Friday, 6 November 2009

MULTIPLY Wordsmiths Challenge #13; The Disaster

In 1943 little Jimmy Grant found that war could be quite fun, although at the age of six it was all a game to him. His special toy collection were small aircrafts. He had pencilled the three letters RAF on them for the Royal Air Force and they were dropping their bombs everywhere, mostly in his small garden. Jimmy was annoyed. The government had built a shelter in the garden for protection against the night raids. His mum had told him that as soon as he heard the siren sound, it was important to go into the shelter. If he was on the street and his mother was not at home, then he should go to the local subway station.

The station was new, built just before the war, and a train had never passed through its tunnel, but it was useful. When the planes came, and they did, dropping their bombs and destroying everything in their path, the people in the area would crowd into the station and make themselves comfortable on the up-to-now unused platforms and sleep until the “all clear” siren sounded. They would then climb up the stairs and go on their usual daily business. Perhaps first of all going to the homes to see if they had survived the bombing, and wash the grime of the underground off their skin.

Jimmy’s mother worked in one of the local factories. His father was somewhere abroad fighting and the women just took over the men’s work. During the day Jimmy would play with his friends, mostly war games. His grandfather would keep an eye on him whilst his mother was away.

“And don’t forget Jimmy” she would say as she went off to work “if you hear the sirens then run to the nearest shelter.”

“Don’t worry girl” his grandfather would say “I will keep an eye on him, no problem.”

One day Jimmy was bored. His friends had been sent away from London into the country where it was safer, and he was now on his own. Jimmy was also going, but the arrangements were still being made.

“What shall we do today Jimmy?” his grandfather asked him.

“I’m bored granddad, no-one to play with.”

“Let’s go to the films, the cinema around the corner is showing one of those cowboy films.”

Jimmy’s eyes lit up “Oh yes, granddad, that would be great. Can I take one of my aeroplanes with me.”

“Jimmy I don’t know what a plane has to do with a cowboy film, but take it with you all the same.”

So the two of them set off during the afternoon to the cinema. Grandad wrapped a warm scarf around his neck and put his cap on. Jimmy loved that cap,. It was black and white squares, but it was genuine grandad and he could not imagine his grandfather without it.

Films were one of the few entertainments left during the war years. Jimmy and his grandfather found a good seat and the film started. The little boy was fascinated by all the shooting, the bank robbers, and the marshal who seemed to be the hero in the film. Just as the film arrived at the exciting part where the showdown was being held on the main street, the film stopped and a warning flashed over the screen. It told all to leave the cinema as there were enenmy planes approaching. The sirens were already sounding and the people left. Outside there were crowds on the street all moving in the same direction, to the nearest subway station, which was Jimmy’s local station.

“Stay by me Jimmy” said his grandfather “and he held Jimmy’s hand tightly.”

“What about mum?” asked Jimmy

“Don’t worry boy, she will be all right, they have their own shelters where she is working. Now we have to look after each other.”

Everyone on the street seemed to have the same target; to get to the station as soon as possible. They could already hear the guns firing locally; a new anti aircraft battery had been built in a near bye park. The entrance came closer, but to little Jimmy it looked like a swarm of ants all piling into their nest as he had often seen in their garden.

“Grandad, I’m frightened.”

“Everything will be ok Jimmy, just hold on to me.”

As they approached the entrance they saw the people in front all teeming down the stairs, escalators never used up to now. It was then that the worse thing happened that could.

One of the first to go down the stairs was a woman with her little girl, glad to have escaped from the bombs that were being dropped. However, the lady stumbled and the reaction was dreadful. An avalanche of human bodies piled up, each falling on the one in front. Panic broke out.

Jimmy’s had was jerked out of his grandfather’s hand and he started crying.

“Grandad, granddad”

He heard his grandfather’s reply “I am here Jimmy, stay where you are, I will reach you.”

Jimmy looked in the direction of his grandfather and saw his black and white cap moving amongst the hundreds of people, but it was impossible to reach him. At this moment Jimmy found it was difficult to breath. He was being crushed from all directions. He suddenly felt as if he was floating upwards leaving the bodies behind him, there was noise, screams, shouts, everything slowly disappearing into the background.

“Come on boy, wake up, it’s over” were the words he heard suddenly and Jimmy found himself looking into the eyes of a strange woman. "You were lucky, someone pulled you out of the crowd."

“Where’s granddad?” he asked.

“I don’t know boy, but tell me your name, that is important. Then we might be able to find your granddad. Now just lay quiet and rest. I will be back.”

The lady disappeared and reappeared some time afterwards with another lady.

“Jimmy, thank goodness, oh Jimmy you are here.” It was Jimmy’s mother.

“Yes mum, but where is granddad. He was with me and what happened.”

“There was an accident Jimmy, but don’t worry. The main thing is that you are all right.”

Jimmy’s grandfather's cap was found, but piled on a heap of other found objects after the accident. Perhaps he was one of the victims. If he was lucky, he too may have been rescued from the results of a stupid accident, caused by panic.

On that day 173 people were killed in the crush that occurred at Bethnal Green Tube Station, the people thinking there was an air raid and wanting to save themselves from a bomb attack. The first people down the stairs fell and the rest just piled on top of them. At the entrance to the station it was not even known what was happening. They could not see anything in the darkness of the station. The pitiful truth was that the British army were trying out their new defence guns in a near bye park and the people thought they were being attacked, so the sirens started. My story is imaginative, but near to the truth. It happened in the area where I grew up and there is today a plaque in memorial of those that were killed in the Bethnal Green Tube disaster in 1943.

Bethnal Green Tube Disaster

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