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The 18 children killed in WWI who changed the course of royal history

There are two graves in St Patrick’s cemetery in East London that stand out.

They are bright white against a sea of grey stone.

There are the graves of two five-year-olds who lost their lives 100 years ago today.

School caretaker Benjamin Batt found his own son dead in the rubble. Credit: W. Whiffin

This afternoon, a small crowd of relatives, historians and members of the local church gathered at these tiny white graves for a service.

They graves have been cleaned for today's commemoration.

The two children, Louise Acampora and Johnnie Brennan, were among 18 little souls killed when a German bomb crashed through the roof of their school in the middle of the day.

The school classroom after the tragedy which was the worst single day of bombing in WWI. Credit: W. Whiffin

There were boys on the second floor of Upper North Street Primary, girls on the first floor and, on the ground floor, a class of infants.

It was the infant class in which they counted 16 of the 18 bodies. Most were just five years old.

The raid on 13 June 1917 was the first ever daylight raid by the Germans over the British Isles.

And what followed was a national outcry.

The bombing was the Germans first daylight raid over Britain. Credit: The British Library Board

We think of air raids over London when we look back at the Second World War.

But the Germans had worked out how to drop bombs over London towards the end of the First World War.

And in the days which followed, public opinion turned sharply against any German, or anything remotely Germanic.

Which – at that time – included Britain’s Royal Family.

The funeral for the 18 children was one of the biggest London had ever seen. Credit: London Metropolitan Archives

The bombing of Upper North Street Primary added to a major crisis facing the Queen’s grandfather, King George V.

At that time, King George and his family went by the name created when Queen Victoria married her cousin Prince Albert: Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

And to make it worse for King George, the plane which dropped the bomb, killing children as they were sitting in class, had the same name: a Gotha bomber.

The bombing is said to have led to the royal family changing their German name. Credit: London Metropolitan Archives

Just five weeks after the air raid in East London and four weeks after 15 little souls had been laid to rest in a mass grave nearby, Buckingham Palace announced the Royal Family would, henceforth, be known as the House of Windsor.

An overnight name change which replaced every German reference and title with something British.

On 17 July 1917, King George V issued a Royal Proclamation:

WHEREAS We, having taken into consideration the Name and Title of Our Royal House and Family, have determined that henceforth Our House and Family shall be styled and known as the House and Family of Windsor:

And whereas We have further determined for Ourselves and for and on behalf of Our descendants and all other the descendants of Our Grandmother Queen Victoria of blessed and glorious memory to relinquish and discontinue the use of all German Titles and Dignities.

– King George V
People gather to remember those children killed 100 years ago. Credit: ITV News

Later this week, the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh will go to the school in Poplar – which is now called Mayflower Primary.

The Queen will be accompanied by the German Ambassador to Britain. Things have changed a lot in a hundred years.

But in East London today, they took time to remember 18 children who went to school one Wednesday morning and never came home.