Beaufort Street (including Beaufort Mansions)

Second World War

There were twenty bombing incidents in Beaufort Street during WW2 and six incidents impacting on Beaufort Mansions.

In the worst, around 50 people were killed when there was a direct hit by a high explosive bomb on the concrete air raid shelter built in Cadogan House on 9th September 1940.

Its complete collapse and inability to actually shelter those evacuating there from their flats demonstrated the inadequacy of protection offered to Londoners during the Blitz.

During the raid on 9th September a total of three high explosive bombs fell in the Beaufort Street area: one on the Convent causing a fire and some damage; one on Beaufort House and setting fire to it and causing the death of one resident, and the third as already mentioned on the shelter in Cadogan House.

The three blasts from Beaufort Street were recorded at 3.47 a.m. and described as ‘awful’ by air raid warden Jo Oakman who was working in the Chelsea Town Hall control room.

Gas mains had been shattered and there were jets of fire coming out of the road at the junction of King’s Road and Beaufort Street.

When she got to the remains of the Cadogan House shelter to help with the rescue operation, she saw a scene of carnage. Victims were ‘crushed beyond recognition and in pulp.’ It was difficult to properly ascertain the number of people killed. At first they thought they had pulled out 41 victims. But two days later the number of body parts recovered raised the possiblity there may have been nearly 57.

She recalled seeing the remains of one of her colleagues, the ARP Warden allocated to the shelter, Jean Darling, whose ‘head had been blown in.’ Jean was Chelsea Council’s well-known and popular housing manager.

A more detailed and equally graphic description of the aftermath of this air-raid in Beaufort Street was written by Irene Sylvia Haslewood who was a driver for a unit of stretcher bearers.

She would work with other civilian rescue squads at the scene of the most challenging incidents during the Blitz in Chelsea in 1940.

The job of her mobile group was to act as a kind of triage. Sort out the living from the dead, administer first aid to the wounded or in severe shock. Place injured people on stretchers to put into the London County Council ambulances when they arrived.

And check out surrounding buildings to make sure there were no casualties lurking in doorways, flats and houses who had wandered from the scene in a daze.

The depot for the five person Hillman vehicles was in the Carlyle grammar school for girls building in Hortensia Road. The school’s children and teachers had been evacuated for the duration of the war.

Each car was crammed with four stretchers, first aid equipment and gas decontamination suits. They had been trained for the nightmare of Hitler ordering his planes to drop poisonous gas and chemical warfare bombs.

In writing her account Irene did not want to ‘pile on the agony’ of what she did and saw, but she did not think there was any point ‘whitewashing some of the results of modern warfare.’

Going to the Beaufort Street shelter disaster was the first time she had ever seen dead bodies.

She saw herself as the general dogsbody in the team. She was the driver tasked to get them to the scene of incidents as quickly as possible.

She had a street knowledge of Chelsea equal to that of a cab driver. And she’d been renting a bedsit at 9A Cresswell Place near the Boltons for several years before the outbreak of war.

When the bombing became intense in September 1940 she would move to a flat in Nell Gwynn House, Sloane Avenue, a 1930s Art Deco mansion block known for its extra steel-framed and concrete engineered structure with a reinforced underground basement and car-park- ideal for air-raid sheltering.

She was also the only woman in her stretcher-bearer team. Beaufort Street would be a baptism of horror.

When writing up their accounts afterwards Irene Haslewood and Jo Oakman would sometimes be so lost for words they would revert to softened curses or minced oaths- ‘God! God help them!’ and ‘Dear God!’

It might have been early autumn and the early hours of darkness, but the scene was lit up with a huge fire in Beaufort House. A 36 inch gas main was in full blaze.

Irene and her squad were directed by ARP Wardens to park their vehicle.

They then ran up Beaufort Street in the Battersea Bridge direction, past the Adoration and Reparatrice Convent with its huge Roman Catholic Chapel at number 28 on the left and then to Cadogan House to be confronted with a picture of death and devastation in its courtyard adjoining the next block of flats, Winchester House.

The public communal shelter for Cadogan House had been a square concrete roofed single storey building with red brick walls. It had taken a direct hit with a small gas main burning brightly on the edge of the crater.

One stretcher squad, ARP wardens, demolition men and people from all the neighbouring flats were at work tearing through the debris searching for survivors.

Chelsea’s popular General Practitioner, Dr. Richard Castillo, originally from Malta, was attending with his mobile paramedic squad from St Stephen’s Hospital.

Large slabs of concrete trapped a mound of mangled bodies all blackened and covered in the dirt of blast and dust.

Body parts were scattered in puddles of water which glinted with the colour of blood and dirt in the shimmering light from the gas main fires.

Irene felt her stomach heaving but she was determined to stop herself from vomiting. The last thing she wanted to do was bring shame on her unit.

She took a deep breath and got on with searching all the neighbouring flats for walking wounded or anyone in deep shock.

There was an eerie vista of homes devoid of people in Cadogan House, many having left in a hurry with half finished meals and signs of interrupted domestic tasks. Newspapers and magazines open on tables. They were never to return again.

She collected blankets to hand down to rescue men in what was the pit of destruction so they had something to wrap around the bodies.

The tragic irony of Cadogan House is that if everyone had stayed in their flats, they are likely to have survived the bombing.

