Tragic wedding party deaths in the London Blitz

The area of London I live in took a pounding from the Luftwaffe during the Blitz, which destroyed a fifth of London in the Second World War. At both ends of the long road I live on there were tragic deaths including an entire wedding party that had taken shelter from the Nazi onslaught.

Camberwell Green is a small park at the south end of the road I live on. On 17 September 1940, Sidney and Patricia Wright had just got married and were celebrating their reception at the nearby Father Red Cap pub, which is still there though sadly boarded up. Suddenly, the air raid siren went off signifying that enemy German planes were on the way to bomb that part of London.

Deaths at a wedding in the London Blitz

The groom, bride, parents and extended family including children darted outside and down into an air raid shelter – a tunnel under Camberwell Green. Unfortunately, the ground surface scored a direct hit by a bomb and the tunnel caved in. The bodies were recovered the following day.

The dead were Sidney and Patricia aged 21, their parents, Sidney’s five sisters aged between eight and nineteen and several guests aged between fourteen and fifty eight. This is the memorial below unveiled in 2007 at the exact spot where the bomb fell and the Father Red Cap pub today. Read on to find out what happened at the other end of my road.

That is tragic enough but these were not the only deaths in Camberwell, a district of south London, during the Blitz. In the first four months of the Luftwaffe bombing, just this one part of London endured 449 deaths in 1940.

London Blitz deaths in nearby Kennington

Walk along my road and at the other end you come to Kennington Park. And there you can see a stone slab with a poem by Maya Angelou. Behind it is a curious rectangular depression in the ground. This was once a “trench shelter” for people without gardens attached to their houses (three quarters of Londoners during WW2).

They were deep trenches with a concrete floor, timbers to create two walls and corrugated iron placed on top held down with earth to form an added layer of protection. Think of a First World War trench with a cover. Families might sit in these damp, smelly trenches for up to twelve hours while bombs exploded around them.

At just after 8pm on 15 October 1940, the long trench in Kennington Park took a direct bomb hit. The death toll eventually given was a staggering 104 people. The scene was horrific and again, I won’t go into the details but there was a struggle to identify the dead.

London Blitz deaths not publicised

As was often the case, in order to keep up morale, the government didn’t publicise these kinds of incidents. And that explains why a memorial was only put up in Kennington Park in 2003 and one on Camberwell Green in 2007.

The Maya Angelou poem that commemorates the London Blitz deaths reads:

‘History despite its wrenching pain cannot be un-lived, but if faced with courage need not be lived again.’

Copyright photos on this page: Tony McMahon. Please credit if re-using.

The Knights Templar, a feudal lord and the Nazis

What could possibly link the Knights Templar, a particularly controversial medieval aristocrat and the Nazis? Well, more than you might think!

First let’s start with the medieval aristocrat. Geoffrey de Mandeville was a serial rebel and of a violent disposition. Well suited to his times you might think as the early 12th century in England was referred to as the Great Anarchy.

This was following the death of King Henry I in 1135 after eating a “surfeit of lampreys”. His daughter Matilda expected to take the crown but medieval lords weren’t up for giving power to a woman. Her cousin Stephen knew this and declared himself king.

DISCOVER: The gory history of Temple Bar

That led to a vicious civil war between Matilda and Stephen where each gained the upper hand at different times. Geoffrey nimbly swapped sides repeatedly but managed to annoy both Matilda and Stephen in the process.

Eventually, a victorious Stephen ordered the arrest of Geoffrey, who was the first Earl of Essex, and the seizure of his castles. Geoffrey responded by becoming a bandit and holing up in the marshes of East Anglia.

Eventually, the king’s forces surrounded the troublesome earl and he was shot through with arrows. A traitor to his king and rejected by the church for raiding Ramsey Abbey – Geoffrey’s body couldn’t be buried in consecrated ground.

In fact, nobody knew what to do with his remains. Until the Knights Templar stepped in. They took his carcass to their London headquarters – the Temple church still standing – in a lead coffin and hung it from the branches of an apple tree. That way it was in their protection without being placed in the ground.

At some point, a burial was made possible and his son arranged for an effigy of his father to be placed in the Templar church. It can still be seen today. But it’s taken a bit of a bashing.

Up until the 10th March, 1941, the effigy was in almost pristine condition. But this was the Second World War and the Blitz meant Nazi bombs were raining down on the city. One exploded in the circular church bringing the roof crashing down on top of the effigy. As you can see – he took quite a pounding.

Even in death – Geoffrey had a rough time.