Saturday, February 21, 2009

Woolworths New Cross

The demise of Woolworths has prompted some memories of the long gone Woolies in New Cross, in particular its catastrophic destruction by a Nazi V2 rocket during the Second World War. On the 25th November 1944, the store received a direct hit and the explosion caused both Woolworths and the Co-op next door to collapse on shoppers. 168 people were killed and 121 were seriously injured, the biggest loss of life in the V2 weapon campaign. There is a plaque on the wall above the entrance to Iceland, which now occupies the site.


A letter in the South London Press from somebody who was there recalls: 'The closing down of the Woolworths stores brought horrific memories back to me of the Woolworths store at New Cross Road, Deptford, which was packed with hundreds of Christmas shoppers in 1944 and received a direct hit [by V2 rocket]. A friend and I were at the scene within minutes. We gave an estimate of 800 people killed in the area. Bodies were put in Vestry Vans (dustcarts) by the score throughout the day. The government disguised the number to 170 to keep up people’s morale'.

It is undoubtedly true that during the war the government did disguise the extent of casualties in incidents like this, but it seems unlikely that the truth could be obscured for long after the war, and the 168 figure is supported by a list of those who died printed in 'Rations and Rubble: remembering Woolworths - the New Cross V2 Disaster, Saturday 25th November 1944' by Jess Steele (Deptford Forum, 1994). Still it's interesting that the story of many more dead has survived as urban folklore.

Another piece of folklore connected with this is the suggestion that the Woolworths that was rebuilt after the war (it reopened in 1960) was thought to be haunted and that a number of staff refused to work there as a result. The only source for this was an interesting site on Woolworths history that seems to have disappeared along with the company.

The Londonist has recently mapped all the V2 rocket sites in London.

2 comments:

John from Moonbow said...

This was the site of the first Moonbow Jakes and I used to hear a lot of first hand accounts in the early years of that awful day. If my memory serves me well, the reason for such a high death and injury toll was that a new delivery of saucepans had arrived that morning, the first in a year or more. Mothers queued with their children outside before opening to ensure they managed to bag one. This cost them their lives. The explosion was so powerful that a man waiting to cross the road outside the Marquis was blown back through the double doors and ended up injured on the bar. A bus passing had the paint stripped off from the blast severely injuring all onboard. I have always regretted not keeping a record of these stories as the people who spoke sounded as if they were talking about last week. The trauma never left them.

John from Moonbow Jakes

Anonymous said...

My grandfather was on reserved occupation driving goods around the capital for the armed forces and MoD and he had to recover the bodies. I don't think the tragedy ever left him and he only discussed this towards the end of his life.