And perhaps it was beginning to dawn on the rescuers that all these people concentrated in a concrete blockhouse found themselves in a structure which most likely intensified the power and killing of the high explosive blast.

This is something Florence Faviell wrote about in her book on the Blitz Chelsea Concerto.

It was this first mass casualty event in Chelsea that charged the feeling the shelters were not safe and why even Civil Defence personnel began to doubt the wisdom of insisting the public should be using them.

Faviell wrote about ‘digging on this terrible holocaust.’ She was dealing with the walking wounded from Beaufort Street at First Aid Post 5. They were quiet, didn’t want to say much and filled with anxiety for missing family and friends.

Irene Haslewood, police and ARP Wardens at Cadogan House were counting the toll of empty flats and missing people.

The Gurneys in number 11 were gone. Phyllis and her two infant daughters, Jean 3 and Maureen only two months old- nowhere to be seen.

Ellen and Fred Dennis in number 41- empty.

The Jeremys at number 65. Emma was a widow living with her two teenage children who were both working- Henry 17 and Hetty 19. Their flat empty.

Mother and son Agnes and Eric Holland from number 48. Eric’s leave from the army was up. The 21 year old soldier’s uniform was laid out to be worn on his immediate return. Another empty apartment.

The Edwards family lived at numbers 1 and 15. Grandpa Samuel and Grandma Emily were alive, but couldn’t find their son Henry, daughter in law Ivy and 13 year old granddaughter Doreen, or her schoolfriend Kathleen Martin, also 13, from Chelsea Manor Street.

Kathleen had been staying with them at number 15.

It was ominously empty. Henry’s War Reserve Police Officer uniform still on its hanger.

Thomas and Susan Jesser’s flat, a couple in their seventies at number 35, also empty.

Alfred and Violet England, a younger couple in their thirties at number 37 gone. Alfred was in the ARP.

As was William Mitchell at number 17. His wife Margaret and 17 year old daughter Mary, a talented scholarship student still at school studying for her higher certificate. No sign of any of them in another empty flat.

William and Elizabeth Gould at number 61 were missing. And so were their neighbours, the Murtons, Frank and Gladys both in their early thirties at number 60.

Frederick Waller worked in Harrods, but he and his wife Bertha at number 45 were nowhere to be seen. William and Rose Seers had their adult son Frank over at number 9, but again this was now another empty household.

And then all the single people, mainly elderly and living on their own. Absolute silence in answer to knocks on the door or when keyholder ARP wardens opened up and shouted ‘Hello. Anyone at home?’

One among so many poignant and cruel deaths was one of the oldest residents of Chelsea.

Lavinia Rosina Dowsey at number 19 was 99 years old according to her death certificate, and the German Luftwaffe would deny her the dignity, achievement and pleasure of celebrating her 100th birthday in less than a year’s time on 18th July 1941.

Is it possible Lavinia was a little vague about her year of birth and indeed the town where she was born? Census records vary. Was it 1850, 1851, 1852, or indeed 1853? Margate or Ramsgate?

Perhaps this vagueness was one of the privileges of her long life.

And it seems it had been an interesting one. Two return trips to South Africa in 1919 and 1924.

Her husband Joseph had been a railway engine driver.

For a domestic servant by profession she saved well leaving over £181 in probate, the equivalent of around £13,000 in today’s money (29/5/23).

Irene Haslewood must have thought she was discovering the true nature of hell that bitterly cold Sunday night and Monday morning at the Cadogan House air raid shelter disaster.

No sooner had she got used to the grim introduction to human beings being killed in the most horrible way, she had to duck down desperately when the roar of another bomb ripped its way through the night sky to detonate not very far from the rescue scene.

And what shelter did they have? Shards of glass and masonry on the pavements. The doorways of the apartment blocks.

Shortly afterwards another bomb would come down, but not so close.

There would also be warmth and consolation. It seemed everyone had come out of the surrounding buildings to help. Huge steaming jugs of tea and thermos flasks were on offer whenever they needed them.

Irene was very grateful to a lady handing round a bottle of her very best brandy- who might have said something in understated English along the lines of: ‘Times like this when we need something a little stronger don’t you think?’

Irene was 38 years old, single and a much travelled women. In the 1930s she went to Jamaica and South Africa.

She very much appreciated being asked to help haul up an enormous slab of concrete which may have been a large part of the shelter’s roof.

Better to be doing something, to get involved rather than to be dwelling and thinking about the men, women and children destroyed and annihilated so violently and with such cruelty.

Torchlight revealed the body of an old man in the sitting position. His dusty and bloodstained face from a slight wound to the scalp looked quite peaceful.

He seemed relatively unharmed apart from a mutilated hand hanging limply to one side. She hoped he had died instantly.

Seven people were pulled out of the debris ‘more or less alive.’ One was a child who was conscious and with no visible wounds. The dust and grime made it impossible to say if they were were boy or girl.

But the youngster would not survive the journey to hospital. This would be a new kind of death from shock and blast wave.

The picture of people seemingly whole and without any ostensible wound dying in air raids would become all too familiar and common during the Blitz of the Second World War.

One of the heavy rescue workers in the middle of the pit was George Woodward from Herne Hill.

