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London's biggest explosion

Development of Silvertown
The explosion
The rescue effort
The human cost
The cause
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The human cost

Dead and injured

Tom Betts
View full size imageOne of the survivors, Mr Tom Betts. © NMM

73 people died as a result of the Silvertown explosion. More than 400 were injured, 94 of them seriously. One of the injured was a fireman called Tom Betts.

He was buried by rubble as the fire station collapsed, but was rescued by men from the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Professor Angel, the Chief Chemist.
View full size imageProfessor Angel, the Chief Chemist at the plant. © NMM

Some of those who lost their lives were fighting the first fire at the time of the blast. These included Andreas Angel, the chief chemist at the plant. He was a professor from Oxford doing voluntary war-work at Brunner-Mond.

Angel was posthumously awarded the Edward Medal, one of Britain's highest awards for gallantry.



Local heroes

Two firemen.
View full size imageStation Officer S. Betts and Fireman Yabsley. © NMM

Two firemen from the wrecked Silvertown Fire Station also died as they were laying hoses and getting ready to tackle the blaze. Station Officer S. Betts and Fireman Yabsley had carried out their fire-fighting duties even though they knew that an explosion was likely at any moment.

The casualty list also included:

  • a police constable, George Greenhoff
  • workers from the Port of London Authority
  • workers from local factories.



Family tragedies

Fireman Snell who was killed in the Silvertown Explosion
View full size imageFireman Sell, who was killed in the Silvertown explosion. © NMM
Fireman Sell was killed in the blast and his daughter Winifred also died in the disaster.

Winifred was one of many children who had been in their beds and stood little chance of escape as homes collapsed and debris rained from the skies.

One man lost his wife and four children aged between 10 and 13. There were many such distressing tales.

A lucky escape for some

Children left homeless by the Silvertown explosion.
View full size imageChildren left homeless by the Silvertown explosion. © NMM
Many more people would have been killed if the explosion had happened a few hours earlier when the plant and the surrounding factories were full of workers. As it was, most of them had left for home at the end of the working week.

Also, many people who lived close to the factory, knowing what was produced there, left their homes as soon as they saw the first signs of a fire at the plant. Hundreds of them were left homeless, but at least they had escaped with their lives.




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