First Civilian Deaths in England

The ARP and police were to stand over a large 'water tank' during their rescue of casualties in Victoria Road, Clacton-on-Sea.

Frederick Gill and his wife Dorothy became the first civilian fatal casualties of the war in England, when a Heinkel bomber crash landed on their house, No. 25 Victoria Road, Clacton-on-Sea. Moments later there was an enormous explosion. The plane had been circling over Clacton-on-Sea in Essex for about half an hour before it came down, and many people looking out of the windows were injured in the blast. Over 160 people were injured, 34 of them classified as serious. 67 houses were seriously damaged and many more had tiles blown off and windows broken. Yet Air Raid Precaution officials were able to point out that an air raid shelter close to the explosion had remained intact. In this case no Air Raid warning had been given. In fact Clacton had not been the victim of an air raid aimed at civilians but of an accident.

In amongst the rubble the rescuers saw a hot water tank, only after some time did someone see German writing on it. After Royal Naval mine disposal officers, Lieut. Commander R. Ryan and Chief Petty Officer R. Ellingworth arrived on the scene it was identified as a a German parachute mine. The Heinkel had carried two mines that were intended for the shipping lanes off the east coast. After getting lost in fog it had been damaged by anti-aircraft batteries near Harwich, and during the time it was spent circling it had been looking for a place to land. One of the mines had exploded after the crash, the other was successfully defused by Ryan and Ellingworth.

Only months later, on the 21st September 1940 Lieut. Commander Ryan and Chief Petty Officer Ellingworth died defusing another parachute mine in Dagenham. They were awarded posthumous George Crosses for this and their earlier work.

{ 1 comment }

Editor October 29, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Mike left the following story in the Guestbook …

I have a connection with your entry for 1st May 1940 – the first civilian casualities of the war in Clacton on Sea. My late mother’s family lived 350 yards away from the crash site in Holland Road, and her father was one of the first ARP wardens to arrive on the scene and took the full blast of one of the bombs (there is a report in The Daily Sketch for 2nd May 1940 including a photograph of my mother and her father, but I have only ever seen a poor photocopy my mother obtained some years ago).
My grandfather was made deaf by the force of the explosion, though temporary (a few months) he suffered with hearing problems for the rest of his life. My mother and her brother were at the scene later on and the mistaking of a bomb for a hot water cylinder is part of my family’s history – my uncle sat astride the ‘cylinder’ and was moved on when it was realised it was a bomb!

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