He became one of Britain’s most decorated ARP rescue workers. Monday 9th of September 1940 would be one of the longest days of his life. Later in the day he would go to another terrible incident again where innocent children had been trapped and killed.

He was working class and his diary memoir does not have the educated articulation of Oakman, Haslewood and Faviell. But the facts and remembrances are equally valid and significant.

He recalled how he and his two heavy rescue colleagues Wally Capon and George Pitman from the Carlyle School depot in Hortensia Road took on the main task of extracting the dead from underneath the concrete and brick when others could not bring themselves to do it.

The victims had been cut to shreds and they think they managed to recover 18 from the heap of masonry.

Woodward was particularly indignant when ‘the hun came back and tried to drop another bomb or two on us.’

Irene Haslewood remembered the unceasing and untiring dedication of the rescue teams so respectfully and gently handling what remained of those who had been killed.

Occasionally pausing for a gulp of hot tea or drag on a cigarette.

Horror has an inherent indecency and the ARP and heavy rescue teams used blankets as much as possible to discreetly cover up this stark reality.

Dawn came. The ghastly drone of bombers overhead which Irene described as ‘infuriating’ cleared as the morning light meant there was no need for torches.

At this stage there had been a strategic decision not to fill the skies with anti-aircraft barrages.

There was a hope that night fighters could find their prey.

But the difficulties of finding bombers at night became all too apparent and the clamour for some kind of resisting military gesture, however futile, grew so great.

The anti-aircraft fire would be unleashed- only two nights later on Wednesday 11th September.

This would add yet more terrible sounds to the night sky overhead and send up another rain of shells too many of which would fall back to the ground thus increasing the hazards of living in Chelsea during the Blitz.

In the morning light the grey faces of everyone in Beaufort Street trying to come to terms with what they had lived through looked just a little less grim.

Haslewood and her stretcher team of Corporal Thatcher, Morris Smith, Dai Davis and Graham Court were relieved at 8 a.m.

Back at the depot they had a scanty clean-up, washed their faces and hands in large white porcelein sinks and talked about the tragedy of the Beaufort Street shelter and how they could hardly have had ‘a worse baptism’ into their ‘grim job.’

The police and mortuary teams now had the macabre task in the following days of trying to identify the dead.

One of the reasons why it was at one time feared up to 70 people might have been killed is that there were at least sixteen sets of human remains which in the pre-DNA testing days could not be identified in any way.

Clothing, belongings in surviving pockets, jewellery, body scars and teeth all helped to forensically match with the identity of previously living, thriving human beings.

When there was nothing else deduction was made by elimination, an empy flat and last seen testimony.

ARP Wardens from the Post Don centre in the ground floor of Cook’s Ground School in Glebe Place worked at processing and trying to identify the bodies through the morning. They included Leslie Matthews, Albert George Thorpe, and Jo Oakman.

They all recalled that this was the first time the dust and smell of bomb damage had fully overwhelmed them. All of their training and preparation for the Blitz had been more performance and imagination compared to this sobering and distressing reality.

In the half-light of dawn behind a makeshift curtain of blankets they carried on preparing several bodies for removal and by lunch-time Dr. Richard Castillo, with all his experience of having been a ship’s surgeon and called out to certify sudden deaths in Chelsea since 1924, realised that the civilian workers around him were experiencing and witnessing trauma they had never encountered before.

He kindly advised them to each take a double whisky and get some sleep. Little did they realise that when the sirens woke them again at tea-time they would be summoning them to attend the destruction of Dr Castillo’s own home and the deaths of members of his own family.

Albert George Thorpe would also lose his home in the stick of bombs dropped by the tea-time raiding and low-flying bomber.

And only a few days later he would be killed himself when another high explosive bomb would make a direct hit on the air raid shelter he was managing- this time the basement of Chelsea’s Roman Catholic church in Upper Cheyne Row.

Deaths at Cadogan House air raid shelter, Beaufort Street

Maureen Gurney, 10 weeks old, of 11 Cadogan House

Jean Gurney, 3 years old, of 11 Cadogan House

Phyllis Muriel Gurney, 24 years old of 11 Cadogan House

(Robert Walter Gurney either survived the bombing or was not in the shelter at the time. He had the heart-rending responsibility of identifying his wife and two infant daughters.)

Ellen Dennis, 58 years old, a housewife of 41 Cadogan House

Frederick (known as Fred) Dennis, 58 years old, motor cab washer of 41 Cadogan House

Henry Charles Jeremy, 17 years old, commercial clerk working for music publishers of 65 Cadogan House

Hetty Ray Jeremy, 21 years old, a dress-maker/milliner of 65 Cadogan House

Emma Eliza Jeremy, 55 years old, a widow of 65 Cadogan House

Agnes Holland, 63 years old, a widow of Walter Holland resident of 48 Cadogan House

Eric Walter Holland, 21 years old, a bank clerk by profession and at the time of his death a private soldier in the Royal Army Pay Corps. Resident of 48 Cadogan House and son of Agnes and Walter Holland. He has a CWG Commission military headstone in the Brompton Cemetery with the inscription ‘Rest In Peace.’

