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The devastation at New Cross Road, Deptford, where the F. W. Woolworth store was destroyed by a German V2 rocket on 25th November 1944.

24 hours before this picture was taken a large, busy Woolworth store stood on this spot.
30 colleagues were serving more than 100 customers with hot drinks, saucepans and gifts for Christmas.

On 5 November 1909 Frank Woolworth opened his first store outside North America. 5 & 10 became Threepence and Sixpence for the branch in Church Street, Liverpool, England. Woolworth had toyed with the idea of opening in Britain ever since 1890 and took the plunge despite the reservations of his management.

The first British Woolworths store, which opened in Church Street, Liverpool on 5 Nov 1909

The weather in London on Saturday, 25 November, 1944 was exceptionally mild. The Allies' success in Europe had raised peoples' spirits at home. In New Cross word spread that the local Woolworth's had 144 tin saucepans. These had been in short supply, so a queue built up quickly. Mums, grandparents and even soldiers on home leave stood in line, hoping to be lucky.

 All of the full-time staff were at work on the busiest trading day. They were assisted by Saturday boys and girls, most of whom were just fourteen years old, and out to earn a little pocket money.

 At noon the Council's manual workers clocked off after collecting their wages from Deptford Town Hall, opposite the store. Many went shopping.

 Also at noon, far away on Walcheren Island off the Belgian Coast, a select group of German dignitaries were celebrating. They had arranged drinks to mark the 250th launch of a V2 rocket, which was dispatched skywards as they watched. A few minutes later it malfunctioned and exploded in the sky above St Paul's Cray in Kent. No-one was hurt. 

At 12:15 second break started at Woolworth's and the next wave of store staff headed upstairs for a cooked lunch in the canteen. The train cleaners from New Cross Station on the Southern Railway slipped off early, hoping to get a hot drink of Bovril at the Woolies Tea Bar. The pile of saucepans near the back tills was going down. And the 251st rocket was launched.

Suddenly, with no warning, at 12:26 the V2 rocket hit the rear of the flat roof of the Woolworth store. After a moment's silence the walls bowed, and the building collapsed and exploded. The Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society store next door and the queue of people waiting for a tram in the street outside were caught in the inferno. As the dust settled shards of glass and debris stretched ankle-deep all the way to New Cross Station, half a mile away. It is believed that the station had been the target.

 In the hours that followed local people helped the emergency services to lift the rubble by hand. As it was cleared the full horror was evident. 168 people had died, both customers and staff. 122 passers-by were injured. Just one person inside the store survived. These terrible losses would have been even worse if traffic problems had not causes a suspension of the tram service along New Cross Road a few minutes before the attack.

All this material was found at the Woolworth Department Store UK Museum site

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