The Story of Civil Defence, Ross Wyld. Issued by the Walthamstow Borough Council October 1945
To add to the interest of life, the enemy in September started using a new weapon - the Long Range Rocket.
Rockets, unlike all previous forms of attack, gave no previous warning. Reported to travel upwards until from 30 to 50 miles above the earth, their speed on return to ground level was estimated to be well in excess of a thousand miles per hour, or over a quarter of a mile per second. This was considerably faster than sound and, although the friction of their passage through the lower atmosphere caused them to glow with the heat, there was no prior audible intimation of prospective arrival to enable people to take shelter.
From the beginning (having learnt a lesson from the publicity given to the first Fly Bomb) no indication was given to the enemy of the arrival of these missiles, and Local Authorities were variously advised by London Region to announce to their citizens that the explosions were those of gas mains, ammunition wagons or delayed action bombs. This, of course, was absurd and one of our own people dealt with the situation very adequately when, looking at a 50-foot crater in Farnan Avenue, he said solemnly to the Regional Commissioner, who had enquired the time of the Incident, " The Delayed Action Bomb fell at 04.55 hours, sir."
Our first Rocket (and the fourth in London Region) fell in Farnan Avenue near the entrance to the Town Hall grounds, and the crater was slightly oval, measuring 46 by 53 feet and 18 feet deep. Despite the depth of the crater there was blast damage over a wide area which was not surprising when it was realised that the explosive charge was approximately one ton. Fortunately at that place there were houses only on one side or the road, but some 24 houses were demolished and we had six people killed in addition to 74 injured, of whom one died of injuries.
This compared very unfavourably with Coleridge Road where we had approximately the same number of houses destroyed but no persons killed, and I drew the attention of the Regional Commissioner to this when he visited us. I suggested that the policy of secrecy on the one hand, and the fatuous optimism of Government speakers on the other, ought to be debited with these six deaths. Most of them were persons who, until then, had been sleeping in the public shelter nearby and which was not damaged.
Next came another Fly Bomb, (the Battle of London still being over - or not, according to point of view!), and this fell in Forest Road near Lloyd Park Mansion. Again the casualty roll of five deaths and 86 injured was heavier than it would have been had the people still been kept on the qui vive by the Government.
We had our second Rocket in October and this fell in the gardens in the angle formed by Chingford Road and Evesham Avenue, only some 500 yards from the first Rocket. By a miracle the casualty roll was small (under 30 injured) for twelve houses demolished in Chingford Road were not occupied having been rendered uninhabitable by a para-mine in 1940/1 blitz. The crater was some 60 feet across and 25 to 30 feet deep. There were no persons killed and even the few sent to hospital were not detained. One dog had an exciting time for he was found alive and unhurt at the bottom of the crater out of which he was unable to climb owing to the steepness of the sides and to the huge boulders of clay. How he got there is not known but he probably ran out of a house when its back door was wrecked and fell into the crater before he knew where he was. He was duly retrieved by N.F.S. ladder.
We had several Rockets at various times which burst in mid-air, of which only one caused any casualties, a fragment of the Rocket falling through the roof of a house in Pasquier Road and breaking the leg of a man in bed who had to be taken to hospital. With another Rocket we were also comparatively fortunate. This fell at about breakfast time late in October at the foot of the bank of the Warwick Reservoir. Even so, it fell in one of the few parts of the Marshes where it could cause damage and managed to demolish a boathouse and damage a bungalow close by. (In the boathouse was an unfortunate watchman who was so seriously injured that he subsequently died.)
On a Thursday in November, just after 7 p.m., we received another Fly Bomb. This fell in Oatland Rise while the Public Council was in session at its Annual Meeting selecting its new Mayor. There was the usual wide area of devastation, and the casualty roll reached nearly one hundred with three persons killed. The Fly fell on top of a foundry and from a distance Wardens saw a shower of sparks borne high up in the air by the uprush of the explosion.
During November a Rocket also fell in Holmes Avenue in the early hours and caused widespread damage and over 80 casualties, of which four were fatal. Nearly 30 houses were completely wrecked or rendered uninhabitable and (including those which had damage only to windows), nearly 1,200 houses were damaged by this Rocket.
