Terror from the Skys in the 20th Century


When tracing Family Stories for clients, very often we turn up examples of civilian suffering from the two world wars, and it is surprising how close so many families came to not existing many more due to enemy action.  Here are a few excerpts from the various stories we have uncovered for clients.

The Great War

The Great War as WW1 was known at the time, was the first war that posed the threat ofZeppelinsDocks attack from the air to London. Although aerial attack is generally thought of as happening to the Docklands in WW2, Britain had to suffer it in WW1.

The Kaiser had initially forbidden raids on London and on any Historic Buildings generally, but in 1915 gave clearance for bombing of the London Docks by Zeppelins. These raids were generally ineffective, few getting through mainly due to adverse weather conditions. One night raid on the 7th/8th of September did manage to drop over a hundred bombs in a line across the East End causing damage and widespread fear, although without major loss of life.

By 1917 tactics changed, and the Germans started to use fixed wing aircraft as Bombers rat1917gothabomberher than the less reliable Zeppelins. In June 1917 twenty Gotha Bombers took off from an airfield in Belgium, to mount a strategic raid on London. After an initial attack on Margate and Shoeburyness, the formation headed up the Thames. The noise of the bombers flying in formation drove the curious to watch them pass over, thinking they were British Aircraft. By the time they reached the East End, they saw bombs were raining down on Barking, and East Ham, the explosions tracing a line to Poplar.

1917uppernorthstreetschoolA set of bombs made a direct hit on Upper North Street Primary School in Poplar. One or two 110lb high explosive bombs passed straight through the roof of the school, smashed through the Girls’ classroom on the top floor killing two children by their impact, then continuing straight through the Boys’ classroom, throwing some of the boys through the floor and into the ground floor classroom where the Bombs exploded in the Infants classroom. Sixteen infants aged between four and six years old were killed in the explosion, more than thirty children were injured, some losing limbs

The German bombers carried on to bomb Liverpool Street Station and by 12 noon had crossed the City as far as Regents Park. By the time they headed back for the coast, over five hundred Londoners were killed or injured. Despite some anti-aircraft fire and the scrambling of home defence formations of the Royal Flying Corps, the bombers were not intercepted, and made it back to Belgium without any losses.

On his return the leader of the raid, Hauptman Ernst Brandenburg, was summoned to Berlin by the Kaiser where he was awarded the highest honour for bravery.

Back in Poplar on 20th June 1917 the whole Poplar neighbourhood turned out to pay their respects at the funeral procession of the Poplar children from Upper North Street Primary School. There is little doubt that the Harrigans were in this crowd. The children were buried in the East London Cemetery, and the service took place in the Harrigan’s local C of E Parish Church of All Saints. It was the biggest public funeral for common people ever to take place in the area.

1917funeralroute

The daylight bombers were to return to London on Saturday 7 July 1917, and other bombing raids would take place during WW1, but none as murderous as that on 13th June 1917.

Outside of London

The rest of Britain was not exempt from raids; on 25th September 1916 the Zeppelin L21zeppelindamage off course and looking for a target, saw the industrial fires and chimneys of the Mills and Factories at Bolton. It flew a double loop over the town dropping 25 bombs and killing 13 civilians in residential streets, only causing minor damage to industry and infrastructure. It then flew back to Germany.

There was no panic in Bolton, there was anger and surprise. Two months later L21 was back on a return raid to the Midlands, this time bombing Chesterfield.  This time the raider was intercepted by three RAF fighters flown by Egbert Cadbury, E.L.Pulling, and W.R.Gaynor, who engaged the Zeppelin emptying four drums of ammunition into her, including phosphorous incendiary rounds.  L21 exploded and fell from the sky into the sea ten miles off of Lowestoft, there were no survivors. A triumphant cheer went up in Bolton, no more civilians would be killed in the night by that particular murderous craft.

L21down

World War Two; The Blitz

London South of The River; Bermondsey

By the outbreak of the Second World War, many children had been evacuated from the most vulnerable parts of East and South East London, those parts near the docks, and around major road and rail links. But for the adults left at home, there was also a share of danger once the Germans started bombing London. One account from an eyewitness describes a raid on the actual streets in Bermondsey in 1940 where part of my own Family lived:

“Saturday from 4.30 was a day of terror, I was collecting in Neptune St when the sirens went, and as the planes were overhead in scores I picked up Mrs Rouse’s boy, and she and the baby and went to the Shelter in the Town Hall. We only just got in when Jerry released his bombs where we were standing and demolished Mrs Rouses house plus eight others. What a shock! Well most of the people in this dugout are now homeless as the bombing was unmerciful and hardly a place within a ¼ mile around escaped, except the Town Hall, he started a fire here which I expect you could see in Dormans [our evacuation venue 30 miles away] the all clear went at 6.45 and I was so shaken by the experience, and the screaming women and children, in the dugout that I packed up and made my way home, but most of the roads were roped off, and so I had to go half way round London to get to Canal Bridge, however I thought I would give a call in home before going to Brockley, and got a shock to see Credon Road no 51, 53, 55 got hit, and the next fell in Varco Rd, right opposite the end house; two people killed in this house. Mum and Dad [who lived at number 59] had a shaking up.

