This is the second article that Mark has submitted to our blog, giving a wonderful account of his memories of local life and long-standing connection to our church. Please read his earlier blogpost, 'My Family's Links with St Peter's', here.
2020 marks the 80th anniversary of the Blitz, Nazi Germany's aerial bombardment of London in the Autumn of 1940. The main targets were the capital's docks, but the area around St Peter-in-the-Forest did not escape unscathed. Like so many others, my own family suffered appalling losses then, yet despite this their spirited fortitude enabled them to re-build their lives after the war and to continue their association with the church.
My mother, Margaret Orriss, was born in Chelsea in 1925 but the family moved in the 1930s to Leytonstone – first to Lytton Road and then to 77 The Risings, a stone's throw from St Peter's. At the onset of war in 1939 Margaret and her brother Edward were evacuated to Coopersale, near Epping, but they soon returned home. My maternal grandfather, Frank Orriss, had joined the RAF Reserve as a corporal in charge of a 'flight' of barrage balloons protecting the airspace over West Ham. He was staying there with his in-laws when he was given leave for a brief visit to the family home at The Risings in mid-October 1940. At that time Edward had been evacuated again, whereas Margaret had stayed at home. Also with her there were her grandmother Ada and a baby cousin – but not her mother, whom the war effort had assigned to a unit of the Auxiliary Territorial Service in Middlesex.
1) Corporal Frank Orriss with his son Edward and daughter Margaret, 1940
On the night of Wednesday 16th October 1940 Margaret decided to sleep over at her next-door neighbours in No. 75, the Skirrow family. When the air-raid siren sounded, Ada gathered up the baby and headed for the Anderson shelter in the garden, but Frank decided to take his chances and stay in bed. Meanwhile A German land-mine was drifting gently towards Earth under its silk parachute, which became entangled in the branches of a tree in No. 77's garden. The resulting explosion destroyed the house and Frank with it; No. 75 was badly damaged; and Ada and the baby had not yet reached the safety of the family's air-raid shelter. The blast killed the old woman, who dropped the baby girl amidst a shower of debris. The next morning a police constable found her crying but without a scratch.
2) Entry in Civilian War Dead, Ada Smith, 1940.
3) King's letter of condolence, 1940.
Margaret suffered shock, cuts and bruises and was treated at nearby Whipps Cross Hospital. Mrs Skirrow took her with her to stay with family in the Lake District in order to convalesce there. My mother clearly had not been told the events of the night of the 16th, for in a letter home she wrote, “I fear Daddy is no longer with us, because I have an empty feeling in my heart”. She also reported that her adoptive family had had to lend her some more clothes, as she only had what she was wearing when she left London. Her mother, my grandmother, had the grim task of breaking the tragic news in a telegram to Edward. The family received the standard letter of condolence from the King and Queen, and Ada's name was entered into the National Register of Civilian War Dead. The death certificates for her and for Frank simply stated that they died “due to enemy operations”.
4) Margaret's letter home, 1940.
There is a happy ending to this tragedy, fortunately. After the war, while the house at 77 The Risings was being re-built, Margaret and her family lived in Forest Drive East, Leytonstone. There she got to know her next-door neighbour, James Carroll, a young RAF navigator who had fought in Burma during the war. After their engagement the couple was married at St Peter's on 6th September 1947. A report in the local Guardian newspaper gave a brief description of the wedding and stated that the newly-weds departed for a honeymoon in Scotland. Three years later Edward married his childhood sweetheart, Eileen Baker, also at St Peter's. All's well that ends well.
5) Wedding of Margaret Orriss and James Carroll at St Peter-in-the-Forest, 1947. Edward is standing at the back on the right.