At noon two or three days later another Rocket fell, on this occasion just missing the Forest and the North Circular Arterial Road. It fell in the gardens between Trevose Road and Longacre Road, completely wrecking 12 houses and rendering nearly another score uninhabitable for months thereafter. Eight persons were killed at the Incident and nearly 50 injured but, had it happened a little later, the casualty roll would probably have been greater owing to the school-children and others returning home to dinner.
One local resident who was shopping in Hale End heard nothing although she was only 200 yards away. This so-called " zone of silence" was a marked feature of Rocket Incidents, persons within a range of even up to 250 or 300 yards not hearing the explosion although they would, of course feel the earth tremor when the Rocket burst on the ground. The zone of silence was apparently caused by the terrific speed of the out-rush of the blast driving the air before it and in the temporary absence of air, there being a practical vacuum, no sound could travel across that zone.
At Gordon Avenue at lunch-time on a Sunday in November, a Rocket fell in the garden adjoining some allotments. Here again had it fallen earlier the casualty roll might have been considerable but the " Diggers for Victory " had gone home and we had only one fatal casualty. Although we had nearly 80 casualties, the damage in this case was not so great as usual owing to the open nature of the area, the houses being fewer per acre
December brought us our worst Rocket Incident up to that date when in the late evening a Rocket landed in the middle of Blackhorse Road. The death roll was ten, exclusive of those who died in hospital subsequently, and the total casualties recorded were over 100. The area was somewhat congested by houses with the result that the final check on damage showed 2,700 houses within the damage list. The crater completely filled the road, and the water-main continued to spout for a long period, with the result that the whole of the roadway was flooded with water, rendering the work even more difficult than usual. On this occasion we experimented with two Incident Officers, one on either side of the crater, and the experiment proved very successful.
It was at this Incident that we first used search-lights brought by the military to our assistance, and we found them invaluable in aiding the Rescue Parties working to rescue persons from the collapsed houses. This was also the first occasion on which we used the Rescue dogs who, from time to time, proved very helpful in indicating casualties hidden below debris, although they were not by any means infallible.
To add variety to our entertainment, our next enemy missile was a Fly Bomb which exploded on some trees in Oak Hill. It was ironical that, at the moment of this explosion, the War Damage Architect was addressing a meeting of local residents in the Lloyd Park Pavilion and had just given the figures of damage up to date. The Incident was a light one in respect of casualties, no persons being killed and the damage area was also not so great as usual, under 600 houses being reported on the damage list, none of which was destroyed.
The New Year opened quietly and apart from some mid-air bursts we were lucky during January. These caused no casualties, but a good deal of minor damage to houses was reported. We were equally fortunate with our next Rocket. Although this did not burst in mid-air, it chose one of the best possible spots and fell in the Forest, early in February.
A day or two later, soon after midday, another Rocket landed in the gardens of houses in Sturge Avenue. Once more we were fortunate in regard to casualties, there being no persons killed although 17 were sent to hospital, out of a total of nearly 90 casualties.
Less than a week later, in the dark and early hours, we had another bad Incident, a Rocket falling in Chingford Road, near the junction of Nelson Road, and demolishing a public Surface Brick Shelter. Eight persons were sleeping in the Shelter, and as the Rocket apparently broke through the end of the Shelter the blast completely disintegrated the Shelter and all eight Shelterers were killed. In addition, a further eight were killed in surrounding property, but the total casualty list, apart from the deaths, amounted to under 50, which was light for such an Incident.
Our " A " District Centre, in Billet Road, had a narrow escape when a Rocket fell close by in Billet Road during a February evening. At this Incident nine persons were killed in their houses and a passer-by made the tenth fatal casualty. Over 1O0 other casualties were reported and over 700 houses were damaged, in addition to serious damage to nearby factories. As, in the case of Chingford Road Incident, we had illumination in the early stages from a flaring gas main and this proved exceedingly useful pending the arrival of the military searchlights.
The Rocket crater was on the grass verge and the wide pavement on the south side of Billet Road, with the result that there was little interference with traffic once the Incident had been got under control.
