DOWNHILLS SHELTER TRAGEDY -70th ANNIVERSARY COMMEMORATION CEREMONY
The following report has been issued by the Friends of Lordship Recreation Ground 19 Sept 2010
Anniversary 'Blitz' Commemoration Ceremony in Lordship Rec for the 42+ Tottenham civilians
killed in World War Two air-raid shelter tragedy (19th Sept 1940)
Sunday 19th September, over 70 people attended a special event in Lordship Rec from 2pm to
5pm. They gathered on the 70th anniversary, at the exact spot, to commemorate the 42+
Tottenham Civilians killed by a direct hit on the 2nd World War 'Downhills' air-raid
shelter in the Rec on 19th September 1940. It was the largest single death toll in
Tottenham during the war, but had been largely forgotten until recently, most of the
victims having gone unrecorded. It is believed that 300 people had been in the shelter -
most of them from streets around the Rec, and there were many more than 42 killed [see
their details below, at end].
The 'Downhills' shelter was sited where Lordship Woodland now stands, at the southern end
of Lordship Recreation Ground (by the Downhills Park Road entrance), London N17.
Those present at the ceremony included about 25 relatives of the victims, three of the survivors of the tragedy, and representatives of organisations involved in the rescue and support for those in the shelter in 1940 - including the police, Council and local churches. Many present made powerful and emotional speeches during the ceremony.
|The anniversary event was organised by the Friends of Lordship Rec, supported
by the survivors and families who'd been traced. It was the second such commemoration at
the site, the first being held by the Friends on 16th November 2008.
Those attending were able to scrutinise a special history display arranged by Ray Swain of the Friends of Lordship Rec. Ray has been painstakingly researching the incident for many years in order to identify the names of many of those killed and the survivors, and to track down their families.There were photos and documents about the shelter tragedy, about Lordship Rec and everyday life generally in Tottenham in that era. In the opening speech, Ray explained the facts of the tragedy and the long effort to uncover the truth and make contact with those who lost loved ones. The Friends have recently completed work to enhance and improve the woodland area (a new path, creating glades, information boards etc) as part of the wider effort to improve and renew the whole of Lordship Rec. Now at last was the time to remember and create a proper memorial to those who died in the tragedy.
Father Joe Ryan of St John Vianney's Church in West Green Road lamented that so many civilians have died and still die in wars around the world, and that we should all work for global peace and justice. He then read out the names of all the victims, and conducted a minute's silence.
Ron Nancarrow, a survivor of the bombing, was 15 years old at the time. Now as an 85 year old he spoke about the horror of being trapped for hours in the rubble. Many of those around him were killed. He paid tribute to the emergency services. In the 1980s he had tried to investigate the incident but was shocked to find that no records seemed to exist. He tracked down some of the names of the victims. He later shared this information with Ray Swain who'd launched a concerted effort to uncover the full details and to plan a memorial. Lillian Love [pictured], another of the survivors present, told how she was lucky to be alive - her grandmother Elizabeth Finbow had been killed. She explained that her sister, now living in Australia, was also a survivor, and had sent her best wishes to those present.
Representatives of the families of the victims also spoke very movingly about how this was a chance to talk publicly about the tragedy and to grieve together. One of the Martin family explained that 7 members of his family had died. The great grand-daughter of victim Emma Turner also spoke. All the families felt it was important to commemorate the incident and hoped that a permanent memorial could be created in Lordship Rec.
Cllr Eddie Griffith, Mayor of Haringey, thanked the families present and the Friends of Lordship Rec for organising the commemoration. He felt that it was important for communities to come together at events like this, to support each other and to remember the past. Inspector John Forde of the Metropolitan Police (Tottenham) was present with a number of colleagues to show their respects to all those who had died. He also noted with sadness that one of the victims was a police officer. He also paid tribute to Inspector Ernest Newark who had played a major role in the rescue operation. Dave Morris, for the Friends of Lordship Rec, also paid tribute to the rescue efforts 70 years ago of the fire brigade, and of local people who had played a highly significant part in digging people out of the rubble and providing practical support to those rescued. He also noted that Tottenham Hotspur football ground had acted as an emergency mortuary for many of those killed. Father James, of St Benet Fink church in nearby Walpole Road, stated that many of those in the shelter would have been parishioners of the church or living nearby, and that he therefore felt close to them. He hoped their souls would rest in peace.
Dave Morris then concluded the ceremony by noting that the commemorative efforts were gaining publicity - for example, the Post Office official magazine was due to print an article in memory of one of the victims, Robert Spire, a postman. Unfortunately Robert Spire's grand-daughter, Rosalie, had had to apologise for being too unwell to attend. Dave explained that the Friends were committed to ensuring that the restored Woodland remained a place for quiet reflection and relaxation, and nature appreciation - the Friends have recently received a Green Pennant award for their management of the Woodland. The Friends, the Council and many others had been working hard together for the regeneration of the whole park, and were awaiting in 10 days time the final OK from the Lottery regarding the bid for a 4m grant. He added that the Friends had set up their own Tottenham Shelter Memorial Fund to raise money for a permanent memorial to be included as part of the planned new bridge over the River Moselle. [Donations details below].
The families and many others present then wrote their thoughts in a special Book of Remembrance, planted commemorative flowers, put down crosses with the names of each of the victims, and laid wreaths in the Woodland.
" The tragic event 70 years ago resulted in Tottenham's highest wartime death toll. The commemoration was an important opportunity for people, especially the families of those involved in the incident, to come together to mark the occasion. We will continue to try to discover the identities of all those who died in the shelter, and to raise the funds for a permanent memorial in the park." - Ray Swain, local historian [Friends of Lordship Rec]
TOTTENHAM SHELTER MEMORIAL FUND APPEAL