Grave-maker for the mass grave of 15 infants from Upper North Street School, Poplar, killed in an air-raid on 13 June 1917.
Reasons for Designation
The grave marker for 15 infants from Upper North Street School (Poplar) in the East London Cemetery, Plaistow, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* as an eloquent witness to the tragic impact of world events on the local community, and the sacrifice it made in the First World War.
* a poignant memorial including a substantial grave-marker, individually recording all the infants buried in the mass grave, and with carved detailing including symbolic evergreen foliage.
German air-raids on Britain during the First World War began in early 1915, when Zeppelins were used to bomb coastal targets in the east of England. Airships continued to make such attacks as the war progressed, but in May 1917 the first raids using Gotha bombers began. These bombers were aircraft capable of long-distance flights, and were used to make day-light raids over south-east England.
On 13 June 1917 Kagohl 3, a squadron of the German Army High Command created specifically for bombing England, flew from Belgium to attack the City of London. Of the twenty aircraft in the squadron, 14 reached the target whilst three bombed Margate and Shoeburyness. The attack resulted in 162 civilian deaths and injury to a further 432 people. This was the first attack on London by a squadron of aircraft, following two earlier raids by lone aircraft in 1916 and 1917, and inflicted the single highest number of casualties of all the air-raids on the city.
Amongst the dead were 18 children from Upper North Street School, Poplar. A bomb dropped by a Gotha on its return from the City raid passed through the school roof and the upper stories, exploding in the classroom below where more than 60 Infants were being taught. Of the 18 children who died, 16 were aged five or six years. At least 37 other children were injured, some very seriously.
The children were buried at a funeral on 20 June, three in private interments and the rest in a mass grave in East London Cemetery, Plaistow. The burial service at the parish church, Poplar, led by the Bishop of London, was attended by many mourners including the school’s head-teachers and some of the surviving pupils. More than 600 wreaths were sent and a personal message from the King and Queen was read out. Eight hearses bore the coffins to the East London Cemetery for the interment, followed by a lengthy procession of vehicles carrying mourners. Sailors carried the coffins from the hearses to the grave.
The shock and horror at this unexpected tragedy caused considerable debate, played out in the press. Some called for reprisals; others, such as the Bishop of London in his address at the funeral, abhorring all deaths of children, called for a strong military response; whilst the pacifist politician George Lansbury, member of Poplar Borough Council, called for an end to the war. A scheme for a memorial raised £1,455 9s 11d by public subscription: the funds were used to support hospital beds, and the erection of a permanent memorial in the Recreation Park, Poplar (Grade II*); whilst the grave marker was raised in the cemetery at Plaistow. The school caretaker, Mr Batt, who died on 1 November 1917, is buried about 5m to the east of the mass grave where his son lies: his headstone (unlisted) alludes to his role on the day of the air raid, when he removed his son's body from the school ruins.
MATERIALS: marble, metal lettering.
DESCRIPTION: the large grave maker is a block of marble carved to look like a rugged stone outcrop. The front surface is carved in the form of a scroll, with carved ivy fronds creeping around the bottom of the scroll. The scroll bears the principal dedicatory inscription, reading THIS MEMORIAL IS ERECTED/ TO THE MEMORY OF/ THE CHILDREN INTERRED HERE WHO LOST/ THEIR LIVES AT NORTH ST SCHOOL POPLAR/ DURING THE HOSTILE AIR RAID/ ON JUNE 13TH 1917/ (NAMES). The children’s names, with their ages, are listed in alphabetical order.
The block stands on a three-stepped plinth, with a further inscription on the front face of the upper step reading "I SAY UNTO YOU, IN HEAVEN THEIR ANGELS DO ALWAYS/ BEHOLD THE FACE OF MY FATHER WHICH IS IN HEAVEN."/ ST MATT.XVIII.10. The plot is surrounded by a stone kerb with pyramidal posts.