Attack on the track

James Cracknell speaks to a 99-year-old former railway worker about the time a V2 rocket nearly hit her train at Palmers Green Station

The aftermath of the V2 rocket attack at Palmers Green Station in October 1944 (credit Enfield Local Studies Library and Archive)
The aftermath of the V2 rocket attack at Palmers Green Station in October 1944 (credit Enfield Local Studies Library and Archive)

On 26th October 1944 at around 6.39pm, the Nazi Wehrmacht launched one of its much-feared V2 rockets from a German missile battery within the occupied Netherlands.

Just six minutes later, it landed on a railway track just north of Palmers Green Station, narrowly avoiding a stationary train on the platform and another that was heading south towards it. The rocket left a crater 15 metres wide and 7.5m deep, sending debris flying into the air and wrecking several nearby homes. Dozens were injured, both on the platform and in the carriages, while one man was killed after being struck by a piece of debris on a nearby street.

Gladys Garlick was working as a passenger guard for London North Eastern Railway (LNER) and happened to be on the train at the station. Now aged 99, Gladys spoke to the Dispatch about her memories of the incident. “The train was moving about quite a bit from the impact,” she recalled. “There were paving stones from the platform landing on top of the carriages.

“There was one girl who had a serious head injury and then there were more minor casualties, on the train and on the platform, so we set about helping them as best we could.

“There was this great hole at the end of the platform, but they filled it in again, and [two days later] I was on the first train to go over it! They wanted to get the trains running again as quickly as possible. We went into work and carried on like normal.”

Gladys was living in Bowes Park during the war and now resides in Suffolk. Her story is one of many told in a book, Female Railway Workers in World War 2. She added: “That was the closest Hitler got to killing me – thankfully he didn’t succeed!”

The V2 that landed at Palmers Green Station was one of 26 such rockets to hit within the modern boundaries of Enfield borough. Joe Robinson is a local writer and historian who is currently researching for a new book describing the impact of both V2 and V1 rocket attacks in the local area.

Joe, describing the Palmers Green Station incident, said: “Travelling faster than sound, the V2 rocket gave zero warning and hit just off the far end of the platform away from the station building. The driver of the moving southbound train frantically managed to brake the train before it crashed into the crater. The northbound train remained still as debris rained down on it, leaving passengers badly shaken and 53 injured.

“Miraculously, there was only one fatality, after a piece of metal track was blown into Old Park Road, killing an 83-year-old man named Frederick Harris.

“The explosion left a vast crater [and] over 50m of track was smashed with large pieces blown out. One section embedded itself like a giant arrow in the trunk of a nearby tree. The blast wave wrecked adjacent houses, as well as damaging shops in the surrounding streets and breaking windows on two passing buses, leaving a conductor suffering from shock.

“Looking at photographs of the destruction it is hard to believe that the authorities were able to get the huge hole filled and the track repaired for trains to start running just two days later.”

The V1 and V2 ‘flying bombs’ campaign, carried out between June 1944 and March 1945, killed around 100 people in what we know today as the London borough of Enfield (the area was still part of Middlesex at that time).

Across England, there were around 9,000 casualties from V weapons in total (the ‘V’ stood for Vergeltungswaffen, meaning ‘retaliatory weapons’). While this was far lower than the impact of the Blitz earlier in the war, which claimed upwards of 40,000 deaths, the V1s and V2s were widely feared because they gave little or no warning of where and when they might hit.

Anyone who has further information about any of the V1 and V2 rocket attacks in Enfield during the war is urged to contact Enfield Local Studies Library and Archive:
Email [email protected]