Saturday, 15 March 2014

The Whiteley's bomb - 22nd October 1940

In 1940, Whiteley’s was a large department store, catering for the well-heeled people of west London, located on Queensway, just north of Hyde Park. 

It closed in 1981 and the abandoned building features in this slideshow.  Watch closely, and just after 2 minutes, 35 seconds there is a picture of a sign saying “To the SHELTER”, the only clue to the events of 1940.  (Whiteley’s re-opened in 1989, the façade retained as the impressive shell for a new shopping centre.)

At the start of the Blitz, some people favoured underground stations, others their garden Anderson shelter, and others still took their chances at home.  In the cities, some department stores opened their shelters overnight for local people and Whiteley’s seems to have been one of these, although references to it are rare.

The first major bombing attack on the centre of London was Saturday 7th September 1940 so by 22th October people had experienced over 40 days and nights under attack.  For the Bayswater area this was mainly the threat of attack, with bombs mercifully rare, but the broken nights would have been tiring.  While the threat of invasion had seemingly passed for this winter, the war was not going well.

Information on what happened at Whiteley’s after dark on Tuesday 22nd October is very hard to come by.  The facts seem to be as follows:
  • A bomb hit the building at 9.45pm
  • It struck the south end of the building at the corner of Queensway and Porchester Gardens (so on the left of the postcard view above)
  • It exploded in the basement, causing some internal walls to collapse
  • A gas main was ignited, causing a fire
  • The ‘all clear’ sounded at 11pm
  • It took until daylight for the fire to be adequately controlled to begin rescue work
  • It took four days to find the last of the casualties
  • A fireman was among those killed

Photographs of the damage are also scarce: this one is said to be of Whiteley’s, showing the ground floor:

Using the Commonwealth War Grave Commission (CWGC) records, 18 people (civilians) were killed or fatally injured at Whiteley’s that night as well as a woman killed in Queensway, giving a total of 19 deaths.
All these people had home addresses in West London, but most had travelled some distance to get to the shelter in the store, passing the potential shelter of London Underground stations on the way.  Of course some people didn’t like the tube, others were too late, but it is possible some were members of staff bringing their families back to shelter.  I have therefore divided the list into people who were local (n=5) and people who had travelled (n=13), plus speculation about the identity of ‘the fireman’.

The ‘travellers’
 May and Joyce Margaret Broom, exemplify the ‘travellers’: they lived at 24 Oxford Gardens which is roughly a mile away and would involve walking past Ladbroke Grove station.  May was 55 and her daughter, Joyce was 15.  May and her husband James are not easy to trace on but the 1911 Census offers a clue:
·         A May Deacon worked as a parlour-maid for the Isaacs family at 79 Portland Place West
·         A James Broom worked as a footman for the Loose family at 10 Cavendish Mews North
The addresses are only a couple of hundred yards apart and it is possible they met each other in the area; they were married in the area four years later.
We can deduce May was born on Friday 15th May, 1885 in Burnham-on-Crouch, Essex.  James was most likely born in 1886 in Clerkenwell and died in 1928 aged 42, when Joyce was aged three.
Joyce was killed at Whiteley’s and May was injured.  She died ten weeks later on 2nd January 1941 at Park Prewett Hospital, Sherborne St John, just north of Basingstoke.  While this was a psychiatric hospital, during the war it was in military use and included a specialist plastic surgery unit.  It is possible May was burned in the gas main fire mentioned above.

Henry James Lovelock lived at 21 Cambridge Gardens, very close to the Brooms, and it is tempting to think of Henry and his wife joining them on the journey.  Henry married Elizabeth Sarah Florey on Saturday 6th September 1913 at St Dionis, Parsons Green; he was 27 and gave his occupation as soldier.  She was 26 and a domestic servant, daughter of a labourer; Henry’s father John (now dead) had been a coachman. 
Henry was known as Harry when he was young and had 4 older brothers and sisters, as well as one younger; he would have needed their support when his mother died when he was 8 followed by his father when he was 13. 
Sadly by 1901 he was listed as a ‘pauper scholar’ at the Cottage Home Schools of the Kensington and Chelsea Union, Fir Tree Road, Ewell, Surrey. 
In the 1911 Census he was a private in the army (2nd Battalion, Prince of Wales Own Regiment at Barracks in Rawcliffe, East Riding of Yorkshire).
In the First World War he served in the Yorkshire Regiment, then the Machine Gun Corps
They had at least one child, John born in 1923 – he may have died in Lambeth in 1943, aged 19, but this was not as a direct result of bombing.
Elizabeth died in Wood Green in 1959.

Kate Parish, aged 54 and a widow, is difficult to trace.  In CWGC her husband’s initial is given as “E” but there are no matches.  In addition, ancestry suggests she was born around 1881 as opposed to 1886 in CWGC.  She survived the bombing badly injured but on Friday 1st November, ten days later, she died in St Marys Hospital, by Paddington Station.

Looking west towards Whiteley's southern entrance, February 2014 - Queensway runs from left to right at the traffic lights.

