On the night of the disaster, Kenny was at a cinema on Bethnal Green Road when the air raid warning started. He and his friends went to the Underground station and was carried down into the station by the crowd, having nothing to hold on to. Kenny avoided being caught in the crush, but turned around at the bottom of the stairs and saw people falling and piling up. Then he proceeded down the escalators into the station and wasn't allowed back up for the rest of the night.
Read the interview SUMMARY below, or click on the icon to download: ken cushway 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: kenny cushway transcript.pdf
You can listen to the interview RECORDING below:
Interviewee/s: Kenny Cushway
Interviewer/s: Joy Puritz, Jo Till
Date of Interview:
Location: Bethnal Green
Length of interview: 40 minutes
Any other info:
Introduction. Kenny just turned 83. He would have been about 9 years old when the War started, and lived in Rusher Lane.
Kenny remembers the bombings, buildings being destroyed, and seeking shelter in the ground floor flats.
He went to St John's School, but got kicked out several times for bad behaviour. Then he worked as a rag and bone man.
Kenny remembers his father stealing food for the family, such as meat the butcher had thrown out.
On the night of the disaster, Kenny was at a cinema on Bethnal Green Road when the air raid warning came through. He and his friends went to the tube station, heard the guns being fired and were carried along down into the station by the crowd, having nothing to hold on to. He saw a woman with a pram fall on the stairs in front of him.
Kenny avoided being caught in the crush, but turned around at the bottom of the stairs and saw people falling and piling up. Then he proceeded down the escalators into the station and wasn't allowed back up for the rest of the night.
When he came out of the shelter the next morning, the steps had been cleared. Kenny went straight to school.
He learned not long after how many people had died in the disaster. Nobody in his own family was injured or died, but he knew one of the girls who died.
After the disaster, Kenny recalls people talking about the lack of security precautions in the shelter, such as the lack of hand rails. He also remembers hearing the sound of the guns causing the crowd to push down the stairs.
Kenny's parents avoided seeking shelter in the tube station, they felt safer in Rusher Lane.
He does not recall whether the disaster was covered in the local media at the time, as he was too young and couldn't yet read. He reflects on the fact that many of the people involved in the memorial trust today were merely children at the time of the disaster.
As soon as he came out of school, Kenny started working as a rag and bone man and remained in that profession for forty years, helping to support his family. His mother lived to a hundred. He also has a brother and two sisters, but none of them witnessed the disaster.
The friend that Kenny went down into the shelter with on the night of the disaster has passed away.
Throughout the War, Kenny remembers running free in the streets of his neighbourhood and not having any safety concerns, even though his parents scolded him. He speaks about the close-knit community he grew up in, with neighbours helping each other during times of birth and death.
He speaks about some of the children's games he and his friends used to play.
Today, he doesn't know anyone in his old neighbourhood anymore. All his old friends have since moved away. He was given the option to move to Clacton, but turned it down and remained in Bethnal Green.
During the War, Kenny went to stay in Wales.
He has vivid memories of the Blitz and the doodlebugs, but says he rarely felt frightened as a child.
Kenny remembers living in poverty, but also the parties in his neighbourhood.
He speaks in more detail about being evacuated to Wales with his mother. By the time the Blitz started, he had returned to London. He recalls the sounds of the planes and bombs at night. He also remembers V2 rockets falling in broad daylight. One night, he saw the London Docks on fire, turning the sky red.