Sunday, 15 October 2006

REMEMBERING THE FORGOTTEN

The usual busy Saturday traffic roared relentlessly past on Kennington Road, while in the adjacent park, people browsed the weekend papers over brunch and joggers jogged, children played and dogs chased balls…

But for a large group of local residents, yesterday was an opportunity - amongst the bustle and the busyness - to stop and remember a small, but devastating, moment in local history: the night on which a German bombing raid scored a direct hit on Kennington Park and on the trench air-raid shelter that lay just a few feet beneath the grass…

It was forty days since the Luftwaffe had launched what was to prove 57 nights of consecutive raids on London and whilst the targets were the docks, warehouse, factories and rail lines, civilian losses and casualties were high with 30,000 Londoners killed and a further 50,000 injured…

Sixty-six years ago, today - on October 15th 1940, at 22.05 hours - the Air-Raid Precautions post received the first news that a 50lb bomb had fallen on the Kennington Park trenches.

For reasons of security and morale, the event went largely unreported in the media and no official death toll was ever announced. It is now known, however, that forty-eight bodies were recovered - victims ranging in age from three-months to seventy-four years - while total fatalities are thought to have numbered at least 104 people, the remains of many lying still buried where they died, beneath the grass where current residents of Kennington play football, picnic and sunbathe…

But, yesterday, the forgotten victims were remembered when the Mayor of Lambeth unveiled a standing stone memorial.


Organised by Friends of Kennington Park, the memorial is made of Caithness stone and decorated with an elegantly crafted calligraphic inscription by local sculptor, Richard Kindersley.

In addition to the factual dedication - “To commemorate the wartime suffering of the people of Kennington and in particular over 50 men, women and children who were killed on 15th October 1940, when a bomb destroyed an air-raid shelter near this spot. Rest in peace” - the stone’s central section carries a quotation from the American poet, author and historian, Maya Angelou…

History, despite its wrenching pain,
cannot be unlived,
but, if faced with courage,
need not be lived again


...words that are a timely reminder that humankind has still so very much to learn; for, whilst bombs may no longer be falling on Kennington - on any other part of London, or wherever you are when you read this blog - they are falling in many other places in our world and the toll of civilian deaths through war rises, unchecked and often uncounted, with every day that dawns…

***

Post Script: See also David Weeks' video blog-post The Quirkiness of Folk.

4 comments:

Scrooge said...

The first thing I thought about this stone was how well considered was the epitaph. I have seen a good many memorials in my wanderings across Flanders and France and usually, it is the lesser ones that cause you to stop and think - a small cross by the roadside or a little stone in the heart of an agricultural area that says briefly, "Here fell the 22nd Hartlepool Fusiliers" - a simple inscription but one that speaks volumes.Nottingham too, has its Kennington Park. On the night of the 8th May 1941, bombs fell heavily across the city and dropped into a bakery where the night shift was busy working as well as adjacent houses in the area. The stories of that fateful night have never been heard. They lie, for now, contained within a box of papers in our archives. They show, through official reports and photographs, all you would ever need to know about the inhumanity and courage of man.When they are released, the men, women and children who died on that night can continue the lesson written on the stone in Kennington Park and on divers memorials in France and all over the world.

Brian Sibley said...

Thank you...

I hope that, one day, the story of those who lost their lives in the Nottingham bakery will also be told and, perhaps, memorialised --- "Lest we forget..."

Suzanne said...

Do you live near Kennington Road? My brother-in-law used to have his studio there! Platt & Young - you may have heard of them... they've separated now and my brother-in-law (the Platt side) still designs for people like Rosenthal... What a small world!
All the best - Suzanne

Brian Sibley said...

I live not far from Kennington Road - near enough to the Park to consider it my 'local' - if you can have a park as your 'local'!

A small world... But of course! Why are we always so surprised to be reminded of the fact, I wonder?! :-)