The Dulwich Society's programme of marking its fiftieth year by the placing of twelve plaques around Dulwich at the sites of significant civilian loss of life in World War ll is now over halfway through. In September there will be three installations, two of which are on Dog Kennel Hill, in one of which there was a great loss of life, and the third at Dulwich Library commemorating deaths in Woodwarde Road. In October a plaque will be fixed on the railings of Alleyn's School commemorating those killed in Dovercourt Road. The final ceremony, in November, will be at the corner of Friern Road and Lordship Lane, where the greatest amount of devastation and a large loss of life occurred.

Those unveilings which have so far taken place have been very moving. On a number of occasions survivors of the bombs, or relatives of those killed have unveiled the plaques and read out the list of names. Dr. Kenneth Wolfe, the Society's vice chairman has conducted these modest ceremonies with great skill and the Society is grateful to him.

Apart from the unveiling in Friern Road in November, the other forthcoming ceremonies commemorate those killed in the Blitz. The Blitz (short for Blitzkreig) opened on Saturday 7th September 1940. It was a beautiful sunny day. Dulwich’s first serious raid was a couple of days later, on Monday 9th September when two high explosive bombs simultaneously hit an air raid shelter at Wheatland House, Dog Kennel Hill. A tree was uprooted in the explosion and fell across the safety exit. A newspaper report says that only the two people standing on the steps of the entrance survived, 29 were killed.

So great was this tragedy that the King and Queen visited the scene two days later when bodies were still being removed. They clearly put themselves at some risk as the raids were in daylight hours and another serious incident took place the following week in nearby Quorn Road. There is no doubt that this royal visit raised morale and one survivor writes to the Journal from her home in Canada to say that although she was only aged 4 at the time and cannot remember the raid, she can still remember the visit of the King and Queen to Dog Kennel Hill.

The ‘Stretcher Railings’

In July 1940 Camberwell Borough Council announced that it was collecting all metal railings from churches and houses and other buildings to be turned into weapons. In the following March, during the Blitz, the South London Observer noted that 34 garages at the uncompleted Ruskin Park House luxury flats on Champion Hill, were being used as a mortuary for fatal air raid victims. It is very likely that the metal fencing placed on Dog Kennel Hill and in Quorn Road after the war, to replace the original removed metal railings, was in fact the recycled metal mortuary stretchers. The photograph also shows the metal stretchers being used for training by civil defence teams before the Blitz started. The stretcher fencing, which is still in place in some roads, is to be removed this year when further refurbishing of the estate takes place but one of the stretchers is to be retained and the plaque commemorating the victims of the Quorn Road attack will be incorporated within it.

The Arrival of the V2 rocket

The Friern Road explosion was caused by a V2 rocket which fell on 1st November 1944. However, by the beginning of 1945 the end of the war was in sight, even after the Allied set back in the Ardennes. The Home Guard had been disbanded and some street lighting was being restored after years of the ‘blackout’, but V1 Flying bombs were still being launched although in much reduced numbers. More feared was the newly launched V2 which flew at super-sonic speed and exploded without warning. However, because of the perception that the end of the war was so close (Victory Europe was announced on 8th May) and flying bombs were far fewer, many Londoners declined to sleep in the bomb shelters.

Brian Green recalls:
One such was my father who was an air raid warden. On the night of 4th January 1945 I was an eight year old and went down as usual into the Anderson shelter in the garden of 24 Glengarry Road, opposite Dulwich Hospital, where I lived. Also in the shelter was my mother as well as Florence Reeves and her daughter Phyllis who lived in the flat upstairs. Florence had lost her other daughter, Winnie, who was killed outside the door of her house in Camberwell on the first night of the Blitz.

In the early part of the night there was a massive explosion close by. We emerged from the shelter to see what had happened, but there was nothing obvious to see. My father was getting dressed to report to his ARP post in Greendale upon hearing the explosion. As usual, he gave his tin hat a quick whisk with a duster and set off on his bicycle. He was not long in returning after finding out that the explosion was actually a house two doors away!

Until now I have never considered myself particularly lucky during the war, but hearing the various accounts of people’s experiences during this year I realise I was. I had been evacuated three times, all as it transpired in periods of relative quiet, paradoxically returning to Dulwich in times of maximum danger. And I was very lucky that night. The V2 had exploded in mid-air above our home. The nose cone crashed through the roof of our near neighbours’ house, splintering the rafters as it did so and pinning the couple who were sleeping in the upstairs bedroom by splinters to their bed which then crashed through one or more floors. Miraculously they survived, largely through the skill of local surgeon John Stevens at Dulwich Hospital .

Today, Glengarry Road looks as if it never went to war.