Frederick William and Louisa Ada Paxton were husband and wife, both aged 33.  They lived at 14 Warbeck Road, Hammersmith, in Shepherd’s Bush.  Frederick lived in Earl’s Court when he was young, son of a butcher’s shop manager.  Louisa’s origins are more obscure; her birth certificate gives her surname as Wirth.  They married in 1929; I can’t find evidence they had any children.  In 1940, Frederick was working as a grocery salesman in Selfridge’s.

Yetta Rose was most likely born in Russia around 1888.  She probably married Morris (also a Russian) in 1909; their surname could be an Anglicised version of Rosenfeldt.
By 1911 they lived in London with Morris’s sister, Dora; all three of them worked as tailors.
In 1940, Yetta and Morris lived at 12 Colville Road, in Acton.

Deborah Shapps’ home was at 5 Eardley Crescent, which is by Earls Court Exhibition Centre (west of Earls Court Tube).  However, her life is difficult to follow in the records because of uncertainties about her name: for example, her will gives her name as Deborah (or Debby) Shapps (or Marcus), and there is also a reference to her being called Shappa.
One possibility is that she was born Debbe Shaps in Mile End Old Town in Q3 1911; if so, her mother’s maiden name Schneider.  She may have been the daughter of Maurice Shapps (1887-1935) and the sister of Ralph
In 1935 Deborah shared 5 Eardley Crescent, Marcus’s last address, with 2 others, neither of whom is obviously related.  By 1939 the residents were Deborah and Ralph (although in 1938 she was called Deborah Marcus – this ‘new’ surname was her father’s first name.). She left £917 8/9 to Ralph Shapps, who was described as a draughtsman (in Marcus’s will five years earlier he was a hairdresser.)

Looking north up Queensway, numbers 106-110 where several victims lived is off camera to the right. Previous photo was taken around the corner on the right.

Alice Maud Smith, aged 51, died together with her son Leslie James Smith and his wife Elsie Mabel Smith, aged 24 and 23.  Their home address was 38 St Lawrence Terrace which is by Ladbroke Grove, in the same direction as Oxford Gardens and Cambridge Gardens (see above).
Alice Maud Brown was born Q3 1889 in Islington, daughter of Henry Alfred (‘Harry’, born 1862) and Charlotte Maria Darby.  She married John Smith (1888-1959) on 4th October 1908 at St Marks, Victoria Park – she was 19, he was 20.  John was a blacksmith, just like his father.  Alice was a tailoress, her father a carman. Their address was given as 13 Wendon Street.
Henry, Alice’s father killed on 24th September 1916. The cause of death was: “Violent shock, crushed thigh and other injuries caused by the explosion of a bomb thrown by a hostile aircraft [a Zeppelin airship].”
Leslie James Smith may have been born 17th October 1916; there is a record of a man of the same name working for Great Western Railways from 27th November 1933.  His birth was registered in Q4 of 1916, the 8th of 9 children.
Elsie Mabel Wall married Leslie in Kensington in Q4 1939.  She was most likely born in Kensington in Q2 1916 (mother’s maiden name Hastings).

William Matthew Willmott and his wife, Ethel Elizabeth came from 199 Dalling Road, Hammersmith, at Ravenscourt Park to the west of Shepherds Bush – they had travelled the furthest to shelter at Whiteley’s that night.
William was born 4th August 1866 in Haslingfield, about six miles south of Cambridge, son of an agricultural labourer.  William followed his father into farm work initially but between 1881 and 1894 he seems to have moved to London and started work as a gardener.
Aged 27, he married Sarah Jane Atkins in 1894 at St Saviours in Paddington (she was 36) but she died the following year.  In 1896 William married again, to Mary Ann Mason in Barnet and they had at least four children (Mary, William, Lily and Violet).
Sarah died in 1935 at the Middlesex Hospital Annexe in St Pancras.  Their home address was 90 Lancaster Road, Notting Hill, and the NPC gives William’s occupation as ‘verger’.  (Sarah’s effects were valued at £381.)
In 1939 he married a third time, to Ethel Elizabeth Newell.  She was born 23rd March 1895 in Margate, but her family moved to London when she was young and on 2nd July 1900 she was registered at Eardley Road School, Mitcham Lane, Streatham.  Her father, Henry, was a gas fitter, and her mother’s name was Elizabeth.  She left school to work as a general domestic servant, and in the 1911 Census she lived at 72 Ladbroke Grove W in the household of Blanche Gertrude Guthrie (widow), her father, his nurse, and her brother.

The ‘locals’
 CWGC gives the information that Norman Alexander Cable-Brackenbury, born around 1912, was adopted by his parents Cyril and Maud Catherine Brackenbury; at the time of the adoption Cyril worked as a mining engineer in Redruth in Cornwall.  (Cyril was a wealthy man – when he died in 1962 his effects were valued at over £40,000).
Norman married Elsie Muriel Twist in the middle of 1940, the couple moved into Elsie’s flat at
2 Porchester Court, 12 Porchester Gardens joins Whiteley’s on its east side.  Elsie had been training at the Royal College of Music; her father was a retired soldier and inspector of munitions at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich.  After the war he would become borough engineer for the Paddington area, overseeing the repair of war damage.

