Laura Rowland was Chelmsford-born and married a Londoner in 1903, producing a son two years later. She was living in Rectory Lane by 1918 and was fatally injured there in July 1942 when a bomb meant for the Hoffmann bearings factory exploded adjacent her house.
Laura was born in Chelmsford on 25th August 1883, the daughter of Great Baddow-born William Rowland (1841-1921) and Susan Frances Rowland (nee Rackham) (1848-1919).
Laura's siblings included Ellen Mary Rowland (1869-1878), William Rowland (1871-1939), Arthur Rowland (born in 1874), Harry Rowland (1877-1958), Ernest Rowland (1879-1888), Frank Rowland (1882-1928), Andrew Rowland (1887-1968) and Philip Lewis Rowland (born in 1889).
In 1891 seven year-old Laura was recorded by the census staying with her aunt, three relatives, two servants and two boarders at the Swan Hotel in Llanarth, Monnouthshire in Wales. The Hotel was run by her aunt. A decade later the 1901 census listed 17 year-old Laura living with her parents and three siblings at 28 Victoria Road, Chelmsford. Her father was a plumber and decorator.
Two years later on 14th October 1903 Laura married 23 year-old St.Pancras-born Walter Richard Vernon at St. George the Martyr's Church in Queen Square, Camden. At the time the couple both lived at 57 Great Ormond Street, with Walter employed as a machinist. The couple produced one child, Leonard Walter Vernon who was born in Chelmsford in 1905.
In 1911 the census recorded 27 year-old Laura living with her husband, son, a servant at the Bay Horse Inn, Moulsham Street, Chelmsford, where Laura's husband was the landlord. Laura assisted in the business.
By 1918 the couple were living at 10 Rectory Lane in Chelmsford (then known as number 4), an end-of-terrace house opposite the massive Hoffmann ball-bearings factory. It was still their home 24 years later.
Hoffmann's was a natural target for the German Air Force which bombed the site on several occasions during the war. The first of these was on 19th July 1942 when, around 6.15 a.m., a lone German Dornier Do 217 aircraft performed a precise and daring low level daylight attack the factory. The aircraft approached the factory from the south-east over Victoria Road and the railway embankment, and with machine guns blazing it released four 500 Kg SC high explosive bombs before making off into the clouds. Three of the bombs scored hits on Hoffmann’s, whilst another went astray and exploded amongst residential properties in Rectory Lane, killing Laura and fatally injuring her husband.
The bomb which led to their deaths initially penetrated the corner of a building that stood in New Street, adjacent to Hoffmann’s and directly opposite Bishop Road. The bomb struck the building some seven feet above the ground, ricocheted off an adjacent concrete drive and in the process left its tail fin caught in some iron railings fronting New Street. It then crossed New Street diagonally, passed over the eighteen feet high premises of the builders’ merchants, Roberts Adlard & Co. Ltd., on the northern corner of Bishop Road and New Street before it finally fell and detonated in the passageway between the Vernon's house (number 10) and 11/11a Rectory Lane. The bomb had travelled some 326 feet from its initial impact point. The explosion, which occurred below ground level, left a crater 32.5 feet deep in the clay soil. In the process four dwellings were demolished, nos. 9, 10, 11 & 11a Rectory Lane, and a further four either side of them, nos. 7, 8, 12 & 12a, were damaged beyond repair.
Laura and her 61 year-old husband were trapped when the explosion demolished their home. Both were recovered alive by civil defence staff, but Laura died shortly afterwards and her husband was to succumb to his injuries a day later at the Chelmsford & Essex Hospital.
The couple was cremated at the City of London Crematorium with their funeral services held at Holy Trinity Church, Chelmsford on 25th July 1942 officiated by the Rev. H. I. Noakes.
Laura VERNON (nee ROWLAND), Civilian
Killed during an air raid at Rectory Lane, Chelmsford. Aged 59