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Sandhurst School WW2 bombing in Catford remembered
Historian BOB OGLEY looks back at the Sandhurst School bombing during the Second World War.
In a single paragraph two weeks ago, under the heading 70 years ago, I mentioned the bombing of Sandhurst School, Catford, and how 38 children and six teachers were killed. It was an atrocity that south-east London has never forgotten.
Many of the children who survived the tragedy or who lived in the area are still alive and one of them, Michael Roffey of Green Street Green, Orpington, remembers how the children were buried in a mass grave in Hither Green cemetery, the service taken by Father Rice of St Swithin’s, Hither Green Lane.
He wrote: "On that same day (January 20 1943) the Luftwaffe attempted to bomb Hither Green Hospital but they missed and a high explosive landed on a chicken farm and feathers floated over a large area. My brother, who was coming home from school with his mates, was taken into a shop for safety.”
Evelyn Florence Timpson, who died a few years ago aged 100, kept a wartime diary and had plenty to say about the crew of a German bomber who wanted to kill innocent children. She also knew some of the victims.
Here is part of what she wrote: “Within an area of about 30 yards from my house in South Park Crescent, which was on the corner of Pasture Road, five children had been killed. One family lost two boys (they also had a young girl not yet of school age) and they moved away from the area soon afterwards.
“My neighbour on the opposite corner of Pasture Road, Mrs. Lay, lost her daughter, Doreen, who was a playmate of my daughter, Pam.
“Living opposite her was an off-duty policeman, Mr Greenstreet and his family, and they lost their son. It was said that Mr Greenstreet found his own son in the rubble. Five houses down from the Greenstreets another son was killed.
“I went to the bottom of Pasture Road on the day of the funeral and it was a terrible experience. Nearly every mourner walked in the road behind the corteges and some were being held up to enable them to walk at all.
“The cortege was extraordinarily long and we were all in tears and complete silence.....”
The headmistress was Margaret Clarke and in a newspaper interview after the tragedy she said: "The top class was lunching and another class preparing to leave for a special visit to Midsummer Night’s Dream. The next I remember was a tearing, rending sound and I realised half the hall had gone. About six feet from where I was standing there was empty space.
“I joined some children who were going down the stairs and on reaching the ground floor started getting the children out. Before the arrival of the rescue workers, soldiers on leave and civilians who were passing came into help us dig among the stifling fumes of the fire in the debris.
“It was not until later that I noticed my own arm injuries for which I had an operation in Farnborough Hospital.
“The only question the children were asking was: ‘How can we help Miss?’ “They took home the younger ones, tore up their clothing to bind the injuries and even helped with the rescue work — a grim job for youngsters of 14 and 15.”
The six teachers who died were: Mrs Ethel Betts, Mrs Virginia Carr, Miss Mary Jukes, Miss Gladys Knowelden, Miss Harriet Langdon and Mrs Connie Taylor.