for a truly wonderful family in Clapham, London, with a delightful little boy who's 3 years old & fills my days with challenges, fun, laughter, imagination, play, life & love, and I adore him! I live in the attic of a beautiful Victorian terrace house close to Clapham Common, and I am revelling in the history of London as well as the history of Clapham & it's surrounding suburbs... WWII is my latest obsession! There is so much evidence of it, especially the Blitz, all over this city, and much of it is practically on my doorstep.

I have had some really tough times in 2009, but out of the worst times came the knowlege that I had family & friends who went above & beyond the call of duty to be there for me! I know how loved & supported I am, and I am so very grateful! I am honestly very blessed!

I'm finding winter in England a challenge as I did last year, the SAD (Seasonal Adjustment Disorder) is a very real condition, and I need to find ways to get on top of it! Suggestions have been to put a daylight globe in my lamp (I am having trouble locating one), and having a 20 min session on a tanning bed... apparently there is a lot of medical evidence to show this helps! At any rate the days are getting longer again, if still bitterly cold, and I am enjoying living close to the common as well as the excellent shopping strip of Northcote Road!

I hope I pop in here more often. I intend to keep up to date with happenings & photos & thoughts & feelings, but I have made such resolutions in the past & failed... so I won't promise! Just know that at this stage I am alive & well, and looking forward to good things in the coming year!

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