Remembering the Mackenzie Road Boxing Day bomb of 1944, which killed 73
- Credit: National Brewery Heritage Trust/Flickr
Guest writer Bill Patey argues the case for a permanent memorial to the 73 people killed when a V2 landed on a Holloway pub on Boxing Day 1944.
Islington, Boxing Day, 1944. A V2 rocket exploded in Mackenzie Road, Holloway.
At least 73 people were killed and 168 injured, 86 of them severely. Twenty buildings were wrecked, including the Prince of Wales pub.
The V2, launched in Belgium, took less than 20 minutes to reach its destination. It exploded at 9.26pm, leaving a crater 30 feet wide and 15 feet deep. Water and gas mains were cut and the sewer broken. The crater quickly filled with water and nearby basements flooded. Escaping gas caught fire in numerous places. The night was very cold and extremely foggy. The thick smoke from several fires made visibility more difficult and rescue efforts were particularly hazardous: the first vehicle on the scene stopped only a few feet before the crater.
On Christmas Day the pub had been closed, but it reopened the next day with numbers swelled because other pubs nearby had run out of beer. There was a celebration taking place for Emily Neighbour, who had just got engaged.
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The proprietors, George and Agatha Streeter, survived the explosion. It forced them under the counter, which protected them from debris when it and they fell into the cellar. That had been in use as an overflow bar and was crowded with drinkers; kids, too, were on the step outside the pub with biscuits and soft drinks when the bomb struck.
Fifteen houses in Mackenzie Road were demolished and 22 in the surrounding streets partially fell down.
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The impact was sorely felt. The Hopwoods of 33, Rhodes Street lost five members of their family that night. In 123, Mackenzie Road, directly opposite the pub, seven children aged 14 months to 17 years from the Jarvis family died.
My dad Leonard Patey, who lived in nearby Lough Road recalls: “They were sitting upright, seemingly asleep, with a placard pinned to their chests which said ‘blast’.
“There were no outward signs of injury but each of them was dead.”
My dad also recounted a Polish serviceman in uniform running around like a madman after the bomb went off: he had been walking arm in arm with his girlfriend moments before. His uniform had its shoulder epaulettes burnt off. His girlfriend was never found.
Fate dealt a lucky hand to some, and a cruel one to others. Sue Cooke was a niece of the newly engaged Emy Neighbour. Emy, 18, had been on leave from the Land Army and was celebrating her engagement to Frank Hopwood, a marine. His parents, twin brother George, and sister, plus several friends, were also killed.
Emy’s dad was on voluntary warden duty that night assisting the emergency services and he was given the task of recovering the remains of bodies and putting them in bags. When he found his own daughter was among the dead, the shock was so great he could not speak for days.
Sue Cooke’s mum and eldest sister Mary had the sad task of identifying her by her shoes she was wearing that night. She was buried with 16 others at Islington cemetery in East Finchley. In her grave was a young man called Alfred Syrett.
“He always had a thing for Emy,” said Sue, “and used to say: ‘I’m going to end up with you.’
“And he did!“
Albert Bussey was killed in the pub, too. He’d been to another bar but it was sold out of beer so he went to the Prince of Wales, where his wife worked.
She had a piece of glass taken out of her cheek in 1954, 10 years after the event.
Their daughter lived with them in Chillingworth Road and she ran to the scene and saw people had been blown out of the windows and were on the street. She could only identify her dad by his keys: he had been burnt as the gas main had caught fire.
It seems incredible there is no memorial to commemorate this traumatic event that so affected the lives of so many Islington families and friends. The council has now agreed that in spring an information display board will be placed on the external railings of Paradise Park where the Prince of Wales pub once stood. Lest we forget.