The worst part came at night. I had just left for home and got to Canal Bridge when the sirens started, I ran for a dugout in Peckham Park Rd and the experience all South London had to suffer was more than one could go through more than once. We had bombs dropping every five minutes, and I should say there are marks of the raid in nearly every road in SE London, at home they had another on drop at the entrance of the church in Verney Rd, Ilderton Rd every shop has been hit, all Rotherhithe New Road there are hundreds of people killed or injured, when the all clear sounded at five o’clock I had to walk home, and about every hundred yards along the Old Kent Road had been bombed, so you can imagine my feeling as what to expect in Brockley. The first signs came when reaching St Katherine’s [St Catherine’s church Hatcham in Pepys Road SE14] our church got two bombs and is a wreck, Vesta Rd two houses and a number of incendiary bombs, in Drakefell Road, St Asaph Road, Avignon Road etc., one dropped outside the Patton’s but was a dud, what luck!

Well my dear it has given us all a good shaking and are dreading tonight. I can now understand why the government wanted to keep the children away, and am pleased you and Francis have not had to face our terror.”

The map below shows just how close the bombs fell to my relations in Verney Road. The Germans were trying to destroy the network of Canals, Docks, Railway Lines, and Gasworks that clustered in Bermondsey, but to the ffamily it would have felt more personal than that.
bombingcrop

As the water table was so high in the Bermondsey area, there were very few deep shelters around, so the family would have had to have taken cover as best they could in any local shelters, crossed their fingers for luck, and hoped that the bombers didn’t get a direct hit on them.

The picture below of a German bomber over South East London, shows a Bomber’s view of the area, the area on the bomb map above is just little below the tail of the plane in the picture below, where you can see the railway crossing the canal (black vertical line crossing a white horizontal line) the Gasworks can be seen to the south, the complex railway junctions between Bermondsey, and The Bricklayers’ Arms Goods Depot, as well as the long straight line of the Surrey Canal and Surrey Docks separating the Gasworks from the streets to the north of it.  Poplar is the land in the loop of the river to the right.

germanbomber

London, North of The River; Poplar

The people of Poplar had suffered many miseries from the turn of the twentieth century through the Air raids of WW1, Strikes that meant starvation rations and occupation of the docks by the military in the 1920s, a devastating flood that forced people out of their homes, and the unemployment of the depression in the 1930s, but the 1940s and WW2 would prove to be more fearful times. The Docklands were bombed remorselessly by the Germans during 1940 and 1941.

1940docksburning

From 7th September 1940 London was systematically bombed by the German Luftwaffe for 56 out of the next 57 days, with the 15th September marking the height of the daylight raids. Because of the failure to break the will of the people of London whilst receiving heavy casualties amongst German Pilots from British fighter squadrons during this time of the Battle of Britain, the Germans switched to night-time for most of their raids after the summer of 1940. On the night of 29th December 1940 the Luftwaffe dropped 10,000 fire bombs on London at a rate of 300 per minute, or 5 per second. During the Blitz 28,556 Londoners were killed, and 25,578 were wounded. The bombs that killed the children in WW1 at Upper North Street Primary School weighed 110lbs, the Germans were now dropping bombs that weighed up to 5,500lbs on London in an attempt to level whole streets full of women and children.

The bombing never completely went away, and in 1944 a new terror weapon was unleashed, the V1 Rocket carrying over 2,000lbs of explosives, called a Doodle-Bug or Buzz-bomb by Londoners. People would speak of a “throbbing, droning sound” of the V1 engine, before something looking like a small aircraft with a flame coming out of the back of it, would appear in the sky. Londoners soon learned that as long as you could hear the engine there was no danger, but once the engine cut, the Doodle-bug would plummet to the ground and explode, the best thing was to walk away from the direction of flight of the Doodle-bug, and then hit the deck when the engine cut out. The V1 proved to be inaccurate, and many were either shot down, or “toppled” by fighters flying alongside and flipping them over with their wing tips to disable their internal gyroscopic guidance system forcing them to crash into the fields of Kent and Essex (see picture). 1944V1By August 1944 80% of all V1s launched were being downed by British defences before hitting their targets. By December 1944 allied advances had overrun the nearest continental launch sites of the V1s and attacks reduced dramatically.
Undeterred the Germans next attacked with their V2 Rocket between 1944 and 1945, 1944V12sending over a total of 1,358 to fall on London, like the V1 each one of these carried over 2,000lbs of explosives. Many people believed that these were worse than the V1 as they gave no warning being a rocket that flew at supersonic speeds and against which there was no effective defence, and the only effective way of countering them was to bomb their launch sites, and ultimately shut down production by winning the war.

