Bow Street WC2

Photo:Bomb Map: Bow Street

Bomb Map: Bow Street

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:Bow Street WC2

Bow Street WC2

11 January 1941

By Laura Zaepfel

On 11 January 1941 a high explosive bomb - possibly of an armour piercing or delayed-action type - hit a large fruit warehouse in Bow Street WC2. The bomb smashed through five floors, before detonating in the basement shelter. The whole building - close to Covent Garden Market and the Royal Opera House - collapsed into the shelter.

A coal gas main was ripped open, leaving gas pockets to hinder the rescue teams. Rescue workers got into the warehouse remains quickly but there was no access to the shelter below (housing around thirteen occupants from nearby dwellings). Twelve ARP men on duty were also trapped elsewhere in the rubble.

The emergency exit to the basement was opened and four ARP wardens were taken out to safety. One ARP officer was found to have had a lucky escape after he was blown down from one of the upper floors in a small steel shelter. This had protected him from injury and he was also extracted alive.

The rest of the warehouse was cut off by debris; the broken gas main continued to leak, hampering access. Additional incendiaries falling on the site caused the outbreak of fire among the destroyed timbers of the warehouse. It spread out of control and prevented further rescue efforts, though attempts from the basements of the adjoining buildings were made. Rescue work was suspended until the site was made safe.

Days later, twenty bodies were pulled from the debris of the warehouse. They had been killed instantly by the initial explosion.

To learn more about the Bow Street incident, read an account of one of the individuals rescued from the shelter:

This page was added by Laura Zaepfel on 30/06/2011.

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