A couple of months earlier than the V2 explosion in Glengarry Road, a V2 had exploded in Friern Road close to the junction with Etherow Street. Both Etherow Street and that part of Friern Road to the junction with Lordship Lane were totally devastated and have since been rebuilt. One of the few survivors was James Clynch who died in 2011. His son also named James, remembers his father telling him of the event.

On the night of 1st November 1944, my father’s grandmother and grandfather, who also lived in Friern Road, decided to go to the Underground for shelter. They asked my father’s parents to go with them but as his mother, Kathleen was heavily pregnant (she was actually in labour), they decided to stay at home at 261 Friern Road with their three children, Michael aged 3, Terry aged 8 and my father, James then aged 7 and sleep in the indoor Morrison shelter. When the V2 rocket hit the house it, in my father’s words “bounced around the house for a while” before killing his mother and two brothers. My father and his father were buried for about 8 hours until they were found and pulled out of the debris by a fireman. He remembered the fireman saying “We’ve got one here, come on son.”

The first that the grandparents knew of the incident was when they returned in the morning to find the shell of the house. After the bombing my father went to live with his grandparents who had by then moved to Grove Hill Road. Counselling wasn’t offered in those days but after recovering from his injuries my father returned to Dog Kennel School where a collection had been made and he was presented with a bike at the Assembly. He remembered being told to cycle across the stage.

The Dulwich Society will unveil a commemorative plaque to the victims of Wheatland House Air Raid Shelter, Dog Kennel Hill on Sunday 8th September at 12 noon at the community centre, Albrighton Road

In commemoration of those killed in the public air raid shelter of Wheatland House on 9th September 1940 by the simultaneous explosion of two high explosive bombs on the third night of the Blitz

Henry Bourne 41, Margaret Bourne, 38, Frederick Branch 28, Charles Brown 13, Elizabeth Brown 52, Philip Brown 50, Dennis Cleary 51, Fanny Cleary 43, Ellen Connor 34, Patrick Connor 11, Sheila Connor 4, Thomas Connor 12, Daisy Elliott 20, Rosie Elliott 17, Florence Lands 19, Louisa Lands 61, Alan Lockey 5, Helena Lockey 36, Henry Lockey 38, Mary Price-Howells 54, Myrddin Price-Howells 19, Hilda Roper 29, Leonard Roper 30, James South 37, Mabel South 41, Margaret South 4, Patricia South 14, Derek Stevens 10, Bessie Thomas 37.

The Dulwich Society will unveil a commemorative plaque to the victims of Quorn Road, Dog Kennel Hill on Sunday 15th September at 12 noon

In commemoration of those killed in an air raid in Quorn Road during the Blitz on 15th September 1940.

Eileen Ashby 4, Charles Moakes 38, Florence Moakes 37, John Moakes 15, William Moakes 28, Robert Palmer 59.

The Dulwich Society will unveil a commemorative plaque to the victims of Woodwarde Road on Sunday 22nd September at 12 noon at Dulwich Library

In commemoration of those killed in an air raid in Woodwarde Road during the Blitz on 24th September 1940.

Rosie Crawford 54, Ruth Stacey 28, Walter Stacey 29

The Dulwich Society will unveil a commemorative plaque to the victims of Dovercourt Road on Saturday 19th October at 12 noon on the railings of Alleyn's School, Townley Road

In commemoration of those killed in an air raid in Dovercourt Road during the Blitz on 19th October 1940.

Eveline Stewart 32, George Stewart 60, Lilian Stewart 61, May Stewart 26

The Dulwich Society will unveil a commemorative plaque to the victims of Friern Road on Saturday 2nd November at 12 noon at the junction with Lordship Lane

In commemoration of those killed in Friern Road by a V2 rocket on 1st November 1944

Edith Barratt 64, Millicent Barratt 37, Ida Byford 48, Kathleen Clynch 27, Michael Clynch 3, Terence Clynch 8, Brian Cornwell 8, Gertrude Cornwell 35, Harry Cornwell 37, Jessie Coughtrey 39, William Coxall 86, Harry Greenwood 67, Minnie Greenwood 69, David Hancock 2, Dennis Holter 6, Neta Howell 40, Elsie Lomas 33, Pauline Lomas 8 months, Joyce Lowden 20, Richard Mountjoy 62, Elizabeth Standing 53, Joan Strivens 25, Lucy Strivens 67, May Strivens 30

The plaque will be unveiled by James Clynch, the son of James Clynch snr. who died last year and who had survived the explosion which killed his mother Kathleen and his brothers Michael aged 3 and Terence aged 8. James Clynch’s great grandson Harry will read the list of the names of those killed.