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Highbury Corner bombing 75 anniversary: Young mum pushed baby to safety during devastating blast

PUBLISHED: 17:07 05 July 2019 | UPDATED: 17:30 05 July 2019

'They cleared the mess up as soon as possible': Highbury Corner and Compton Terrace was already back to normal in 1947, three years after the 'V' bomb. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

'They cleared the mess up as soon as possible': Highbury Corner and Compton Terrace was already back to normal in 1947, three years after the 'V' bomb. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

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When a tonne of "buzz bomb" TNT exploded on Highbury Corner it fatally injured a young mum - but she managed to push her baby daughter to safety.

A mortuary incident record, dated June 28, 1944, for one of the Highbury Corner bomb fatalities. Picture: Islington Local History CentreA mortuary incident record, dated June 28, 1944, for one of the Highbury Corner bomb fatalities. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

The story was retold to the Gazette this week by the dead woman's granddaughter.

It came after Islington held a silence for the 26 people killed and 150 injured by German "V-1" flying bomb on the 75th anniversary of the blast a fortnight ago (Thu).

People assembled at the Compton Terrace memorial plaque, near the junction where the "doodlebug" rocket landed at lunchtime three quarters of a century earlier.

The devastating explosion bomb levelled 11 houses and the Cock Tavern, and destroyed part of Highbury & Islington station.

Kathleen Hummerston, who died in the Highbury Corner bombing. Picture: SuppliedKathleen Hummerston, who died in the Highbury Corner bombing. Picture: Supplied

They remembered the likes of Anne Saudan, four, and Kathleen "Kitty" Hummerstone, who saved her baby from the explosion but died hours later, aged 33.

Florence and James Donovan never met their grandmother,

"It sends goosebumps down me," Florence, 48, told the Gazette. "You can't imagine it but for them it was part of everyday life. It must have been awful.

"My mum was in her pram, she would have been about four months old. She [Kathleen] was pushing her until the bomb came and she got pushed out of the way somehow."

A bible that belonged to Kathleen Hummerston, who died in the Highbury Corner bombing. Picture: SuppliedA bible that belonged to Kathleen Hummerston, who died in the Highbury Corner bombing. Picture: Supplied

Her grandfather Alfred was away fighting for the Allies in the Second World War at the time - and though he remarried six years later, Florence said the loss "broke" her grandfather, who refused to speak of either the war or his lost love thereafter.

"It's sad when you think of all the people who grew up without parents and the lives lost," she added.

"We need to remember the people who not only fought in the war, but those in the country waiting and looking out for each other.

"You can't imagine their losses."

Memorial service on 75 anniversary of Highbury Corner bombing. Picture: Steve BainbridgeMemorial service on 75 anniversary of Highbury Corner bombing. Picture: Steve Bainbridge

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Florence, who works as a play specialist at Moorfields Eye Hospital, in City Road, was unable to make the ceremony owing to her work rota.

But James, who works as a caretaker for the council, attended - albeit by accident. He hadn't known it was happening until he cycled past during the ceremony and realised what was being commemorated, much to the surprise of the collected council officials.

"It made me feel proud that someone had done a memorial for them," he said.

Memorial service on 75 anniversary of Highbury Corner bombing. Picture: Steve BainbridgeMemorial service on 75 anniversary of Highbury Corner bombing. Picture: Steve Bainbridge

Historian Michael Reading, 86, was a 10-year-old pupil at Sebbon Street School - what is now William Tyndale - next to the town hall when the bomb dropped.

"It was a simple commemoration," he said of last month's service. "Sadly I was the only one person there who was around when the 'V-1' came down. In past meetings, usually, other survivors turn up.

"My class teacher Richard Wheeler was one of those killed. Despite 75 years passing, when it got to the poignant moment I thought: 'He was a nice man.'

"I [later] researched his background and was able to contact his daughter, who told me the day he died he was walking to the post office to post a birthday card for her. Unfortunately poor Mr Wheeler must have been right in the road when the bomb came down."

Michael had just left school that day when he heard the wail of the air sirens.

"By the time I got to the door of the house I could hear the V1 approaching," he added. "It was quite loud and I knew it was going to stop.

"I can still hear it now in my head 75 years later: a tonne of TNT going off and then silence."

He added: "The other thing that often gets overlooked was two days later another one landed in Hayman Street that killed 10 people.

"I was asleep in my grandmother's air raid shelter - it destroyed St Mary's School."

Michael, who jokes that he gets frustrated with the "snowflake" younger generations, was evacuated to Lincolnshire soon after.

The Highbury Corner bombing of 1944 was one of 41 "V" blasts inflicted on the borough in the run up to January 1945.

Islington South and Finsbury MP Emily Thornberry attended the memorial, and later released a statement, which read: "We mourned the dead, but also remembered the courage of our community in the face of such awful terror."

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