Henrietta Keeper

Henrietta was opposite the underground station with her parents and her sister's friend Dolly on the evening of the disaster. Dolly urgently tried to persuade Henrietta to go into the underground shelter with her so they could join her mother but Henrietta was too scared to leave her own mum. Henrietta found out two days later that Dolly had died on the underground steps.


You can listen to the recorded INTERVIEW and browse the interview SUMMARY below. The summary gives timed sections which direct you to specific parts of the recording.

Click on the icon to download the summary  Henrietta Keeper SUMMARY.pdf and the complete transcript: Henrietta Keeper TRANSCRIPT .pdf

 

Interview summary

 

 

Interviewee/s:

Henrietta Agombar

Interviewer/s:

Amy Murphy and Jo Till

Date of Interview:

9 December 2013

 

Location:

Stepney Green

Length of interview:

90 minutes

Any other info:

Henrietta’s daughter is present during the interview

 

Time:

 

0:00

 

 

 

4:00

 

 

 

6:15

 

 

 

8:30

 

 

13:00

 

 

 

 

16:30

 

 

 

 

20:00

 

 

 

21:30

 

 

25:00

 

 

 

26:15

 

 

 

27:30

 

 

30:00

 

 

 

33:00

 

 

 

34:45

 

 

 

35:30

 

 

 

 

 

44:30

 

46:00

 

 

50:00

 

54:00

 

 

56:00

 

 

62:00

 

 

66:00

 

70:00

 

 

79:00

 

80:00

 

86:00

Summary:

 

Introduction. Henrietta explains how to pronounce her name and speaks about her family history that she traces back to the French Huguenots. She grew up opposite the old police station in Bethnal Green, near what used to be Camden Street.

 

When she was twelve and her sister was ten, they were evacuated to the countryside near Bury St Edmunds, where she remained for three years. She returned home around the time of the doodlebug and remembers many people being killed.

 

Henrietta speaks about the Anderson Shelter her family used. She describes how her mother used to heat bathing water for her and her four siblings, and how she used to wash the family's laundry by hand.

 

Henrietta describes her father having a premonition. Eventually her family took shelter near the railway arches at Bethnal Green Station rather than their Anderson shelter.

 

On the night of the disaster, she remembers hearing a very loud noise that scared her, and then many people rushing towards the tube station. Henrietta did not want to go down into the tube station and remained with her mother outside. One of her friends followed her family down the stairs, and Henrietta later learned she had died.

 

She recalls rescue workers showing up at the station and beginning to bring out dead bodies on stretchers, from small children to strong young men, laying them out on the pavement. Many bodies were badly injured, with their intestines visible. She became sick with shock.

 

Henrietta remembers learning of her friend's death. After the disaster, she remembers the police asking members of the public to link hands form a shielding ring around the site of the accident.

 

She recalls first getting in touch with Alf Morris, and some details about how he was rescued from the crush. She has since gotten involved in fundraising efforts for the Memorial Fund.

Henrietta remembers some more details about the initial fundraising efforts for the memorial, and about the Borough of Tower Hamlets promising to match the Trust's contributions.

 

Her friend's mother survived as she had already been underground in her bunk. Her friend, Dolly, was identified only by the ring she was wearing, which she had been given by her mother for her birthday.

 

Henrietta states that the crush was caused by a mother with a pram falling at the bottom of the stairs. She also remembers the boxer Dick Corbett dying.

 

She speaks once more about her father's premonition that prevented her family from seeking shelter in their Anderson shelter, and how their neighbour's house was completely destroyed by a bomb and the neighbour's woman died in the bombing.

 

Henrietta emphasizes that the bodies she saw coming out of the crush did not look as if they were asleep, but were badly injured. She remembers a large number of police officers on the scene.

 

Henrietta used to work at a tailor's shop, making Army clothes among other things. Her co-workers used to write saucy poems and hide them in the clothing for the soldiers to find.

 

She speaks about meeting her husband. He used to work with his brother, who was one of the main coal merchants in the area. He passed by her house frequently, and one day, he brought her a bag of oranges. She liked him immediately, though he was initially involved with another girl. He then left the neighbourhood for two years for his military service and tracked her down on his return, and eventually proposed to her.

 

Henrietta explains how she got the nickname 'Minxy' as a child.

 

She remembers the food her family used to eat when she was a child, as well as some stories about how they managed to get food on the table during hard times. 

 

Henrietta shares more anecdotes about her family.

 

Back to her friend Dolly who died in the disaster: Previously, she had also been evacuated along with Henrietta and her younger sister.

 

She recalls several jobs she had as a young woman, and how she learned a lot of craft skills including making hats and painting on glass and in oil.

 

Henrietta has to take medication to help with the shock of seeing her husband die. She speaks about health issues in general.

 

Henrietta sings Will you still love me tomorrow.

 

She sings another song, this time a Cockney one, and speaks about how she has loved singing since she was young.

 

Henrietta remembers several families who lost many family members in the disaster.

 

She speaks about some friends she has had throughout her life.

 

Henrietta returns to the subject of her husband. When he returned from military service, he brought her an Army cook book with recipes serving up to 700 men.