The Sandringham Road Bomb
Sandringham Road map
Most people were asleep in the early hours of Sunday 30 July 1944, when the biggest tragedy of the 20th century in South West Hertfordshire occurred, in Sandringham Road.
A V1 flying bomb landed near the junction of Sandringham Road and Parkgate Road, and the resulting explosion caused the deaths of 37 people, including three children. 64 people were injured, 50 houses were damaged beyond repair, 500 other houses were damaged and 100 shops in St Albans Road lost their windows.
Fred Coates was fire-spotting from the top of Holy Rood Church, when he saw the flame from the 25-foot long missile as it came towards Watford from Harrow. He watched as the missile, which had a 16-foot wingspan, disappear into the night in the direction of Garston.
There are various theories as to why the bomb caused so much damage, including that it caught fire before impact, or that it came down at a shallow angle causing the blast to spread outwards. The houses are mainly terraced in Sandringham and Parkgate Roads, so the fact that they are so close together would have increased the casualties, as would the fact that the bomb landed at the junction of two streets, therefore the blast was able to spread in three directions affecting more houses.
It is alleged that a party attended by American troops was taking place and this accounted for a number of the dead, whilst several of the fatalities were evacuees, who had come from London to escape the bombing.
The roads were sealed off while rescue workers hunted for survivors, and a Mobile Listening Squad was called in to detect survivors buried under the rubble. An enquiry centre and temporary mortuary was established at W.H. Lavers timber yard, on the corner of Windsor Road and St Albans Road. Parkgate School was used as a rest centre, and Civil Defence Units from Abbots Langley, Rickmansworth, Bushey, Aldenham and Radlett came to assist.
Doris Ephitite was visiting her daughter at 101 Sandringham Road when the siren sounded. She arose and dressed, lying down on the bed in the back bedroom next to her husband. "At about three in the morning a flying bomb struck the house. I was covered with debris. My husband was beside me. Men came in the dark to get me," she told the inquest. Two days later she identified the bodies of her husband and granddaughter, but it was eight months later that her daughter was identified. She had been misidentified in the confusion and buried under another name.
The blast was heard for miles around, but Jean Abbot failed to hear it as she slept in Maude Crescent. She stayed asleep throughout the blast even though the ceiling collapsed on her. Her family were amazed to find her uninjured.
As well as being damaged by the bomb, Parkgate School was affected by the blast having killed two pupils, three ex-pupils and nine parents. By Tuesday 1 August the homeless had been billeted elsewhere, and the school playground became the centre of rebuilding operations, while the infants department continued as a feeding centre served by school staff and the WVS (Women's Volunteer Service). They served the workmen, Home Guard and police officers on duty in the area. During the school holidays some school staff were on duty every day. The grateful thanks of Hertfordshire County Council and Watford Borough Council were conveyed to them for help so loyally given during this very trying period.
A communal funeral was held at North Watford Cemetery and a special service in honour of those who died was held at Christ Church. A memorial was erected in North Watford Cemetery in August 1950; it was dedicated by Rev. E.D.P. Kelsey, the Vicar of Christ Church. The stone is a memorial to all who lost their lives but contains only the names of the twelve victims who are buried in the cemetery.
Dr T.T.B. Wood of North Western Avenue Surgery was awarded the MBE for his untiring and courageous work in the tragedy, while Fireman Stanley Victor Clark was awarded a BEM for rescue work.
Immediately after the bomb fell it was assumed that 40 people had died. After the war the number was changed to 37 confirmed deaths.
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Research: Paul Davies; North Watford History Group.
Author: Paul Davies; North Watford History Group.
Photography: Glen; North Watford History Group.
- Phillips, Oliver; Watford At War; Watford Observer, 5 May 1995
- Logbook of Parkgate Junior School printed in the Watford Observer, 21 Sep 2007
[Added by Glen: 8:30pm 10 May 2009]
[Updated by Glen: 9:13am 8 Aug 2009]
[Updated by Glen: 3:22pm 25 Oct 2009]