Keith Lloyd lived in West Silvertown for 24 years and has written two short stories about the 1917 Silvertown explosion in which he recalls the memories of his mother and his grandfather.
In the first story, Weapons of Mass Destruction he said: “Ivy, then four, was at home on Cranbrook Road with her mother (Agnes Orley) when they heard the first explosion). They ran to hide under the stairs. Ivy recalled the ‘walls coming down like jelly’ as the explosion hit their house as she watched through the gap in the doorway.
“The house was destroyed to rubble and they could not get out. They were found by the eldest son Bob, who had been sent out to get some bread… He ran home to find the house in rubble and his mum and sister shouting for help.
Astonishingly, as soon as she saw her son, Agnes asked, “where’s the bread?”
As a consequence of the damage to the house, the family had to find somewhere to live and had no alternative but to split up. Keith’s mum went with her mum to live with an auntie and the other children went to another distant family member.
Keith’s father and grandfather also had memories about the explosion.
In Keith’s second short story, The First Tea Party, his said that his grandfather Ernest Lloyd senior, 35 at the time, was ‘blown down the street’ by the explosion.
“His son, my father, referred to at the time as Young Ernie, was six when he was injured by the blast. He was waiting to go inside for his first tea party given by the scouts in the Methodist Church Hall in North Woolwich Road.”
He had seen ‘posher kids’ going into the party and thought he would feel out of place and was in two minds waiting to go in, when a voice said that Sister Vera was calling him.
Then he said… “Suddenly it happened. A huge pink semi-circle cloud appeared in the sky, bigger then any of the surrounding buildings and as I watched the top of the semi-circle opened up to send red, yellow and black smoke belching upwards.
“I remember thinking ‘the sun must have fallen out of the sky.’ I turned to run but there was an enormous explosion and I felt myself being lifted as if by a giant hand and propelled forward (I thought) at terrific speed. My ears were full of rushing wind.
“Then, as suddenly as it started, it stopped and I felt my body drop and hit the roadway very hard. I lay still for a while. Then, lifting my head a little, I could see people being blown about like blackened cardboard.
Three women who had been walking towards where I was lying were suddenly mown down. One leaned against the shutters of the butcher’s shop holding her left elbow in her right hand and looking down at where her hand should have been. The second was sitting on the foot path and the third was lying in the gutter. I saw a man lifted off his feet by the blast and thrown, with a tremendous force into a doorway.
“I remained still for some time but then I heard something. I turned over and saw a headless woman. Then I thought ‘that may be my Mum’ and this was the moment I became panic-stricken. I got up and ran about madly. It seemed I had been running about for hours, when I heard someone calling urgently, “Jessie, Jessie, here he is”. Jessie (my Mum) was being called by my aunt Gladys, who just could not hide the elation in her voice.
“He’s all right Jess not hurt”. Then I saw my Mum coming towards me carrying my younger brother John aged two.
“She said, “I’ve been to the Chapel and they told me you had not been there. I told your father you must be still in your bedroom changing your boots”. When my Dad went back to the house he found the bedroom had been devastated.They were taken to a church to be treated for their injuries.
They were taken to a church to be treated for their injuries.
After watching the funeral processions for the firemen, policemen, soldiers and civilians killed in the explosion, the children were to be prepared to move on Tuesday to a big house in Swanley, Kent. This was to be their home for the next eight months.
“After being away for eight months we all enjoyed the journey back to Silvertown sitting up front on the brake eating the apples and we had been given. When we pulled into Westwood Road we were all singing our heads off. There was a crowd of people waiting for us outside St. Barnabas Church. But when I got there, I was disappointed- all the guns were gone as was (part of) the flour mills owned by Joseph Rank. They had all been blown to pieces.
“In September we were told that a number of children were being sent to the countryside to get some fresh air. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to stay at home. But I had no choice and Wally and I, together with Archie and Wally Cole, were soon on our way to Wokingham to be billeted with Mr and Mrs Challis.
“We were away for almost a year. It must have been August 1918 when we returned home because I recall having been back at school for just two weeks when I was sent into the big boys section and then marched into the playground to listen to all the factory sirens and ships hooters blasting away, signalling the end of The First World War.”