Born 15 years after the disaster, Anna grew up knowing that her great grandmother died on the underground steps. Years later she took her nan to see the plaque in Bethnal Green, and visited old friends of hers. Listening to their stories brought out the poignancy and relevance of the disaster to Anna and what was a ‘bit of history’ became stories of real people.
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Date of Interview:
8 January 2014
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Introduction. Anna was born to publican parents in New Barnet in 1958, in a house that has since been pulled down. She speaks about childhood in and around her parents' pub, and the busy but warm family atmosphere. Her life featured a handful of formidable women.
Anna goes into some detail about her grandparents' upbringing, doing odd jobs. She also mentions her father having drinking issues when she was a child, as he struggled to navigate the pub environment.
Anna perceived the pub as a class-less environment with few social divisions, and women who worked for equal pay. This made her place great value on fairness, and she despises snobbery. When she started working, she was shocked to encounter sexism and to realise that some employers treated her as a second class citizen.
Her role model growing up was never a woman staying at home. Especially her grandmother, who was a formidable East London woman, inspired her to work hard and demand fair treatment.
Anna also worked as a bus driver and a train driver, as she loved driving. After finishing school, she had few ideas for her career and initially applied to be a chauffeur. After that, she became a market trader, selling crafts and musical ornaments. Next, she became a van driver for a pie company. She moved on to double-decker buses after that. Later, she worked as a driving instructor for ten years. Just when she was preparing to become a lorry examiner, she heard an ad on the radio and decided to become a train driver. On this job, she also met her current partner.
As a woman working in a male-dominated transport environment, Anna has experienced a lot of mixed reactions, which she describes. Some of the worst experiences she has had have involved other women. By the time she became a train driver, most of the novelty around women drivers had worn off. She has had the opportunity to work with a very diverse range of colleagues, and discusses racism.
Anna discusses politics, racial integration and growing up surrounded by people of colour.
Anna's brother ran a pub as well, and now works in entertainment.
She attended Clairgate School, a small private school, which she remembers fondly.
Speaking of racism, Anna brings up a distant Jewish ancestor.
Anna speaks about what she heard from her grandmother about the Bethnal Green tube disaster. She was aware of the story early on, but as a child, it seemed like the disaster had happened in the very distant past. Seeing her grandmother's emotional reaction to the memorial plaque being put up got Anna interested in what had happened.
Anna tells some stories about her grandmother and how she found out more about her great-grandmother dying in the tube disaster. At the time of the interview, Anna is a year older than her great-grandmother at the time of her death, which puts things into perspective for her.
Anna started attending the memorial services in St John's church, the same church that her great-grandmother's body had been taken after the disaster. After this, she decided to get involved with the memorial trust, and became a trustee. The following year, she first read the names of some of the victims out loud at the memorial service, which was a very emotional experience. She finds seeing the ages of many of the children on the list of victims particularly painful.
Anna speaks about her relatives' experience of the disaster. While her great-grandmother died, her surviving relatives (a great-uncle and his young wife) lived with the emotional trauma for the rest of their lives. Bethnal Green was not the shelter the family regularly used, which made going down in the dark even more dangerous for them. Anna's great-uncle and his wife were pulled from the crush and tried to get back inside to help his mother.
Anna speaks about a friend of hers who, as it turns out, was one of the first firemen on the site of the disaster.
Anna recalls the story of the disaster as she was told it. Her family told her about the aircraft defence guns, but did not hear air raid warning sirens. She mentions the small shelter entrance, the wet stairs and the woman falling at the bottom of the stairs, who she was told had been carrying bedding and a baby.
She is not aware of any initial written reports, and says that people were told to keep quiet about the disaster, so that even some of the Bethnal Green inhabitants never heard about what had happened.
Anna has come across people who believe the memorial is merely a way of glorifying the war and the past. She now thinks that part of the resistance stems from a feeling that no memorial could ever do their left relatives justice.
The survivors at the memorial service have sometimes expressed surprise at the younger generations' interest in the events at Bethnal Green tube station.
Anna speaks about the type of work that she has done for the memorial trust. As she now has limited mobility, she gets involved with a lot of art-related work, making banners and leaflets, as well as overseeing printing orders. She sees her main role as breaking the silence about the disaster.
In the future, Anna plans to move to Scotland.
She hopes that in the future, local schools will contribute to maintaining the memorial once it's finished.