In The War, people sheltered in the tube from air raids.
It made sense: the tube was deeper than most air raid shelters and the trains didn’t run at night, when most raids happened.
So that’s how it was at Bethnal Green in 1943.
The air raid sirens sounded, as usual.
Everyone made their way to the tube, as usual.
Then they started queuing to get down the steps, as usual.
Then something unusual happened.
In a nearby park, they were testing a new anti-aircraft rocket.
No one had heard that sound before.
Some people thought it must be the bombs falling.
So the people at the back of the queue started pushing forwards to get into the tube quicker.
At the bottom of the stairs a woman carrying a baby fell over.
The crowd kept coming.
The weight of people behind was so great, no one could back up or turn around.
They couldn’t even stop.
They just kept getting pushed forwards.
Falling over onto the woman and her baby, then more people falling over onto them.
Then more people, and more people.
The people at the back didn’t know there was anything wrong, they were just pushing to get in.
The people at the front were now piled up, and more coming all the time.
They couldn’t move, they couldn’t breathe.
Eventually the entrance became so blocked with bodies people stopped pushing.
Finally they started pulling people back out.
One by one.
It took three hours to get the last of them out.
By the time it was over 173 people were dead, 60 of them children.
Crushed or suffocated.
No German bomb had ever killed that many people in London.
And it wasn’t a bomb that killed them that night.
It was just people doing what people do.
Following each other without thinking.
The rockets went off and some people assumed it was bombs.
So everyone else assumed it was bombs.
Some people started shoving to get in.
So everyone else started shoving to get in.
If you’re part of the crowd, you do what the crowd does.
You don’t think, the crowd does the thinking.
And that’s the normal human reaction.
The crowd must be right.
Just follow the crowd and you can’t be wrong.
And that’s what most of us do.
We follow the crowd, because that’s our instinct.
But a crowd is just other people.
And people can be wrong.
Just because there’s a lot of them doesn’t make them any less wrong.
It’s difficult to think for ourselves against the crowd.
In case we’re wrong.
But what if we’re right?
What if the crowd is wrong?
That night the crowd was wrong.
That night there wasn’t even an air raid, it was a false alarm.