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Gertrude Anna Middleton O.B.E - The Recent Discovery of a Heroine of the Great War in Ladywell Cemetery

Gertrude Anna Middleton O.B.E.

Or Gertie as she is known on her headstone.
Or Gertie as she is known on her headstone.

A grave that has been passed by many over the years without giving a second glance. For what you see from the pathway is her mother Emma, look to the other side and you will find Gertie with her father Henry Milnes Glover.

Anna Glover was born in Liscard, Cheshire on the 23rd July 1889, her parents Henry Milnes Glover and Martha Maria Emma Hedwig Glover, the 1911 census shows Gertie at the age of 23 a school mistress living at 102 Embleton Road Ladywell, living with both of her parents and two older sisters.

In October 1916 at St Saviours Paddington, Gertrude married Albert Henry Middleton a 2nd Officer in the Royal Navy.

On Wednesday the 13th June 1917, the day started like any other day for the pupils and teachers of Upper North Street Elementary School in Poplar, at their lessons at 11.40am, not knowing this was to be the first major daylight raid over London, that 20 German Gotha bombers that took off from Belgium were circling overhead looking for targets in the India and Millwall Docks. This was to be known as the First Blitz. 

At that period of the War, London’s air defences were designed for the attack of Zeppelins which operated at night so were virtually useless against raids by the by the high flying bombers.

The three storey school was less than a mile away from the Docks and suffered a direct hit, a 100lb bomb crashing through the roof, killing three older children on an upper floor, then exploding on the ground floor where 50 of the youngest children were, killing 15 pupils from Gertie’s class and injuring many more.

That day three of the Schools teachers emerged as Heroes, Gertrude Middleton, Annie Elizabeth Allum and Wenceslia Watkins, were each awarded the M.O.B.E. Gertie's citation from the London Gazette of Friday the 7th June 1918, reads as; Displayed very conspicuous courage on the Occasion of an air raid, when a bomb burst in the classroom in which she was teaching.

The citation form the back of her picture held by the Imperial War Museum, reads as 'Mrs Gertrude Middleton O.B.E.  Air raid on Upper north School, Poplar, on the 13th June 1917 a bomb burst in her class room and 18 children' mainly five year olds were killed, although hurt herself, she rescued many children from the debris until the Doctor forbade her going on, he said she deserved the V.C, soon after the raid her health began to fail.'  

In addition to the 18 school children in Poplar, that first daylight raid in 1917 claimed another 144 lives around London. 

Sadly at the age of 29 Gertie passed away on the 21st October 1918, she was buried in Ladywell Cemetery on the 25th October 1918. Gone but not Forgotten.

Following the attack public donations flowed in for a memorial to the children; this was erected in the local Poplar Recreation Park. At its unveiling the Mayor of Poplar said these boys and girls truly suffered for their country as any men who have perished in the trenches, on the high sea or in the air.

Of note; on the 17th July 1917 King George V issued a proclamation declaring the name Windsor to be borne by his Royal House and Family, relinquishing the use of all German Titles and dignities, 

Coming amid strong anti-German feeling, the main turning point being the bombing of London, and in particular Upper North Street Elementary School in Poplar.

Gertie’s Grave, a short walk from the Chapel in Ladywell Cemetery.          

School caretaker Benjamin Batt sifts through the rubble, where his son Alfred was amongst the dead.


Funeral Procession of the Children along east India Dock Road.

Pupils from North Street School at post-war memorial service 1919.

Memorial of the 18 children in Poplar Recreation Ground.  

School photos with kind permission of Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives.

Picture of Gertie, copyright of the Imperial War Museum.

Colour Pictures,  Phill Barnes-Warden.

Compiled by Phill Barnes-Warden,  FoBLC Member

We will be stopping at Gertie’s Grave During the Guided walk of the Open House Event on the 20th September 2020