Mayor attends ceremony in memory of Balham Station war dead

Published: Thursday 15th October 15

The Mayor of Wandsworth Cllr Nicola Nardelli has joined children from local schools and London Underground staff in commemorating the 64 men, women and children from Balham who were killed in the borough’s worst wartime loss of life.

A series of commemorative events were held at Balham tube station yesterday (Wednesday) to mark the tragic events of 75 years ago when 64 people sheltering at the station were killed during a Luftwaffe bombing raid. 

Children from Holy Ghost School took part in the commemorative events

The tragedy occurred just after 8pm on October 14, 1940, at the height of what became known as The Blitz.

From August 1940 until May 1941 the Germans carried out an intense bombing campaign against London and other major British cities. Night after night waves of Luftwaffe aircraft dropped thousands of tons of high explosive and incendiary bombs on targets across the country.

The borough was a prime target for these attacks, especially places like Battersea with its huge railway network, the power station and many factories involved in war production.

To avoid the raids, civilians took to sheltering in underground stations. On that fateful night around 700 people were on the platforms at Balham when a 1,400kg bomb fell on the high street fracturing the gas, sewer and water mains that lay above their heads.

Thousands of gallons of water and tonnes of mud and debris filled the station and although 600 people were rescued – 64 died, including some London Transport staff on duty that night.

Events were held at the station throughout yesterday to mark the 75th anniversary of the tragedy. During the day children from local primary schools attended a lunchtime reading by children’s author Barbara Mitchelhill from her novel Billy’s Blitz, which includes vivid passages describing life in Balham during The Blitz. 

The devastating aftermath

And just after 8pm a commemorative service was held on one of the platforms to mark the precise moment the bomb fell.

Cllr Nardelli said: “It is important that we never forget the devastating loss suffered by the people of Balham 75 years ago when so many men, women and children people lost their lives in this tragic wartime disaster. I was honoured to be joined by so many young people from our local schools in commemorating this anniversary.”

Simon Cook, the London Underground area manager who organised yesterday’s events said: “It is impossible to imagine what it would have been like for those working or sheltering at Balham Tube station that night. We will never forget the events of 14 October 1940 and wanted to pay our respects to those who lost their lives that night.”

One of the victims that night was the station master, John Rundle, who died trying to save others and was an active member of the Wimbledon Salvation Army.

Lieutenant Annette Wicks from the Salvation Army said: "Mr Rundle stayed on the phone calmly giving information to those responding to the emergency on the other side of the blocked tunnel.  As the flood waters rose he must have known that he would not be rescued but his actions would have helped others to be saved.  He was a true Salvationist."

The council’s website has a section dedicated to the Story of Wandsworth which includes eyewitness testimonies of what life was like in London during The Blitz.

The Wandsworth Heritage Service has a wealth of historical data, including records of the borough dating back to 1489, a wide range of books and articles, photographs, and hundreds of old newspapers, maps, plans, census returns and other documents. It can also people trace their family trees.

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