Downhills Shelter Lordship Recreation Ground- Tottenham (re: Direct Hit 19th/20th September 1940)
Having lived in Tottenham all of my life, I have seen and heard many things about Tottenham from family, friends and many other local people. One of these events was the direct hit on a public air-raid shelter or what was also named as a public trench. Over many years I have heard many stories about this event and needless to say nearly all of them are different. I could never be sure as to where the shelter was. Some people would say the shelter was in Downhills Park, just inside Midnight Alley overlooking the Downhills Recreation ground, while others said it was just inside the gates of the Lordship Recreation ground from the Downhills Park Road entrance. I have also heard many different accounts as to the number of people who were killed in this shelter, ranging from 100-150-180-200, and I could never understand why a memorial to such an event was not in place.
Therefore, when Downhills Park held its History and Centenary event on the 13th July 2003, I thought that this incident would be included in the Parks history, and was very surprised to learn that nobody present had heard about the shelter or had any information on it. When I spoke with Errol on the West Green Learning Centre stand, he said it might be possible to obtain a grant to provide a memorial to record this event for history and, at the same time, mark the spot where this tragic event took place. Consequently, ever since I have been trying to find out as much information as I can to help clarify all of the various accounts of that tragic day in Tottenhams history. To confirm precisely what happened and where it occurred is something that has bugged me, and I now find many other people also, for a considerable number of years. I am pleased to say that we have now made good progress in establishing the truth.
EXPERIENCING THE BLITZ
It was apparent that this event occurred at the start of the London Blitz, which was a very terrifying and difficult time for everyone. The people were frightened and many of the children of families had been evacuated to other parts of the country for their safety. The newspapers could not publish too much information for fear of it getting back to the enemy. They had also been told Walls have ears! and Careless talk Kills! Therefore, peoples spirits had to be kept high, as this was the only way it would get them through the ordeal. For conscription had taken the young men away and food rationing had started. Newspapers, which formerly had up to twelve pages, were now down to three or four as there was a shortage of paper and many of the reports were of far away conflicts. The radio, or wireless as it was more commonly known in those days, reported what it could within the bounds of censorship as the enemy were listening to everything that was broadcast. Lord Haw-Haw (William Joyce) was broadcasting as much propaganda from the German perspective as he possibly could, and with so much detail that people began to suspect every stranger as a potential spy. Therefore, it was little wonder that people did not know what to think or say since many of the reports had mixed-up and confusing information.
I was not around at this time, so can only guess what it must have been like. Even today its hard to know what to think, as you can read through reports and then read into them what you have been told over the years and cause you to think that perhaps some events have been covered up. I have read two local books on wartime stories from Tottenham, which coincide with what I have heard over the years. Furthermore, I have two or three other accounts of the incidents, which are along similar lines, but I will still keep trying to obtain more details.
The official records say that 41 people were killed and 100 injured and, even with these reports of much lower numbers of people killed, I can only find 19 names and addresses for the victims. There are a further 21 possible victims who died on the same day. However, I now know that 6 of these were included in the shelter list but were killed in their homes in Walpole Road. It would appear that the same plane dropped both the bombs on the shelter and the two homes in Walpole Road. At first I thought that, since at one time the gardens in Walpole Road had back-garden gates leading into the park, these people had used the shelter on the night. However, the A.R.P reports for the night show that the houses were also hit. I also have another 6 possible victims who were listed as being killed in Tottenham High Road, but once again the A.R.P reports confirm that bombs had also been dropped in this area earlier on the same day and several people had died.
So my list is down to just 25 confirmed deaths, which leaves 16 more to find of which 8 could be on my Possibles list. The other 8 people cannot be traced at all. I plan to go to Enfield to check their burial records for this period. I have obtained lists from all of the local areas out to Potters Bar and I can find no further likely names on these lists. I cannot find any reference to the Highlands Hospital at Winchmore Hill where victims could also have been taken. So all I can do is to persevere and keep on trying. It is also interesting to note that some people who died in the shelter had only gone there as their homes had been bombed the day before. (e.g. Numbers 46-48-50 Downhills Avenue were hit on the 16th/17th September, with damage reported to the houses and then two ladies from number 46 were killed in the shelter on the 19th/20th September. There were also reports of numbers 84-82 and 88 Gloucester Road being hit on the 16th/17th September and one lady from number 88 Gloucester Road being killed in the shelter on the 19th/20th September).