The death of the mother and son, Agnes and Eric Holland was widely felt in the Chelsea community because Eric’s grandfather had been a leading member of the local Labour Party. His father Walter had worked all his life for Harrods. Eric attended Park Walk elementary school and gained a scholarship to Sloane Secondary School. After leaving with a School Certificate he was employed by the Swiss Bank Corporation in Gresham Street, City of London. He had been an active member of the Baptist Church Boy’s Brigade and was an organist at the Chelsea Baptist Chapel in Lower Sloane Street.

Frederick James Waller, 46 years old, an employee of Harrods of 45 Cadogan House

Bertha Waller, 40 years old, of 45 Cadogan House

Selina Sarah Allen, 78 years old, an old age pensioner of 15 Cadogan House

Edith Gilbert, 42 years old of 44 Cadogan House

Doreen Ivy Edwards, 13 years old and daughter of H J S Edwards War Reserve Police Constable of 72 Cadogan House

Ivy Elsie Edwards, 39 years old, housewife of 72 Cadogan House

Henry John Samuel Edwards, 38 years old, War Reserve Police Constable of 72 Cadogan House. Henry had been a leatherworker before becoming a War Reserve police officer. He was the son of Samuel John and Emily Annie Edwards living at number 1 Cadogan House, Beaufort Street.

Henry Edwards’ father, Samuel passed away in April 1942 and had been in the Royal Engineers during World War One joining up in September 1914. He was badly wounded at Messines in 1916 and subsequently gassed. A second son V. Edwards was a pilot officer in the RAF and serving in the Middle East.

Susan Jesser, 76 years old pensioner of 35 Cadogan House

Thomas Frederick Jesser, 70 years old, pensioner of 35 Cadogan House

Alfred England, 38 years old, contractor’s labourer in Public Works Water Company of 37 Cadogan House. Alfred was in the ARP trained in gas decontamination.

Violet England, 34 years old, housewife of 37 Cadogan House

Mary Nora Mitchell, 17 years old, school pupil, of 17 Cadogan House

William John Mitchell, 54 years old, a carpenter and joiner of 17 Cadogan House. Son of Mary Ann Mitchell, of 51 Brampton Park Road, Hitchin, Hertfordshire. William Mitchell was also an ARP Warden trained in first aid.

Margaret Mary Mitchell, 48 years old, housewife of 17 Cadogan House

Norah Rowena Bains, 59 years old, a Church Sister of 34 Cadogan House. Daughter of Charles William and Anne Isobella Bains, of Dursley, Gloucestershire. Norah was also in the ARP reserve.

Elizabeth Ann Gould, 67 years old, housewife of 61 Cadogan House

William James Gould, 70 years old, pensioner of 61 Cadogan House

There might be some idea of poetic justice in the knowledge that the Lacey family took over the tenancy of number 61 Cadogan House after Mr and Mrs Gould were killed. 20 year old Desmond Lacey joined the RAF in 1942 and became a flight sergeant on Lancaster bombers with many missions over Berlin. He became a specialist flight engineer in a ‘pathfinder” squadron. In 1945 he was awarded a Distinguished Flying Medal for ‘skill, fortitude and devotion to duty in two tours of highly dangerous operations.’

He flew 45 ‘ops’ where he had the task of marking the target with flares for the bombers to come in afterwards. He had also been on operations over the Ruhr and Koenigsberg. On one occasion his Lancaster returned on three engines with the rudder control shot away and two gunners wounded. They had been attacked three times by a Junkers 88 and only managed to get away when his pilot dived rapidly and then regained control. To get home he had to make repairs in mid-flight and guide the plane to land with one tyre shot away in the dog fight.

Helen Litchfield, 70 years old, pensioner of 43 Cadogan House. Widow of W. J. Litchfield.

Lavinia Rosina Dowsey, 99 years old, pensioner of 19 Cadogan House. Widow of J. Dowsey.

Frank Murton, 32 years old, warehouseman’s assistant of 60 Cadogan House. Son of Charles Cracknell Murton, and E. Murton, of Aspal Cottage, Aspal Lane, Besk Row Common, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk.

Gladys Murton, 32 years old, housewife of 60 Cadogan House. Daughter of John James and Alice Rebecca Read, of 56 Cadogan House.

Ada Ellen Lowe, 27 years old, housewife, of 52 Cadogan House. Wife of Reginald John Lowe.

Elizabeth Bowley, 40 years old, housewife of 33 Cadogan House. Wife of Wilfrid Thomas Bowley. Wilfred who was also forty years old and a shop assistant by day was most likely on duty that night in the Auxiliary Fire Service.

William George Seers, 68 years old, pensioner and retired taxi driver of 9 Cadogan House

Rose Harriet Seers, 69 years old, pensioner of 9 Cadogan House

Frank William Seers, 28 years old, gas fitter of 48A Tregunter Road, West Brompton

Ethel Mary Hodgson, 68 years old, domestic cook, of 54 Cadogan House

Dorothy Eileen Forster, 35 years old of 13 Cadogan House. Wife of William John Forster.

Adelaide Reid, 45 years old, daily maid of 38 Cadogan House. Daughter of the late Charles and Elizabeth Reid.

Jean Darling B A, 34 years old, A.R.P Warden of Mulberry Close, Chelsea, also of The Old Rectory, Trimley, near Felixstowe and Ipswich, Suffolk. Daughter of Jane Baird Darling, of The Old Rectory, Trimley, and of the late Austin Major Darling. [The public records indicate Jean’s father as having the forenames ‘Augustine Major’ or ‘Austin Major’, but the biography of his youngest son represents ‘Austin’ as ‘Austen.’ I have opted for the spelling in official records.]

