I’m aware that the blog (and my online life in general) has taken something of a knock recently. I’m not above blaming little children for this; having another child has eaten into the time I spent on it. But what better way to get back into the swing of things with the death and decay of trees in the ward?

The council is about to remove 13 trees from various sites in the ward (detailed below). The Shaftesbury Park Estate certainly seems something of a tree graveyard, and two are being removed from close to my home (one of which I was quite fond of, having rescued it from being a misshapen young sapling).

All the sites will be replanted, but, unfortunately not until the next tree planting season – so they will remain empty for around a year.

The trees, and reasons, are:

  1. Outside 33-35 Amies Street – tree is 60% dead
  2. Outside 8 Ashbury Road – tree is 80% dead
  3. Ashley Cresent, opposite 20 Queenstown Road – tree has dead bark and root decaying fungus
  4. Outside 128 Dunston Road – three has dead back and root decaying fungus
  5. Outside 165 Elsley Road – tree is unstable and 60% dead
  6. Outside 189 Elsley Road – tree is 60% dead
  7. Outside 71-73 Eversleigh Road – tree is dead and has a heartwood decaying fungus
  8. Outside 48 Grayshott Road – tree is unstable and has root and trunk decaying fungus
  9. Outside 19 Holden Road – tree is 50% dead
  10. Outside 20-22 Kingsley Street – tree is dead
  11. Outside 2-4 Morrison Street – tree is dead
  12. Outside 39 Sabine Road – tree has extensive trunk decay
  13. Opposite 53 Sabine Road – tree is 60% dead

If you know of any other trees in the ward that need attention, or any empty tree bases that need filling, let me know.

The extent of destruction: The red area highlights the homes destroyed or damaged beyond repair.

There is an immediacy to reading the reports compiled while various authorities were responding to Second World War bombing. As I noted when writing about the houses a few doors down from me, records of incidents are mainly as it happened notes of orders and instructions given rather than post-incident reports written with the benefit of hindsight.

Given a little thought it is obvious this is the only way it could be, the sheer scale of the Blitz meant that there would be little time for reflection and report writing; the focus was on clearing up from one raid, recovering and preparing for the next.

The result is that the slips of paper, collated and bound together during the war, read almost like a rolling news channel: information is constantly coming in, things are happening, the situation changes, but as you read through you realise that you aren’t analysing or taking an overview – you are caught up in it.

Incident 1038, 17 July 1944
By July 1944 Allied troops were in northern France, pushing the German troops back and the Blitz a three-year old memory. However, just over a month earlier Germany had launched its first V1, the ‘flying-bomb’, ‘buzz-bomb’ or ‘doodlebug’. The device was relatively simple. A bomb with a jet strapped to it, pointed towards London and, when flying, the air flow turned a small propeller that operated a counter, when the counter reached zero it triggered a dive (which often also cut out the engine) and the bomb fell to earth.

Incident 1038 records the bomb that impacted in the rear garden of 2 Brassey Square. The picture illustrates the scale of damage caused (you can see the original on Bing maps, and look at it from various angles), over 100 houses were destroyed by the bomb itself, or damaged so badly that they were later demolished. If you know the area you will realise that it’s almost impossible to get a photo at ground level that gives any indication of the scale of the damage.

The “fly dropped” at 0628, it was reported at 0634 and by 0635 five ambulances were despatched, along with the warning that “Bolingbroke Hospital is full up”. At the same time various mobile units mobilised to help with the clear-up and rest centres alerted and told to expect up to 200 people. Status reports sent up the command chain feared heavy casualties. Fifteen minutes after the first ambulances were sent a further seven were requested, all being told to approach via Grayshott Road (other ways being blocked), and neighbouring areas were contacted to request ambulance reinforcements. Along with the ambulances eleven rescue parties were sent (these were divided into ‘heavy’ and ‘light’, depending on the size of the incident, in this case it seems they just sent everyone!) along with a heavy mobile unit and mobile command unit.

And then, almost as suddenly as it happened, calm descended. The flurry of messages slowed and as the people on the ground tackled the situation. By 0818, less than two hours after the impact, an update recording that work was progressing, two were killed, three were still trapped, thirty-two taken to hospital plus a further ten minor casualties: “job well in hand.” As a consequence the ambulance reinforcements borrowed from Wandsworth (then a separate borough) were returned.

The messages show a well-rehearsed procedure being acted out, with various actors arriving on the stage, doing their jobs then leaving. Some would have been more welcome than others, at 0740 word was received that the Ministry of Food would be sending a food van, which duly arrived at 0815. But at 0800 and 0915 the mortuary van arrived, each time to take away two bodies.