CIVIL DEFENCE REPORTS
It would appear that the Lordship Recreation ground was not necessarily a safe refuge to go to, because from the A.R.P reports at the time I have prepared the following list of incidents:
5th Sept 1940 Incendiary Bomb on allotments Reported 23.30 hrs
16th Sept 1940 Report U/X/B (Unexploded Bomb) AA Shell removed at shelter.
16th Sept 1940 1 H.E Bomb reported 21.05 hrs
18th Sept 1940 3 H.E Bombs reported in Lordship Rec
19th Sept 1940 Incident number 173. H.E bomb reported 22.50 hrs
100 Injured, 41 dead
19th Sept 1940 Incident number 172 H.E Bomb reported 22.50 hrs
38-40 Walpole Road 6 Killed.
6th Oct 1940 Large H.E U/X/B reported 11.38hrs.Lordship Rec- Exploded 15/10/40.
I did not have time to check further dates but being that they had large A.A Guns and searchlights situated on the allotment in Lordship Recreation Ground, they must have had more incidents at later dates. I also discovered that the Lordship Recreation ground had two Public Air-Raid shelters, one by the main gate in Lordship Lane and another at the Downhills Park Road entrance. I would also like to add that after the tragic event on 19th/20th September 1940, another shelter could have been built in Downhills Park just inside Midnight Alley but I still need to check this point out.
We do know that another shelter was situated at the other end of Midnight Alley on West Green itself.
CIVILIAN WAR MEMORIAL
It should also be noted that a Civilian war dead Memorial is situated just inside the main gates of Tottenham Cemetery, It has the names of all of the war deaths in Tottenham, but does not mention where the people were killed. Furthermore, I also know that the row of houses in Higham Road, which backed on to the shelter in Lordship Rec at the Downhills Park entrance, were demolished due to severe bomb damage. (n.b: I have still to confirm the precise dates these houses were demolished)
INSPECTOR ERNEST NEWARK
In the course of our research on the Downhills Shelter tragedy, we have discovered information on the senior Police Officer who commanded the rescue operations on that fateful night in September 1940. By a strange coincidence it was also Inspector Newark who was prominent in the development of the Model Traffic Area, which is also situated in Lordship Recreation ground. The following extracts have been taken from the Newark Family website.
Awarded the British Empire Medal
In 1941 Inspector Newark was awarded the BEM (British Empire Medal) by King George VI for leadership and gallantry after a bomb had fallen on a shelter in September of 1940, when London was experiencing heavy nightly raids by German bombers. The official citation in the London Gazette reads as follows;
"A bomb was dropped near some shelters. With a police rescue party under his command, Inspector Newark quickly restored a situation fraught with grave danger. He organized the work of stretcher parties and, with his men, worked for nearly three hours during a heavy raid. It was largely due to the Inspector's leadership and organizing ability that one hundred persons trapped in the shelters were rescued."
The Tottenham and Edmonton Weekly Herald of June 13, 1941 contains this account of his actions;
"Inspector Newark was in charge of the police rescue party when a trench shelter at Downhills Park received a direct hit. He and his men, with the cooperation of civil defence workers rescued a number of injured and distracted people from what was described as worse than the black Hole of Calcutta
In reference to a separate incident, the report continued,
"On the occasion when a delayed action bomb fell in front of the Jewish Hospital for Incurables, Inspector Newark's promptitude and forethought saved the lives of nearly 100 patients, who were refugees from other parts of London. Realizing the danger that might arise from the bomb. Inspector Newark evacuated the patients and all had been safely removed before the bomb exploded, wrecking a part of the building. These operations were carried out while the raids were at their height."
The Herald article also recalled that following an aircraft crash on a housing estate in Edmonton in September 1938, Inspector Ernest Walter Newark, in charge of the police inquiries, was brought into touch with Mrs. Letch, a widow, whose two sons were among the thirteen victims. Because of his kindness and sympathy, she obtained the permission of the Commissioner of Police for him to accompany her to Buckingham Palace when she received the O.B.E. (Order of the British Empire) awarded posthumously to her sons for their courage in trying to rescue the pilot of the blazing plane. It was as a direct result of Ernest Newark's enquiries and evidence that their heroism could be established beyond doubt. The same article also contains the following account of his police work;
...Another interesting feature of his duties since he came to Tottenham some four years ago was the part he took in making the children's model traffic centre at Lordship recreation ground more useful. This centre, equipped with all the road signs and with little vehicles in which children can propel themselves along, created so much national interest that Inspector Newark was called upon to broadcast a description of it. He was also co-opted member of Tottenham's Safety First Committee."
Clearly Inspector Newark was a brave and dedicated Police Officer to whom the people of Tottenham should be eternally indebted.
Report prepared by: Ray Swain