Walter Richard Vernon was a Londoner with relatives in Chelmsford. He worked as a machinist on threshing machines and married a Chelmsford woman in London in 1903, producing a Chelmsford-born boy two years later. Within a further six years he became landlord of the Bay Horse pub in the town's Moulsham Street and shortly afterwards started a 32 year career at Marconi's where he was a wood machinist. He was fatally injured along with his wife in July 1942 when their Rectory Lane home was demolished by a bomb aimed at the Hoffmann bearings factory across the road.
Walter was born in St. Pancras, London in 1880, the son of stonemason Richard James Vernon and Mart Ann Vernon (nee Scott). His parents had married the previous year in Camden, London. Walter had an elder brother, Francis William Vernon (c1876-1888).
In 1881 the census listed Walter, aged eight months living with his parents, brother and a cousin at 41 Cromer Street in St. Pancras. At the time his father was a mason. A decade later ten year-old Walter was recorded by the next census at 52 Great Ormond Street in London. He was accompanied by his mother, a servant and six lodgers. His father was absent from the household.
The 1901 census found Walter, aged 20, staying with uncle and aunt (Emma and Thomas Crow) at a licensed lodging house at 155 Moulsham Street, Chelmsford. The household also included 13 lodgers and Thomas Crow's father. At the time Walter was a machinist on threshing machines.
Two years later on 14th October 1903 Walter married 20 year-old Chelmsford-born Laura Rowland 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. His father was deceased by then. The couple produced one child, Leonard Walter Vernon who was born in Chelmsford in 1905.
In 1911 the census recorded 30 year-old Walter living with his wife, son, a servant at the Bay Horse Inn, Moulsham Street, Chelmsford, where he was the landlord.
By 1918 the couple were living at 10 Rectory Lane in Chelmsford, an end-of-terrace house opposite the massive Hoffmann ball-bearings factory, then known as number 4. It was still their home 24 years later. Walter worked nearby as a wood machinist at Marconi’s, where, by 1942, he had been employed for more than 30 years.
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, fatally injuring Walter and killing his wife.
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 (see photo above right from 1935).
Walter Richard VERNON, Civilian
Killed during an air raid at Rectory Lane, Chelmsford. Aged 61
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. 11, 11a, 12 and 12a had only been built in 1938.
Walter and his 59 year-old wife, Laura, were trapped when the explosion demolished their home. Both were recovered alive by civil defence staff, but Mrs. Vernon died shortly afterwards and her husband was to succumb to his injuries a day later at the Chelmsford & Essex Hospital.
The occupants of a Morrison air raid shelter in number 11 Rectory Lane (two adults and a child) survived the incident unscathed even though their shelter was displaced six feet across a room by the blast, bouncing three times in the process.
The couple was cremated at the City of London Crematorium with their funeral services held at Holy Trinity Church, Chelmsford on 25th July 1942.
Walter left an estate valued at £1,693 18s 11d.