Joan Darling portrait 1939 from RBK&C local studies ‘Ordinary Heroes.’

Jean had been Chelsea’s Council’s much respected housing manager and was well known to all its council tenants. Her funeral was held in St Andrew’s Church, Park Walk and was conducted by the curate of the church the Rev. S.G. Newson assisted by the Rev. R.E. Sadlair the incumbent of Chelsea Old Church. The mourners included Lady Phipps representing the Chelsea Housing Committee, the Borough Surveyor, Mr Gough and several members of Jean’s housing team. Her remains were cremated at Golder’s Green and ashes taken to St. Mary’s Church Trimley. Her grieving mother lived in the Old Rectory in Trimley.

One of Jean’s colleagues at Chelsea Council, Miss J. K. Baker Wilbraham wrote the following tribute for her:

‘The death of Miss Jean Darling, housing manager to Chelsea Borough Council, has come as a great and unexpected sorrow to many. She came to the district in July, 1934, as the first whole-time housing manager to be appointed for the Borough Council’s housing estates and during the last six years she has made innumerable friends.

Her calm efficiency and friendly manner stood her in good stead in the organisation of a new housing department, and she co-operated wholeheartedly with the various public health services and social organisations. The interest she took in her work was unfailing, and the standard she set herself was high. Many who have come in contact with her in their search for accommodation can testify to her sympathy and desire to help them to the best of her ability, though her scrupulous fairness was always apparent. To her tenants she was a real friend, in times of rejoicing as well as in sorrorw, and many will remember the sight of her joining whole-heartedly in the sports at the Coronation parties.

The outbreak of the war found her trained and ready to take the lead in organising a voluntry air-raid wardens’ service in the Council’s largest block of flats. This A.R.P. work, given ungrudingly at the end of arduous days in the office, was typical of her. Chelsea can ill spare her at this time, but she will long be remembered.’

Jean Darling was educated at Cheltenham Ladies College and in a family which placed a priority on education and careers for the girls as well as the boys. Her Oxford educated father was the head teacher of the Castle private school in Tonbridge, Kent, retired in 1919, and moved into the Old Rectory at Trimley, Suffolk in 1927. He was a keen gardener winning national prizes for rose growing and had leading educational roles in Felixstowe before his death in 1938.

When Jean turned 16 she was a boarder in the Cambrey House at Cheltenham and the new principal Beatrice Sparks (1922 – 1937) modernised the curriculum in line with the introduction of the School Certificate and Higher Certificate. She inspired her students to take up careers and pursue the growing equality of opportunity arising out of women taking on men’s jobs during WW1 and the full extension of the franchise for women in the 1928 General Election.

The school magazine had an article in 1921 explaining: ‘…a word of advice to girls who are still at school. Whatever your plans for the future may be, do not leave until you have passed Matriculation or an equivalent examination. To be without such a qualification will be a real stumbling block hereafter whether you wish to become a doctor or a cook.’

Jean heeded the advice, went onto Somerville College, University of Oxford in 1924 and gained a BA in 1927. Her success in local government in the 1930s is emblematic of how the decade was spiralling up for the social advancement of women.

Various views of St Mary’s Church in Trimley where Jean Darling’s ashes were interred and the Old Rectory behind it which was the family home at the time of her death. Images 1 to 4 by Tim Crook. Images 5 and 6 of the front of the Old Rectory by Marja Giejgo- June 2023.

By the time war broke out in 1939, the Darling family’s home was well-estabished at the Old Rectory in School Lane Trimley St Mary near Felixstowe, an imposing mid 19th century red brick building now grade 2 listed. She had attended her father Austin Major Darling’s funeral the year before. His award-winning roses in the Old Rectory’s gardens provided a bright and fragrant memory of his devotion to horticulture and active involvement in the National Rose Society.

Jean’s widowed mother was living with Jean’s older sister Margaret who had followed in the footsteps of their father by going into the teaching profession. Jean’s sister-in-law and two young children were also resident with a ‘mother craft nurse’ and three domestic servants attending to their needs.

The Darling family would experience more grieving in January 1942 for Jean’s younger brother Lieutenant Austin Eaton Darling would be killed in action while serving with the 19th Hyderabad Regiment in Singapore. Jean, Austen Eaton and Jean’s sister Margaret, who died in 1975, have a gravestone monument in the Trimley St Mary’s graveyard. See:

Jean and Austin Eaton are also commemorated in a striking stained glass memorial to those who gave their lives for their country in St Mary’s Church, Trimley. See: and a high resolution image by the Suffolk churches historian Simon Knott at

Austin Eaton was killed when his battalion was practically annihilated at the disastrous Battle of Slim River on 7th January 1942. His older brother, Sir James Darling, would later write: ‘He was left by the side of the road, his feet having given out, and having ordered his company to leave him for their own safety. Nothing more was heard of him. It is hard to be altogether forgiving of the Japanese, who might at least have recorded his death.’ His body was never recovered and for some years his family hoped that despite his ‘missing’ status he might reappear alive in some way. He had been in one of the few British Indian Army infantry units relatively well trained in jungle warfare and had performed well in the fighting retreat in north-west Malaya. See:

