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A wartime disaster at Bethnal Green

Bethnal Green underground station is on the Central Line between Liverpool Street and Mile End, in the East End of London. During the London Blitz in World War II, many tube stations were used as air-raid shelters, with people spending the night on the platforms and in the passageways. Bethnal Green station was one of the deepest in the area, and thus a popular shelter, being equipped with 5,000 bunk beds and room for 7,000 people in total.

Although the Blitz proper had ended two years previously, the sirens sounded on 3rd March 1943, as they sometimes did. Indeed, many people expected a raid in retaliation for a British raid on Berlin two nights before. However, this night was different, because a new anti-aircraft battery had been established nearby, and, when it roared into action, panic set in. 

As the people poured down the steps, somebody fell, and hundreds of people fell on top of them and were unable to get up. In all, 173 men, women and children were crushed to death, but, so as not to damage public morale, the event was hushed up and few people from outside the immediate area got to know about it until after the war. As it happened, there were no deaths from bombing that night.

The worst civilian disaster of the War, therefore, was not caused by enemy action but by one person who missed their footing on a step.

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