On Monday 9th September two high explosive bombs simultaneously hit on my estate. Dr Wolfe spoke of tragic losses as the Dulwich Society installed a plaque commemorating a killing of 29 non-combatants.
Two days afterwards the King and his Queen turned up unannounced at the scene even as bodies were extracted from the structure which would hold up to fifty people.
A standard SPARS (Surface Public Air Shelter) made from brick but with concrete slab as the roof.
The location of the site, if we take our clue from the South London Observer of 13th September 1940, which reads: “As King and Queen came down the slope to the road, they were loudly cheered by the waiting crowd, who sang ‘Pack up your troubles’.” must be the SPAR shelter next to Wilton House at the top of what was then London County Council’s Dog Kennel Hill Estate and now Southwark Council’s East Dulwich Estate.
My windows look over this berm as I write.
When the Monarch's visit happened, as it would today, word dashed around and as the same paper records: “… before their Majesties left a crowd of several hundred was present.”
Mary Phillips, Secretary of the East Dulwich Estate Tenants and Residents Association [EDERPT] (see photo insert) stands by the plaque screwed to the sidewall of the new Albrighton Community centre listing the names of those killed.
Remarkable technological advances since WW2 may continue to evolve attitudes towards discrimination between combatants and non-combatants but the two bombs that hit that fateful Monday, two days into the Blitz, were not modern PGMs (precision-guided munitions).
Dr Wolfe spoke of his relatives abroad and gently hit a chord for all who agonize at Allied revenge and whole Cities obliterated.
Deftly, as one expects from the Dulwich Society, any issue with the matter of the mass conventional bombing of Germany and the nuclear bombing of Japan made to resonate with more modernist morality.
Today as I look at the shelter berm, on the one hand, I think of a city like Dresden and marvel at it’s re-building after Bomber Harris in full, calculated and indiscriminate dance to Hades dropped more than a few vengeful bombs.
And, on the other, I recall a story about the site of Southdown House (due to be re-built upon despite earlier demolition to create better living space conditions after the war) retold from a childhood on the estate:
“The room I slept in was visited by a young ghost in uniform who used to walk straight out to the bomb shelters. I asked my dad about it and he said it was the ghost of a young man heading to the shelter that got a direct hit. On the green by Southdown House were two shelters - the first was intact and we used to play on top of it. The second, further up the green, was just the remains of the solid roof poking out from the ground - everything and everyone in it were just buried. I, too, used to play on that bomb site on the corner near the shops. We used to have bonfire night there and the fire brigade out every year.”
The berms have recently been opened and no human remains returned.
In a bright time of this age, we all support Public International Rules of Law so formed from such anguish.
Today (September 15.09.2013) a second plaque was unveiled on the estate (pictured Colin Hunte, EDERPT [East Dulwich Estate Regeneration Project Team] & EDETRA who was instrumental in the installation talking with Brian Green of the Dulwich Society about plaque locations) to recall the deaths at Goldwell House. The plaque reads: “In commemoration of those killed in an air raid in Quorn Road during the Blitz on 15th September 1940.”
Uniquely for London this plaque is placed on an original “Recycled Mortuary Children's Stretcher Railing” [RMCCSR] and the hope is the railing itself will be preserved.
Much of the metal fencing placed on Dog Kennel Hill and in Quorn Road after WW2 were recycled metal mortuary stretchers.
Many of the original and historic features of the estate are to be stripped away under the “Master-Plan” of the old and now new Labour Administrations of Southwark and it is a small victory if one such original stretcher survives.
(Left Brian Green, Dulwich Society & Right Councillor Govier).