Babette Clark

Babs ClarkBabs Clark

As an 11 year-old in 1943, Babette and her family regularly used the Bethnal Green underground shelter. On that night, when her mum ‘gave a funny little nervous cough’, she knew it meant she and her sister would be told to get their bundles together and get to the bus stop. They just missed one bus and were consequently not far down the underground stairs when the crush began.

Read the interview SUMMARY online below, or click on the icon to read or download: babette clark 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 TRANSCRIPTbabette clark TRANSCRIPT.pdf

 

You can listen to the recorded INTERVIEW below:

 

Summary

 

Interviewee/s:

Babette Clark

Interviewer/s:

David Williams, Amy Cooper

Date of Interview:

9 October 2013

Location:

Romford

Length of interview:

36 minutes

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Summary: (Part 1)

 

Introduction. Babs has been happy to speak about the disaster in the past, while other family members were not.

 

Babs speaks about experiencing WW2 bombings as a child, quizzing her mother about her experience of WWI, and later speaking to her own children about the war. She took shelter regularly in the tube station. Brief evacuation to Devon during the Blitz.

 

Babs' father was a civilian driver for the Navy, he transferred to Plymouth to escape the Blitz, but the family returned to London after Plymouth was also bombed and stayed until the end of the war.

 

Details about the tube station shelter: bunks, a library, 'typical' East End community structures. Babs recalls the communal bucket toilets in the tunnel, the lack of personal hygiene, and the resulting bad smell.

 

The family's bundles were always packed, ready for evacuation. They included food if the alarm allowed enough time. After any big raid in Germany, a respective raid in London was expected and the family would sleep in the tube station. Otherwise, they used a more provisional shelter in the yard.

 

3 March 1943: Babs remembers the night clearly. She was 11 years old at the time. Warning sirens around 8pm, the family took a bus to the shelter and queued for a space in the tunnel, which was completely dark due to the blackout and wet due to rain. She remembers searchlights and rockets, and resulting panic of people trying to get into the shelter in the dark.

 

Babs describes how she later learned that the woman and baby at the bottom of the stairs tripped, and were trampled by the crowd. She recalls tripping, and being pulled up and out by her sister and an air raid warden. Her sister, wanting to return to find their mother, was pointed to a room filled with bodies from the disaster. Meanwhile, their mother had survived elsewhere, and they were reunited.

 

Babs saw countless bodies lying on the pavement outside the tube in the rain, waiting to be taken to the morgue.

 

Babs' father, who had been searching for his family in the tunnel, is reunited with them.

 

Upon returning to school, Babs finds several of her classmates missing, some of whom had been killed in the disaster.

 

(Break) (Part 2)

 

Babs speaks of the disaster being hushed up by the government.

 

She tries to recall the names of and details about her dead and injured classmates.

 

Memories of the disaster faded after the war. Babs became a dressmaking apprentice. She remembers Bethnal Green tube station opening, but can't recall any contemporary community remembrance efforts.

 

Babs learns about Bethnal Green memorial service from the paper, which she attended.

 

Babs agrees that people's experiences have less impact on their children's and more on their grandchildren's generation. She recalls loving her own grandmother's stories, and how her grandchildren took interest in her husband's military service.

 

She considers herself an East Ender, despite having lived elsewhere for many years, and loves visiting the area. She defends her memory of the way of life in the Bethnal Green community, and doesn't like the ways in which it has changed. She describes herself as someone old-fashioned, who doesn't like change.

 

Babs speaks about some examples of community support in Bethnal Green, and doubts the same support still exists between neighbours today.

 

She speculates about the community ties that might exist in today's East End immigrant communities. The interviewer speaks about London's history of immigration. Both discuss where various parts of London's population will move to next, and comment on how difficult it would be today to cover up a similar disaster.