 

Children were evacuated for at least some of the War, but the adults were forced to put up with the terror from the skies,  Londoners stood up to it, and pulled through, despite the horrors they had witnessed.  London’s morale was never broken.

The Moral of the Story

All good stories have a Moral.  Tracing Family Trees and writing up deep and complex Family Stories for our clients, brings out starkly the tenuous luck that has brought all of us into being on this Earth today.  One bomb falling a little to the left or right, one minute delay in getting to a shelter, and a whole Family’s story could have ceased to exist in a blast of high explosives, and many did.  We should each thank our lucky stars for all of us for getting here today.

If you would like your Family Tree researched, and your unique in depth Family Story Published, please contact paulmcneil@timedetectives.co.uk .

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Danny Dyer’s Family Tree Part 3: An Age of Steam


Following me Father’s footsteps, I’m following me dear old Dad…

millwalldocksOf the nine children born to Edward and Mary Dyer over twenty years between 1812 and 1832 only two were boys, both called Edward, and only Edward William, the second boy survived childhood.  Edward William (Danny Dyers’s Great Great Great Grandfather) was born in 1823, when old London Bridge was still standing, and a Waterman could still make a decent living ferry people through the tidal race of its narrow arches.  Unsurprisingly, to paraphrase the song by the cross dressing Victorian music hall songstress Vesta Tilley,  “…he was following in his Father’s foot steps, he followed his dear old Dad”, and indeed he did, he was apprenticed as a Waterman to his Father as a boy, but by early adulthood Edward William had realised that the pickings from this trade would be slim, London Bridge was now easily passable for the smaller steam boats coming up the Thames, and quays were being built out into the stream to allow people to be easily put ashore without the need for Watermen to get them there.Lancashire_boiler-Marsden copy

So Edward William decided that if you can’t beat ’em, you have to join ’em, and moved into an up and coming industry in the ship yards of Poplar as a Boiler Maker.  Boiler making was basic riveting and metal bashing to make the boilers that powered every steam ship on the river, and that carried Great Britain’s trade across the world.  The work was in high demand and ranged from unskilled metal bashing, to semi-skilled riveting.  No strangers to muscular work, Watermen with broad backs and strong arms, and contacts in the Docks found it easy to move from their whereas to take up the hammers in the ship yards to turn metal into works of steam combustion, and the wages were steady, men knew what they would take home, when they would clock on and when they would clock off, they had turned from self employed water taxis to wage earning, industrial artisans.  Boilermakers were skilled, and compared to many of the trades in the Docks, could be creative, and offered an element of autonomy in their work outside of simple muscle power.  The other interesting point is that Edward William moved into this trade immediately after the aptly named, Commercial, or London and Blackwell Railway, was built linking Blackwell and Limehouse to Fenchurch St station.  As we shall see, this pattern of docks and new railways would be a pattern of employment criteria for Edward William for many years.

London was booming, there was work for any able bodied man or woman, or child, who wanted it, provided they would work for fairly low wages.  To this magnet for the poorly off flocked labourers and servants from all over the country, and in the late 1840s whilst labouring in the Docks Edward William met Jane Maria Sparks, a Labourer’s daughter from Cosham near Portsmouth.  Jane Maria had left home to find work in London, and had instead found Edward William, strong, self assured and muscular, a man who’s family had lived in Poplar for more than a hundred years, well known in the area, he was not getting any younger at twenty seven, and liked the look of the fresh faced country girl, of seventeen, so much so that by 1850 she was pregnant, with his first son Edward Thomas James Dyer, but the Boiler maker did the right thing, and married Jane Maria at Christ Church on a sunny day 30th June 1850.

Life was hard in the Docks, but skilled men could still make a good living if they were prepared to travel to the bigger opportunities taking their in demand skills with them, and Edward William with his small family of Jane Maria and their son Edward Thomas James in tow would do just that.  Opportunity first called in Folkestone Kent in the early 1850s, wfolkestone swingbridge1851_edited-1hich had
grown on the back of railways and cross channel travel in steamships, followed by Portsea in 1852 at the burgeoning
Royal Dockyards of Portsmouth, where Jane Maria’s Father worked, and here the couple would have their second son Alfred William.

