V2 rockets bring sudden death to London

The mobile launchers for the V2 were extremely hard to track down - and would continue firing to the end of the war.
The mobile launchers for the V2 were extremely hard to track down – and would continue firing to the end of the war.

The German V2 rocket programme continued, with most rockets aimed at either Antwerp or London. The 4th January was a particularly bad day for casualties in London, with a number of rockets falling in heavily populated areas.

Fifteen V2 rockets are known to have been fired at England on 4th January 1945. They were all aimed at London but fell over a wide area from Hertfordshire in the north-west to Essex in the north-east and Surrey in the south. Several exploded prematurely in the air or fell in open countryside causing no casualties, but five fell within London causing fatalities. The worst incidents were in West Ham, (14 Dead, 30 seriously injured), Dalston (15 dead, 27 seriously injured) and Lambeth (43 dead, 26 seriously injured). V2.com has a comprehensive list compiled by a team of international researchers.

There was no warning, no sirens or even the sound of an approaching rocket. The sound of the rocket exploding was the first thing that survivors heard, then the sound of the sonic boom of the rocket, travelling faster than the speed of sound – and sometimes the brief roar of the rocket itself as it hurtled to earth caught up with it.

The aftermath of the rocket that hit Dalston Library on 4th January 1945.
The aftermath of the rocket that hit Dalston Library on 4th January 1945.

Minnie Rapson was a young mother in Dalston, London Borough of Hackney, north east London:

In January 1945 I was nursing my by-now four–month-old son by the fire when I suddenly felt a terrible crunch as if the walls had caved in.

The fireplace poured with soot all over us and for a time I could not get myself together. Then baby screamed and holding him tight I staggered dazed to the door. Passersby were as dazed as I was, and some of them were badly cut.

Help came from some American soldiers, who soon got busy helping us all. Then we realised what had happened. A V2 rocket had demolished our library in Forest Road, burying many people mostly children, who at four o’clock came out of Holy Trinity School and went to change their books.

There was a paper shop on the corner of Woodland Street, owned by Mr and Mrs Feather. Mrs Feather was killed – it was heartbreaking. Many of the children we knew so well were also killed.

All that sad night we could hear the rescue work going on and the ambulances coming and going. Holy Trinity Church became a mortuary.

To add to the misery it was snowing and bitterly cold. We laid down on our bed that cruel night: we had no roof and no windows but when we thought of the tragedy around the corner we knew how fortunate we were, because one of those poor children could have been my son who might have changed his library book that very time.

See Silent Cacaphoney, and also a subsequent newspaper article.

The site of the V2 rocket explosion which demolished Lambeth Public baths.
The site of the V2 rocket explosion which demolished Lambeth Public Baths.

Six year old Diane Hazelwood in Lambeth, south London, had a narrow escape. This was one of the worst V2 incidents in London, demolishing a block of flats and killing 47 people:

By the time the doodle bugs and rockets started, I suppose I was beginning to understand wartime.

My youngest brother John had gone off to the D-Day landings 8th June 1944, with the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders, and been killed on 19th June 1944. He was only 19 years old. He is buried at Banneville-La-Campagne cemetery just outside Caen, France. I loved John dearly, he had been on a short leave before going away and he couldn’t wait to go; I said goodbye before going to school and still remember the horrid feeling I had that day that I would never see him again. Can you feel that at 6 years old? well, I did and I can remember the empty feeling in my stomach when the telegram came and Mum just stood looking out of the kitchen window. I knew what it was and I ran to get a neighbour to take care of her, I’d never saw her cry before (or since) and God knows she had a lot to cry about.

I suppose the incident that really topped the lot was 4 January 1945 when the Lambeth Baths received a direct hit from a V2 rocket; 37 people were killed. Amazingly enough our little back room was not damaged at all but the white tiled wall adjoining it in the square of the flats was leaning at a very peculiar angle. I’d been in bed, was awoken by my Aunt Kit and Mum lifting me out very gingerly because once again the windows had blown in and my bed was full of broken glass! I was cut on the face etc and got taken to relatives along the Kennington Road for the rest of the night.

The wall eventually collapsed at about 4 o’clock in the morning. I can remember my sister Betty arriving in a near state of collapse, she had been to the Regal Cinema in Kennington Road and on hearing that the flats and baths had ‘caught it’ she had run all the way home, scared to death; I can remember her hugging me so hard that I couldn’t breathe. The Lambeth Baths were no more but the room was still used. That night also saw the end of the Ideal Methodist Mission where I had received many little wartime parcels from America.

See BBC People’s War for the full story.

