The death and destruction which came to Ilford, 66 years ago
THERE was no warning, no sound, no siren, just death, frantic rescuers looking for signs of life among homes turned into charred rubble.
Amidst the terror stood a 14-year-old boy who 66 years on, vividly remembers the bombing campaign waged on Ilford.
John Barfoot was in his last few weeks at Loxford School when, on Thursday, October 26, 1944, a German V2 rocket projectile crashed on to Courtland Avenue, off The Drive, Ilford.
The attack wrecked eight houses, killed eight people and wounded 30 and signalled the start of a five-month campaign of terror which was to claim 100 lives in Ilford and its surrounding districts and seriously injured 435.
“With the V1 flying bombs, we could hear them coming a long way off and there were air raid sirens,” says Mr Barfoot, 80, of Ilfracombe Gardens, Chadwell Heath.
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“But with the V2 rockets we had no warning.”
A few weeks later, the youngster, who at the time of World War Two was living in Windsor Road, Ilford, covered window frames shattered by the silent killer as part of his work for a building company.
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The dad-of-two and grandfather-of-one said: “My memories are of seeing the devastation caused by the rockets.
“I remember the rescuers searching and when they blew whistles there would be a deathly hush while they tried to locate people buried under the rubble.
“It was an experience that made a real impression on me at 14.”
Thirty-five V2s landed on Ilford and its surrounding districts, with the Ilford Hippodrome badly damaged after an attack of January 12, 1945.
It was that attack which Mr Barfoot says was his most “terrifying” moment of the V2 rocket campaign, when he feared, it would prove wrongly, his mother had been caught up in the blast.
“Looking back, people seemed to just carry on with their daily lives,” said Mr Barfoot. “Then, all of a sudden, there would be this massive explosion.”
On March 3, 1945, three weeks before the final V2 fell on Ilford, Mr Barfoot saw the devastation caused by an attack in Breamore Road, Seven Kings.
Only years later did he learn the attack on the road, which he saw as part of a call out with the building firm he worked for, claimed the lives of his future wife’s grandparents.
The devastating V2 rockets were about 46ft long and 5ft 6ins in diameter.
The launching of the rockets ended when the territory on mainland Europe from where they were fired was overrun by allied armies towards the end of the war.
Another person who remembers what is was like living in Ilford when it experienced the V2 onslaught, is Leonard Beacham.
The 83-year-old was living in Mortlake Road, Ilford, when the Germans launched their rockets on the town.
The grandfather-of-four said: “I think because I was quite young, it probably helped me to deal with what was going on.”
He added: “It was strange because you had no warning of an attack, it just happened.
“The V2s caused a lot of devastation. Ilford was badly hit.”
Mr Beacham was living with his mother in their two-bedroom home when the V2s were launched.
They followed the V1s, known as doodlebugs.
Thirty-four V1s fell on Ilford and its surrounding areas from June 16, 1944 to August 16, 1944.
That bombing campaign killed 60 people and seriously injured 242.
Speaking of the V2 attacks, Mr Beacham, now of Guildford, said: “I remember seeing faces of people who had lost loved ones.
“People tried desperately to find survivors in some of the attacks but you knew just by looking around that people had been needlessly killed.
“They were silent but that did not mask how deadly they were.”