After Portsea, the Family travelled to Lowestoft in Suffolk in the mid-1850s (pictured below), where ship building and engineering works were booming, once again due to the coming of the railways which had boosted fishing and steamship shipbuilding, very similar to the activity at Folkestone, and given that the railways at both Folkestone and Lowestoft were developed by Sir Samuel Morton Peto, it could be that Edward William was contracted to one of Sir Samuel’s companies, travelling to where need was greatest for boilermakers to work on steam trains and steam ships.

The Family’s stay in Lowestoft was mixed, work was good, and Edward William was in a good place career wise, but in 1856 and 18reid_lowestoft_80058 they would lose two of their children; Esther Maria, who was less than a year old, and Alfred William at six years old.  After the deaths of the children, the Dyers were no doubt happy to put Lowestoft behind them, but reluctant to have to leave their two children in the graveyard at Mutford, but life must go on, and they were back in Poplar in 1859, but within a year, Edward William takes the family to Minster next to Sheerness, a Royal Naval Dockyard on the Isle of Sheppey in the Thames Estuary.  This was the same year that the Railway arrived in Sheppey, so Edward William was once again specialising in working at ports that were being connected to the Railway System.  Leaving Lowestoft obviously helped the family, as from then on no more children died in childhood.Sheerness1850

By 1864 Edward William has moved the family back to London, to Limehouse, where he was working in the docks as plater and Iron Worker building iron Ships.  This was a step down in status from a boiler maker, and more likely related to riveting on large ship builds, rather than the more skilled work he had done previously.  But the family thrived, they would have another seven children in Poplar in the 1860s and 1870s.  Edward William at 48 and his eldest son Edward Thomas became unemployed Iron Shipbuilders in 1871, and would need to work through hard times outside of the family’s control,  The world economy started to go into a long depression caused by speculation in Germany and Austria on the back of massive over ambitious speculation sparked by Germany’s convincing win over France in the Franco-Prussian War, investment poured in and was lost through over-ambition, greed, and fraud, having a knock on effect to economies across the world.  At the same time that this was happening shipbuilding had started to move from Iron to Steel ships, making it harder for skilled muscle power to compete with machine tools, and there had also been a swing in the concentration of shipbuilding from the Thames to Scotland and the North East of England, where there was easier access to coal fields and iron mines to produce steel nearer to shipyards.ThamesIronworks

But life is strange, and when Edward William does find work again it is back in his old skilled trade as a boiler maker, and for the next twenty years Edward William would variously work as a boiler maker, a plater, labourer, and iron ship builder, always in the Docks of Poplar, and turning his hand to whatever paid for the burgeoning family.  edward would continue working in the Docks well into his 60s, and would die in 1896 at the age of 73, his wife Jane Maria would outlive him by 9 years, also dining at 73 years of age in 1905.  Both died in Poplar, surrounded by their extended family.

(If you would like your Family tree uncovered, it costs from £300 to £600 for a full surname line, and makes for a great present, you can contact me on paulmcneil@timedetectives.co.uk )

Danny Baker’s Family History, the Riddle of Windsor Riches to Poplar Rags


To mark the upcoming series about Danny Baker’s early family life, thought I’d reissue my blog about his, maybe surprising, Ancestry:

When I first looked at Danny Baker’s Family Tree, many years ago in 2005, Danny was overjoyed to learn that none of his ancestors were Royalty, he said on his morning radio Show:

windsorcastlered“Oh Paul McNeil! Thank you so much for this!  I’ve always wondered about this sort of thing and now I can see that there is not one drop of Royal Blood anywhere in my tree!”

And although he was right, some additional recent digging has turned up a Royal connection, albeit in the Royal Beer and Wine Cellars!

The origins of the Baker name are self explanatory, and originate from the Middle Ages when surnames were first legally required for purposes of identification for taxation, the baker in the village would have been given the surname “Baker” if he didn’t already have one of his own, by the local Lord’s Bailiff or Bailey (and hence the surname Bailey).  From then on the name would have stuck although the trade may have changed.