The remains of Surrey Lodge, an apartment building destroyed by a V2 rocket on 4 January 1945, .
The remains of Surrey Lodge, an apartment building on the other side of the road from Lambeth Baths destroyed by a V2 rocket on 4 January 1945. The photograph was apparently taken on the following day and graphically shows how a 5 storey building was reduced to rubble.
A police officer examines the remains of a V2 that hit London in September 1944.
A police officer examines the remains of a V2 that hit London in September 1944.

7 thoughts on “V2 rockets bring sudden death to London”

  1. dear sir’
    please would it be possible to obtain a copy of the V2 bombing in West ham E15 as it was where i was born and photo of the Lord Geoff public house in West ham 1945.

  2. My father and aunt (Fred and Betty Pope (now Bagley) lived in Holly Street at the time. I remenber my father (who died in 2015) telling me about the bomb – he was a 14 year old working as a runner on a Fleet St paper and heard the news on the wire – when he got home he found it wasn’t there and his family were missing. His mother had been trapped under a blown in door and rescued and taken to hospital – it was some days I think before he found her.

    I asked my auntfor her mempries and this is what she told me:-

    ” I loved that church and wouldn’t miss going to Sunday School. Holly Street was a very long street going from Dalston Lane in one direction and I think in the other direction to Queensbridge Road which then went into Kingsland Road by the Met Hospital. Keeping in mind I was only five and three quarters of age when the V2 rocket hit the library.

    Every day when I came home from school, Gayhurst Road, I went to the library on my own to get books. I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t know how to read! Mum had bought a second hand tricycle from her sister for 2 pounds and painted it a terrible green colour but it was the only paint she had. I loved riding that trike on the pavement by our house from Richmond Road to Forest Road. Pamela Orbes who lived around the corner in Forest Road came down and rode her trike with me. We would ride side by side on the pavement. Without warning, the V2 rocket hit the library and blew us both off our trikes and the air was thick with black smoke. She ran home to her mum and told me to look after her trike and make sure no one pinched it. So, I got back on my trike and pulled hers close to me and put my right hand on the handbars so no one would take it. Next thing, my dad’s sister, Daisy and dad’s brother’s wife, Ethel, came and took me to our grandparents’ house in Englefield Road. Mum was taken away in an ambulance to the hospital as the glass door in the kitchen blew in from the impact and she was badly cut. We stayed at our grandparents’ house for a few days until we moved into upstairs rooms in Richmond Road (number 27) where the roof leaked every time it rained. After that, we moved to the huts in Eleanor Road, number 24. So many memories of those days especially in the huts. There was a bombed out school in Eleanor Road and all the people scavenged it by digging up the floors and taking the wood blocks to burn to keep us warm. 1947 was a severe winter living in the huts. In May 1948, we moved to Elderfield Road where I stayed until I came over here.

    Gayhurst Road Primary School received some bomb damage and I went to Holy Trinity School until Gayhurst reopened. The school was overcrowded and I was one of the students who went with the teacher and a few others for lessons in the front room of a private house in Forest Road. At Gayhurst Road, I remember when the air raid warning went and we had to go to the sub-basement assembly hall and wait for the all-clear signal so that we could return to our classrooms. There used to be big windows but they were all bricked in.

    Yes, your dad was good friends with Fred Peacock who was the vicar at the Wesleyan Mission. In fact, I think he married your parents but at St. Mark’s Church in Shacklewell Lane, Dalston. Date was April 3, 1954!
    My mum always said that the tricycle she bought from her sister for two pounds was the best money she had ever spent as otherwise I’d have been in the library instead of riding the tricycle on the pavement with Pamela Orbes.

  3. I attended Holy Trinity School in Dalston. I usually met my Mum at the Library when she came home from work. On this particular day 4th January 1945, I went with my friend, Teddy Gore, and his mother to Ridley Road market. We were walking up Richmond Road hill, when there was an almighty bang, and stones fell from the buildings, particularly from the Dalston Methodist Mission. It just seemed to me like the sound of someone beating a carpet on a washing line.but louder, of course. Mrs. Gore got hold of Teddy and said “My baby, my baby”

    A little later, my Mum, on a bus coming home from work was told that a rocket had fallen on Dalston Library. That is where she usually met me. She did find me later, but my grandmother, who lived in Holly Street, was missing. We eventually found her in the Metropolitan Hospital in Kingsland Road. She had been washing the floor under a table and this saved her.

    As I grew up, living in Dalston, I knew families who had lost children or relatives.
    I believe that the wife of the Methodist Minister Fred Peacock was killed there. She was only about 23. Her parents lived in Holly Street, I was told, I knew Mr Peacock for another 20 years as he remained at the Church for many years.

    Vivid and tender memories.

  4. On January 4, 1945 my father went to London on a three-day pass. He wrote in his diary: “Up at ten a.m. this a.m. and found out a three day pass was waiting. Set out for London at 1 p.m. Arrived there at four p.m. V-2 rocket exploded a mile away as I stepped out of the station. “

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