Robert Henry Orriss was a Londoner who served in the army during the war. In December 1942 he was in Chelmsford perparing a site in the Recreation Ground for an anti-aircraft rocket battery when an improvised explosive device went off, fatally injuring him and killing two other men outright. His home was in Gillingham, Kent.
Robert was born in Lambeth, London in 1921, the second son of Charles Stewart Orriss (1889-1941) and Kathleen Josephine Orriss (nee Rolph) (1891-1971). The couple had married at All Saints' Church in South Lambeth on 6th November 1915. At the time Robert's father was a soldier - he served with Royal Field Artillery from 1907 to 1919 and was gassed during the First World War.
Robert's siblings were Charles T. Orriss (1919-1920), Eileen Frances F. Orriss (1922-1987), Margaret K. Orriss (born in 1924), and Eric Stewart Orriss (1926-1979).
During the Second World War Robert served as Serjeant 6142171 in the Royal Corps of Signals.
On 11th December 1942, shortly before 11 a.m. an explosion at the Recreation Ground (today's Central Park) in Chelmsford killed Robert, a civilian and another soldier, and injured another five, who were carrying out construction work in connection with the establishment of the new anti-aircraft Home Guard Rocket Battery.
Afterwards it would emerge that the explosion occurred when the men discovered a pieced of galvanised iron tubing, eight to ten feet long and two and a half inches in diameter, lying amongst weeds beneath a nearby broken wall. The tubing, which bore no distinguishing marks, appeared to the men to be an old water pipe with one end sealed with wax and the other with a wooden plug. A pipe was required through which cables could be threaded and the tubing seemed to be the perfect for the job. One of the soldiers cleared the wax away with a penknife and a brown substance, said to resemble a bread roll, fell out.
Robert Henry ORRISS, Serjeant, Royal Corps of Signals
Accidentally killed in an explosion at the Recreation Ground, Chelmsford. Aged 21
An attempt to force the cables through the pipe failed and as a second attempt was made the pipe suddenly exploded. 23 year-old Driver Walter James Wilkinson from Ealing and 62 year-old clerk of the works Robert Gladstone Moore were killed outright by the blast.
A large piece of human flesh was blown 200 yards to the north and descended onto barrage balloon site 22 in the north-west corner of the Recreation Ground. This grisly object was later removed by personnel from the Rocket site.
Robert, aged 21, married to Joan, and from Gillingham, was rushed to hospital but he died a few hours later from his injuries. Those injured included C.S.M. Alfred Batchelor, aged 46, of Sutton, L/cpl. Robert Price, aged 21, and 31 year-old Signaller Christopher Slennett of Walthamstow.
At the subsequent inquest verdicts of accidental death were recorded for all three men. The inquest also revealed that the innocent looking piece of tubing which had exploded had in fact been a makeshift weapon known as a ‘Bosche Bump’ similar to that which had claimed the lives of five people in Ramsden Heath at the end of October 1942. During the invasion scare of 1940 thousands of the devices, packed with gelignite, had been hurriedly made ready for use against the invading Germans. In May 1941 the War Office had ordered their withdrawal and most were dumped into the North Sea. However, not all had been collected and some had remained in Home Guard and army stores, not clearly marked and easily mistaken for scaffold poles. The coroner was scathing in his criticism of the army’s laxity and told the inquest that he would bring the matter to the attention of Chelmsford’s M.P forthwith in order that strong representations could be made by him to the army to ensure that there was no repetition of the incident.
Robert was buried at Gillingham (Woodlands) Cemetery in Kent (Section E. Grave 938).