The Society worked with the Battlefields Trust in 2004 to mark the 60th anniversary of first V2 to land in the United Kingdom. The 1944 V2 landed in the centre of Staveley Road, towards the junction with Burlington Lane, in Chiswick. Three people died and 22 were injured, 11 houses were demolished and 27 more were seriously damaged in the immediate area.
A black granite memorial stone has been placed close to this spot on a small plot of land made available by Scottish and Southern Electricity in front of their small sub-station. Alongside is an information panel recounting the details of the event. The V2 was launched from Wassenaar, a suburb of The Hague in the Netherlands. On the same evening as the Chiswick ceremony, the local authority and community of Wassenaar unveiled their own memorial at the launch site.
Since the unveiling, many eye-witnesses (or more properly ‘ear-witnesses’) have come forward and told us their stories. These have been assembled in an album, together with material about the events of 1944 and details of the 2004 commemorations in Chiswick and Wassenaar, along with information about the planting of a cherry tree at Peenemünde (where the V1 and V2 weapons were developed) in 2005. Copies of the album of memories have been presented to the Peenemünde Museum, the Local Studies Collection at Chiswick Library, the Imperial War Museum and the Mayor of Wassenaar.
In May 2005 a Chiswick group visited the museum in Peenemünde on Germany’s Baltic coast, where the V-weapons were developed. There they helped plant a cherry tree of the same variety as those in Staveley Road and presented to the museum an album of photos and memories.
The events of 1944
Staveley Road was part of the Chiswick Park Estate. Close to Chiswick House and owned by the Duke of Devonshire, this land had been set out for building before the First World War; the houses affected by the explosion were built between 1927 and 1931.
A Home Office offical recorded that evening that the blast penetrated the reinforced concrete roadway, while the nearby open areas of land – Chiswick House grounds and playing fields – helped its dispersal.
The new rocket weapons
The V1 and V2 were used as retaliation weapons to sustain the morale of the German people then experiencing the Allies’ intensive bombing campaign. The British Government tried to keep secret the nature of the first V2 explosions, to deprive the Germans of military information and to enable it to manage the effect upon Londoners’ morale.
This gave rise to the story that the Chiswick V2 was an exploding gas main. However, the arrival of what local residents described as ‘government bigwigs’ in Staveley Road, within an hour or two of the blast, confirmed that this was no ordinary bomb.
The newspaper photo, donated by Sub-divisional Inspector Nicholas Browne of Chiswick Police Station, shows him with the Home Secretary, Herbert Morrison (in trilby and glasses) with Ellen Wilkinson MP at the V2 site that evening. It was not until early November, after Hitler had announced that his new weapon had been used, that Churchill spoke about the V2s in Parliament.
Official records of the incident
The details of the ‘incident’ were written neatly into the Records of incidents Caused by Enemy Action for Brentford & Chiswick, now in the Local Studies Collection at Chiswick Library. They summarise the casualties and damage to property from incident 636.
The Home Office records include a map made the next day, showing in red the completely demolished houses and in blue those so seriously damaged that they had to be pulled down. The cross section of the crater shows that it was 30 ft wide and 8 ft deep.
The blast site today
Staveley Road had been planted with flowering cherry trees of a variety newly-fashionable in the 1920s. Those destroyed by the V2 were replaced after the War and there have been more recent re-plantings as well. This photo shows trees of all three phases of planting.
Those who died
Rosemary Clarke, aged 3, died in her cot in a front bedroom at number 1 Staveley Road. According to her slightly older brother, who survived, she was suffocated by the blast but had no sign of injury on her body.
Ada Harrison of number 3 Staveley Road died in the blast; she and her husband, William, ran three confectionery and newsagents’ shops in Chiswick. Her name appears in the Roll of Honour of the Civilian War Dead 1939-1945 compiled by the Imperial War Graves Commission and placed in Westminster Abbey. Ten people were seriously wounded, amongst them William Harrison died soon afterwards.
Sapper Bernard Browning, whose family lived in Elmwood Road, was on leave. He was on his way to Chiswick station, to travel to visit his girlfriend, when he was killed by the blast. He was buried in his family’s plot in the cemetery down the road. The white headstone shows that this is a war grave because he died while on active service. His name was incorrectly recorded in the press reports of the time but his family have provided personal details about him to the Local Studies Library which we are pleased to have recorded correctly here.
A grant from Home Front Recall, the lottery grant scheme which supported the commemoration of World War 2 events, provided the funds for the commemoration event, an information panel, the albums and educational materials for Chiswick schools. Scott Mackinlay of Park Road, Chiswick, ran a sponsored marathon to raise the funds for the memorial itself.
See the associated article on the Battlefields Trust London & South East website.