Redbridge Museum will open a new permanent exhibition later this year exploring 200,000 years of local history. In the fourth of a series of articles, Museum Officer Nishat Alam looks at some of the items on show
May marks the end of the Second World War in Europe, otherwise known as Victory in Europe (VE) Day. For people across Redbridge who had suffered terrible aerial bombings, this was a welcome relief. In this article, I look at the impact of the war on the borough and how people in Wanstead and Woodford responded.
As the capital, London was a major target for wartime air raids, but surrounding areas, like Redbridge – then made up of the Borough of Wanstead and Woodford and the Borough of Ilford – were also affected badly. Redbridge was heavily bombed during the Blitz between September 1940 and May 1941, and then again by V1 and V2 bombs between June 1944 and March 1945. Wanstead and Woodford suffered 25 V1 and 14 V2 attacks, while Ilford was hit even worse. In total, 802 people in Redbridge were killed, 4,000 injured, 50,000 homes were damaged and 822 destroyed.
Air raids were expected even before war began, so precautions were put in place very early on. Gas masks were issued all around, children were evacuated to the countryside, and locals volunteered to be Civil Defence workers, many as Air Raid Precaution (ARP) Wardens.
Fred and Daisy James were a couple living in Wanstead at the time. They became ARP Wardens for Aldersbrook and were based at Post 43 on Herongate Road. Their duties were to sound air raid sirens, ensure people followed blackout protocol, and report on bomb damage after air raids. They would also help to put out small fires caused by incendiary bombs, as can be seen in the photograph here, taken by Fred James. Fred documented his experience as an ARP Warden through photography and in pocket diaries. In one entry, he reported that two bombs fell on Belgrave Road at 4.30am on 10 September 1940: “Two houses were demolished and 30 or 40 badly damaged.” He goes on to write about his team’s response to the raid and expresses sympathy for the casualties.
Victory in Europe was announced on 8 May, and Wanstead and Woodford held 43 street parties to celebrate the end of the war. There were games, singing, dancing and large, decorated tables of party food lining the streets. Official celebrations for Wanstead and Woodford were held the following year with a gala on Woodford Green on 1 June 1946 attended by the Prime Minister and local MP Winston Churchill.
Redbridge Museum’s displays about the Second World War will explore the impact of the war on the borough, using stories like the James’ and objects such as the equipment used in the photograph above.