On the eve of the centenary commemorations of Armistice Day 1918, I am returning to the rarity of women’s names inscribed on WW1 memorials (August 2018). I was recently at Port Sunlight in the Wirral, a model town built for workers at Lord Lever’s soap factory which, during both world wars, also made munitions. A by-product of soap manufacture is glycerine, used in bomb making… As is my wont, I checked names on the war memorial and was astonished to see a number of women’s names engraved around the base: Mary A Jones sharing a tablet with Florence McGrath; Mary C Harrison and Muriel Jennings on another; Olive M Ellis; Doreen Smart; Florence Williamson; Florence R Robins and Beryl J Sennett. Nine in all although I may have missed some.
Who were they and why were they on this war memorial? They were civilian casualties of World War 2 who had been employed at the Lever soap/munitions factory. Their names were engraved on the war memorial from 1948.
They had all died in the Liverpool and Merseyside Blitz. Because of the proliferation of docks and factories around Liverpool and the River Mersey (which included the Wirral and Birkenhead) Liverpool and its suburbs were ruthlessly targeted especially between August 1940 and January 1942. when over 4,000 people in the area including 2,736 in Liverpool, 454 in Birkenhead and 424 in Bootle were killed. Seven nights in May 1941 were the most devastating.
Here follows more information about the female names on the war memorial. The most shocking is their age and, in some cases, how many died with them. On the nights of 12 and 13 March 1941, over 174 people were killed in the Wallasey area including:-
- Olive May Ellis was 22 when she died in the blitz on 12 March 1941 at 16 Well Lane. In 1939, she was living with her family in Birkenhead with her father, an Air Raid Warden and drains tester, working for the council. Olive is recorded as pursuing ‘unpaid domestic duties’ presumably helping mum with the housework. Also killed that same night at the same address were the Robins family…
- Soap packer Florence Ruby Robins, born 1924, lived with her parents in Birkenhead. Three members of her family, parents John Henry (51), mother Elsie (48), and Florence’s older brother John Henry jnr (23, a member of the Home Guard) died on 12 March 1941 at 16 Well Lane. She was 16.
- Muriel Jennings died aged 17. Printing machinist at a soap works in 1939 (aka Port Sunlight factory), she lived with her parents and siblings at 22 Medway Road, Birkenhead. On 12 March 1941 she and her entire family (eight people altogether) were wiped out in the house next door to the Ellis’ and Robins at 14 Well Lane. Ranging in age from 49 (her father Charles, a member of the Civil Defence Service), the youngest person to die was a sister aged 7.
- Mary Alice Jones was 41 when she died on the 17th October 1940 at Pool Bank, Birkenhead. Her father, 65 year old John James Jones and her mother Alice (also 65) were also killed. Mary and her father both worked at the soap/glycerine factory in 1939 and his name isalso recorded on Port Sunlight war memorial. Mary Carr Harrison died on the 24 July 1941, aged 29, at 17 Holt Hill, Birkenhead. This was also her address in 1939 when she was a housewife living with husband Frank, Frank, a bus cleaner for the Corporation Transport bus service. For her name to be on the Port Sunlight war memorial, she must have got a job at the soap factory later on in the war.
- Florence McGrath is amongst the eldest women on this war memorial. She was born in 1897 and died 1 June 1941 in the ambulance on the way to hospital from Telegraph Hill, Heswall. Unmarried, she worked as a ‘shorthand writer at a soap and glycerine factory’ in 1939.
- Beryl Jean Sennett was 17 at her death on 25 June 1941. Ancestry (subscription) has a photo of her in school uniform. Her ‘sudden death’ (under the name Betty) is reported in the personal columns of the Liverpool Post on Saturday 28 June 1941. She and her mother died at 46 Southdale Road, Rock Ferry. In 1939, ‘soap worker’ Beryl is living with her parents (including her mother who was to die with her), an ‘incapacitated’ older brother James and younger brother, schoolboy Ernest.
- Doreen Smart and her mother Ruby died at Rowson Street, Wallasey on 21 December 1940. She was 19. More than 119 people were to die in Wallasey between 6.30pm on 20th December and the 21st For some photos of that night’s devastation see. The names of Doreen and her mother are also recorded on Wallasey war memorial alongside the names of 324 other residents who died in the blitz.
- Also killed the same day, 21 December 1940, was Florence Alice Williamson aged 19. She, alongside several others, was sheltering from falling bombs at the Ritz Cinema in Claughton Road, Birkenhead.
The above information was obtained from the 1939 register via Ancestry and Civilian Casualty list for WW2 – also on Ancestry.
Other websites you might find useful are;
Liverpool Museums Munitions Factories and the blitz