The Bombing of the Suburb – the Blitz September 1940-May 1941
What is much better documented is the period of the Blitz (from Blitzkrieg meaning lightening war) from 7th September to 11 May 1941 when Britain was continually bombed.
Some of the first bombs fell to the North of the Suburb and the first civilian fatalities were on the night of 18th September. There was bombing of Brim Hill and Gurney Drive and very tragically the Knorr family of three from 9 Gurney Drive all perished. This was certainly not their first experience of the War as they were Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany and come to Britain to seek religious tolerance.
The most publicised and single most fatal night of the Blitz in Hampstead Garden Suburb was on 25 September. At 10.20pm a pair of landmines with a ton of high explosive in each of them were dropped in the heart of the old Suburb. One dropped on Willifield Green and the other in Coleridge Walk. Although less destructive, the Willifield Green explosion received the greatest publicity, not least as King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) came to visit the damage to the area. However, an air raid warning sounded whilst they were visiting enabling them to watch the air battle above London but prevented them visiting Coleridge Walk.
Bertie Hart from Hogarth Hill was a warden on duty at the warden’s hut in Willifield Green. He had just left his post when he witnessed in the dark a cylinder 8 ft x 2 ft hanging from a large parachute. It landed on the green and he was blown 200 yards towards Hogarth Hill. Luckily for him and the residents around the Green, the soft clay absorbed much of the impact and the blast went upwards destroying roofs, windows and fronts of buildings but although casualties, no one was killed. Barret Nowberry editor of the Hendon Finchley Times, later recounted:
“But the amazing thing was how people in houses were thrown from one room to another escaped serious hurt. I saw people crawling from beneath the debris, every bit as astounded as were the helpers to find they had suffered little more than bruises and a shaking up.”
Luckily, many residents were sheltering in trench shelters at Child’s Way School. The infants section of the school was so severely damaged it was “declared it was unfit for further use.”
Sadly the social hub of Hampstead Garden Suburb, the Club House was also badly damaged.i . It was decided not to repair it and it was demolished. It was replaced by the Fellowship House when the first sod was dug in 1957 by Princess Margaret. Another 1950s house was also built on the site.
Unfortunately, in Coleridge Walk there was no soft clay to absorb the impact if the second parachute bomb. Two houses were wiped out and the road was left in ruins. The Emmoney family of six were killed along with five others. Arthur Emmoney had stayed in London for work whilst his wife Lily and their four daughters (ranging from age 1 to 11) had evacuated to Devon. Earlier in September 1940 Arthur had written to his wife that he had finished constructing and burying an Anderson shelter in their back garden and the family returned home only to be killed in the bombing a few days later. The bomb also took the life of John Locker from Wordsworth Walk and Jessie Viney in Addison Way.
News of landmines was withheld from the public for 14 weeks to comply with “considerations of National security and censorship.”
Gladys Hunter’s letters
One poignant tragedy of the bombing of Hampstead Garden Suburb was that of the Hunter family.
Some of our knowledge of experiencing the early weeks of the Blitz in the Suburb is known to us through the letters that she wrote to a friend of hers in Brixham in Devon.
"We have been having rather a too lively a time with air raids. You may have seen in the papers that the Germans seem to have established a regular route each night over a North West London Suburb. We happen to have the misfortune to be that Suburb and this week has been most trying. Each night we have had a continuous raid for 9 or10 hours with ear-splitting attack gunfire, interspersed every while with bombs. Two fell in Brim Hill and Gurney Drive...Three died, and several injured, and a crater big enough to take a bus."
She went on to write of a bomb in the Market Place, fires in Denman Drive and six unexploded bombs waiting to go off in the area between Temple Fortune Lane, Farm Walk, Temple Fortune Hill and Willifield Way which had therefore been evacuated. "I met scores of people there this morning with armfuls of clothes going to other parts of the Suburb. The milkman tells me there is damage in Central Square."
"The poor old Suburb suffered so badly last night. I can't realise yet myself the appalling damage. The raid lasted from 8.30 p.m. to 5.30 am.
Two land mines were dropped on the Suburb, one on Willifield Green and another in Coleridge Walk. About 300 flats and houses are very badly damaged – too badly for anyone to live in them. Two houses in Coleridge Walk were wiped out and altogether and the rest are almost all in ruins. The Emmoney family of six were killed, with six more including a young couple and a baby”.
Adjacent roads within a 500 yard radius also suffered. Roof tiles avalanched, windows and doors were broken, ceilings fell down, dust and soot were everywhere.
She concluded, "In Temple Fortune every single shop front from Sainsburys (opposite Willifield Way) down to Lindons (corner of Bridge Lane) is smashed, goods were strewn on the pavements. Cheerio! We're still smiling but it's a bit forced today!" ii
October 1 1940
Tragically Gladys was unable to tell us of further raids in Hampstead Garden Suburb as her house at 63 Brookland Rise received a direct hit in the early hours of 1 October. Gladys (36), her husband, Walter (38) and their son Douglas (12) were all killed. Sadly, her parents-in-law Rose (71) and William (65) were also staying in the house and died too. They were residents of 43 Willifield Way (Lucus Square) and after the closeness of the bombing on Willifield Green, Gladys and Walter had five days previously, persuaded them to come and shelter with them in Brookland Rise. Her father-in law, William, was from one of the original Hampstead Garden suburb families, a founder member of the Free Church and first accompanist to the Free Church choir, and was a director of the Co-Partnership Tenants Property.
During 1940, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) came to visit the damage to the area.
The final tragedies of 1940 took place in Ossulton Way in November 1940 when another parachute landmine bomb landed near the top of Ossulton Way near Neale Close. From 89 Ossulton Way, William Albert died of his injuries at the Memorial Hospital and a baby of 14 months, Avril Desiree Williams perished at 96 Ossulton Way. We also know that there were a couple of passers-by who died in this blast.iii
Much of the Suburb suffered heaving bombing during the Blitz and even the newly built Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue in Norrcie Lea was struck by several bombs first on 22nd September 1940 and later in 1941 when much of the building was destroyed.
V.1 Flying bomb 1944
The final casualties were near the end of the War on 30 June 1944 when a V.1 flying bomb landed in Widecombe Way. Four people lost their lives, May Brown (52) and three members of the Hawkins family Walter (44), Alison (44) and Celia, their 16 year old daughter who was about to sit her matriculation exams at Henrietta Barnett School.
This article and contemporary photographs by Marilyn Greene
i Photographs of the bomb damaged Club house are held in the collections of the London Metropolitan Archives along with extensive photographs of bomb damaged houses and plans for their rebuilding.
ii Michael Hilton’s notes and quotes of Gladys Hunters Letters in the Collection of the Hampstead Garden Suburb Archives Trust and quoted in The Battle of Britain on the Suburb, Michael Holton, Suburb News, Autumn 2000
iii Bigwood Memorial Gate, Address Given by Tony Spring 28 April 2001 in the collection of the Hampstead Garden Suburb Archives Trust