It is 70 years since German planes unleashed a deadly daytime raid on a Catford school - massacring 38 pupils and teachers. SARAH TROTTER speaks to some of the survivors as the attack's anniversary is marked.
IN ONE of the worst civilian attacks of the Second World War, eyewitnesses reported an enemy pilot waving at schoolchildren in Sandhurst Road School before dropping bombs and burying them beneath rubble.
The blast on January 20 1943 hit the school’s dining room while machine gun fire from German fighters strafed the playground and surrounding streets leaving 60 wounded on top of the dead.
Sandhurst marked the anniversary with a memorial service yesterday and Year 6 pupils laid a wreath at Hither Green Cemetery - where 7,000 people had attended the victims’ funeral.
Headteacher of Sandhurst Junior School, which has a memorial garden to those who died, Rebecca Dove told News Shopper: "We felt this might be the last big anniversary when some of the people who remember it will be around.
"It is a strange mixture of celebration and sadness. It is about remembering but it is about saying who we are as well."
The bomb fell at noon while younger pupils were tucking into their school meals and older children were in high spirits ahead of a theatre trip to see A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Half the school was destroyed in the attack - and later rebuilt in 1950 - and neighbours spent two days picking bodies out of the ruins.
Raymond Hone was meant to take a carpentry lesson on the day of the attack, but was ill and stayed home where he watched tiles launch off nearby houses from machine gun fire.
The 80-year-old, who lived in Forest Hill, told News Shopper: "At the time I was excited until my sister jumped on my and flattened me to the ground.
"It was one of the worst raids at the time."
The grandfather-of-three’s mother Emily Hone also "saved" Sydenham that day when her van was hijacked by a fire officer to stop a delayed-action bomb which rolled under a gasometer.
Mr Hone said: "A fire officer stopped her, commandeered her van and told her she needed to drive to the gasometer.
"The whole of Sydenham would have disappeared."
The father-of-one, whose wife's cousins were killed in the Sandhurst school tragedy, celebrated the end of the war by burning an effigy of Hitler which he clubbed over the head with a chunk of wood.
"Where have all those years gone?"
June Rogers, 76, also fatefully stayed at home that day as her sister suffered from measles and counts her lucky stars.
The 76-year-old, who now lives in Eltham, vaguely remembers the deadly plane flying low over chimney tops. She said: "I was a very lucky person that day."
Speaking of the memorial, Mrs Rogers said: "I am very pleased it is happening. It is absolutely amazing. "Where have all those years gone? - It is scary.
"But also very sad. Lots of sad things happened during the war, but you can’t look back, you mustn’t look back."