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Newham marks 80th anniversary of South Hallsville School tragedy

PUBLISHED: 12:00 06 November 2020

Winston Churchill visits east London the day after South Hallsville school tragedy at Canning Town. Picture: Metropolitan Archive

Winston Churchill visits east London the day after South Hallsville school tragedy at Canning Town. Picture: Metropolitan Archive

Metropolitan Archive

The 80th anniversary of one of Britain’s worst Second World War civilian disasters has been marked.

South Hallsville School in Canning Town... destroyed on September 8, 1940, killing 600 sheltering during German air raid. Picture: Christopher Lloyd (East End at War)South Hallsville School in Canning Town... destroyed on September 8, 1940, killing 600 sheltering during German air raid. Picture: Christopher Lloyd (East End at War)

South Hallsville School in Canning Town was used as a shelter at the height of the Blitz in 1940 because of its large basement.

But on the night of September 10, 1940, the school took a direct hit from an enemy parachute bomb which tore through the building, reducing it to rubble that then collapsed on top of those sheltering beneath.

The number of dead has been contested ever since with government estimates at the time saying 70 lives were lost. However, locals believed the true figure was closer to 600.

Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz joined Hallsville Primary’s staff, pupils, Custom House councillor Pat Holland and deputy mayor Charlene McLean on November 4 to mark the anniversary.

Mayor of Newham Rokhsana Fiaz, pupils Teddy Silcox and Aseel Ibrahim plant an oak tree to mark the 80th anniversary of the tragedy which claimed 600 lives. Picture: Andrew BakerMayor of Newham Rokhsana Fiaz, pupils Teddy Silcox and Aseel Ibrahim plant an oak tree to mark the 80th anniversary of the tragedy which claimed 600 lives. Picture: Andrew Baker

Ms Fiaz, Cllr McLean and Cllr Holland helped two current pupils, Teddy Silcox and Aseel Ibrahim, plant an oak and erect a plaque to mark the tragedy and honour those whose lives were lost.

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Ms Fiaz said: “It was a beautiful moment to be with a small group of pupils and teachers to mark a tragedy that occurred 80 years ago reflecting the horror of war and conflict.

“Six hundred innocent lives were lost at the school when it was bombed during the Blitz as Newham faced the onslaught of the Nazis.

An oak tree was planted in memory of the lives lost and to mark the tragedy. Picture: Andrew BakerAn oak tree was planted in memory of the lives lost and to mark the tragedy. Picture: Andrew Baker

“The planting of the tree was a beautiful way to remember the lives lost in this bombing. It can now stand as a symbol of memory and reflection.”

In 1940, officials closed the bomb site and ordered a press black-out fearing the effect on wartime morale if the true extent of the tragedy got out. Wartime leader, Sir Winston Churchill, visited the area.

After the tragedy, officials reversed the policy of locking London Underground stations, allowing people to shelter on platforms during air raids.

Ms Fiaz said: “The scale and horror of this bombing, in an area of the borough with a high civilian population, shows the immorality of war.”

A plaque was erected as part of the ceremony. Picture: Andrew BakerA plaque was erected as part of the ceremony. Picture: Andrew Baker

She added the tree would act as a powerful reminder that people should double down on efforts to campaign against conflict.

“This weekend we’ll mark the memory of all lives lost at 11am on Remembrance Sunday,” she said.


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