Phyllis Pike

At the time of the disaster, Phyllis and her family were sleeping in the tube shelter almost every night. They had stopped to tie one of the smaller children's shoes and this brief delay was the reason they missed the worst of the crush. The family was caught about twelve steps down into the station. Phyllis brings up the missing central hand rail and describes how she and her siblings clung to their parents. Her sister Joan disappeared into the crowd and Phyllis didn't see her again until much later that night. When Phyllis came out of the shelter, she could see stretcher with bodies stretching all the way down Roman Road. She started walking alongside them, trying to find her sister, who was doing the same thing. Some neighbours living in the houses nearby took them in and offered them tea. Even years later, Phyllis does not like walking into crowds or enclosed spaces and has to sit at the very back of cinemas, close to the emergency exit.

 


 You can listen to the recorded INTERVIEW below.

Read the interview SUMMARY online below, or click on the icon to read or download: phyllis pike summary.pdf

The summary gives timed sections which direct you to specific parts of the recording.

 Click on the icon to read or download the complete TRANSCRIPT: phyllis pike transcript.pdf

 

Summary

 

 

Interviewee/s: Phyllis Pike née Friedlander

Interviewer/s: Joy Puritz and Barbara Humphreys

Date of Interview:

12th May 2014

Location: Phyllis' home in Mile End

Length of interview: 51 minutes

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Summary:

 

 

Introduction. Phyllis speaks about her great-grandfather immigrating to London from Berlin and settling in Bethnal Green. Her mother's first husband died in WWI, leaving her a widow with two small children. She then married Phyllis' father and gave birth to a further eight children, seven of whom survived.

 

When WWII broke out, Phyllis was eight and lived in Globe Road. She attended Bonner Street School and recalls being fitted with gas masks along with her classmates.

 

At eight and a half, Phyllis was evacuated to Norfolk along with her older sister. She enjoyed being in the countryside and stayed with a kind family, but missed her parents' easygoing attitude.

 

After the Blitz ended, they returned to London. Shortly afterwards, the doodlebug began. As her mother was very nervous about the bombings, the family often stayed in the Bethnal Green tube shelter. She remembers being allocated bunk beds. Being a child, she enjoyed staying underground and saw it as an adventure. She even performed tap dances as part of the evening entertainment on the platform.

 

In the mornings, the children would come up out of the shelter and wash at home before going to school. Sometimes, Phyllis' mother stayed underground due to her anxiety.

 

At the time of the disaster, the family was still sleeping in the tube shelter almost every night.

 

On the night of the disaster, everyone got ready to go down into the shelter again. They had stopped to tie one of the smaller children's shoes when heard what turned out to be the guns in Victoria Park, but no sirens. Their brief delay was the reason they missed the worst of the crush.

 

The family was caught about twelve steps down into the station. Phyllis brings up the missing hand rail and describes how she and her siblings clung to their parents. Her sister Joan disappeared into the crowd and Phyllis didn't see her again until much later that night.

 

After a policeman called out that it was all-clear, the crowd started falling backwards. It turned out later that the same policeman had pulled Phyllis' sister Joan out of the crush and taken her into the crypt of the nearby church, where she witnessed many of the injured and dying being cared for that night.

 

When Phyllis came out of the shelter, she could see stretcher with bodies stretching all the way down Roman Road. She started walking alongside them, trying to find her sister, who was doing the same thing. Some neighbours living in the houses nearby took them in and offered them tea.

 

Even years later, Phyllis does not like walking into crowds or enclosed spaces and has to sit at the very back of cinemas, close to the emergency exit.

 

Phyllis speaks about being evacuated towards the end of the War. After the disaster, the family did not return to the tube shelter and stayed in an overground brick shelter with neighbours instead, which she remembers being very loud and scary. She spent her fourteenth birthday on a very long train journey to Torquay to stay with her mother.

 

Before that, during a previous evacuation stay near Reading, Phyllis and her siblings were walking down a country lane when a plane shot at them.

 

Near reading, Phyllis and her siblings were staying with her sister's friend's mother, who had offered to take them in to help with Phyllis' anxiety caused by the bombings.

 

Later, in Torquay, Phyllis was able to stay with her mother, but was forced to leave school a few months earlier than planned to help earn money and cover the family's rent. She found work in a shoe store.

 

She remembers her parents and neighbours discussing how the disaster had been hushed up by the government, but didn't take much interest in the details at the time as she was still very young.

 

Phyllis recalls what she heard about the woman tripping and falling at the bottom of the stairs, causing people to fall over her.

 

She doesn't remember any water being sprayed over the crowd.

 

Phyllis discusses whether or not the wireless radio signal was switched off that evening, which was often an early sign of an approaching raid, even before the warnings sounded.

 

Even as late as 1953, when Phyllis got married, she had to collect coupons in order to pay for her wedding cake.

 

When the War ended, Phyllis and her family returned to London. She and her friends walked to the West End and watched everyone celebrating in the streets.

 

After the War, she worked in a shoe factory.

 

Phyllis talks about how she first met her husband, who had just returned from military service in Egypt, at a roller skating night in Victoria Park.

 

Phyllis' daughter emigrated to Spain when she was eighteen and now has a family there. She works in a local tourist information bureau in Benidorm, has two children and a grandson. Phyllis and her late husband visited her often.