Porchester Gardens looking east, Whiteley's south bay starts where the houses end.  The traffic lights and Boots just visible on the right.  Norman Cable-Brackenbury lived in the house nearest Whiteley's (centre of photo).

Percy Lines is a hard man to trace (his first name is also given as Percie and his surname as Liner, Shines and Lyons – whether by bad luck or design is unknown.).  He was probably born in 1879 in Fulham and lived at 103 Hammersmith Road as a child.  His father was a surveyor or estate agent and his mother seems to have been left to run the household of at least 8 children.  There are no simple matches in the 1901 or 1911 Census returns, nor for his marriage to Rosa; it is possible he was travelling abroad (like his father in earlier Censuses?)
In 1940 he lived at 106a Queensway, diagonally opposite Whiteley’s across the junction with Porchester Gardens.

Ethel Mann lived at the same address as Percy Lines.  She was born in 1888 in St Pancras, daughter of a railway clerk.  In 1891 the family was living in Surrey but ten years later her mother and father were living miles apart, her father working as a fish porter in his native Plymouth; her mother was living with her elder brothers in Tufnell Park.  Ethel lived with her grandmother in Brighton.  Was this a holiday or a permanent state?
Another ten years and she lived with her mother in Clapton, north-east London, working as a shorthand clerk in an accountants.  She seems never to have married.

Serge Tchernine lived at 35 Leinster Square, a couple of hundred yards west of Whiteley’s.
Serge is recorded by CWGC as having been killed in the entrance to Whiteley’s – could he have been caught by the raid on his way home and sheltered in the doorway?
He was born in Brighton in 1901, possibly called Abraham Serge Tchernine, into a family of some wealth.  His father, Dimirti, was a Russian financier and his mother Yvonne was French (from Toulouse).
The 1911 Census records them living at the Royal Palace Hotel, Kensington with his family, plus Yvonne’s mother Bertha and sister Odette (born in Paris).
By 1921, his father was in financial trouble and he died in 1925, in Lambeth, possibly suggesting some reduction in his wealth. 
Unfortunately we know nothing else about Serge.  Yvonne died in Surrey in 1945.

Anna Cecilia Webbe lived at 110 Queensway (today this is the Bella Pasta restaurant across the traffic junction at the south end of Whiteley’s), so she was a near-neighbour of Percy Lines and Ethel Mann (see above).  CWGC only records she died in St Mary’s Hospital on 2th October 1940, two days after the bombing and gives her home address; as there were no other incidents in the area in that time, I have inferred she was injured either in the shelter or from blast damage while at her home.
Anna arrived at Southampton from Capetown, South Africa, on 1st June 1936 aboard the Stirling Castle (travelling Cabin Class).  She was aged 28 and her occupation was given as ‘hairdresser’.  She gave her address as the Regent Palace Hotel, just by Piccadilly Circus, and her intended residence was recorded as “other parts of the British Empire”, which presumably means she was leaving South Africa for London.
One possibility is that she was born Anna Cecilia Pretorius (her mother’s surname) and married a man called Webbe (this is her surname in records, not Webb as in CWGC) but nobody of the same name travelled with her.  Another possibility is that she was born Webb and her mother had re-married.

Looking south down Queensway, the pillar of Whiteley's southern entrance just visible on the right.  Percy Lines, Ethel Mann and Anna Webbe lived diagonally across the junction from Whiteley's, above the shops and pub in the centre of the photo on the other side of the street.

And ‘the fireman’?
The source quoted at the start of this post said a fireman was among the dead, yet none are listed in CWGC.  There was only one civil defence official killed, so could this be a case of mistaken identity?
James Scott is the most mysterious figure among the casualties.  CWGC gives his home address as the Salvation Army Hostel at Lisson Grove, and says he was a merchant seaman, aged 39.  He is also described as a ‘shelter marshal’, a civil defence official managing a shelter.
The Salvation Army Shelter was an incident reporting post for the whole St Marylebone area and was an obvious base to send help to the neighbouring area of Paddington when the Whiteley’s incident occurred. 
I speculate James might have led the team from St Marylebone going to help; there seems no other likely reason why a shelter marshal should have been so far from his own ‘patch’.  We know there was a gas explosion, so it is possible James was killed while working in the rubble to rescue survivors of the bombing.
Sadly, with no information about relations or a middle name on CWGC there are few ways to search with any certainty at all.


  1. Thank you for this information which I found really interesting. I have been looking for information as I was told as a child that I was named after my fathers cousin Deborah who was burned to death in a bombing raid at Whiteleys during the war, now I have time to look, most of my family have passed on.

  2. I've just been researching Percy Lines, so your work is really useful in filling in background to the bombing. Percy married Rosa Barclay in West Ham Registration District in the summer of 1904. They had at least two children - Arthur Barclay Lines (1906-1990) and Isobel Margaret Lines (1910-2004). Rosa died in late 1959.

  3. Elsie Mabel Wall mentioned above was my mother-in-law’s sister. Just discovered this yesterday when doing research on the family tree.