IT’S one of the busiest tube stations in central London – but Bethnal Green underground has a dark and shocking secret.
Shockingly, 173 people were crushed and choked to death when a 300-strong crowd piled down the dimly-lit steps during an air raid in 1943 – and a government cover up means no one knows about it.
It was a tragedy which unfurled within just 15 seconds when a mother and her daughter tripped down the stairs and others fell on top of them and became tangled in a mass of bodies.
Some escaped, but almost 200, most of them women and children, were crushed and asphyxiated.
Today marks the 76th anniversary of the disaster – which is said to be the the UK’s largest single loss of civilian life during World War II.
Here, we retell the harrowing and forgotten story of the tube’s biggest tragedy.
The tragic story began at 8.17pm on the evening of March 3 in a very deprived East End of London.
Rumours of a night-time air-raid from Germany and Italy sent hundreds heading from pubs and cinemas to the then unused Central line tube station – which had room for 5,000 to shelter, as well as a make-shift hospital, library, loos and a canteen.
Soon, wailing air-raid sirens confirmed that a threat appeared to be imminent – and those already not below ground quickly headed for the shelter.
Suddenly, there was a loud bang – and the locals, mainly women and children, panicked, thinking the noise was coming from nearby bombs.
They began to speed up their steps to reach the platforms – hundreds of people piling down 19 steps into the entrance hall which was only 15 x 11 feet, lit by one 25-watt bulb, devoid of a central rail and slippy from a recent rain shower.
Then, according to an eyewitness, someone shouted “it’s a bomb!” – triggering screaming and a great shove.
Some eyewitnesses say a child fell three steps up from the bottom, while official reports state that a woman tripped while carrying a baby and a bundle of bedding.
An elderly man fell on top of them. And before the trio could get up, the rest of the crowd surged forward – with those at the back having no idea what had happened.
People started to fall over like human dominoes, and before they could get up others were falling on them, trapping and suffocating them.
Screams, groans and whimpers filled the entrance hall – then nothing.
Within just 15 seconds 173 people were dead, their lifeless bodies mangled in a mass grave.
The official magistrate’s report described the scene as: “The stairway was converted from a corridor to a charnel house in ten to 15 seconds.”
However, rather than the expected chaos, the minutes that followed saw a remarkably calm clean-up operation.
Men were told to lay out the bodies and then load them onto lorries to be taken away.
Most had died of suffocation.
A total of 27 men, 84 women and 62 children – the youngest was just five months– were then buried nearby.
Up to 90 injured were also taken to the hospital for treatment.
The next morning, Londoners went about their business as usual, no idea about the tragedy that had unfolded on those very steps the night before.
This is because at that time, the papers were not allowed to publish anything that could harm the war effort.
The media were forced to keep silent for two whole days before they were finally allowed to report on what happened that dreaded night.
Even then, they were not allowed to identify the station and rather than a stampede, they were made to report that it was a direct hit from a bombing raid.
“It was wartime and they had to hush all that up,” survivor Alf Morris told the Daily Mail in 2008, particularly in the close-knit community of the bomb-battered East End.
It was two years before the public were allowed to know the truth – and, even then, there were holes in the magistrate’s report.
People questioned why there were no police on duty at the steps, and why people who were so used to the Blitz were so spooked
Until recently there was just a small plaque above the entrance to commemorate the victims.
In 2017, a much larger ‘Stairway To Heaven’ memorial was installed.
But the steps – which, although painted and with a rail installed, are exactly the same – serve as the most poignant reminder of the tragedy that hit the UK that fateful day.