Doris King

In her late teens, Doris worked during the day and in the winter evenings her dad would walk her to the Bethnal Green shelter before going on to his night time fire-watching duties. About 8.00pm on the 3 March 1943 they went carefully down the steps in the gloom of a blue light bulb, passing a woman with a baby on one side, and an older man on the other. Down the steps from the landing they stopped to chat to a warden who heard a commotion on the stairs above.

Read the interview SUMMARY online below, or click on the icon to read or download: Doris King SUMMARY.pdf

The summary gives timed sections which direct you to specific parts of the recording.

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You can listen to the interview RECORDING below:




Doris King


Caroline Randall

Date of Interview:

30 August 2014



Length of interview

122 minutes

Any other info:

Doris’s daughter Val was present at the interview and can be heard asking questions and telling stories.






































































































































































































































































Sorting out microphones.


Introduction – Doris explains when and where she was born.  Mentions her school days in Bethnal Green and gives anecdotes about her family. She says that people were very poor.


She shows and talks about a photograph of her taken when she was 3 years old. She had just come out of hospital where she’d had double pneumonia and diphtheria. She tells stories of what it was like in the hospital in Dartford.


Doris explains that in 1937 her family moved out of a house in Hackney to flats in Bethnal Green. Tape paused while she looks for a photograph.


Tape restarted. Doris shows a photograph of the tenement flats she lived in and describes what life was like there.


Doris explains that she left school at the age of 14. She talks about how she started work a week later as a machinist.


Tape paused to sort out microphone.


Anecdotes about the different jobs she had in the East End and how easy it was to switch jobs.


Doris explains that when the war started she was called up into the forces and she applied for the Land Army. However her boss got her a 9 month exemption as she was doing war work already – making army uniforms.  Eventually, because her mother had been evacuated to the Midlands with her sick younger brother, she got a job doing war work in the Daimler factory in Rugby.


She says that her mum had been very worried about her living alone in the flat in London whilst she and her son were in the Midlands. Although her dad remained in London with her, he had to leave her alone several nights a week because he had to do fire watching duties.


Doris says that because of what she saw on the night of the Bethnal Green tube shelter disaster, and the doodlebugs, she decided she didn’t want to stay in London.


Doris describes her work at the Daimler factory and says she earned twice the salary she’d had as a machinist and more than her dad.


Anecdotes about the different jobs her father had.


She explains that on the night of the tube shelter disaster her dad took her down into the tube. He was going to leave her there and then go on to his fire watching job in Shadwell.  She remembers that the sirens were going and it was a very noisy night.


She remembers that when they got to the tube station the sky was full of searchlights. She thought bombers were trying to hit the railway station or the unfinished tube station.  Doris and her dad went down into the tube station at about 8pm. It was dark and there were not many people about. Opposite the entrance she saw 5 or 6 people talking but apart from that it was very quiet.


Doris remembers that there were 2 plastic doors leading into the shelter. One had a blanket over it and one opened to let you in. When you got inside there was a blue lightbulb giving hardly any light. Then there was a space and then the stairs leading down. She saw a lady with a baby in a white shawl in her arms on the stairs, and an older man on the opposite side. Both were leaning against the wall.  Doris and her dad passed them and then went down into the shelter.


When they got down into the shelter Doris remembers people saying that it was a bad night. She could feel a ‘shaky feeling’ as if bombers were overhead and could hear the very noisy ‘pom pom’ guns.


Doris remembers that her dad stopped to talk to the shelter warden where the ticket office would have been, but when he realised something was wrong on the stairs he told her dad to take her down into the shelter. She says that there were only a few people claiming places to sleep on the platform when she got there. Her dad left her there and went off.


She doesn’t understand how her dad got out and got to work. She wonders if he helped move some of the people trapped on the stairs. He never spoke about that night with her.


Doris tells an anecdote about how she went to find her next door neighbour at the end of the platform. When she got there a man was putting a sheet over a 9 year old boy who had died. She was confused as she thought he’d been involved in the crush on the stairs. Later she realised he must have been a sick child who’d died coincidentally as the accident was happening.


Doris remembers that people in the shelter were up and ready to go home at 6 a.m. on the morning after the disaster. She heard people say that 30 people had died and were over in St John’s church. She couldn’t understand it.

Doris explains that she went home to her flat and her father came back from fire watching. She stresses again that they never spoke of the accident. She says that there were rumours about what had happened but nobody talked about it.


Doris repeats her story of seeing a lady with a baby and an old man on the stairs of the shelter and asks the interviewer questions about casualties. She reiterates that it was very noisy that night and that when she and her father went through the doors which led onto the tube station stairs it was very dark. However she says that when they got to the bottom of the stairs it was all lit up with electric lights. She also repeats her story of going to find her neighbour on the platform.


Doris thinks she heard the drone of aeroplanes that night and says that St John’s church was lit up by the searchlights.


She thinks it strange that she did not hear any screams for help when she and her dad were talking to the warden inside the shelter. They only heard groans.


