104 Killed in Kennington Park

Trench-shelter for London Park

Many London Parks had public Trench Shelters designed to accommodate the large number of people who did not have their own garden where they could install an Anderson shelter. The corridors were covered with boards which were then covered with mounds of earth.

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.

See Kennington’s Forgotten Tragedy.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

John Clarke-Irons October 27, 2014 at 11:22 pm

WW ll Kennington Park Tragedy 15 October 1940

This evening (27 October 2014) one of my grandchildren (Emily aged 11) asked me if I knew anything about the Kennington Park tragedy as she was aware that I used to live near there as a boy. To support my story I googled the question so that she had something else to refer to should she want to at a later date. My story is not mine but my mothers (Lily Griggs) and it was related to my brothers and myself on a number of occasions but particularly when we visited the park and it was clear that she had a real sense of loss for the people that died and maybe near loss for herself for the events of that evening. The story is a simple one and by no means unique – my mother was out near the park when the air raid siren sounded and she at first wanted to run for her home at 39 Sharted Street but the shelter was closer and she ran for it but couldn’t gain entry because it was full. Desperate to get shelter she ran home which probably only took six or seven minutes but she said that she never thought she would make it because of the bombs that were dropping around her far too close for comfort. She did eventually make it but we often went into the park and as I remember it there is a large area of grass cordoned off and not available for use out of respect for the human remains that lay beneath. She recalled that she had not heard of a disaster as bad as this during the war to affect so many civilians.
As a small boy I often played in and around the many bomb sites in the area and also in the park, to us they were interesting and safe places to be but we were far to young (I was born in 1946) to know of their relevance and history. It is not lost on my granddaughter that she would not be here today had my mother been a victim of the disaster and she knows how very fortunate she and our family are. I am recording this little story simply because over the years it has been told many times and it is time for the new generation to pass it on.
John clarke-irons

Andy Saunders April 16, 2012 at 1:59 pm

I am writing an article for a magazine about this tragedy and would be pleased to hear urgently from relatives of any casualties! If you are reading this, please get in touch.

Andy Saunders

jimmy butler February 17, 2012 at 4:11 pm

hi my aunt from delaune street kennington recently brought me to see the shelter site in the park …my thoughts and prayers are with those who lost their lives j butler ..tipperary .ireland 17/02/2012

maureen smith October 13, 2011 at 8:29 am

My Grandmother Matilda Alice Smith was a victim & does not appear on the list, she was my Dad’s mum, as my dad had passed away when the memorial was erected I took my mum to the opening ceremony of the memorial. I have tried to get her name put on the list, we know she was in there as my mum & dad saw her on that night, in fact my parents were going down the same shelter but changed their minds.

Yvonne Finnen November 21, 2010 at 2:49 pm

To whom it may concern, I have been informed that 8 members of my family were killed in this tragedy and there names do not appear on this list of casualties. Please can you provide me with more information of where I can obtain more details, sadly key members of my family have now passed on and it is not possible to get any further information from them. I know that it is my families dearest wish to locate their final resting place and it would be nice to put down some flowers as an act of rememberance.

I would be most greateful for any information you could supply, kindest regards
Yvonne Finnen Grand daughter of Frederick Webb

Virginia Tym October 17, 2010 at 10:10 am

Thank you for featuring ‘Kennington’s Forgotten Tragedy’ on your superb web site.

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