The bomb that wrecked Walthamstow

A V1 flying bomb, like the one which devastated Walthamstow in 1944, on display at Imperial War Museum
A V1 flying bomb, like the one which devastated Walthamstow in 1944, on display at Imperial War Museum (Credit Peter Trimming/Wikicommons)

Remembering the ‘flying bomb’ that caused devastation to Hoe Street 75 years ago this month

On the morning of Wednesday 16th August 1944, hundreds of people in Walthamstow town centre became victims of the worst single bomb attack their community had ever seen.

At the corner of Hoe Street and Church Hill, the site today of Central Parade was then occupied by Hitchman’s Dairies and Livermore Brothers. Shortly before 10am these shops were hit directly by a V1 bomb; killing 22 people, injuring 144, and destroying dozens of buildings and homes on impact.

Nicknamed ‘buzz bombs’, ‘doodlebugs’ and ‘flying bombs’ by the British people, the V1 was a German-made pilotless rocket which could be launched from continental Europe and fly over the English Channel at speeds of 350mph. First launched in June 1944, the bombs had a blast radius of up to 550 metres and in less than three months they killed 22,892 people. This was a similar rate of casualties as during the year-long Blitz from earlier in the war.

The V1 made a buzzing sound when flying overhead but the danger came when the buzzing stopped – it meant the engine had cut out and the bomb was falling. Although people were “advised to disperse when the imminent danger warning was given”, according to a report in the Walthamstow Guardian many instead took shelter in a nearby garage entrance and were found seven hours later under a pile of debris.

Walthamstow Guardian stated that the blast damaged the roof and foyer of the nearby Granada Cinema and weakened the spire of Marsh Street Congregational Church – which was later demolished. It reported on a four-hour rescue of a trapped 14-year-old boy: “Edwin kept cheerful throughout the efforts of digging squads to release him as he lay pinned under debris.” Edwin was eventually freed without serious injury.

The bomb blast also wrecked a bus, killing the driver and injuring many passengers. A man who went to help a trapped and injured bus conductor, however, said she “refused help and later went unaided for treatment”.

Among others who were injured were Mrs G Ratnage, secretary of the local chamber of commerce, and Mr E Barry, manager of a tailors and the secretary of the local Women’s Voluntary Services commandment.

Having worked throughout the night, it was not until 7am the next morning that emergency services recovered the last body from the site of the V1 bomb blast. The victim was a cleaner, found under debris at the back of an office building in Church Hill.

In total during the Second World War, Walthamstow suffered 776 bombings and 1,449 air raid warnings. At the height of the V1 bombing campaign in summer 1944, a hundred bombs were falling on London every hour – at all times of day. Walthamstow Guardian stated: “Seventeen flying bombs killed 38 people and six more died in hospital from their injuries. Exactly half of these were caused by one incident, that at the Hoe Street junction.”

After the debris from buildings destroyed in the blast was cleared, the site of the bomb and its surrounding area remained empty for years. It was not until the late 1950s that this part of Walthamstow town centre began to be redeveloped, with Central Parade and its distinctive clock tower built on one side of Hoe Street and Arcade Shopping Centre – now itself demolished and replaced with The Scene – on the other. Today a remembrance plaque on the wall of bakery Today Bread marks the spot where the V1 bomb fell 75 years ago this month.

The site of the bomb V1 bomb blast in Walthamstow, prior to the construction of Central Parade
The site of the V1 bomb blast in Walthamstow, prior to the construction of Central Parade