The Darling family erected a modest monument in front of the gate between St Mary’s churchyard and the Old Rectory garden where Austin Major grew his roses. It commemorates Jean Darling and Austin Eaton (Pro Patria) and their sister Margaret on one side and their parents Austin Major and Jane on the other. (Images by Marja Giejgo and Tim Crook)

Jean’s older brother James Ralph Darling had a distinguished career in education and broadcasting in Australia, serving as head master of the Geelong Grammar School between 1930 and 1961 and then as chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission between 1961 to 1967. He received a knighthood in 1968. For the 1988 Bicentenary, Darling was formally acknowledged as one of 200 Australians who had made the nation great. See:

Some alumni of Geelong Grammar School recalled their experience of being taught and mentored by Sir James in a series of films recorded for the school’s centenary. See: In particular watch the feature with Boz Parsons from 2 mins 14 seconds.

James Darling’s biogropher, Professor Peter Gronn, devotes an extensive paragraph on the impact of Jean Darling’s death in Chelsea in Just As I Am: A Life of J.R. Darling (2017) and provides additional background on her life and achievements:

“In September 1940, Jean Darling was killed. A year erlier, she had received a sadly prescient letter from Eaton in India: ‘I picture you [in London] running from one rabbit hole to another with gas masks at the ready, and a hell of a noise all the time’. His sister’s life was cruelly snuffed out in Chelsea during the Blitz. A bomb exploded on the shelter in which (as an ARP warden) she was huddling. Jean and forty-six Beaufort Street housing tenants were killed instantly. She was thirty-four. She was not disfigured, although a normally composed Margaret had had to gird herself to identify her sister’s body before winding up her affairs. About 120 mourners attended her funeral service. Recently Jean had fallen in love and, since the fall of Paris, had written airily to her mother about her new friend, an older man, Kay (W. Bertram Kennett)- a solicitor, chairman of the Connaught Club, and a fellow warden. After leaving Norwich in 1932, Jean had been a housing inspector, an assistant housing estate manger and, since 1934, a housing estate manager in Chelsea. She was also secretary of the 600-strong Association of Women Housing Managers. Jean was the best of all her children, Jane told her son, because of her nearly perfectly formed character: ‘ I feel God wanted her for something better where she is now’. Scores of condolence letters poured in Corio and Darling was a long time coming to terms with her loss.’I am not trying [to] be angry with the Germans nor to get depressed as I know that I shouldn’t’. He dedicated his ABC radio talk ‘Tradition’, delivered shortly after her death, to her. Two months later her death was still hanging like a cloud over his thoughts of home.”

Professor Gronn also wrote about how Jean’s death had affected her brother Eaton who was her closest sibling. They had been playmates when children: ‘Eaton had been grief-stricken by Jean’s death. (He was the sole beneficiary of her will.) Like his mother, he thought that his sister was the best of the five siblings and in 1941 on the anniversary of Jean’s death he composed ‘Love’, a free-verse poem.’

Jean Darling had a block of flats in Milman’s Street built by Chelsea Borough Council in 1952 named after her and this is still the responsibility of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

Her brother Sir James Darling in his 1978 autobiography Richly Rewarding, published by the prestigious Hill of Content of Melbourne, provided another detailed profile of Jean’s life and how he learned of her death having returned to Australia after visiting his family in England between 1939 and early 1940:

‘It was at the end of the September holidays that the first personal blow fell. Margaret and I were staying with Lord and Lady Gowrie at Yarralumla and just making ready to leave when an aide come to tell me that I was wanted on the telephone by Mr Thewlis, the Bursar. It was to tell us that a cable had just been received telling us of the death of my much beloved sister Jean in one of the early raids on London. She was an Octavia Hill house management officer and, having shepherded her charges into an air raid shelter, had remained by the door where she was killed by the blast of a bomb. On my poor sister Margeret fell the task of doing all that was necessary. It was the first of the many blows which came upon my mother during the war years, and which she bore with such stoic resignation and Christian acceptance.

It is hard, even at this date, to write about the death of one who meant so much to us all. Jean was a unique person, the youngest of my three sisters and I suppose the most loved by all of us. She had been the pride of my father’s heart, for besides having a good intelligence, she had been a really distinguished athlete, captaining Oxford at cricket and playing for it at hockey. After taking her degree she had done the Octavia Hill course [pioneering social housing association charity] and was at the time of her death working in Chelsea. She was one of those few people born into the world to love and be loved. She had a whole troop of not very amiable lame ducks, whom she never ceased to help. More than any of the rest of us she held the family together and none of us ever forgot her and ceased to mourn her loss. She was much loved also by her tenants and a new block of flats in Chelsea is named after her. Her death was one of the first to bring home to people in Australia the reality of the ordeal which London was facing.’

Jean Darling left an abiding impression of quality and charisma with the people she worked with in Chelsea and solicitor Ernest Nicholson would write in 1977: ‘Unlike most women Housing Managers, who were usually of the blue stocking type, she was young , pretty and charming, and her death quite early in the blitz came as a shock which survived any of the later incidents.’

Emily Eliza Huntley, 56 years old, of 32 Cadogan House. Wife of C. H. Huntley

Identified by missing status and bodies which were ‘beyond recognition.’

