Post Memories: Moment St Paul’s Church, Barking, was destroyed by German V2 bomber

Local history expert Tony Richards with the Ripple Hall plaque in memory of those who died at St Pau

Local history expert Tony Richards with the Ripple Hall plaque in memory of those who died at St Paul's Church - Credit: Archant

January 14, 1945, saw the destruction of St Paul’s Church in Ripple Road, Barking, by a German V2 rocket. Local history expert Tony Richards looks back at the disaster and forward to its anniversary

The memorial plaque

The memorial plaque - Credit: Archant

The priest-in-charge had just finished his after-service prayer in the choir vestry when the bomb hit.

It was January, 1945, when a German V2 rocket destroyed part of St Paul’s Church in Ripple Road, Barking. Eight worshippers were killed and 52 injured. They had been leaving the church after the Sunday service – a few minutes later the church would likely have been empty.

January 14 will mark the 70th anniversary of the tragedy.

After the rubble was removed, services continued to be conducted within the ruined walls of the church. In 1955 the site became that of St Margaret’s Church Hall.

In 1992 it was taken over by the council as Ripple Hall, with a plaque on the wall facing Erkenwald Road commemorating the destruction of the church and the deaths of so many worshippers.

It bore the names of Robert Galley, church warden, and the rector of St Margaret’s (later Bishop of Barking) Canon Frank Chadwick.

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That plaque was removed when the hall was revamped in 2010, but has now been put back up in the lobby.

Earlier in the war, as V1 rockets were being launched, British newspapers had reported they were landing “to the north of London”. The Germans, reading the papers, adjusted their aim by cutting back on each rocket’s fuel, and many rockets then landed short of their targets – in Kent and Sussex, to the displeasure of our friends in those counties.

So, in announcing the Barking disaster in 1945, the wartime defence ministry was careful to play down its severity and to say only that a rocket had landed on a church somewhere “in southern England”. They did not want to help the Germans refine their aim by letting them know where their rockets were landing.

The Barking Advertiser’s graphic account (January 20, 1945) of the St Paul’s bombing read: “Just after a service had been concluded and the congregation was leaving a bomb fell on a church which was almost completely demolished, and on the wooden church hall beside it. Nothing remained except rubble.

“As the congregation were leaving the priest-in-charge had just recited the vestry prayer in the choir vestry and was re-entering the nave of the church when the roof and walls collapsed with a crash. Choirboys were divesting themselves of their cassocks and surplices, and some of them were injured. They were immediately rushed to hospital for treatment.

“The priest-in-charge, who had conducted the service and preached the sermon, had a remarkable escape for, although heavy pieces of masonry were falling around him, he was able to get out without a scratch. Rescue work commenced quickly, and altogether six bodies were retrieved, including those of Louisa Lake, Peter Wade and Barbara Hall. Two more died after admission to hospital.

“While the work was in progress anxious relatives were seeking information about those who they believed had attended the service. Other workers in the meantime engaged in endeavouring to recover church valuables and succeeded in saving, almost undamaged, the altar, furniture and drapings, although the altar had been submerged in debris.”

The name of the priest-in-charge was withheld in order to avoid giving the Germans any clue as to the church involved.

But at a ceremony after VE Day, the Bishop of Chelmsford named him as the Rev N O Porter.

• Tony is organising a reunion of the bomb’s surviving victims. If you, a friend or family member were there, he asks that you give him a ring on 020 8594 1299.

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