In 1945 shockwaves echoed across district after seven men were killed as a long-range rocket exploded in the grounds of an Epping hospital.

It was 2.43am on March 22, ten days after a rocket exploded in a field south of Bridge Hill in Epping, when the town shook during the Second World War as 463,000 gallons of water gushed from a water tower in the grounds of St Margaret’s Emergency Hospital after being hit by a V2 long-range rocket.

Houses in Fairfield Road and Union Terrace, the elderly unit and laundry block at the hospital and a single storey timber built casual ward which housed vagrants were destroyed.

At 3am, only 17 minutes after the blast, two Incident Officers Posts were set up, one by residents whose homes had been flooded, and one in the grounds of the hospital.

“Group Seven”, a local search and rescue team who operated in Chigwell and Waltham Abbey, were called to the scene and asked to prepare ambulances and rescue parties in hopes of finding survivors amongst the wreckage of the casual ward.

Epping Forest Guardian:

The hospital was badly damaged following the explosion which killed seven men.

Mike Osborne, who has been researching the incident since 2003, said: “the casual ward was the closest hospital building to the explosion and was almost completely destroyed with all of its ceilings and walls blown down to floor level.

“Rescue work was difficult.

“The Civil Defence Services were immediately alerted and all of the available ambulances and Rescue Parties based at nearby Ivy Lodge were sent to the scene. 

“They were told to expect many casualties.”

Epping Forest Guardian:

Mike Osborne (right) pictured with historian John Duffell.

Rescue parties operated in the ward and after an hour they had recovered the bodies of vagrants John Baker, 67, William Harris, 72, George Luxton, 75 and James Price, 75 and pulled 15 others from the wreckage, seven severely injured.

The body of Epping man, Alfred John Brace Ford, 67, was also found on the grounds of the hospital.

Despite his address being Briar Cottage in Epping Green, the former farm labourer had been staying in the casual ward when it had collapsed due to the attack.

At 4.20am, Mr. England, the Master of the Hospital, confirmed that a long-range rocket had fallen at the hospital, practically destroying the Old People’s Section, and that the forty women and twenty men would need to be transferred to alternative accommodation.

The community pulled together to help those affected.

The National Fire Service (NFS) worked to pump the flooded areas out into a crater which was situated in the East of the town and mobile canteens arrived in the area to provide food and hot drinks to the rescuers and the injured.

Epping Forest Guardian:

Water was pumped into the crater (circled) following the explosion.

The NFS pumped gallons of water into an emergency tank in the hospital grounds which was then chlorinated by the Herts and Essex Waterworks Company to provide water to the hospital which had been left without following the blast.

At 9am Mr. Mead, the Officer in charge of the Rescue Services, officially ended the rescue operation.

Repairs began on the destroyed buildings almost immediately.

More than 100 men were called to the area by the Works Emergency Officer at the Civil Defence Regional Control Centre at Cambridge to work on rebuilding homes and the hospital as quickly as possible.

Two days later, it was announced that hospital clerk John Parish, 30, who had spent the night in a room on the casual ward after missing the last bus back home to his wife in Harlow, had died from his injuries.

Epping Forest Guardian:

The water tower (pictured above) still stands in Epping after being rebuilt.

Mr Osborne added: “on the evening of the March 21, John Parish had volunteered for late clerical duty and worked until 10 pm. 

“On finishing his work he realised that he had missed his bus home.

“He telephoned his wife to inform her that he would have to stay at the hospital and spent the night in a room on the casual ward. 

“When the rocket exploded, he was buried in the rubble of the ward and sustained fatal injuries.”

On April 18, almost one month after the attack, the seventh and final fatal victim, William Dalton, 82, died from his injuries.

Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, sent the following message to the hospital: “Mrs Churchill and I deeply regret to hear the grave news and wish to express our sympathy with casualties and their relatives.”

Mr Osborne said: “by the end of the decade the bomb-damaged houses at Bridge Hill were demolished and new houses were built at the site in the early 1950’s. 

“The houses at Union Terrace were eventually pulled down too, and the flats of Birch View now stand on the site.

“I have been researching this tragic event since 2003 and I still am to this day.

“I think that it is really important to remind people of the terrible events that happened during the Second World War. 

“Hopefully, that way, the people who died will never be forgotten.”