George Frederick Vowles came to Chelmsford around 1937 having been born in the west country and lived in Canada. He worked at Marconi's factory in New Street and was killed there when the factory was bombed in May 1941. His home was in Belle Vue.
George Frederick VOWLES, Civilian
Killed in an air raid on Marconi's, New Street, Chelmsford. Aged 32
During the day, whilst clearing up operations continued at the factory, a worker reported hearing tapping sounds from beneath the debris of the wrecked paint spray and transmitter erection shops. Immediately, workmen with crowbars and shovels began frantic attempts to locate the source of the sounds but despite their efforts no one could be found and it was decided to terminate any further rescue work as it was concluded that anyone still buried would be dead by then.
On the following day, Saturday 10th May, the large pile of debris was cleared and somewhat alarmingly the source of the tapping sounds was clear to be seen by all - a third 500 Kg delayed action high explosive bomb, lay there unexploded but still ticking. Its serial number Ex 536 could be clearly seen. The Bomb Disposal Squad was immediately called in and the factory and surrounding streets were evacuated. Such was the nature and position of the device that the B.D.S. were forced to detonate the bomb where it lay. A warning was put out to this effect, and at 10.30 a.m. on Monday 12th May the bomb was exploded in situ. Further damage was inflicted to the factory, but fortunately there were no further casualties.
The fourth bomb, a 250 Kg. high explosive, narrowly missed the Marconi works and fell onto houses in Marconi Road, where two people received fatal injuries. A terrace of six houses near the junction with Bishop Road suffered most as a result, with three demolished (nos. 70, 72 & 74) and two others believed damaged beyond repair (nos. 76 & 78). The sixth house, no. 80, was seriously damaged as were five others (nos. 62, 64, 66, 68 & 82). The combined effects of blast from all four bombs affected around 375 other properties within a quarter of a mile radius with damage mainly confined to windows, doors, roofs and ceilings.
George’s body was recovered with the following personal items: £5 0s. 10.5d. cash, a wallet, keys, a knife, and a ruler. He was a bachelor and member of the A.R.P. services. He left an estate valued at £260 16s. 11d. to his mother.
His funeral was held on 13th May 1943 with a joint service with that of fellow victim and close friend, Harry Woods at St. John’s Church, Moulsham, followed by burial at Chelmsford Borough Cemetery (grave: 6204). George's mother was buried the same grave after she died in 1948.
George was born in Long Ashton, Somerset in 1908, the son of Alfred William Vowles and Grace Ellen Vowles (nee Bird). His father had been born in Barrow Gurney in Somerset in 1876; his mother in Chelmsford in 1882. His parents had married in Somerset in 1905. George's siblings were Edward William Vowles (born in Bristol in 1907) and Grace Emily Vowles (1909-1991).
In 1911 the census recorded George, aged two, living with his parents and two siblings at 1 New Buildings in Long Ashton. At the time George's father was a cellar man for a wine merchant. Three years later, George's father and brother both died, aged 37 and six respectively.
George is known to have spent time in Canada and the west country before coming to
Chelmsford around 1937.
In 1941 he was working for the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co. Ltd. at their premises in New Street, Chelmsford and resident at 10 Belle Vue in Chelmsford.
George died on 9th May 1941, one of 17 workers killed when his workplace was bombed in a skilled raid by the Luftwaffe. He was aged 32 and was killed by a bomb splinter. A further 20 people were seriously injured and 18 others slightly hurt in the factory.
A red air raid warning had sounded the previous evening at 11.24 p.m. but all was quiet until 2.22 a.m. when an enemy Junkers Ju 88 approached the town. Eyewitnesses saw the raider clearly in the almost full moonlight, as it dived to within a few hundred feet of roof tops, released two bombs, circled and dropped two more, before rising rapidly and escaping towards the coast. The aircraft had in fact come so low that those who had seen it thought it likely to hit Chelmsford Cathedral's spire.
Three of the bombs which were dropped scored direct hits on Marconi’s, whilst another went astray and struck residential properties in Marconi Road which ran along the northern side of the factory. Marconi’s was an obvious target for the Luftwaffe. The New Street factory carried out vital work for several Government departments - designing, testing, developing and producing wireless instruments for the Admiralty, Air Ministry, Ministry of Supply and the Crown Agents.
Of the factory’s 3221 workers, some 390 were engaged on the night shift at the time of the raid. They had been on duty since 8.15 p.m. the previous evening and were due to finish at 7.30 a.m., with the day shift taking over fifteen minutes later. The air raid warning had interrupted work of the two hundred or so employees in the machine shop The men there had taken shelter behind an internal blast wall, whilst the women had gone to the strong rooms below the main office building.
The bombs that hit Marconi’s fell at the western end of the main factory building. One, thought to hav been a 250 kg. DH high explosive, exploded in the centre of machine shop which occupied the southern half of the building. Another, a 500 kg. DH high explosive, fell on its northern half, through the first floor carpenters’ shop and detonated on the floor of the SWB8 transmitter erection shop beneath it. This bomb ignited a drum of cellulose in the carpenters’ shop and the fire rapidly spread across debris into the neighbouring paint spray shop. There, dope was ignited and several men, who had survived the initial explosions, were trapped behind a blast wall and killed by the fire before rescuers could reach them. The fire was eventually brought under control by 5 a.m., though not before flames had spread to Ridley’s flour mill in neighbouring Townfield Street. Damage there was extensive with a very large number of roof slates lost, timbers charred and internal linings destroyed.