Gwendoline Iris James was a Londoner who is became a nurse. In May 1943 she was lodging with the Westrip family at a house in Lower Anchor Street. During the 'Chelmsford Blitz' which occurred that month the house was destroyed by a German bomb and Gwendoline and three members of the Westrip family were killed. Four others died in nearby houses.
Gwendoline was born in Camberwell, London in 1919, the eldest child of Frederick James (1899-1980) and Catherine Emma James (nee Kimber) (1901-1984). Her siblings were Frederick C. James (born in 1921) and Kathleen James (born in 1923).
Her parents had married at St Philip the Apostle, Camberwell on 3rd October 1919 at which point her father was a labourer living at 34 Lovegrove Street in Camberwell; her mother at 6 Lovegrove Street.
By 1943 Gwendoline was lodging at 22 Lower Anchor Street in Chelmsford, home to Sidney Westrip and Cissie Westrip. She is thought to have been working as a nurse. The property was an old terraced house on the road’s northern side between The Orange Tree and The Queen’s Head pubs. In the early hours of 14th May that year Chelmsford experienced what was to prove to be its heaviest air raid of the war. In a sharp attack that lasted for just over an hour, the German air force, the Luftwaffe, dropped a large number of high explosive, incendiaries and parachute landmines which caused extensive damage to residential, commercial and industrial properties in the town, and led to the deaths of more than 50 people.
Among the dead was 23 year-old Gwendoline, one of eight people who died as a result of a 250 kg high explosive bomb which scored a direct hit on 22 Lower Anchor Street. One account suggests it hit the air raid shelter in which the householders were sheltering. Also killed in the incident were Gwendoline's landlords Sidney Arthur Westrip, Cissie Kezia Westrip, and their baby daughter June Westrip, Henry William Smith and Joan Miriam Smith at number 24, and William Judd and Mary Judd at number 19.
The bomb demolished numbers 21, 22, 23, 24 & 25, while numbers 19, 20 & 26 were damaged beyond repair, and numbers 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 27, 28, 29, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36 were seriously damaged. Across the road the explosion seriously damaged numbers 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96 & 97 which stood opposite the scene of the bomb.
Gwendoline was buried in Laindon. Her parents lived at Violet in Beatrice Road, Laindon.
Gwendoline Iris JAMES, Civilian
Killed in an air raid at Lower Anchor Street, Chelmsford. Aged 23