Hallsville School Disaster

On 10th September 1940, a bombing raid on South Hallsville School in Agate Street, Canning Town, resulted in one of the deadliest incidents involving civilians during the Blitz. To prevent unrest and a propaganda victory for Hitler,

Winston Churchill's war cabinet ordered a cover-up of what occurred at the school, which was kept a secret for 70 years. While the official death toll was recorded as 77, the majority of the dead were never recovered, and the crater was filled in.

German bombs frequently targeted the East End during the London Blitz because of its ports and important commercial production. Nearby docks and industrial targets were brutally bombed, killing many locals who lived in the densely populated neighbourhood close to their places of employment.

Residents of the area were encouraged to seek refuge in South Hallsville School in September 1940 because it had a suitable basement that could be used as a bomb shelter. Many of these people had either lost or witnessed terrible damage to their homes. Residents were left at the school for three days despite the fact that the building was being utilised as an evacuation hub to transport people out of the line of fire and into safer regions.

Canning Town in the 1930's.


Residents were instructed to leave the neighbourhood as soon as buses could pick them up, and so they waited in the school. But due to an administrative error, the buses ended up in Camden Town rather than Canning Town. The buses were delayed on their return trip to the East End and did not make it in time to evacuate the school as planned.

The school was directly hit on 10th Septembe and reduced to a heap of debris. A large portion of the school building collapsed into the basement, trapping or killing hundreds of people. The parachute bomb produced a 20-foot-deep crater on the ground. when all reachable survivors were located and recovery efforts were stopped.

South Hallsville School in Canning Town after being hit by a Luftwaffe bomb, the scene of a tragically high loss of life.

Forgotten Stories: Black Saturday - London's Royal Docks (londonsroyaldocks.com)

The following day, Sir James Anderson, the then-Home secretary, was notified of the disaster's scope. He informed Churchill about the raid at a Cabinet meeting, but he left out the death toll, only claiming that "people in the East End... had been rendered ­homeless."

For many years, residents questioned this number, and eyewitnesses who were inside the building but escaped it just before the bomb went off believed that as many as 600 people were in the basement.

In spite of official government denials, they were unable to demonstrate that the casualty rates had been significantly higher.

In addition, not all of the bodies in the basement could be collected, making it impossible to determine the precise number of fatalities from the explosion.

The damage to the school was extensive.

Christopher Lloyd

Furthermore, the British government did not want to disclose the huge number of casualties since it may have harmed their war efforts. The bomb site was secured as soon as the tragedy's scope became clear. Nobody was allowed to see what had occurred. Consequently, a press blackout was ordered so that newspapers could not report specific details about the incident, disclose the location where the bomb hit or print pictures of it.

In an effort to maintain morale in the region and throughout the nation, the war cabinet likely hid the extent of the catastrophe. Every day, the Blitz was wreaking havoc on London, making it difficult for Londoners to continue living. The authorities most likely did not want to acknowledge that one bomb had killed hundreds of people since doing so would have given the Germans a huge propaganda boost.

Winston Churchill visits east London the day after South Hallsville school tragedy at Canning Town. 

Metropolitan Archive


In contrast to the official narrative at the time, documents in the National Archives in 2010 revealed a different story. They appear to support locals' claims that the death toll was much greater than was initially reported and highlight the government's decision to withhold some information.

After the war, in 1948, the remains of the previous school were tarmacked over, and a new school was constructed on the site of the bomb site. Hallsville Primary School now has a garden and a memorial plaque – uncovered by the Queen Mother in 1990 - on the property in honour of the raid victims.

The immense destruction caused by the bomb can clearly be seen in this photo.


It is believed that the tragedy at South Hallsville School may have compelled the administration to consider more secure locations for East End residents during bombing raids. The majority had few options, and it was clearly clear that gathering in bigger structures like the school was not a safe choice. Around 100 East End residents went to the Savoy Hotel five days after this bombing strike and requested shelter during an air raid as part of a planned protest.

A plaque was erected as part of the ceremony.

Andrew Baker / Archant

Other locals broke into tube stations and took refuge there. After this, locals were allowed to use tube shelters as air raid shelters, potentially saving many lives.

Further reading