Cecilie May Steggles, 32 years old of 40 Cadogan House. Daughter of Emily Alice, and of the late G. Steggles.

Mabel Grace Clarke, 49 years old of 47 Cadogan House. Widow of Charles Edwin Clarke, D.C.M.

Florence Evelyn Brooks, 42 years old and daughter of Alfred Horace and Florence Kate Brooks, of 55 Beaufort Mansions, Beaufort Street. Died at Cadogan House Shelter.

Florence Elizabeth Tomlin, 75 years old of 59 Cadogan House

Walter Frederick Curzon, 29 years old of 55 Beaufort Mansions, Beaufort Street. He was killed in the Cadogan House shelter along with his wife. He was the son of Frederick Henry and Elsie Marguerite Curzon, of 16 Bramfield Road, Wandsworth Common.

Olive Phyllis Curzon, 31 years old of 55 Beaufort Mansions, Beaufort Street. She was the daughter of Alfred Horace and Florence Kate Brooks, of Speldhurst, Second Avenue, Wickford, Essex.

Kathleen Elizabeth Martin, 13 years old of 17 Chelsea Manor Buildings, Flood Walk. She died in the Cadogan House shelter and was the daughter of Sydney William and Winifred Bessie Martin.

Percy Alexander Cobby, 38 years old of 21 Langton Street who died at St Luke’s Hospital, Sydney Street on 15th September 1940 from the injuries he received in Beaufort Street on 9th September. He was the husband of Evelyn I. Cobby.

Declaration that Jane McKee, 75 years old of 10 Cadogan House died in the street shelter bombing on 9th September 1940.

She had not been seen or heard of since she was last spotted in the shelter on the night of 7th September 1940.

Ernest Lenton who lived in Winchester House and was the shelter marshall for the Cadogan House block told an inquest held in Hammersmith in October 1941 that Miss McKee had a habit of taking refuge in the shelter during air-raids with her suitcase. He said it was a habit for many of the residents to take their most treasured belongings with them.

The salvage department of Chelsea Council had recovered a case in the debris which included books bearing the name ‘Miss M McKee’ and postcards addressed to ‘Miss J McKee.’ She was the only person unaccounted for from that night’s bombing and the Council was unable to trace any living relatives.

The Coroner Neville Stafford declared under Defence Regulation No. 30A, there was sufficient evidence to certify that Jane McKee’s death had occurred as the result of war operations.

At Beaufort House

Jessie Alan Izat, 60 years old, a Red Cross nurse of 12 Beaufort House, Beaufort Street. She was the daughter of Dr. John Crerar and Catherine Crerar, of Maryport, Cumberland; widow of Capt. Alan Izat, R.E.

At Winchester House

Robert Samuel Chambers, who was 16, and lived at 17 Winchester House had been injured at the Winchester air raid shelter and died the same day at St Luke’s Hospital in Sydney Street. Robert had been working as a junior clerk with the Chelsea Chamber of Commerce. He was living with his widowed mother, Mary, who was 58, his 20 year old brother David who was an ironmongery shop assistant, 23 year old sister Muriel who worked in a bakery as a shop assistant and older sister Contance who at 34 was working as a waitress.

It is likely Robert was caught in the blast from the HE bomb landing on the Cadogan House shelter which I understand was adjoining that for the residents of neighbouring Winchester House. The image below shows how close the apartment blocks were to each other.

Open air service of remembrance for Cadogan House shelter victims September 1941

One year after this deadly raid, the Reverend S. G. Newson of St Andrew’s Church, Park Walk conducted an open air service in memory of the residents who lost their lives in the shelter bombing.

Lady Phipps represented Chelsea Borough Council with a semi-circle of supportive residents from the Sir Thomas More Buildings who had raised a special fund to commemorate their deaths with a floral tribute.

The balance in the fund would contribute to a garden of remembrance in the courtyard where the communal shelter had been situated.

After the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer Rev. Newson concluded with a special prayer he had written for the occasion:

‘Almighty God who art afflicted in the afflictions of Thy people, regard with Thy tender passion the anxious and the bereaved; hear their sorrows and their cares; give them comfort and peace.’

A beautiful pillar of autumn flowers bearing the inscription ‘In memory of neighbours who died through enemy action’ was placed on the site of the bombing and displayed against a background of small Union Jacks.

Other WW2 bombing incidents

11th September 1940- An unexploded anti-aircraft shell fell onto the road junction by Cheyne Walk and Beaufort Street and was taken away by a bomb disposal squad. An unexploded incendiary bomb fell on Beaufort Mansions and was removed by ARP and Fire Wardens. An incendiary bomb landed on Kingsley House, ignited and there was water damage to the building in dealing with it. No reports of casualties.

14th September 1940- An unexploded ‘oil’ bomb landed on 1 to 8 Beaufort Mansions and was removed. An oil bomb was a large incendiary device called by the Germans the ‘Flam’ or ‘Flammenbombe.’ They contained an oil mixture and a high explosive bursting charge but were often fitted with impact fuses which failed to go off. If the case split open this would disgorge the nasty contents onto where it had landed. A high explosive bomb landed on Moore’s Gardens at the South end of Beaufort Street. No reports of injuries.

