The sound of the air raid siren during the Blitz was often a call to residents to seek safety and shelter in the tube station. On 3 March 1943 all seemed 'business as usual' as the siren sounded and Bethnal Green locals converged towards their fairly new tube station. On this evening though, a different set of anti-aircraft rockets were set-off in nearby Victoria Park and the unfamiliar noise sent a panic through the crowd at the station entrance, one of whom fell. The fall precipitated a catastrophic crush on the stairway: 173 people died and a further 90 were injured making the tragedy the worst British civilian disaster of the second world war. In addition to the tragedy, it was later uncovered that the lack of safety at the station entrance was known to officials and the full horror was hidden from public knowledge for some decades by the government with Bethnal Green council silenced and shouldering the blame.
The Stairway To Heaven Memorial Trust estimate they are just a few months off their funding targets to complete the memorial in Bethnal Green Gardens, now only needing the crowning stairway as designed by architect Harry Paticas (a visualisation and model are pictured above). The memorial will doubtless become a distinctive and prominent spectacle on the East London landscape.
Helping the trust to raise funds, Genesis Cinema's Bar Paragon is to host a 1940s themed party this Friday.
The evening begins with screenings of wartime newsreels and a short film, and then the party starts with London Swing Dance Society founder Simon Selmon leading the moves on the dance floor. Guests are encouraged to wear wartime fancy dress, but have hairstylists on hand to put the finishing touches to the 40s look — so revellers can then fully let their hair down.
As East London's oldest cinema, originally the Paragon Music Hall built in 1885, the Genesis has soaked up the area's history and always been a hive of entertainment. It is, then, a fitting place for party-goers to celebrate the famous Blitz spirit while also helping commemorate those who died.
The 1940s Party will be held at Genesis Cinema, 93-95 Mile End Road, Whitechapel, on Fri 17 April, 7pm (for wartime newsreels) / 8pm (party), Tickets: £10. £5 from every ticket is donated directly to the Stairway To Heaven Memorial Trust.
The full story of the Bethnal Green disaster, including several old photos, can be found on the stairway to heaven memorial website.