Trench Shelters were a relatively economical and quickly produced means of providing Air Raid shelters for large numbers of people. Unfortunately the ‘ladder design’ of intercommunicating trenches meant they were very vulnerable to bombs landing nearby, which could cause whole trenches to collapse, instantly burying their occupants.
On the evening of 15th October a bomb fell on the Trench Shelter in Kennington Park, Lambeth, south London. The district Air Raid Precautions log for that evening and the following day gives some indication of the difficulties faced by the authorities in dealing with the disaster, even as more bombs fell into the Park:
Tuesday 15th October 1940…
20.05 Express report – casualties at Kennington Park trenches.
20.16 Please send medical aid for casualties in Kennington Park surface shelter.
20.20 Send doctor to Kennington Park trenches. Dr Wilson sent.
20.25 More ambulances wanted. Men with spades. Trenches collapsed.
20.41 Take spades. People buried.
21.16 1 section of trench completely collapsed. 20 casualties out.
21.25 1 ambulance to Oval tube for Kennington trenches.
Wednesday 16th October 1940…
01.25 Estimated at least another 100 under wreckage. 2 dead so far recovered. Estimated it will take a considerable time to clear debris and secure those trapped. Public in remaining portion of trenches fairly calm. 2 further 50lb bombs fallen in park. No casualties.
03.21 Rescue workers have left trenches. They report that nothing further can be done until 06.30 hours when they will return. They also state that everyone remaining in bombed trenches is dead. Police have taken charge of the park and closed entrances.
05.01 Arrived at incident but after surveying the situation gave it up as hopeless until daylight. One man has since been rescued by wardens and police and taken to hospital in police van. All services have returned to depot.
07.00 100 shrouds requested.
08.03 Big lorry wanted to remove bodies.
15.15 Company of guards have now arrived to assist in the digging out of those trapped.
15.15 Position at present: approximately 35 minor casualties got out last night. 20 serious ambulance cases. Today 23 have been brought out. All dead. Remainder trapped – must be assumed as such.
17.22 We are still waiting for van to take bodies to the mortuaries.
No records were kept of the numbers entering large public shelters such as these, it would have hardly have been practicable to do so. But when disaster struck it was impossible to know how many casualties the authorities were dealing with.
Many of the bodies in Kennington Park were blown apart and most were buried. Eventually 48 bodies out of the estimated 104 fatalities were recovered. The balance remain under the grass of Kennington Park to this day.