At noon on Saturday 5th July, an informal ceremony took place to mark the unveiling of a plaque dedicated to the memory of the victims of the WWII Bullivant’s Wharf tragedy (click here for the story of this tragedy).
The fact that a plaque was made and could be placed is almost entirely thanks to Keith Woods, who lost family in the bombing. It was Keith’s persistence – with help from (then) Councillor Gloria Thienel pushing people at Tower Hamlets Borough Council – that ensured permission was granted for the placing of a plaque.
I am proud to say I also provided a very small contribution, writing the text. And I enjoyed email discussions with Keith as we tried to establish precisely where the air raid shelter was located (there is surprisingly little information available about this). Mind you, the emails were a bit confusing sometimes. Keith is not so computer-savvy by his own admission, and had to use his wife’s email account, causing me to explain to my own wife who this ‘Anne’ was who kept emailing me.
Keith’s determination extended even as far as paying for the plaque and personally fixing it in place on the wall on Thames Path. If you want to visit it yourself, it’s on the wall opposite Seacon Tower. Keith is also thankful to the concierge of that building (not sure if that’s his title), who was great. Seeing what Keith was up to, he provided assistance, tools and fixing materials.
The location was chosen because it was the closest piece of wall to the former air raid shelter that could be found. Mounting it on a fence or wall on the inland side of the Thames Path was problematic, as this was all private property, and even the council was not quite sure who owned the fence and wall along the riverside. But, in the end, Keith scouted the path and found a nice piece of wall which could not be closer the location of the WWII air raid shelter….just a couple of yards away.
This 1952 photo, which was only recently published on britainfromabove.org.uk shows very clearly the empty space where the shelter was (it was situated in a factory).
This satellite photo shows the location today, and also the position of the plaque.
‘Ceremony’ is far too sombre a word for what was actually a very informal and friendly event. Everyone was so pleased that the victims were finally getting a memorial, and there was plenty of reminiscing among the many old Islanders who were present (including plenty from the Island History Trust), some of whom had lost family or friends in the bombing, and some of whom only just missed being in the shelter themselves at the time.
Tower Hamlets councillor Andrew Wood was present, as was some weird looking bloke wearing a back to front hat (you know who you are 🙂 ).
Con Maloney was kind enough to distribute print-outs of the blog article I had written on Bullivant’s Wharf a few months ago
Keith’s brother gave a short speech at the end of events.
Afterwards, many of the group made their way to the George for fish & chips and drinks. Thanks also to the landlord and staff of the George for their hospitality.
The unveiling of the plaque was a great success, and I hope lots of people see it and want to find out more about what happened during the night of 19th and 20th March 1941. As much as I hope it keeps alive the memory of those who lost their lives that night.
Here are just a few of the many photos taken on Saturday. If you want to see more, visit: https://picasaweb.google.com/104219024957910704136/BullivantSWharf5July2014.