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The bullet-riddled Ilford bridge still standing 70 years on

PUBLISHED: 07:00 18 April 2017

Local historian Ray Lewis on the railway footbridge connecting Ley Street with the High Road which was hit by German aircraft bullets during WWII

Local historian Ray Lewis on the railway footbridge connecting Ley Street with the High Road which was hit by German aircraft bullets during WWII

Archant

As Crossrail looks set to transform the face of Ilford as we know it, there are some who are concerned the heritage of the area is being lost.

Local historian Ray Lewis on the railway footbridge connecting Ley Street with the High Road which was hit by German aircraft bullets during WWII Local historian Ray Lewis on the railway footbridge connecting Ley Street with the High Road which was hit by German aircraft bullets during WWII

And now, one small iron footbridge between Ilford High Road and Sam’s Green – still bullet-scarred from the Second World War – finds itself in the middle of that debate.

“It’s known as footbridge 151,” says lifelong Ley Street resident Ray Lewis. “And I think it will be a massive shame if Crossrail coming in would lead to some of the unique history it has being lost.”

If you walk across the bridge you can’t help but notice the rusty holes in both sides; jagged little punctures that most would no doubt attribute to years of battling the weather.

But that is not the case.

Local historian Ray Lewis on the railway footbridge connecting Ley Street with the High Road which was hit by German aircraft bullets during WWII Local historian Ray Lewis on the railway footbridge connecting Ley Street with the High Road which was hit by German aircraft bullets during WWII

Thanks to its location just east of central London, Ilford suffered a great deal under constant attacks from German rockets and V2 rockets between 1941 and 1945.

In March of 1943, a raiding force of 16 Focke-Wulf 190s, acting as fighter bombers, sped up the Thames before coming inland at Barking.

Their target? The Plessey factory sitting directly beside the railway line in the middle of Ilford, where vital electronics were being made to support the war effort.

Little did they know that the electronics factory had already been moved underground to a stretch of the Tube between Leytonstone and Gants Hill.

Local historian Ray Lewis on the railway footbridge connecting Ley Street with the High Road which was hit by German aircraft bullets during WWII Local historian Ray Lewis on the railway footbridge connecting Ley Street with the High Road which was hit by German aircraft bullets during WWII

As German pilots skimmed over rooftops, they unleashed a withering hail of machine gun fire along the length of the railway, determined to, at the very least, interrupt the allies’ supply lines.

It is not a surprise then, that the corrugated iron footbridge between Ilford High Road and Sam’s Green, which still stands today, bears the marks of that attack.

But now, instead of the boots of air raid wardens and fire marshals, the bridge echoes to the sounds of electrical engineers making their way to and from Crossrail improvement sites along the TfL Rail line that runs below.

At 86 years old Ray is one of a small number of Ilford residents old enough to remember the stories of how the heart of Redbridge made it through the war, and now he is worried that the history of the area might be swept away by the modernising influence of Crossrail.

Local historian Ray Lewis on the railway footbridge connecting Ley Street with the High Road which was hit by German aircraft bullets during WWII Local historian Ray Lewis on the railway footbridge connecting Ley Street with the High Road which was hit by German aircraft bullets during WWII

“I understand that they need to keep improving the town, but stories like that deserve to be told before they’re gone,” he told the Recorder.

“There will be people walking past those holes every day that have no idea what they are, and I just think that’s a shame.”

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