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The story behind an unusual war memorial, drawn from contemporary newspaper accounts

At the time, people responded with anger as well as grief. Will Crooks, MP, who had been standing only yards away from the school at the time of the explosion, reported on what he heard in the street later. 'What most of them were saying was "Now what about the conscientious objectors. After this they ought to be taken out and shot for not fighting for us".... But if we bomb Berlin or Cologne, we shall have to kill some of their women or children. I couldn't consent to the harming of anybody's child. One thing only I would do. Fight them - fairly, but with all our power, and make all fight who can.' He added, 'The aliens in our midst should go after this.'

Waiting for the funeral, a press reporter overheard a group of women calling for reprisals. 'If they come here and kill our babies, we ought to go there and kill theirs.' But they were interrupted by a soldier: 'Fat lot of good that would do your children! If anybody orders me to go and kill babies, I lay down my arms on the spot. I'm a soldier, and my business is to kill soldiers. I'm a soldier, not a butcher.'

At the funeral the Bishop of London drew attention to the history that had been made: 'Little did we expect, after 2000 years of the teaching of Christianity, that war would be made on women and children.... We must be careful that indignation drives us to right action. There is much looseness of thought and phrase about reprisals. I do not believe that the mourners wish that sixteen German babies should lie dead to avenge their own.'

He continued: 'What all of us demand is strong naval and military action, which our soldiers and sailors are only too willing to exercise, on places whence these air raiders come, and the strongest punishment on the perpetrators and designers of these raids, who are the murderers of these children.'

George Lansbury, the pacifist politician who led the Labour Party from 1931 to 1935, was a member of Poplar Borough Council from 1903. In July 1917 a letter from him appeared in the Daily News. 'East London does not want reprisals.... Most of us, if given the chance, would be glad to end the war on the terms laid down by the Russian revolutionists; and we believe the best reprisal would be to let the German people know that Great Britain and her Allies were and are willing to end the war on the Russian basis, and an agreement to abolish armaments.

'War in the air is murder for all. Slaughtering German women and children is no remedy for the slaughter of our own.'

George Lansbury died in 1940, and so never knew of the destruction of Dresden by British bombs. And abolition of armaments? The history of the arms race and development of increasingly sophisticated missiles demonstrates the world's deeply troubling reluctance to abandon the horrors of war.

In 1952 the East End News printed a reader's letter on June 13: 'I was thinking as I stood before the memorial that 35 years ago was probably the saddest day in the history of Poplar. To me it is ineffaceable!' Another survivor said, many years later, 'There have been many scenes in Poplar Parish Church, but few so heart-rending as the funeral of those slaughtered innocents. June 13 1917 made a mark on many homes which the passing years do not obliterate'.

In 1977 the local paper marked the 60th anniversary of the raid with a full-page feature, which stirred the memories of survivors and prompted the publication of further letters and articles. And in 1986 one of the survivors arranged a re-union attended by nearly twenty men and women. One survivor was Bert Symes, who was bombed out of his home in the Second World War; he 'found Poplar all changed, including the old street names, but the memorial to his lost friends is still there in Poplar Recreation Ground'.

'If they come
here and kill
our babies,
we ought to
go there
and kill theirs.'

a different kind of reaction

"Vandals desecrated a memorial to 18 schoolchildren killed in a First World War Air Raid.

'I feel very strongly that the memorial should be cleaned or taken down, rather than remain a disgrace to the dead', said Frank Tanner aged 61. Frank attended upper North Street School and remembers a teacher who had been in the building when the bomb fell. 'It went through her classroom before exploding on the floor below', said Frank.

A council spokesman said: 'The memorial is due to be cleaned within the next two weeks.'"

East London Advertiser 11/1/1985