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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.

12 thoughts on “104 Killed in Kennington Park”

  1. I was born in Lambeth Hospital 6/7/1939 and lived in Hornby House, I understand from my mother that with Dad They had taken me out for a walk in the park when the alarm when off , and the shelter in the Park was Closer than the one at Hornby House so we all when into the Park Shelter
    Mum stated that we got a seat in about the centre of the shelter with our backs to the wall and on the other side to was a long bench with groups of people sitting side by side. With everyone talking when a Big Bang happened. This must have been the bomb exploding Mum was trapped by a large lump of timber pushing her head against the wall behind her. Her legs also were trapped by the people opposite us that are were now dead and the wall had been pushed the bench seat forward.
    Dad had not been hurt so much and could move. He told mum he was going to take me with him and bring back ASAP. He managed to find a warden who took me and passed me out of the shelter. Some kind person took hold of me and I think took me stopping outside the Horns Pub.
    I was told that he took me to his home his wife fed me and fitted me out with cloths for the next 3 days.
    Over the next 3 days Dad spent his time looking for me and visiting my mother in St Thomas’s Hospital. Prior to finding me.
    If any one remembers the above and the family that took me in please can you get in touch with me. I would love to say thanks .

    Tom Gowar

  2. My father James Holland went into the shelter aged 14 by chance with his parents. He was I believe the ‘man’ recovered from the scene around 5.30 the following morning. Both his parents were killed. For most of his life he would not speak of the incident but eventually he did tell me his final recollection before being buried alive was of his mother throwing herself on top of him. We eventually discovered the final resting place of his parents in Streatham Cemetery in the early 2000’s and conducted a fitting service and memorial. The first time I ever saw my dad cry. He was rescued from the debris by an air raid warden, so all the more poignant that the service was attended by Bill Pertwee, a family friend, who of course played a warden in Dads Army. I attended the opening ceremony of the memorial at Kennington Park but dad was unable to and he passed away in 2003.

  3. My grandparents and two of there children’s body’s still remain in the airaid shelter in Kennington Park my grandfather helped to build it and then died in it,with his wife and two children the family
    William, Violet, Derek and Sylvia Banks. My father Ronald Banks has just died at age 89 he never got over losing his family members I hope I can scatter some of his ashes at the site in Kennington Park as I made him a promise that I would leave him to rest with his family”
    Kay Banks

  4. I have just found this website and agree that the Kennington Park disaster was a tragedy as my cousin John has said in his comments posted in 27 October 2014. I remember as a child (born 1940) the bombing in the area as it made a lasting memory for me and the wonder when gaps appeared among houses and shops that I thought would always be there. I note a mention of the cottage in the park and was told that it had been designed by Prince Albert and built about 1850. I have seen some of Prince Albert’s designs and this could well be true.

  5. I work opposite the park and am very interested to look at the parks history now the northern line works are beginning.

    its a shame as my view looks at the old park keepers house which will soon be gone and also a lot of trees have been felled, its such a shame as it ruins the park.



  6. 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

  7. 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

  8. 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

  9. 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.

  10. 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

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

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