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.
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.
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.