|A V2 launched from Haagse Bos, March 27 1945, 16.54pm, hit Kynaston Road, Orpington.|
I do not remember a time when this piece of family history was not in me. As I get older I think about the V2 more than I probably should. How could I not? It defines the reason for my existence on this earth. Are there other things like this that I don’t know about? A decision made by a woman to have the night off. No, don’t fancy it tonight, I want to stay in… I’ll swap my shift. I’ll keep the kiddy with me, we’ll see the in-laws later in the week…
I’ve dreamed about being there five minutes before it came and yelling at all those in its path to get out. Wake up! When I open my mouth in the dream, well, I’m sure you can guess: nothing comes out. They all die and I’m paralysed.
I am a photographer and taking photographs is the thing I do. It’s how I see, feel and touch. So I decided to go to the corner of The Continent from where my fate was determined and see it for myself. Maybe I can stop it there.
I spent a lot of time on the internet looking for information and I found a website called v2rocket.com. It’s a bottomless mine of V2-related facts and people. I discovered that the launch sites of many V2s are well known among those who like to know. Included in that list is the launch information for a rocket that originated in The Hague at 07.12am on March 27 1945. Alongside it is the known impact site: Vallance Road, Stepney, London. There even exists an RAF reconnaissance photograph of the site that was taken earlier in the same month. It shows a heavily wooded park/forest in the centre of the city – Haagse Bos. In the picture are five V2s lying on their sides in a line. The RAF returned later to bomb them. Unfortunately, the leading bomber dropped its load too early and all those planes behind followed its lead by doing the same thing. The bombs landed at the south east corner of the park instead of the intended spot, the north west. I look at that picture now and one of those five is what
I can’t stop in my dream.
I went to see the consequences that were visited on that little piece of Stepney and we packed the car with large-format camera equipment. A 5”x4” cherrywood Zone V1 field camera. Or a “blanket over the head wedding photographer camera”, as a passerby once commented. Eighty sheets of large-format colour film were loaded in a darkroom. We were bristling with Victorian technology, and when we unpacked and set up the shot of the Hughes Mansions site as it is today, from under the blanket I was bringing into focus an upside down and back to front image of a tarmac carpark. Of course. What else would it be?
Also upside down and back to front in the viewfinder was the outline of a woman carrying a Tesco bag. She opened her mouth to speak and what came out, from across the other side of the car park, was absolutely the right way up and not back to front:
“What you fuckin’ doing that for? I live ’ere. I got right to know innit.”
“There was a German rocket that landed here in the war and killed 134 people. My grandparents were two of those. I’m a photographer and am doing a proj…”
“Oh right. Yeah. The war. Fuckin’ killed loads innit.”
She then turned to an as-yet unseen
co-inquisitor, above us in the flats, and bellowed:
“BOMB COME. THE WAR. KILLED ’IS FUCKIN’ NAN & GRANDAD INNIT. ’E’S TAKIN’ A PHOTO OF IT OR SUMMINK.”
And then she disappeared up the stairs with her Tesco bag and whatever.
Then we’re being eyed up by four young guys. Just watching us. Not speaking, to us or to each other. Some more appear across from where they are standing. I’ve been in a lot of places where a camera is not welcome and I can sense when its presence is causing ripples. Now is that time. Even the sky seems to go darker. Malice is radiating and it starts to gently rain. A warning. Stay here and bad things might happen. The difference between then and now is that I know I’ve been warned. I’ve been given the luxury of time.
There is history here. In 2005 a small memorial plaque was unveiled on the site. There was a high turnout of old Jewish people, some who survived the V2. But as we drove out of there it occured to me that the V2 didn’t just suck the life out of my great grandparents in that place. The tarmac carpark feels like a memorial, and there seemed to be mistrust, suspicion and paranoia all around. I don’t need to go back there again.
The distance that the V2 flew in nine minutes in 1945, we drove (in the opposite direction) in 13 hours this year. From Hughes Mansions to Harwich in Essex, an overnight ferry to The Hook of Holland and then another drive to The Hague.
The launch site. This was it, the place I dream about and the muddy patch of woodland that the RAF missed. Standing there I felt more kinship and meaning in this, the patch of crappy municipal ground from which my grandad’s mum & dad’s death was certified, stamped, signed, sealed, delivered, nine minutes before they knew it. There is more grace, peace and beauty in this bare patch of Dutch mud and leaves that gave of itself to allow death to be delivered remotely to others, than there is in all of that blob of grim, dark blight of east London that seems to bear only ill will to those within as well as to those from without.
|Staveley Road, London W4.|
|Hague Wassenaar. The first V2 was launched from here on September 8 1944. It hit Stavely Road, London W4, above.|
And now I know why. From here, the path that led to my place on this ball of rock in space was sealed too. This terrible incident was the first step in a chain of events that led to my mum meeting my dad. Had there been no rocket that day, then, well, who knows what it might have been. I know there’s no point in asking these questions, but what point also is there in the Fantasy Football League?
We choose the fantasies we like to take part in. Some people like football, I like to wonder about rocket trajectories. No rocket? No deaths, no mourning, no this, no that, no who knows what and on and on for another 25 years, deviating from the trajectory of me. No mum meeting no dad. No me. Nor my children too. I see their little faces in in the deaths of Abraham and Annie. I thank them for it and realize that this isn’t just about the consequences of vengeance. It’s also about the consequences of trajectory, the defining characteristic not only of projectiles but also lives. Cupid, above all, can tell you about that.