Ruth Scola was not directly involved in the disaster but she regularly sheltered in the Bethnal Green underground shelter and experienced both evacuation and having her home destroyed by bombing. She explains that her family had bunks in the shelter and that as the tube station was not finished the bunks were arranged all along the train tunnel. From her bunk she could see a brick wall which was Mile End station, so they had a very long walk along the tunnel to get to their allotted sleeping area. Ruth remembers that she slept on the top bunk and that it was lit by gas light so was not very bright. There was nowhere to store any belongings except on the thick cable that ran along the tunnel wall. She remembers her aunt putting her false teeth on the cable.
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Barbara Humphreys and Joy Puritz
Date of Interview:
February 8th 2014
Length of interview:
Any other info:
Background to Ruth’s family history and surname. Her grandfather was Italian and lived in the Italian quarters in Clerkenwell. Her grandmother was an alcoholic and was in and out of prison.
Ruth explains that her father didn’t go into the armed forces during the war because he’d had a mastoid operation. Instead he worked delivering food from the docks all around London.
Her father worked on the railways and her mother was his van guard. The family lived in Brick Lane. The war began when Ruth was 3 years old.
Ruth’s family moved to Morpeth Street, Bethnal Green, when she was 6 years old. She recalls what it was like during the Blitz.
She tells the story of when her family was bombed out of their house in Morpeth Street. Her dad was holding her and the force of the bomb blew both of them out into the garden.
Ruth remembers that the window frame of their house was smashed after the bombing. She also recalls that everything in the street was upside down and the sky was orange.
Ruth tells stories about being evacuated during the war. The first time, she and her brother were sent to Cornwall. They travelled by train from Paddington Station, leaving at 6 am and arriving in Cornwall at 2 am the next day. Her mother had told her brother not to let go of Ruth’s hand as she didn’t want them to be separated. As a result they ended up going to the same house even though the woman who had chosen Ruth had not wanted a boy.
Ruth remembers that the woman’s servant put her and her brother in the bath when they arrived at the house - even though it was the early hours of the morning.
Ruth talks about her memories of the garden there, and the fact that in the 9 months she and her brother stayed there the woman only spoke to her once.
She recalls that there was another boy there with a very old grandmother. At school no one spoke to her, and because she couldn’t read she was made to sit at the back of the class with a picture book.
She remembers that all the local children said the evacuees had fleas so wouldn’t talk to them.
Ruth tells the story of being so miserable that one day she pretended to be ill so that she wouldn’t have to go to school.
With hindsight she’s amazed that no one took her to school even though she was only 5 years old.
She recalls no one picked her up from school either.
Pause in recording as mobile phone rang.
After 9 months in Cornwall Ruth explains that her brother got someone to write to their father to ask him to come and collect them and take them home - which he did.
They all took the train back to London and Ruth remembers that it stopped in a tunnel because there was a raid going on, and they could see the orange glow coming from London. When the warning went she remembers they cheered as it meant they were home.
Ruth remembers that when they got off the train they were picked up by a relative in his jeep. He drove them straight to the Bethnal Green tube shelter where her mum had bunks.
Ruth tells stories about her second experience of being evacuated during the war. This time she went to the Rhonda Valley in Wales where she stayed with her mum’s sister Lottie.
She remembers her schooldays in Wales and the house that she lived in with her aunt. She explains that it was a coal mining area in those days. She still visits cousins there today.
She explains that she stayed in Wales for a while but her brother wanted to go home again.
Ruth returns to memories of the time her family were bombed out of their house in Morpeth Street in Bethnal Green. For a while she went to live with a cousin in Dagenham docks. She comments that this area was also a target. After a while she moved back to Bethnal Green because her family were given number 13 Morpeth Street to live in.
Ruth talks about how she knew a girl called Babs who died in the tube shelter disaster. She was the sister of her friend Joan who is also present at the interview. Ruth says that she was at school with Babs but didn’t know her. She just recognised her from a photo at Joan’s mum’s house.
Ruth says that she cannot remember the night of the tube shelter disaster.
She does, however, remember that sometimes during the war children did not go to school because it wasn’t safe. Families sometimes stayed down the tube for a week at a time.
Ruth expands on when her family were bombed out during the Blitz. She remembers that all the children were taken to Bonner Street school where there were bunks to sleep on.
Ruth tells the story of how she took a little girl, called Grace, to the toilet one night while they were sleeping in the school. When she was 11 she went to a different school and here she sat next to this same little girl and from then on they stayed friends.
She tells stories of their friendship in later life.
Ruth shows the interviewers a photograph of Grace. Joy Puritz begins interviewing Ruth’s friend Joan Foster who is also present. She talks about the tube shelter disaster.
Joy explains that Joan Foster is the sister of Babs who died in the disaster when she was 7 years old.
Joan remembers that for the rest of her life Joan and Babs’ mum kept the coat and dress that Babs was wearing on the night she died. When she died in 1997 her family put the clothes into the coffin with her.
Joan explains that Babs was just inside the foyer of the tube station when she was crushed. She wasn’t even on the staircase. She was with her cousin Iris, who was 17 and also died, and her cousin Peter Perryment, who was 12 and survived.
Joan recalls that Peter slid to the floor and survived because there was an air pocket between people’s legs.
Joan explains that in those days coffins containing the dead were left open for 6-7 days before being buried. She remembers that, even after a week, Bab’s face still bore the imprint of Iris’s button on her face from where she had been crushed against her whilst standing up.
Joan says that after the war the tube shelter disaster wasn’t mentioned generally. It is only now that the memorial is being built that it is being talked about.
Pause in recording.
Joy begins interviewing Ruth who talks about what it was like down in the Bethnal Green tube shelter. She explains that her family had bunks down there and that all the bunks were arranged in blocks with letters allocated to them. Her family’s bunks were in area Q. She says that as the tube station was not finished the bunks were arranged all along the train tunnel. From her bunk she could see a brick wall which was Mile End station, so they had a very long walk along the tunnel to their bunks.
Ruth remembers that she slept on the top bunk and that it was lit by gas light so was not very bright. There was nowhere to store any belongings except on the thick cable that ran along the tunnel wall. She remembers her aunt putting her false teeth on the cable.
Ruth explains that there was a canteen in the tube shelter and a girl she knew from school – called Joycey Plum – and a group of others, used to put on a show every night in the shelter with singing and dancing.
She recalls that Joycey Plum was still singing when she was in her 70s. Ruth remembers her entertaining people in the local community centre at a reunion to celebrate the anniversary of D-Day or the end of the war.
Ruth explains that when she went to Joycey Plum’s funeral she met up with Peter Perryment. Through him she got in touch with his cousin, and her friend, Joan Foster. They had not seen each other for 50 years but met up again soon after.
Ruth says that she can still smell the distinctive, unpleasant smell that was in the tube shelter – the smell of bodies. She says there were no washing facilities that she knew of.
Ruth remembers that when she was down in the shelter, the sound of the bombs in the distance was like someone moving furniture overhead.