"Heroes with grimy faces" - Sir Winston Churchill

"Heroes with grimy faces" - Sir Winston Churchill

February 27, 2008

BETHNAL GREEN - 1943

Photo: BBC

During an air raid alert on March 3, 1943, men, women and children descended a stairwell into the shelter at the Bethnal Green underground station in London's East End. Suddenly, the crowd surged- and the crush killed 173 people, including 62 children.

Jimmy Hunt, a messenger at the Roman Road fire station, was among those sent to assist at the scene of the disaster.

``We were just told to lay out the bodies and then load them on to lorries,'' said Hunt, quoted years later by the Daily Mail. ``One or two near the bottom were still alive. But most of the faces, they were all purple and mauve.''

The emergency services - as well as the people who witnessed the crush - were told to stay mum. The government had decided to classify the accident as a secret. Not a word of it was printed in the next day's newspapers.

According to the BBC, ``It later emerged that people were startled after hearing a new type of anti-aircraft rocket being launched in Victoria Park, a few hundred yards away.''