Stairway to Heaven
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 4th March, 2012
The Bethnal Green tube station disaster of 3 March 1943, in which 173 people were crushed to death as they rushed down the stairs into the air-raid shelter that was housed below, was largely hushed up at the time, so as not to give propaganda material to the Germans. And even when I moved to Tower Hamlets in 1985, no-one talked about it. It was as if there was a collective reluctance to face up to the fact that there had been such catastrophic loss of human life for no reason other than human error; someone tripped on the stairs and the rest piled up on top of them. Some people did escape; indeed, one gentleman, Alf Morris, who was a young lad at the time, shared testimony today at a remembrance service at St John’s on Bethnal Green, recounting how a woman air-raid warden pulled him out by his hair. This weekend saw the 69th anniversary of the tragedy, which might not seem a particularly important date that would bring out people in their hundreds, despite bitter cold and heavy rain. But this year is special, as the long-mooted memorial to the dead — Stairway to Heaven — has now been started, on a site right by the fateful tube station entrance, just opposite the church. Enough funds have been raised by the Stairway to Heaven Memorial Trust to finance Phase 1, which includes the base and the plynth, on which all 173 names of the dead will be inscribed, from 14-year-old Betty Aarons to 13-month old John Yewman. When more money comes in, the Trust will be able to give the green light to the inverted staircase that will form the upper part of the monument, as seen in the artist’s impression. It was good to see a number of Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats at the service this afternoon, including Bethnal Green North Councillor Stephanie Eaton and City and London East GLA candidate Richard Macmillan (see photo). Representatives of other political parties were there too, of course, as well as the ceremonial mayor (Speaker) of Tower Hamlets, Councillor Mizanur Rahman Chaudhury. And although the service was predominantly Christocentric, Leon Silver, President of the East London Central Synagogue, gave one of the addresses.