Mary Nesling

On the night of the disaster, Mary had received a new jumper and a pair of heels from her aunt, which she wore proudly to a dance class. Her mother picked her up from the club to help take the smaller children to the shelter. By the time the family reached the tube station, there was a crowd pushing down the stairs, and they got swept along, treading on people all the way down. Mary and her mother both fell, but managed to pass the small children they had been carrying to other people, which saved them. Luckily, they were caught in the crush from the waist downwards, and could still breathe. They were eventually pulled out of the crush after about four hours. Because of the heat and the lack of air, firemen brought down hoses and sprayed water over everyone. Mary was left with the imprint of a man's heel on her leg for years after the disaster. 

 

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Summary

 

 

Interviewee/s: Mary Nesling nee Barber

Interviewer/s: Joy Puritz and Barbara Humphreys

Date of Interview:

4/2/2014

Location: Northfleet

Length of interview: 47 minutes

Any other info:

 

 

 

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Summary:

 

 

Introduction. Mary was born in Aldgate, but moved to Bethnal Green during her childhood and was there during the disaster. She is the eldest of six siblings. Mary remembers the neighbourhood as very close-knit, her neighbours even helped when her mother had a new baby.

 

 

Her recalls nobody locking their doors, and her family attached a piece a string to the door handle to make it easier for the neighbours' children to open it.

 

 

She was eleven when the War started, and didn't spend too much time worrying about food provisions, her family did not go hungry. She attended St John's school in Old Ford Road, but did not like school, particularly arithmetic.

 

 

When she retired, Mary moved out of London to support her daughter, who is a single mother to two children. She does not like going back to London these days, as is overwhelmed by the crowds and misses the close-knit community life of her childhood.

 

 

Mary recalls first being bombed on a Saturday afternoon, and a local fish shop being destroyed. Her mother didn't feel safe in the overground shelters, so the family went down into the tube station regularly. Being the eldest, Mary had to help dress and guide her younger siblings. The family would stay underground all night, either on bunks or on the sleepers that had been put in place already in preparation for the rails.

 

 

 

In the shelter, people also formed a close community and organised their own entertainment. Mary recalls male wardens coordinating the use of the shelter.

 

On the night of the disaster, Mary had received a new jumper and a pair of heels from her aunt, which she wore proudly to  clubhouse near Bethnal Green Station where she was learning to dance. Her mother picked her up from the club to help take the smaller children to the shelter. First, they had tried to find shelter at the Salmon and Ball pub under the railway arches, but it was too crowded.

 

 

By the time the family reached the tube station, there was a crowd pushing down the stairs, and they got swept along, treading on people all the way down. Mary and her mother both fell, but managed to pass the small children they had been carrying to other people, which saved them. Luckily, they were caught in the crush from the waist downwards, and could still breathe.

 

 

 

They were eventually pulled out of the crush after about four hours. Because of the heat and the lack of air, firemen brought down hoses and sprayed water over everyone. Mary was left with the imprint of a man's heel on her leg for years after the disaster.

 

During the crush, Mary said goodbye to her mother, not thinking they would survive.

 

 

Mary recalls Alf Morris, whom she knew from church, being the first one to be rescued from the crush. Everyone was carried down the stairs, as many people had broken bones. Mary had lost her shoes when she was pulled out. She found her father and siblings, and later found out her mother had been taken to the hospital but had not been badly injured.

 

 

 

Mary does not remember whether children at her school were talking about the disaster afterwards.

 

Mary's mother was a witness in a court case tied to the disaster. Afterwards, the council sent the family on a two-week holiday near Portsmouth. This was the first time Mary saw the sea.

 

Mary heard later that the disaster was caused by a panic due to the new guns in the nearby park. She didn't see the woman carrying a baby who allegedly was the first to fall down the stairs.

 

She remembers being told not to talk about the disaster.

 

After the disaster, Mary's family used the shelters closer to their home and did not go down into the tube station anymore.

 

Mary recalls the details of what she saw on the night of the disaster and used to suffer from nightmares about it, which have relented over the decades.

 

 

She speaks more generally about the doodlebug, living in Bethnal Green after the War, and starting work in a men's tailoring factory at age fourteen.

 

 

Mary's family was evacuated three times, and first stayed near Bletchley in a house near the railway. They had had trouble finding a place to stay, as they had so many small children with them. Mary did not feel comfortable there and when her host cut her long hair off, she decided to catch a lift home with a lorry driver. During a later evacuation, they stayed in Wales. On a third trip, they were sent to Nottingham, where Mary had to look after her host family's children.