The Children's War Memorial - Poplar, London
This is the story of an unusual war memorial built by A.R. Adams Funeral Director's, drawn from contemporary newspaper accounts.
The morning of Wednesday 13 th June 1917 was hot and the sky was hazy. Nevertheless, onlookers in London's East End were able to see ‘a dozen or so big aeroplanes scintillating like huge dragonflies.' These three-seater bombers were carrying shrapnel bombs; that morning they killed 104 people.
Sixteen of the dead were 5 and 6 year olds who were sitting in their class room at Upper North Street School, Poplar. Two older children also died. ‘The sun had been shining but then it seemed to go out in a roar of thunder.'
This was the first ever daylight air-raid. It was also one of the first civilian tragedies of ‘total' war and the deaths of the children in particular caught the public's emotions. The funeral took place on 20 th June 1917 and was a major public event.
‘Signs of sorrow and sympathy were visible throughout the whole of the East End. On every hand blinds were drawn, shutters fixed, and flags had been lowered to half mast. Preceded by the Boys' Band of the Poplar Training School, the coffins were borne through the vast and silent crowds of people.' The last coffin held unidentified ‘broken fragments of little bodies'.
The funeral service at Poplar Parish Church was conducted by the Bishop of London. Among the mourners were many children, including those who ‘had themselves been extricated from the medley of powdered brick, wood, human flesh and blood in their school building after the bomb explosion'.
‘When the congregation rose to sing the hymn ‘There's a friend for little children' few were able to control their voices. One poor girl's mother fainted, but was revived by her husband, whose tender care as he held her in his arms in full view of the congregation showed the depth of his grief – else no Englishman would so far lose his self consciousness.'
The king visited the East End immediately after the raid. – During the funeral service the Bishop of London read to the Congregation a ‘simple and sincere' personal message from King George, who with Queen Mary, was thinking of the children's parents and ‘their saddened homes, especially today when the bodies of their little ones are laid to rest'
‘The early ending' the Kings message went on, ‘of young innocent lives, at all times pathetic, is made so more than ever in these tragic and cruel circumstances. Their Majesties pray that the mourners may be blessed with God's help and comfort in their sorrow'.
A fund was set up to raise a memorial. People felt that the memorial should be of such a character as to benefit the living. On 23 rd June 1919, with appropriate ceremony, a stone memorial was unveiled to the children of whom the Mayor of Poplar had sad ‘ These boys and girls have truly suffered for their country as any men who have perished in the trenches, on the high seas or in the air.'
The memorial was set up in Poplar Recreation Ground. It was built by A.R. Adams and is made from marble and granite, in a Victorian gothic design surmounted by an angel with spread wings and inscribed with the names of the children who died. To this day it arouses emotion in people who stop and look at it.
The picture above shows the bombed school room, the pictures to the right are the memorial then and the memorial as it stands now.
Thank you to http://www.ppu.org.uk/ for their article and research on the story.