Sunday 8 November 2009

Woolworths, New Cross

At 12.44pm, Saturday 25 November 1944, Britain's worst V2 attack struck New Cross destroying the Woolworths store as well as badly damaging the neighbouring Co-op. 168 people were killed, 122 injured.

Unusually fine weather had ensured that plenty of people were out shopping that lunchtime, while workers from the neighbouring railway station and children returning from the swimming baths had gone into the store for a drink. Some accounts suggest that there had been a rare delivery of saucepans to Woolworths that day.

There was no warning before the rocket landed on the centre of Woolworths' roof. After a moment of silence the walls bowed, the building collapsed and exploded, and then caught fire. An army lorry was overturned and a double-decker bus spun round by the force of the blast. Rescuers, members of the emergency services and local people, worked to lift the rubble by hand but there was only one survivor. It took three days to clear the debris, which reached as far as Deptford town hall. Tony Rollins, then 13, has shared his recollections on the BBC website:
Sheets of corrugated steel had been placed along some of the gutters to cover what was left of people and blood was seeping out from beneath.There was debris everywhere.I saw several people dead beneath telegraph poles and there were bodies and wounded and maimed laying randomly all over the place.

Everybody who could was roped in to help clear debris and I did what I was asked to give a hand.
The site of the bombing is now occupied by Iceland and New Cross Library. A small plaque on Iceland's wall marks the disaster, while the memorial on Woolworths' own website is archived here. As well as the image above, it includes a full list of the names of those killed. Perhaps the saddest part of this is the final line: and 24 others who could not be identified.

Last year's Remembrance Sunday post is here; Colin Blythe, Deptford cricketer, was killed in World War One.


Adam said...

What a terrible event. It's important to note that sacrifices weren't just made on foreign fields, but also by people just out doing their shopping.

Minnie said...

I second Adam's well-phrased opinion - this brings it all home (and right down to earth). Thank you, Caroline.

Lewisham Information said...

You may be interested to know that Lewisham Council is marking this event with the unveiling of a Maroon Plaque at the site on the anniversary of the bombing. Mayor Sir Steve Bullock will officially unveil the new plaque on Wednesday 25th November.

Anonymous said...

My aunt Doris Vandyke was killed on that day. She worked there after having 7 years home sick with polio. My grandparents were devastated at the time. She was only 37 but never married.

ian said...

Doris VanDyke was a distant relative. Her mother was Phoebe Shiret, my great great aunt
My grandad, Doris's second cousin, Albert Woodbridge was drinking in the Marquess. He was a member of Heavy rescue, so he was on of the first people in.
I only found out she was a relative today!
I guess we are some kind of third cousin?