British Homefront during WW2. The day the Luftwaffe bombed Sandhurst Road School in London.

At 12:30 pm on Wednesday 20 January 1943 Sandhurst Road School, Minard Road in Catford southeast London was packed with children when a German aircraft dropped a 500 kilogram (1,100 lb) high explosive bomb killing 30 children and six members of staff, six more children later died in hospital. Sixty people (children and staff) were seriously injured, and many were buried for several hours under rubble.

31 children and 1 teacher were later buried together in a war dead plot at Hither Green Cemetery.

ARP Wardens and nurses covering the bodies of children.

The German attack was part of a raid by 28 Focke-Wulf FW 190A-4U3 fighter bombers escorted by Messerschmitt Bf.109 fighters from an airfield in occupied France and the pilot who attacked the school was Hauptmann Heinze Schumann who was killed in action on 8 November 1943. It is debated whether he deliberately targeted the school, but two children said the pilot waved to them before releasing his bomb.

According to one account a seven-year-old girl in the playground looked up and waved to the aircraft thinking it was British and was cut down by machinegun fire and in 2009 four survivors of the air raid described their experiences.

Molly Linn was 12-years old

We were chatting excitedly when someone ran in and said the air raid had sounded… I walked across the classroom. I saw children hanging out of windows and Betty, the head girl, was telling them to get into the shelter. The next thing I knew I was buried. Betty, who was standing next to me had been killed.

I was eventually rescued and taken to Lewisham Hospital, and I remember my clothes being cut away, which upset me. I thought, it’s my new coat, what were my parents going to say?

I had two broken arms and two badly mangled legs. In October 1944 my left leg was amputated and in March 1945 my other leg was amputated.

Mary Burch was five years old and John, her ten-year-old brother, was at the same school and his body was found buried under rubble three days later.   

I was sitting with friends at the table and had just been given a jam tart … When the plane flew past the window, we saw the pilot and he waved at us. We waved back but as we did, I saw the German markings on the wing.

Someone shouted for us to dive under the table. As I jumped down my jam tart fell. I picked it up and put it in my mouth and I’ve never been able to eat a jam tart since.

I saw my brother running past the table and I called his name and as he turned the bomb fell and I was buried. I couldn’t breathe or move; I remember trying to call for help. I remember the relief of the bricks being lifted from my face.

The next thing I knew I was lying on the cold hard pavement outside and someone was saying ‘She hasn’t got long’. I didn’t know what that meant.

My jaw was broken and there was wood protruding from my head and my back… I remained in hospital for nearly two years and still didn’t realise John was dead. When I returned home everything he owned was gone. It was as if he never existed.

For years afterwards, if I was ever naughty my mother would say, ‘The wrong one lived’. She never forgave me, and the night before my own son’s christening she took the baby from my arms and said, ‘You don’t deserve a son because you killed mine’.

Eric Brady was 9 years old, and his 14-year-old sister Kitty was at the same school and was killed during the attack.

Kitty, my big sister, was upstairs talking to the headmistress, Miss Clarke, when I heard the distant air raid warning. 28 German Fokker planes had flown into London and targeted six different schools… The head told Kitty to go to the dining hall and get the children to the shelters but just as she reached the dining room door the aircraft swooped. Kitty called out and ran towards me when the bomb dropped.

I remember scrambling to get under the table as the roof cascaded down. A lump of masonry pinned down my left arm. Another lump landed on my left ankle, and I was hit on the side of the head. My right side was uninjured and many years later my mother told me that Kitty had been found lying on my right side – killed by the piece of rubble which would have killed me.

Brenda Ward who was ten at the time said, I was eating my dinner when I heard a loud noise. I went to the window and saw the plane. One of the teachers screamed at us to get under the tables. I peeped out from under the table and saw the walls starting to fall in. I got up and run as fast as I could to the other end of the room.

Suddenly I was buried and could just see a tiny spot of light. The terror has stayed with me all my life and still cant go underground.  

Two men dug me out and carried me across the road to someone’s front room. I lay on the floor and asked the woman to clear my eyes because I couldn’t see. I asked, ‘Why do German’s bomb children?’ The poor woman burst into tears and said, ‘I don’t know dear’.

My blouse and blonde hair were stained red with the blood from the terrible injuries from my face. When I was taken to hospital my own mother walked past three times without recognising me.

A week later I was transferred to East Grinstead Hospital where the plastic surgeon Archibald McIndoe who did pioneering work on pilots from the Battle of Britain helped repair my face.

Alan Malcher

Author: Alan Malcher

Military historian and defence commentator

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