Dennis Wilfred Locke was the London-born son of soldier killed during the First World War while serving with the Grenadier Guards. In the mid 1930's Dennis began working at Marconi's in Chelmsford until ill-health force him to leave his job around 1937. He was fatally injured in October 1942 when a bomb aimed at Hoffmann's bearings factory in Rectory Lane, Chelmsford, deflected off the factory roof, passed through a house, and exploded close to Dennis' home on the western side of Henry Road. His mother was killed in the incident.
Dennis was born in London in 1917, the son of Harry (or Horace) Locke and Elizabeth Locke (nee Layzell). He was named after his father's brother (another Dennis Wilfred Locke) who had died from wounds in 1916. Dennis' father was also a victim of the First World War - he died from wounds in France on 8th May 1918 while serving as a Lance-Corporal with the 1st Battalion of the Grenadier Guards.
By 1928 Dennis was living in Chelmsford and in the mid 1930s he began to work at Marconi's factory in the town. However, ill health forced him to give up work around 1937.
By 1942 Dennis and his widowed mother were living at 44 Henry Road in Chelmsford, close to the massive Hoffmann's ball-bearings factory.
Hoffmann’s was a target for the German air force throughout the war. At 10.59 a.m. on 19th October 1942 a lone German Dornier Do 217E aircraft approached Chelmsford from the east at an altitude of around a thousand feet.
Taking advantage of low cloud and poor visibility the aircraft dropped to around a 150 feet to make a bombing run on Hoffmann’s approximately along the line of one of the factory’s railway sidings. Almost immediately Hoffmann’s light machine defences opened up on the raider, but other army posts were unable to fire their Bofors guns at the aircraft because of its extremely low altitude - the gunners would have been firing in the direction of nearby buildings and people.
The Dornier was able to release two 500 Kg SC high explosive bombs on the works, with delayed actions of about twenty seconds, and it also machine gunned the ground. With its bombs released the aircraft turned north-eastwards, circled to the north of Chelmsford and made off due east towards the coast, apparently unscathed.
Those on the ground were not so fortunate. One of the bombs scored a direct hit on the factory. It penetrated the roof and exploded in the recently completed Cage & Assembly Shop, (part of Hoffmann’s ‘C factory’, to the north of Rectory Lane). Four people died as a result of that bomb, six others were seriously injured, and 43 men and 16 women slightly hurt.
The other bomb deflected off the factory’s roof passed through a house in Henry Road (number 17), travelled some sixty feet across the road and into the front garden of number 45 Henry Road where it detonated. Five people were to die as a result. Among them was Dennis' mother who died in the remains of her home (number 44). 25 year-old Dennis was fatally injured in the incident and succumbed to his injuries at Black Notley County Sanatorium on 29th October 1942.
Speaking 50 years after the raid a neighbour of Dennis' recalled:
"My father told me that our neighbour at number 44, Dennis Locke who was an invalid, had been found at the top of his garden still in his bed where it had been blasted. He seemed to have escaped without a scratch, but kept asking for his mother who looked after him. He died once he heard that she had been killed. I got on well with Dennis. He was very good with his hands and had built me a magnificent fort which my friends and I used to play with."
Two other people were seriously injured and two slightly injured by the bomb. Five houses were demolished outright (numbers 42 to 46), another nine were damaged beyond repair, a further six were seriously damaged and dozens more slightly so.
Dennis' mother's funeral was held at Chelmsford Borough Cemetery on 23rd October 1942 with Pastor Wright of the Elim Church conducting the service. Dennis was buried in her grave on 3rd November 1942. Their grave (number 5381) is unmarked.
Dennis left an estate valued at £1055 14s. 8d.
Dennis Wilfred LOCKE, Civilian
Fatally Injured in an air raid on Henry Road, Chelmsford. Aged 25