Families pay tribute to Stoke Newington war dead

Relatives of the Hackney families who killed by a wartime bomb at the Coronation Avenue shelter have shared stories of their loved ones.

Broadcaster George Alagiah led the recent unveiling which was attended by 250 people who paid tribute to the 160 people who lost their lives when the bomb ripped through a black of flats in Coronation Avenue in Stoke Newington in October 1940.

Hackney resident Eleanor Kennedy who also attended had narrowly missed being in the shelter on the night of the disaster - but was turned away as there was no room. Instead she took shelter at the Anderson shelter in the garden of her Leswin Road home.

The 90-year-old told the Gazette: “Whole families were wiped out overnight. It was horrific.”

The day after the raid when the all clear was sounded she saw the devastation.

“It was a terrible catastrophe right across the road.”

She said it was important to pay tribute to the people who lost their lives and for their successors to realise what happened during the Second World War.

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Dr Melvyn Brooks travelled from Israel to attend the ceremony in memory of his aunt Jenny Brooks, who lived at Beatty Road and was killed in the disaster aged 30.

He described what happened that night: “A formation of 300 German warplanes passed over the Kent coast. 80 of them continued on to London. Raids were also made by the same formation over Bristol, Liverpool, the Midlands, East Anglia and the North East.

“The cellars under Coronation Avenue Flats were designated “Public Shelter No.5”. They had no re-enforcement and there was little provision made for those taking refuge. Through the rooms ran water and gas pipes. On the night of the raid it is thought that over 300 people were packed in the shelter. A deathly thud was heard and falling masonry blocked the exit. The majority of the victims died from drowning. It took 10 days to dig out 155 bodies-there were many more that were never recovered. 180 is probably a fair estimate of the number killed.”

Dr Brooks added: “My aunt was the 138th victim recovered. Her body was taken to the mortuary at St Olaves Church 10 days after the air raid. She was later buried in the Jewish Cemetery at Edmonton.”

“My father never spoke of the death of his sister. I believe that our family never came to terms with her loss. This is why the ceremony was such significance to me. It marked a public acknowledgement of the horrific events at Coronation Avenue over 70 years ago. I and my family are deeply indebted to those Hackney people who worked hard in bringing the event to fruition.”

Norman Levinson was just five years old when his mother Lottie was killed in the shelter. He and his older sister Betty had spent many hours there as the Blitz got underway and had just been evacuated to Ely in Cambridgeshire.

Their father Simon who ran family business Barry Fruit on Evering Road had to make the sad journey to see them to tell them what had happened.

Retired taxi driver Mr Levinson who now lives in Ilford said: “There were three rooms in the shelter, two rooms with benches and the other one with bunks in it - the men were given preference or that as they had to go to work in the morning. It was really a death trap as it was in the basement.”

He recalled: “My mother was in the shelter and my father was in the ARP and he went across the road to the church where there were refreshments when the bomb hit, so he saw it happening. You could not get to the people and get the people out. It broke his heart.”

“It was one of the most devastating attacks in London.”

Mr Levinson said: “The ceremony was so poignant after all this time. I hope people remember what happened and remember that war is terrible.”