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Bethnal Green tube station
Bethnal Green tube station is a station on the Central Line of the London Underground in Bethnal Green, London, England. It lies between Liverpool Street and Mile End stations, and in Travelcard Zone 2. The station was opened as part of the Central Line's eastern extension on December 4, 1946, before that it was opened it was used as an air-raid shelter. On March 3, 1943, 173 people were killed in a crush while attempting to enter the shelter.
The Bethnal Green disaster
Construction of the Central Line's eastern extension was started in the 1930s, and the tunnels were largely complete at the outbreak of the Second World War. While some stretches were used as underground factories, with the advent of the Blitz, Bethnal Green station was used as an air-raid shelter, unofficially at first, and then with official blessing.
By 1943 the numbers using the station as a shelter had dwindled, only rising when retalliatory bombing in response to British raids was expected. This was the case on March 3, 1943, as the British press had reported a heavy raid on Berlin on the night of March 1. The air-raid warning sounded at 8:17 pm, causing an orderly flow of people down the short flight of steps into the underground booking office. At 8:27 an anti-aircraft battery a few hundred yards away in Victoria Park launched a salvo of a new type of anti-aircraft rockets. The weapon was secret, and the unexpected, unfamiliar type of explosion caused a panic. As the crowd surged forward towards the shelter, a woman, possibly carrying a baby, tripped on the stairs, causing many others to fall. Within a few seconds 300 people were crushed into the tiny stairwell. 172 people were dead at the scene, with one more dying in hospital later; 69 of the dead were children.
The disaster was reported but the demands of wartime censorship required omitting the precise location. An Inquiry was ordered into the causes but when it concluded, Home Secretary Herbert Morrison only made a brief statement in Parliament. The government was accused of "hushing up" the disaster by a local campaign and two of the victims' families sued the Council for damages. Eventually Morrison decided to publish the report which had concluded that the poor lighting, lack of a crash barrier (which the local council couldn't afford to erect), and lack of supervision by police or ARP wardens had contributed to the disaster. However, the principal blame was down to the irrational behaviour of the crowd, and there would have been a loss of life even if precautions had been taken. Morrison had suppressed the report because he feared it would not be believed.
The crush at Bethnal Green is the largest loss of life in a single incident on the London Underground network. The largest number killed by a wartime bomb was 68 at Balham; the largest number killed in peacetime was 43 in the crash at Moorgate in 1975.
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