Ellen May (sometimes 'May Ellen') Smith married in 1932 and had one child. During the war she lived at Henry Road, close to the Hoffmann's bearings factory where her husband worked. She was killed in October 1942 when a lone German aircraft bombed the factory - one of the two bombs it dropped bounced off the factory's roof, passed through houses on the eastern side of Henry Road and detonated close to Ellen's house. Her young son who was with her survived, though he was injured.
Ellen May WRENN (nee SMITH), Civilian
Killed during an air raid at Henry Road, Chelmsford. Aged 28
Ellen was born in 1914, the daughter of Charles Smith and Ellen Mary Smith (nee Blows). She had a sister, Ivy O. Smith, born in 1915.
In 1932 Ellen married Robert Henry Wrenn (1913-1991), and two years later the couple had a son, Bernard, who died in 2012.
By 1942 Ellen, her husband and son were living at 43 Henry Road in Chelmsford, close to the massive Hoffmann's ball-bearings factory where Ellen's husband worked.
Hoffmann’s was a target for the German air force throughout the war. At 10.59 a.m. on 19th October 1942 a lone German Dornier Do 217E aircraft approached Chelmsford from the east at an altitude of around a thousand feet. Taking advantage of low cloud and poor visibility the aircraft dropped to around a 150 feet to make a bombing run on Hoffmann’s approximately along the line of one of the factory’s railway sidings. Almost immediately Hoffmann’s light machine defences opened up on the raider, but other army posts were unable to fire their Bofors guns at the aircraft because of its extremely low altitude - the gunners would have been firing in the direction of nearby buildings and people.
The Dornier was able to release two 500 Kg SC
Two other people were seriously injured in Henry Road and two slightly injured by the bomb. Five houses were demolished outright (numbers 42 to 46) - pictured; another nine were damaged beyond repair, a further six were seriously damaged and dozens more slightly so.
At the time of her death Ellen's parents were resident at Bailey’s Farm in Mashbury.
SC high explosive bombs on the works, with delayed actions of about twenty seconds, and it also machine gunned the ground. With its bombs released the aircraft turned north-eastwards, circled to the north of Chelmsford and made off due east towards the coast, apparently unscathed.
Those on the ground were not so fortunate. One of the bombs scored a direct hit on the factory. It penetrated the roof and exploded in the recently completed Cage & Assembly Shop, (part of Hoffmann’s ‘C factory’, to the north of Rectory Lane). Four people died as a result of that bomb, six others were seriously injured, and 43 men and 16 women slightly hurt.
The other bomb deflected off the factory’s roof passed through a house in Henry Road (number 17), travelled some sixty feet across the road and into the front garden of number 45 Henry Road where it detonated. Five people were to die as a result. Among them was Ellen, killed at the back of her home, 43 Henry Road. Her eight year-old son was buried in the rubble with his mother but her body shielded him from much of the debris. He was nevertheless badly injured and was to spend the next couple of months in hospital recovering from his injuries.
Speaking 50 years after the incident Bernard recalled:
“I was aged eight and I lived with my mother and father at 43 Henry Road. On the morning of that particular raid I was at school at the Victoria School in Church Street, just behind the Cathedral. When the air raid siren went, my mother, who had been shopping in Chelmsford, came to the school and picked me up. Parents were allowed to take their children home during alerts as our school had no air raid shelters.
First of all we went to my grandmother’s house in Railway Street, where my mother collected her shopping which she had left there earlier. We didn’t stay long as my mother was expecting her sister, Ivy, at our house that morning, so we walked home to Henry Road. In the event aunt Ivy missed her bus from Brentwood and was an hour late into Chelmsford. As things turned out that delay probably saved her life.
When we reached home we went into the house and dropped the shopping off. Then we went out the back door and were going to head for a neighbour’s, two or three doors away towards Rectory Lane, to use an underground shelter in their back garden that they’d built themselves. We’d always gone down there as it had seemed safer that our brick surface shelter which stood in our back garden.
Just as we got outside our back door a bomb must have exploded at the front of numbers 44 or 45 Henry Road. The strange thing was that I never heard any sound of the explosion. Our house was demolished and my mother and I were buried under tons of debris. What has always stayed in my mind is seeing the single German bomber going away from me, climbing to the west right above the tower of the Church Cemetery Chapel which stood directly behind our garden. I don’t remember the debris falling on me or feeling any pain. The next thing that I can recall is looking up, with dust in my eyes, and seeing daylight, I suppose as the rescuers had managed to uncover me. Then it went dark again as more rubble covered me again.
Eventually they got me out, though I don’t remember anything else happening until I came round in a lighted room at the Chelmsford & Essex Hospital where I had been taken. I had serious injuries to both legs, my left arm and my head, and as a result of the bombing I lost all the memories of my childhood up to that day. My father, who had been working in Hoffmann’s when the raid happened had known nothing of our house being hit until he had come home for dinner. He used to visit me in hospital during the evenings and was the only father that they let into the ward.
I was in hospital until around Christmas 1942. The night before I came out my father revealed to me that my mother had been killed in the raid. Her body had lain over me in the rubble and had saved me from more serious injury or even death. According to my grandmother my mother’s body didn’t have a mark on it.