Keeping the Royal Family Drunk

Danny Baker’s Story starts in modern times, in the 1790s, with Charles John Baker, was born.  He started his working life in Windsor Castle in the 1820s as a Groom in the Royal Beer and Wine Cellars.  He worked well and rose to 2nd Yeoman of Her Majesty’s Cellar in the 1830s.  By the standards of the day these were well paid appointments.  He would have had some responsibility for Wine and Beer ordering stock to keep availability at the right level for the Royal Family and Royal entertaining. Unfortunately for Charles his wife died in 1837, and he followed three months later in 1838.  This left their two sons Charles John and Robert William as orphans at the tender ages of nine and six respectively.  However all was not lost as the Royal Family looked after their own, and the two boys each received £15 per annum to pay for their upkeep.  To put this into perspective, a Farm Labourer at the time may have earned £20-£30 per annum.  The boys most likely stayed with a lucky relative, until Charles’s death in 1840, and until Robert William was twelve in 1845, when the Royal allowance stopped and he was able to get an apprenticeship, most likely with Royal Patronage, as a Chemist, a well paid and highly respected trade.

Posh Chemist

Robert Wilchemistliam moved to London to take up his trade, with a Scotsman, Robert Watson, in Hanover Square, Westminster, a prestigious Middle Class area. He was to continue in this trade for the rest of his life, over 50 years, as a Chemist and Druggist.  He brought great stability to his Family living for over 30 years in Princes Road Kensington, where he raised eight children with his wife Ann (a local girl). He lived to his 60s and left £279 to his wife, the equivalent of about £30,000 in modern purchasing power.

Tin Cans

His eldest son, also called Robert William, failed to follow his father into the Chemist’s trade, instead he was apprenticed to a Lamp Maker, making Tin Signal Lamps, most likely for the railways, a much less prestigious trade than his Father’s.  This may show some form of family split, as Robert William is soon living away from the upmarket surroundings of Kensington, in the working class East End in Bow and Poplar, not only that but by his early twenties he is living, apparently unmarried, with Maria Clark, a country girl from Salisbury in Wiltshire, who had moved to London. The couple have severn children in the 12 years between 1877 and 1889, five boys and three girls.  During that time Robert William moved from making signal Lamps for the Railways, to working as a Journeyman Tinsmith in a preserved food factory, i.e. making Tins for canned food, actually a new technology at the time, so not a bad trade for a working class man, but an extreme step down in a single generation, from his Father and Grand Father’s positions in society.

The move to the East end was a bad one for Robert William, and living where he did in the East End, down by the docks, was even worse, as shown in the same year that his youngest son is born, Robert William contracts Typhoid and is dead within two weeks on Christmas Eve 1889, leaving his wife Maria to fend for her seven children on her own from Christmas Day.

Ma Baker

Maria would fight to keep body and soul together for ten years, working as a Housekeeper, and quite possibly running a shop as the boys are recorded as working as shop boys and errand boys from an early age.  Between 1891-1901 the family lived in exactly the same area of Poplar, in Claremont Terrace and Alpha Road.  This area was slowly improving through the 1890s especially around Alpha Road.  The Booth inspectors described Alpha Road as being comfortable looking with neat gardens inhabited by Dock Foremen and permanent hands.

In 1899 Maria finds some love in her life when she met and married a Swedish Seaman, Carl Oscar Blom, living in the local Scandinavian Seaman’s Hostel in Poplar by the Docks.  It gave her some short lived solace, but tragically within two years, Carl had died on his travels, in Plymouth Workhouse Infirmary. It is possible that Maria never hears what happened to him, simply never sees him again.

Popular in Poplar

But life must go onlimehouse, The family become an institution in the Poplar Docklands, Dockers, Blacksmith’s Strikers, Chemical Works Stokers, Barman, Pawn Brokers Assistant, and a Wood Merchant’s Clerk.  Maria herself would survive until 1930 seeing in her mid-seventies.

Danny Baker’s line came from Maria’s son Thomas, Shop Boy, Barman, and then a Dock Labourer right up to 1950.

Oh what a lovely War!

However, prior to this there was The Great War.  The Bakers attempted to do their bit, Thomas served in the Royal Army Medical Corps, and his younger brother Arthur in the Bedfordshire Regiment, fortunately for the two of them, they got shipped separately to India, which compared to the Western Front or the Dardanelles was a cushy posting, months on a ship sailing through the Mediterranean and the Tropics, then a bullet free existence in the Raj.  It was about time the Bakers got a lucky break, and the First World War was certainly the time to get one.  Their time in uniform was uneventful, but there is an interesting glimpse of some foibles in the Army medical records, both had varicose veins (possibly a family trait, so watch your legs Danny) in addition Thomas had very poor eyesight and a large hairy mole on the back of his upper left arm!

Once back home, life for Thomas was back to normal, and back to the Docks, right up until 1950.  Danny’s father would follow his father Thomas into the same trade.

 Like what you’ve read?  If you’d like a Time Detectives Family Tree drop Time Detectives an email on paulmcneil@timedetectives.co.uk they cost £300 – £600 and make a great present.
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