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Upper North Street School Air Raid, June 1917

Most people associate The Blitz with World War Two, but the first airborne terror campaign in Britain took place during the First World War. Air raids in World War One made significant damage and took many lives. German raids on Britain, for example, caused 1,413 deaths 3,409 injuries. Air raids provided an unprecedented means of striking at resources vital to the enemy's war effort. Many of the novel features of the war in the air between 1914 and 1918 - the lighting restrictions and blackouts, the air raid warnings and the improvised shelters - became central aspects of the Second World War less than 30 years later. The East End of London was one of the most targeted places. Poplar, in particular, was struck badly by some of the air raids during the First World War. Initially these were at night by Zeppelins which bombed the area indiscriminately, leading to the death of innocent civilians.

       Zeppelin air raid damage to houses in Botolph Road, Bow, 23 September 1916

[P08193: Botolph Road by William Whiffin]

The first daylight bombing attack on London by a fixed-wing aircraft took place on 13 June, 1917. Fourteen Gothas led by Squadron Commander Hauptmann Ernst Brandenberg flew over Essex and began dropping their bombs. It was a clear day and the bombs were dropped just before noon. Numerous bombs fell in rapid succession in various districts in the East End. In the East End alone; 104 people were killed, 154 seriously injured and 269 slightly injured.

     Damage done by Zeppelin raid 23 Sep 1916 to interior of the Black Swan public house, Bow Road
[P08189: Damage to The Black Swan Public House, Bow Road, by William Whiffin]

The gravest of incidents that day, was the damage done to a Council school in Poplar. In the Upper North Street School at the time were a girl's class on the top floor, a boy's class on the middle floor and an infant class of about 50 students on the ground floor. The bomb fell through the roof into the girl's class; it then proceeded to fall through the boy's classroom before finally exploding in the infant class.

    Damage by daylight air raid to Upper North Street School, 13 Jun 1917 Debris on the ground floor


Eighteen students were killed overall. Sixteen of these were aged from 4 to 6 years old. The two teachers of the infant class acted like heroines as they got everyone out of the building before helping others who were rescuing bodies from the rubble. Panicked mothers searched for their children, desperately hoping they were not one of those caught in the blast. As quickly as possible, the bodies of the children who were killed were removed to the mortuary, and the injured were cared for by nurses and surgeons and taken to the hospitals. The mayor of Poplar at the time, Mr. Will Crooks, expressed his grave sorrow for those affected by the bombing; he said that the children had truly suffered for their country.

    Cleaning the debris in a classroom of Upper North Street school after the raid on the 13 Jun 1917

[WW/26 Air raid damage to Upper North Street School, Poplar]

About a week later, one of the biggest funerals in London was held for these infants. It was a sad day. Fifteen children were buried in a mass grave at the East London Cemetery, while the other three children had private graves. Brothers and sisters of the children looked on with mournful faces, some having also been in the school at the time of the bombing.

    A ticket that would admit the bearer to the funeral of the 18 children killed, 20 Jun 1917    a postcard in memory of the 18 children killed on the 13 Jun 1917

    [P08253]                                                            [PM/3/188/2]

                                             Funeral of the 18 children killed at the Upper North Street School, 20 Jun 1917_ The cortege passing along East India Dock Road        


     Order of service at the funeral of the 18 children killed in the daylight air raid, the funeral took place on 20 Jun 1917                the names of the 18 children killed, from the order of service book at their funeral, 20 Jun 1917      

[LC6442 Order of burial service in the Parish church of All Saints Wednesday 20th June 1917]

A memorial in Poplar Recreation Ground, unveiled in June 1919, bears the names of the 18 Upper North Street School pupils that were killed on the first daylight air-raid on London.           

 more children with their floral tributes at the Upper North Street war memorial unveiling ceremony, Jun 23 1919

[WW/28 Service for the unveiling of the memorial for the victims of the Upper North Street School air raid, Poplar Recreation Ground, by William Whiffin]

                                        Upper North Street memorial, June 1919