About a week later our worst Rocket fell soon after lunch on the west side of Blackhorse Lane just outside Bawn's Factory. The difficulty of checking-up persons at work was very considerable but, fortunately, we were able to obtain assistance from the Factory, who supplied cards with the names of their various employees. The whole of their office was demolished and all except one of the office staff were killed outright including two of the directors. The total of deaths was 17 and 200 casualties were recorded. The factory was completely put out of action and 12 houses were also wrecked. Over 500 other houses were reported as damaged.
The difficulties of tracing missing persons at this Incident was considerable, and it was not until the early hours of the next morning that we were able to satisfy ourselves that all missing persons had been accounted for either in the mortuary, at hospital, at Rest Centres or in their own homes.
As a contrast the River Lea Marshes received a Rocket which fell some 150 yards south of the L.N.E.R. Railway Bridge near Clapton. There were no casualties and the only damage reported was a couple of windows in the centre of the Town.
Towards the end of February another air burst occurred during the morning. As we had neither damage nor casualties we were unable to account for this being finally allotted to Walthamstow, but were informed by London Region that it had been decided by the R.A.F. Intelligence Division that this burst over Walthamstow. We accepted this allocation with a certain amount of philosophy as some two weeks previously we had received large amounts of materials from a mid-air burst, the burst itself being allocated to Barking although we had most of the stuff.
The junction of Woodford New Road and Grove Road, surrounded by Forest, was the scene of our next Rocket which fell during an afternoon early in March. On that occasion passers-by provided five fatal casualties, the nearest houses being some hundreds of yards away. Bad as was the Incident it might have been worse, for a bus had pulled up only 100 yards short of where the Rocket fell. One casualty was the driver of a lorry from Yarmouth, and another was a soldier from Birmingham who was driving an Army lorry. This type of case, in which casual travellers were killed, always seemed particularly hard luck.
Up to this stage, nine out of our ten A.R.P. Districts had each suffered from one or more of the Rockets, " E" District having fortunately escaped, but at tea-time on a Tuesday in March this immunity was shattered, and " E" District received its first Rocket which fell at the junction of College Road and Grove Road. The crater completely blocked the road and, as the Incident occurred near the boundary with Leyton, Leyton dealt with the houses on their own side of the crater - fortunately none of them was demolished - while we dealt with the demolished houses all of which lay within the Walthamstow boundary. Sixteen houses were wiped out. Included in the killed was a soldier who had called round to one of the houses to say goodbye to some friends before returning to his unit, and among the tragical cases in this Incident was that of an R.A.F. man returning home on leave but who knew nothing of the death of his wife until he actually arrived at the Incident where we were still searching for the body. The total casualty roll was six killed, and (including two who died in hospital), the injured numbered 113.
In some respects this was the most difficult Incident with which we had to deal. Never was so much misinformation given in regard to the whereabouts of missing persons, and it was not until 40 hours later that we had successfully cleared our list of missing persons. (This compared with 14 hours at the High Street Fly Bomb Incident when we had 19 killed and had to clear lists of persons who had been out shopping at the time.)With this Rocket we came to the end of our trials for, during the remaining two months of the war in Europe, we received no more " objects dropped from the air," heard no more barrage and saw no more enemy planes.
In all we had some two score of Fly Bombs and Rockets and although the full story cannot even yet be told " for security reasons," it can be stated that Walthamstow had more than its share of V2s.
|Sept. 44||Farnan Ave. (roadway nr. Town Hall)||L.R.R.|
|Forest Rd. (opp. Lloyd Park)||Fly|
|Oct., 44||Evesham Avenue||L.R.R.|
|M.W B., bank of Warwick Res.||L.R.R.|
|Nov., 44||Oatlands Rise||Fly|
|Dec., 44||Blackhorse Rd. (nr. Courtenay Rd)||L.R.R.|
|Feb., 45||The Forest||L.R.R.|
|Chingford Rd., by Nelson Rd.||L.R.R.|
|Billet Rd., nr. School||L.R.R.|
|Blackhorrre Lane (Bawn's)||L.R.R.|
|Mar., 45||Woodford New Rd., Junc. with Grove Road||L.R.R.|