Afterwards my father told me more about what had happened after the bombing. Practically all our possessions had been destroyed in the house and just about the only thing left standing had been our own air raid shelter which we used to store things in. Sadly most of what was in there and had escaped damage by the bomb was stolen that morning - thieves took a bicycle, a kiddie’s push car and all my father’s fishing tackle.
My father told me that our neighbour at number 44, Dennis Locke who was an invalid, had been found at the top of his garden still in his bed where it had been blasted. He seemed to have escaped without a scratch, but kept asking for his mother who looked after him. He died once he heard that she had been killed. I got on well with Dennis. He was very good with his hands and had built me a magnificent fort which my friends and I used to play with. That was destroyed in the bombing, but while I was in hospital my friends at school saved their money and bought me a new toy fort with aeroplanes and soldiers. It was put on display in Spalding’s shop window in the High Street and I was given it when I came out of hospital. The Essex Chronicle and the Evening Standard wrote about me and took photographs of the fort. One lady, whose son had been killed in a raid, saw the articles in the newspapers and arranged to meet me. She had wanted her boy’s toys to go to a good home so she gave them to me.
After leaving hospital I went to live with my mother’s parents at Bailey’s Farm in Mashbury. It was a year or more before I was able to start school again, and in the meantime my aunt would push me around the village in a wheelchair. I’ve stayed at the farm ever since.
On the anniversary of the bombing in October 1992 I thought to myself that’s fifty years I might never have had.”
Ellen, who was pregnant when killed, was buried at the Borough Cemetery on 24th October 1942 (grave: 5389). A local newspaper reported:
“LATE MRS. R. WRENN. The funeral took place at the Writtle Road Cemetery on Saturday of Mrs. Ellen May Wrenn. of 43, Henry Road, whose death resulted from enemy action. The deceased, who was 28, was daughter of Mr. and Mrs. C. Smith. Bailey's Farm. Mashbury, and wife of Mr. Robert Wrenn. a respected employee of the Hoffmann Works. There is one young son. Provost W. E. R. Morrow, assisted by the Rev. W. F. G. Mitchell, officiated at the service.
The mourners were; The husband; Mrs. C. Smith, mother, Mrs. T. Moss. Miss V. Smith, sisters; Mr. and Mrs. B. Wrenn, father-in-law and mother-in-law, Mr. T. Moss, the Misses P. and R. Wrenn, Mr. K. Wrenn. Mr. and Mrs. C. Wrenn, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law; Mr. F. Bailey, Mr. F. Brewster, Mr. F. Perkins, Mr. and Mrs. Blowers. Mr. and Mrs. W. Blowers, Mr. and Mrs. J. Wrenn, Mrs. E. Wrenn. Mrs. F. Wrenn. and Mrs. Clift. uncles and aunts; L. Perkins, cousin ; Mr. C. Smith, father, was unable to attend.
Others present included; Messrs. W. Ketley. T. Howarth, K. Harris, H. Patten. H. Peck, P. Perry (representing the Hoffmann Co.); L/Cpl. Newman. Mr. J. Driscoll, Mr. F. Last. Mr. J. Butler. Mrs. F. Ford, Mrs. C. Boutell, Mrs. E. Brown, Driver J. Walton, Driver E. Ledbitter, Mr. and Mrs. A. Wright, Mr. F. Rayner, Mrs. Secretts, Mr. and Mrs. J. Buck. Mr. and Mrs. Poulter, Mr. Hodges and Mr. H. Bloomfield.
Lovely floral tributes were sent by ; Her sorrowing husband and son Bernard; Her Dad and Mum Violet and Uncle Fred; Ivy and Tom ; Dad, Muni and Daphne ; Phyllis and Jack ; Ruby and Teddy ; Cecil and Elsie ; Ken and Dot; Uncle Jim and Aunt Lizzie ; Uncle Vic.; Aunt Lizzie and family ; Uncle Harry, Aunt Ada and Alfie ; Uncle Frank and Aunt Sis; Uncle Ernie and Auntie Hetty ; Uncle Len; Auntie Eva and Cousins Annie and Dennis Pat Florrie and Les ; Auntie May and Uncle Francis ; Aunties, Uncles and Cousins at Great Waltham ; Uncle Fred and Aunt Ada ; Uncle Fred, Aunt Annie and Family Aunt Charlotte and Uncle Charlie ; Mr. Hart and Friends; George and all at 2. Victoria Square ; Connie and Bess ; Mrs. White and Wal ; Mr. and Mrs. Wright ; Hilda and Edgar ; Jim ; Mr. and Mrs Edwards ; Mr. and Mrs. Taylor; Mr. and Mrs. Joslin ; Mr. and Mrs. Brown. Miss Warder; Mr. and Mr. Bailey Mr. and Mrs. Vic. Hance ; Mr. and Mrs. Brewer, Eva and Family; All at 10 Henry Road ; Little Diana Boldero'; Mr. and Mrs. Bowtell, Doris and Bernard ; Mr. and Mrs. Layton ; Roller Sec. and Roller Sec. View, "G" Dept., H.M.C., and the Night Shift ; No. 6 Branch A.E.U.; Employees of Abbey Works, where the deceased was at one time employed ; Friends and Neighbours of Railway and surrounding Streets. The funeral was furnished by Messrs. A. J. Andrews and Son 20, Duke St,"