At least five members of my family – including a mother and her two daughters – died in the Blitz and ‘Doodlebug’ attacks in London and Portsmouth in the Second World War. Their stories are told here with the help of research carried out by Norina Dixon and the Essex Commemoration Project, who are spearheading a scheme to find the final resting places of more than 69,000 civilian war dead from the UK and its protectorates.
They were known as the ‘silent killers’ – terrorising millions of people across England in the Second World War.
‘Doodlebugs’ killed and injured thousands of people and destroyed thousands of homes in London between June 1944 and March 1945.
Mary Hicks and her daughters, Annie and Frances, died in a devastating ‘Doodlebug’ – or VI Rocket – attack on July 17, 1944.
They were at home at the time of the raid. Their house, 231, Plashet Grove in East Ham, was torn apart in a blast that caused widespread damage.
Mary, a 62-year-old widow, Annie, 36, and Frances, 34, an ARP volunteer for the British Red Cross Society, were buried together seven days later at Rippleside Cemetery in Barking.
More than 2,400 ‘Doodlebugs’ – unmanned gyro-guided planes each delivering a ton of high explosive – exploded in London, killing more than 6,000 people.
The first VI to hit London crashed to the ground in Grove Road and exploded at 4.25am on June 13, 1944.
One of the flying bombs killed 121 soldiers and civilians – and wounded 141 others – when it hit and destroyed the Guards’ Chapel near Buckingham Palace on June 18, 1944.
Mary’s brother-in-law, Thomas Jennings, was killed when a bomb exploded at Liverpool Street Station in London on March 8, 1941.
Thomas, 45, was working at Liverpool Street Station when the bomb ‘fell between platforms 4 and 5’ at 9.30pm.
He was among hundreds of civilians who were killed or wounded in a ‘full scale’ raid on London that evening.
A London Civil Defence regional report described it as the ‘worst air raid since January 1944’, with 129 people killed, 152 seriously injured and 310 slightly injured.
The worst casualties were at the Café de Paris, a nightclub and restaurant, where 34 people died and 80 taken to hospital after a 50kg bomb hit the building.
Twenty six-year-old fireman William Wareham was killed in a bombing attack in Portsmouth on April 27, 1941.
He was among 28 people who lost their lives when a parachute mine or bomb destroyed the Madden’s Hotel in the city.
The hotel crumpled to the ground in a huge blast wave as the bomb floated down directly on to the building and exploded.
Two hospitals in the city, the dockyards, the railway station, hotels, pubs and houses were also badly damaged in the night-time raid
Portsmouth endured 67 air raids between July 1940 and May 1944. In that four-year period, more than 1,000 men, women and children were killed and almost 3,000 injured.
More than 6,000 houses in the city were destroyed and almost 70,000 homes suffered bomb damage. Thirty churches, eight schools and one hospital were also destroyed in the raids.
Mary Hicks was a great-great-great granddaughter of William Roberts (1738-), the great-grandfather of John Roberts (1829-1919), who had 30 grandsons serving in the Great War. John was my great-great grandfather. A trouser machinist, Mary was born on April 5, 1882 in Islington, London. She married Albert Nathaniel Hicks (1874-1914) on April 13, 1903 in Bethnal Green, London. Mary was the daughter of milkman John Elston (1841-1917) and Sarah Ann Jones (1853-1917). John was the son of William Elston (1813-1885) and Loveday Roberts (1819-1909). Loveday was the daughter of William Roberts (1791-1875) and Frances Hodge (1796-1873). William was the son of John Roberts (1766-1834) and Elizabeth James (1767-1861). John was the son of William Roberts (1738-).
Annie, born on February 11, 1908 in London, worked as a ‘fancy leather’ machinist in 1939. Frances, born on September 26, 1909 in London, worked as a cushion machinist in 1939.
Thomas Jennings married Janet Alice Elston (1893-1979) – Mary Hicks’s sister – on September 23, 1920 in Bethnal Green. In 1939, Thomas was a railway porter, living in Dagenham, Essex. At the time of his death, he was residing at 43, Lynett Road, Dagenham. Born on May 21, 1895 in Bethnal Green, London, he was the son of boot maker Thomas and Ethel Jennings. He was buried on March 15, 1941 at Chadwell Heath Cemetery.
William Wareham was a great-great-great grandson of William Roberts (1738-). Born on August 1, 1914 in Portsmouth, William was the son of Bertie Henry Wareham (1880-1965) and Florence Edith Bayne (1884-1951). Florence was the daughter of Sarah Ann Snell (1844-1900) and William Bayne (1842-1910). Sarah Ann was the eldest daughter of Robert Snell (1820-1897) and Ann Sheppard (1819-1859). Robert was the son of Robert Snell (1790-1854) and Ann Adams (1799-1824). Robert Snell (1790-1854) was the son of Sarah Roberts (1760-1837) and Robert Snell (1757-1838). Sarah was the daughter of William Roberts (1738-).
THE FULL STORIES OF MARY, ANNIE AND FRANCES HICKS, THOMAS JENNINGS AND WILLIAM WAREHAM ARE TOLD IN MY A-Z OF FAMILY MEMBERS WHO WENT TO WAR
The grave of Mary, Annie and Frances Hicks at Rippleside Cemetery, Barking. Picture supplied by the Essex Commemoration Project.
Rescue teams listen for survivors as they search a cavity in a large pile of rubble, timbers and debris following a V1 attack in London in 1944. A Public Domain image by a Ministry of Information photographer (Wikimedia Commons, flying bomb, VI damage in London, 1944).