18th September 1940- Three incendiary bombs at 113 to 120 Beaufort Mansions caused damage by fire and water. No casualties.

20th September 1940- High explosive bomb at the rear of 102-104 Beaufort Street. Premises burnt out. No casualties.

24th September 1940- One incendiary bomb at the North end of Beaufort Street, another opposite the King’s Road, and another on Mulberry Close on the luggage room. No damage or casualties reported.

25 September 1940- One incendiary bomb at 33 Beaufort Mansions. No damage or casualties.

12th October 1940- A high explosive bomb fell and detonated in front of the Chapel of the Convent at 28 Beaufort Street and effectively cut the chapel in half. No casualties reported.

14th October 1940- An unexploded bomb fell on Mulberry Close and was removed by a bomb disposal squad. An unexploded bomb landed at numbers 81 to 88 Beaufort Mansions. This was later blown up by the Bomb Disposal Squad on 22nd October. Little damage was caused to Beaufort Mansions and no casualties reported. One incendiary bomb landed in the rear garden of number 141 Beaufort Street.

16th October 1940- Incendiary bombs landed on 102 Beaufort Street and the resulting fire gutted the roof. Another incendiary bomb fell in the rear garden of 141 Beaufort Street.

17th April 1941- Incendiary bombs fell in the rear garden of 121-128 Beaufort Mansions. Incendiary bombs on 113 Beaufort Street caused a fire damaging roof and top floor. Incendiary bombs at 121 Beaufort Street caused damage. Incendiary bombs at number 125 caused the roof to be burnt out. Incendiary bombs falling on 139 caused little damage as they were put out and extinguished by the occupant.

11th May 1941. One incendiary bomb landed in the road at the South end of Beaufort Street and caused no damage.

Reginald Blunt’s profile of Beaufort Street in 1900

Blunt described Beaufort Street as running from the Fulham Road (the lower section) crossing King’s Road to the River at Battersea Bridge, and takes its name from Sir Thomas More’s beautiful house which occupied its lower part, and was afterwards owned by, and named after, a Duke of Beaufort.

Gordon of Khartoum in Egyptian uniform, water colourist John Varley and his painting of the Straits of Gibraltar 1825 (All public domain) and Wedgwood plate by Lionel Allorge 2008. CC BY-SA 3.0

The street was begun in 1766, and has been the residence of John Varley, the water colour artist and founder of the Old Society, R. Wedgwood, one of the firm of potters, and General Charles Gordon, who was in residence here shortly before he went to Khartoum, his brother, Sir Henry Gordon, living in Elm Park Road.’

Images used in slideshow at top of this posting

  1. Cadogan House- north side from Beaufort Street. Tim Crook June 2022
  2. Beaufort Steet at the junction of King’s Road with shops. Beaufort Mansions looking in Battersea Bridge direction. Tim Crook June 2022
  3. Allen Hall Seminary- Roman Catholic seminary and theological college of the Province of Westminster at 28 Beaufort Street on the site of Convent of ‘Adoration Reparatrice’. Tim Crook June 2022
  4. Courtyard between Cadogan and Winchester Houses and site of the air raid shelter destroyed by bombing 9 September 1940. Tim Crook June 2022
  5. Further view of location of WW2 concrete roofed communal shelters adjacent to Cadogan House, Beaufort Street- now a garden of remembrance. Tim Crook June 2022
  6. Altar in the chapel of the Convent of Adoration Reparatrice at 28 Beaufort Street. Historical image from postcard. Public domain
  7. Three storey with basement Victorian terraced houses in Lower Beaufort Street looking down to junction with the Fulham Road and shops. Early 20th century postcard. Public domain
  8. Mulberry tree in garden of Convent at 28 Beaufort Street. Claimed to be from or part of the garden in house of Sir Thomas More. Historical image from postcard. Public domain
  9. Convent of Adoration Reparatrice at 28 Beaufort Street. Historical image from postcard. Public Domain
  10. Late Victorian image of Beaufort Street looking southwards to Battersea Bridge. Beaufort Mansions on right. Postcard and Public domain
  11. Coloured postcard late 19th century of Beaufort Street looking towards Battersea Bridge. Public domain
  12. Early 20th century postcard of Beaufort Street with Cadogan House on right looking towards junction with the King’s Road. Public domain
  13. Coloured postcard early 20th century at top of Beaufort Street from Chelsea Embankment. Open topped motor bus seen travelling towards the King’s Road. Public domain

Further reading and information online

The local studies librarian at Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council, Dave Walker (now retired), published an excellent feature on the Home Front civilian volunteers and specialists in Chelsea during WW2 in 2015.

See: ‘Home front volunteers: Chelsea, 1940s’ at:

It includes extracts from Jo Oakman’s diary and archive photographs of what I believe were mobile stretcher units and the Light Rescue Squad working from their depot at the Carlyle School in Hortensia Road. The personnel featured have not been identified.

Mr Walker also published a tribute to Jean Darling and her photograph as an ARP Warden, but this appears to have been removed.

Special thanks to Karen White and Chris Pain whose families lived in Chelsea during World War Two and have very kindly encouraged and assisted my research. Special thanks to Marja Giejgo for editorial assistance. Research and archive facilities from Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council library services, The Imperial War Museum and National Archives at Kew.


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