Doris’s daughter Val says there was no air raid that night. Doris refers to an article from the Daily Mail in 1983 which explained that there had been anti-aircraft guns firing that night as a test which led to panic. Her daughter Val says that was what Doris must have heard and thought was an actual raid.


Doris is adamant that the sirens must have been going that night or she and her dad would not have gone down into the shelter. They were always nervous about going down and often ‘chanced it’ rather than going down into the tube station. She remembers sitting underneath the arches in a raid. It was so dark you couldn’t see who you were talking to.  She also repeats that when she and her dad first went into the tube station on the night of the disaster it was very quiet with not many people about. She is confused about where all the people came from.


Anecdote about seeing a bomb hitting the power station. It didn’t go off but was found unexploded years later.


Memories of working in the Daimler factory in the Midlands and what Coventry was like during the war.


Doris describes where she was and how she felt when the war ended. Her daughter Val reminds her that it was her birthday and Doris says it was the best birthday she’d ever had.


She describes being in a cinema during a raid and not being let out until 4 a.m. when the ‘all clear’ went. She says it was very dark and frightening.


Doris’s daughter Val explains that the unexploded bomb that Doris saw being dropped on the power station was found in 1963. More memories of this and of being under the arches in Bethnal Green during air raids.


Doris and Val talk about a photograph of Doris’s younger brother George who had a workshop in one of the arches.


Doris reiterates that she has lots of questions about the night of the disaster because she and her father never spoke about it.


Doris repeats her story of going down into the tube station with her father on the night of the disaster. She discusses what happened with the interviewer.


She reiterates that no one talked about the accident afterwards but doesn’t know who was telling people not to do so.


Doris’s daughter Val asks if they closed the tube station after the disaster. Doris explains that it was unfinished and describes what it was like. She explains that she never went down there again as the accident (and the doodlebugs) had frightened her. She moved to Coventry in April 1943.


Val asks the interviewer if her grandmother was in the disaster and they discuss that.


Anecdotes about people living in high flats during the war being given shelters on lower floors. Doris remembers one time when the residents of the flats took shelter in a concrete room that was accessed via steps down into the basement. When the ‘all clear’ went they couldn’t open the door to get out because so much debris was blocking the exit.


Doris remembers lying in the tube shelter one night and looking up she could see the stars as there was a big hole in the roof!


Anecdotes about Doris’s working life after the war. She worked for GEC but gave up when her eldest daughter became ill with TB.


Tape paused and restarted.


Doris tells a story about hygiene in the tube shelter. Her mother and a friend spent the night laying on a sleeper in the tunnel – as a lot of people did. In the morning their bedding was all wet from dripping water and there was an awful smell. They had been sleeping on top of human faeces. As there were no toilets in the shelter people used to use the tunnel but because it was so dark her mother had not been able to see what was underneath her.


Doris describes what life was like in the shelter. Children were sent down to claim a spot for adults. People chatted or read the newspaper as there was some light.


Doris repeats her story of seeing a woman and a baby and an old man on the stairs.


Doris’s daughter Val asks what children were like in the shelter and Doris says they were not really noisy. People did used to get annoyed though when beds were made up but only 1 person was sitting there.


She remembers the shelter being quite reasonable – not rowdy. She didn’t go down that much though. Her dad used to take her down, settle her and then leave for his fire watching duties.


Doris talks about the effect of the war on marriages. She thinks there were a lot of problems with marriages breaking up and children being born illegitimately. Doris gives her opinions on a range of issues today.


Val asks a question which leads to family stories and anecdotes about the price of food then and now and types of food eaten when Doris was young.


Doris remembers various characters from her youth in the East End including the lamplighter man, the vinegar man and the muffin man.


She remembers her neighbours being very friendly and helping each other out with childcare. Anecdotes about her family.


Doris tells several anecdotes about how her family used to keep chickens, goats, pigeons and even ducks in their back yards.  Val asks a question about the toilets and Doris remembers her aunt had an open stream at the bottom of her garden which served as the toilet.


Doris describes a typical East End funeral as she remembers from her youth. Everyone wore either a diamond or a band on their arm and either black or purple. Men always used to take their caps off when the funeral procession went past.


The microphone is readjusted. Anecdotes from Doris and Val about Doris’s husband/ Val’s father and Doris’s younger brother George.


Doris remembers what it was like when she came back to London when the war ended and she’d finished working in the Daimler factory. She explains that the employer you’d worked for before the war was obliged to give you your old job back. So she returned to machining and made utility suits and then went into children’s clothing and millinery.


Doris remembers that when she moved to Coventry in 1950 she got a job at the Morris car factory.


Val joins in a discussion about where Doris lived in Coventry and both tell family anecdotes. Doris explains how she and her husband obtained a permit to buy a new house off plan. The house they bought, and saw built, is the one she lives in today and where the interview took place.


A family member enters the room.


Doris talks about a photograph of her husband and reminisces about her 57 years of marriage and the births of her 3 daughters.