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WAR: New Cross remembers V2 bombing
10:00am Sunday 6th December 2009 in News
Sixty five years ago a V2 rocket fell on New Cross killing 168 people and injuring 121 others. Reporter DAVID MILLS looks back at the devastation.
IT was approaching midday on November 25, 1944, and New Cross was bustling with shoppers.
Excited mile-long queues stretched back along the high street as word had got around Woolworths had saucepans on sale.
John Warren, of St Donatt’s Road, New Cross, was 14 at the time.
He said: “Saucepans were like gold dust.
“During the war anything metal was used for the war, so to find out something like saucepans were on sale at Woolworths meant the queues would have been a mile long.”
People had reason to be optimistic as they believed the end of the war was in sight and the Blitz was over.
But unknown to the crowds of shoppers, the 251st V2 rocket launched by Germany had curved 70 miles up over the North Sea and was heading for SE14.
As heavy as a London bus, the rocket crashed into Woolworths in New Cross Road at twice the speed of sound, sending bodies flying and destroying buildings.
Among the destruction were a neighbouring grocery store and butchers with Deptford Town Hall across the road also suffering damage.
Scores died, including those on a passing double decker bus and army truck.
The damage left a huge hole in the high street, with debris stretching back to New Cross Gate Station.
It took three days to clear and retrieve all the bodies.
John had begun an apprenticeship with engineering firm Josiah Stone and Co. and was 600 yards away at the time of the bombing.
Now 79, he said: “I can remember it as if it was yesterday.
“I heard this almighty bang and all the windows blew in.
“At a blink of the eye it could have hit my factory, 600 yards was nothing when you realise the rocket was going at 1,200mph.
“Although people got killed we were very fortunate, I feel very lucky to be here today.”
Press restrictions during the war meant the bombing wasn’t reported until May 1945.
The South East London Mercury described the aftermath in New Cross as “a battlefield” and went on to say: “Recent disclosures reveal it was the most tragic incident in the whole of London.
“Included in the dead were 11 persons, including two babies in a perambulator, whose bodies were never recovered.”
Last month (November) a service remembering the bombing’s 65th anniversary was held at St James’s Church in St James’s, New Cross, where the bodies of the dead were initially laid.
A plaque remembering those who died was unveiled by the Mayor of Lewisham Sir Steve Bullock at the spot where the rocket landed.
Sir Steve said: “It’s really important we recall an event of this magnitude could happen here on the streets of Lewisham 65 years ago.
“London had already come through the worst of the war and people thought it was over, and then this truly dreadful bombing happened.
“What we also need to do is remember people at the time and their extraordinary efforts to rescue people who were caught up and injured in it.”