At 0859 it was believed all trapped people had been rescued and the ambulances returned to their stations: the only slight drama was at 1014 when a heavy rescue party was requested as “two persons still trapped.” It arrived at 1022 and, after half-an-hour, it was realised that the fears of people still trapped where unfounded.

The final report at 1228 recorded:

Final casualties at Sabine Rd

  • Killed 4
  • Injured to Hosp 44
  • 30-40 treated at FAP

All persons accounted for. Incident closed.

Sadly not all persons were accounted for. The four recorded were:

  • Mrs Holland, 41 Sabine Road
  • Mr Heath, 61 Sabine Road
  • Mrs Adam, 2 Brassey Square
  • Mrs Bristow, 2 Brassey Square

Subsequently Mr Hockley was found in an Anderson shelter to the rear of 2 Brassey Square, making five killed in all. Of the forty-four taken to hospital twenty-five were categorised as ‘stretchers’, nineteen as minor casualties. I’ve not been able to find any further records of them, which means they are likely to have survived this incident.

Obviously I need to thank the staff of the local history section in Battersea Library for this, but I’m not the only one extending thanks.

While I said there didn’t seem to be any form of post-incident reflection during the Blitz, it was a little different on this occasion, perhaps the relative infrequency of V1 and V2 incidents allowed more time, and the records also contain a private report of the incident from the incident officers, E Witton and HS Phillips who were based at Basnett Road school (Basnett Road barely exists now, just a stump on Lavender Hill with the rest demolished to make way for the Ashley Crescent and Wycliffe Road estates, the old school would be near the current John Burns school).

They use their report to thank all involved in the rescue but single out three individuals: two wardens – W Ben and R Clarke, who climbed in through the debris to rescue trapped people, at risk to themselves – and Mr Wheeler, who sent to boxes of cherries to be distributed amongst the bombed-out children.

Many of you will have seen the adverts for The Big Lunch. The idea is that neighbours all contribute towards a communal lunch and get together to eat it and get to know one another better.

Some of you will have recognised the location for the adverts is in the Shaftesbury Park Estate. A little detective work (well, not much because it’s fairly obvious if you know the area) reveals Milton Avenue is, in fact, Morrison Street.

Now I’m actually a bit disappointed by it. Not because I don’t think it is an absolutely splendid idea, but because they have created a fake location. They are advertising the idea of turning streets into neighbourhoods, but then disguising a real neighbourhood.

Perhaps even more disappointing is that, when you look on the Big Lunch website there are, currently, no events planned on the Shaftesbury Estate. Just two people who are interested – one of them is me, and I am almost certainly not going to be around on 19 July (otherwise my neighbours would have been getting more leaflets and knocks on the door than usual from me).

I usually will point out that assuming someone else will do something is the wrong thing – generally it is, there has to be some responsibility taken – but I can’t help but feel that maybe the organisers of the Big Lunch could have given Morrison Street a little kick start.

But having aired that little gripe, it all echoes a point I failed to make last week, when I was was pondering the sudden upsurge in street parties, they suddenly seem to be fashionable again.

When I was younger we always seemed to be having street parties, my earliest memory is from the street party we had for the Silver Jubilee in 1977. I was given a ride in a cart pulled by a donkey (which I assume was doing the rounds of the street parties) and had to be taken off half-way through because I was bawling my eyes out.

Looking back, despite my feeling that street parties were a regular occurrence, there were probably only two – the Jubilee and the wedding of Charles and Diana in 1981. But they seemed a natural and appropriate response to a national event. And I’m not quite sure why they stopped. Perhaps because there weren’t any more excuses. Perhaps because society changed. Perhaps because things like the Atari and video were taking off and people just didn’t want to meet other people anymore.

And maybe just blogging about it isn’t good enough. Maybe I should have cancelled my plans for 19 July, knocked on doors and delivered those leaflets to try and get something organised on my street. Having failed to do anything, I’m actually just as much to blame for the decline in neighbourhood spirit as anything else.

Maybe I should resolve to do better next year… Anyone with me?

As a little footnote the council issued a single traffic order for all the Big Lunch applications they had received (thereby saving on costs). There are only seven roads that will be officially closed on 19 July: Bridgeford Street SW18, Cloudesdale Road SW12, Fernside Road SW12, Galveston Road SW15, Martindale Road SW12, Salterford Road SW17, Weiss Road SW15.