Stanley Percy Ferdinando
Stanley Percy Ferdinando
1 July 1889 - 18 January 1968
By David Ferdinando
Stanley Percy's Grandson, Martin, kindly wrote to me and sent me a picture of his Grandfather together with some notes about his part in civic life. Many of us researching the family name knew that Stanley had been the Town Clerk of Bethnal Green. Martin sent the photograph of Stanley dressed in the robes of his Office.
One fact that I was unaware of was that he had been involved throughout the war years in his official capacity and was at the centre of one of the most tragic civilian events of that time. This short article looks at that event.
Tragedy at Bethnal Green
Stanley Percy Ferdinando was the Town Clerk of Bethnal Green a post he held from the late 1930s until 1948. During his time in office he had to deal with one of the most tragic events at Bethnal Green during the war. On the 3rd March 1943 a middle aged woman, carrying her baby, tripped and fell as she went down a flight of steps to the safety of a tube shelter. An elderly man fell over her. Within seconds, 173 people were crushed to death in one of the war's worst civilian disasters.
It happened at the large Bethnal Green shelter soon after the alert for a daylight raid. A Ministry statement said: "Those coming in from the street could not see exactly what had taken place and continued to press down the steps. There were hundreds of people crushed together on top of one another, covering the lower steps and landing, completely blocking the stairways." The woman survived. Her baby died.
Stanley had to write a report about the incident. However, we believe that this is Crown Copyright and so are unable to reproduce it here.
A book entitled "Tragedy at Bethnal Green 1943" published by the Stationery Office (TSO Publishing) ISBN 0-11-702404-X is now available.
One of the most interesting facts is that the Borough wrote on many occasions about the possibility of there being a problem at the air raid shelter and requested money to make changes that may have prevented the tragedy occurring.
Stanley Percy's letters on behalf of the Borough appear in the Appendix.
L. R. Dunne, who was charged with preparing the report into the tragedy, opened the inquiry on the 11th March 1943. The accident had happened on the 3rd March. For two days after the accident the Government withheld information in order to prevent word reaching the enemy. The inquiry, held in secret, is the main part of the book. The Appendix contains documents relating to the Borough's warnings about the potential dangers. The story was not generally released until after the war for fear of damaging morale.
The Inquiry concluded that there were a series of events that led to the tragedy occurring including insufficient lighting (due to blackout restrictions), Lack of handrails in the centre of the stairs, Police not on duty to hold back the crowds, Crowd panic and access to the stairs. It would be wrong to speculate that had the Town Council got there way and been allowed to make the alterations to the tube station/air raid shelter entrance, the tragedy may not have happened.
The inquiry closed thanking the Mayor and Town Clerk for their assistance in the holding of the enquiry.
A Plaque at Bethnal Green Underground Station commemorating those killed in the accident reads:
In Memory of the 173 Men, Women
and Children who lost their lives
on the evening of Wednesday
3rd march 1943 descending these
steps to Bethnal green
air raid shelter