The war comes to Dunton

A village mourns

With the war imminent in 1939 many of the families who had purchased land plots on the so named Dunton Estate, in the Thurrock Council area of the County, decided that the country Home they had been building would be safer than their London homes. As the Bombing in London intensified the families move, together with others who were at an earlier stage of the evolution of building a home in the community that they were creating.

The families still needed finance to live so many of the men folk continued to travel to London for work. One such wage earner was Mr. Simmonds (Poppy Bill to us lads) who in those days would leave home his family home “Veronica”, at the bottom of First Avenue, at 6am to walk over the hill to Laindon Station to start his journey to get to work for 8am in London.

The families were aware that the was a risk to living in the area, this being emphasised by the decoy aerodrome on Dosegate Lane to and there had been a number of high explosive and incendiary bombs dropped in the area causing fatalities and there were often dogfights overhead. However when the menfolk left their families at Dunton they hoped they would be safe from the devastation that the Luftwaffe was imposing on the metropolis.  Mrs Simmons and her daughter Lydia were like many others doing their bit to look after the community and were both Air Raid Precaution Wardens working out of the wooden ARP post on lower Dunton Road.  On the night of November 8th 1940 Lydia had been at the Radion Cinema and when she got home after walking over the hill she was met with the devastation caused by a bomb. Her home had been demolished her mother and grandmother had been killed and her father had been taken to Orsett Hospital with minor injuries.

The Simmonds family were not the only to suffer that night, the stick of bombs that had caused the destruction killed another ARP warden and two young girls had been. This tragedy deeply affected the community and the funeral at the Parish church. The villagers and the Bishop of Barking attended the internment and men from the Dunton Colony lined the route to the church.

The following is a photograph and a transcription from the paper of the funeral details

There was a striking demonstration of sympathy on Friday week, when, in a quiet South-East England village, four of the five victims of an enemy air raid a week previously were laid to rest in one grave in the churchyard. They were Miss Helena Iris Penny, aged 16 years; Miss Alice Shaw (21) Mrs Maude Victoria Simmons (53), and her mother, Mrs Charlotte Isobelle Gladwin (89) The fifth victim, Mrs Dorothy Mundy, was buried in her late husband’s grave in a London cemetery. Mrs Mundy and Miss Penny had been engaged in Civil Defence work, attached to an air raid wardens’ post, while Miss Shaw was paying but a temporary visit to her fiancé, who also suffered in the raid and lay seriously ill in hospital when the funeral took place. So ill in fact was he that the knowledge that his fiancé had been killed had had to be withheld and relatives of the unfortunate young lady could not be traced.

Overhead, British planes were roaring away as they chased off raiders, and in the background the booming of anti-aircraft guns disturbed the silence, as stalwart wardens of the Group, to which two ofthe victims were attached, shouldered the coffins and bore them through the ranks of uni­formed Civil defence workers into the church for the service.

The Rector of the parish was in charge of the service and was accompanied by other clergy and the Bishop of Barking, who was responsible for the address in the church and who read the committal sentences at the graveside.

There were about sixty warden representatives drawn from each group constituted within the area of the Urban Council in which the bombed post was situated. There were also present APS men and Emergency Medical Service representatives from the urban area previously referred to, with others from the fire services of another urban area. Chief Warden Mr C. E Ballard, Messrs H J Lindsey Clements, W. H Burrows and H. J. Gimbey, who each hold office in the warden service in their respective areas, were with the wardens’ parade; Fireman W Hornden was in charge of the AFS from one area, and Sub-Officer R. Cole led the men from the other district, Sergt. W Robertson headed the Home Guard, and Supt. K Goldingay was present with a number of men from an L.C.C labour colony and trainees now stationed there. Supt Marriage, of the Essex County Police Force and other officers were present at the churchyard. The Union Jack was used as a pall.

The family mourners in the case of Miss Penny were her mother, Messrs G.W, L.H, F.P and A K Penny (brothers) and Miss Constance Violet Penny (sister). In the case ofMrs Maude Victoria Simmons and her mother, Mrs Charlotte Isobelle Gladwin, the family mourners were Miss L. Simmons (daughter), Mr and Mrs JW. Simmons (son and daughter-in-law). Mr Gladwln (son), Mrs Crook (mother of Mrs Simmons Jun), Mr W Bonnett and Mrs Johnson (friends).

The service in the church included the slating of the hymn “Peace, perfect peace.” with the Rector readingthe lessons.

The Bishop of Barking, standing on the chancel steps, gave a brief address, in which he said that he felt their Rector had done him a great honour by asking him there to share in their sorrow and grief. He felt it difficult to put into words what they all felt. For those who had suffered, their hearts were very sore; they were sorry with those who sorrowed. They had there that day representatives of various interests. There were some divergent interests no doubt present that afternoon, but one sentiment, one feeling, actuated all — that of service.

The church service concluded with the Dead March in Saul, played by Mrs lsbister, and the four coffins were borne silently and reverently through the ranks of ARP workers to the grave. “Abide with me”, was sung by the crowd of mourners as they stood with heads uncovered when the Bishop commuted the bodies to the grave.

There were numerous floral tributes in addition to those of relatives and personal friends, including wreaths from the Police and Civil Defence services of an adjoining pariah to that in which the deaths occurred, the wardens of the Post, trainees of a farm, air raid wardens of the area in which two of the deceased served, friends and neighbours of the parish, and others.

Although the memories of this night never left the family they like many others were not prepared to let Hitler win and continued with their every day life. On the following Christmas Day Lydia married William (Bill) Bonnett in the parish church and moved into Brunswick on the Lower Dunton Road and Poppy Bill did not rebuild “Veronica” but lived out his days in his parents home “Dekmere” which was next door. 

Life in the Dunton community continued to be affected by the war and I can remember Lydia telling my mother about how Lower Dunton Road became a continuous line of army vehicle filled with troops on their way to the continent during and after D-Day. The women rallied together and used their meagre rations of tea to provide them with drinks.  

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