Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Love and Loss at an Armaments Factory

Fiancés William Darby and Ada Bawden

William and Ada worked together at Drigg Ordnance Factory, Cumbria
Both died as a result of an explosion at the Ordnance Factory (5 June 1943)
Photograph: Courtesy of Mrs Colette Hodgkinson (niece of William Darby)

Following an explosion on 5 June 1943 at the Drigg Ordnance Factory, Cumberland the lives of fiancés William Bernard Darby and Ada Bawden were lost. Although this young couple lost their lives while doing 'Essential War Work' as civilian war casualties who were not killed as the result of enemy action they are not officially listed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as war casualties.

Because of wartime reporting restrictions the story of the love and loss of William Darby and Ada Bawden has never been fully told until now. This is their story.

For additional information click on 'Comments' below


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(1) Introduction

Some things never change - even in war. During the Second World War many young couples met and fell in love, as young couples have done since time immemorial. This article is about one such young couple - William B. Darby and Ada Bawden, seen in the above photograph. William and Ada also worked together at an Ordnance Factory at Drigg, Cumberland. However, wars and conflicts do change many things - and often for the worse. Wars bring with them tragedy, death and loss. Unfortunately the wartime story of William and Ada is one of love and loss.

(2) Some family details

Ada Bawden was born at the small West Cumbrian mining village of Pica in 1917. Her parents were Benjamin Youdal Bawden, at that time a miner, and Rhoda Mary Bawden (née Stainton). Ada was baptised into the Established Church at Distington Parish Church (Church of the Holy Spirit) on 4 December 1917. During WW2 Mr and Mrs Bawden lived at 52 Pica Cottages. By this time Ada was by now doing "essential war work" at Drigg Ordnance Factory and living at Leconfield Street, Cleator Moor. This was the part of Cleator Moor known locally as "Coglety". Living at Leconfield Street, Ada was now living only five minutes walk from the home of one of her work colleagues at Drigg - William Darby, to whom she subsequently became engaged.

William Bernard Darby, to give him his full name, came from a large family living at 17 Bowthorn Road, Cleator Moor, Cumberland (now Cumbria). He was one of the sons of James and Anne Darby (née Hillon) and was born on 23 February 1916. William was baptised on 27 February 1916 at St Mary's R.C. Church, Cleator by Father Bede L. Rigby O.S.B. (Assistant Priest). William’s godparents were John McCabe and Rose Hillon.

By the spring of 1943 William and Ada were 27 and 25 years old respectively and were engaged. Had events taken a different course to what actually happened one assumes that in time Ada and William would have married and settled down. An explosion and subsequent fire at the ordnance factory where they worked in the early hours of Saturday 5 June 1943 would change everything. Both Ada and William lost their lives as a result of this explosion.

Monday, 16 November, 2009  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(3) Earlier events of 1943

Even before the events of 5 June, 1943 was turning out not to be a good year for the Darby family of Cleator Moor. Firstly, a few weeks earlier one of William's brothers, Joseph Darby died while working in the south of England following a short illness. Secondly, in early May 1943 Mr and Mrs Darby were officially notified that another of their sons, Stoker Bruno Darby, who was serving with the Royal Navy aboard H.M.S. Beverley, was reported missing and presumed killed on 11 April. Subsequently, the family received word that Bruno had been killed in action.

Shortly after the Darby family received word that Bruno had been killed they had another bereavement. On 13 May 1943 Joseph and Bruno's 82 year old maternal grandmother, Mrs Catherine Hillon of 143 Bowthorn Road, Cleator Moor passed away, and subsequently interred in St Mary's R.C. Churchyard, Cleator. Family friends told Mrs Darby that she could take comfort in the fact that one of her sons, William, was still living at home in Cleator Moor and doing essential war work. It was yet another shock to the family and the indeed the whole of Cleator Moor and district when word was received about William and Ada’s accident on 5 June.

Monday, 16 November, 2009  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(4) An explosion at the Ordnance Factory

During the war information regarding ordnance factories was necessarily restricted for security purposes. Much of this information has still not been released, which of course restricts the amount of research that can be done about any events that occurred. However, because there were two fatalities due to the explosion at Drigg Ordnance Factory on 5 June 1943 these were reported to a coroner and an inquest held. This inquest took place at Cleator Moor where both casualties were living at the time. A summary of the inquest appeared in the local newspaper, 'The Whitehaven News' on 17 June 1943. Some specific details, such as the exact location of the factory, were not given in the wartime newspaper report.

The inquest into the deaths of Ada and William was heard by the Deputy Coroner, Mr R.W. Marley. Mr O.F. Ormrod represented the employers and Mr C.W. Hewden, H.M. Inspector of Factories was also present. The two main witnesses at the inquest were Mr Richard Leece from the nearby town of Egremont - who was in charge of the shift at the time of the accident - and Dr William Black, Medical Officer at the factory.

Richard Leece, who himself sustained slight injuries in the accident, told the inquest that, together with Ada and William, he took over from the previous shift at 9.55 p.m. on Friday night 4 June. At that time all was well with the plant. About 12.30 a.m. Ada Bawden reported an "irregularity" and the instruments showed there was a rise in the room temperature. Mr Leece said he had corrected the “irregularity” with the plant but the temperature continued to rise. Eventually the building became full of fumes and Mr Leece called to his two companions "come on" to get out of the building. He had also attempted to stop the machinery. Mr Leece said he thought his colleagues had followed him out of the building. Also, he had then tried to get back in to the building by another door but by then the building was black with fumes.

Although it is not completely evident from the newspaper report of the inquest, it is believed that William Darby did in fact initially get out of the building but went back in to save Ada who was still inside. If this is what happened, then William must have been close to pulling off a rescue. According to the Medical Officer at the factory, William Black, when he was called in although he found William Darby was already dead, Ada Bawden was still alive. Ada was then taken to Whitehaven Hospital but she died shortly afterwards, with the cause of death being asphyxia.

Mr Marley reported a verdict of "Accidental Death". He also said it was essential that the fullest inquiry should be made into accidents of this nature so as to be able to avoid repetitions. Additionally, Mr Marley expressed sympathy with the bereaved relatives. Mr Ormrod, for the employers, stated this was the first accident of its type at the factory. He also expressed sympathy with the bereaved relatives. The management would also do all in their power to ensure non-recurrence of accidents of this nature.

Monday, 16 November, 2009  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(5) At rest

Three days after the accident, on Tuesday 8 June 1943, Ada Bawden and William Darby were laid to rest. However, there were separate funerals and their mortal remains were not laid to rest in the same grave. Each of the funeral services took place at the churches where they had each been baptised - William Darby’s funeral was held at St Mary's R.C. Church, Cleator while Ada Bawden’s funeral took place at Distington Parish Church.

William's funeral service at St Mary's Cleator was taken by the Parish Priest, Dean Francis C. Clayton O.S.B. In life, William had been an active member of the C.Y.M.S. (Catholic Young Men's Society). Fittingly, it was members of the CYMS who acted as bearers at William's funeral. Among the large congregation were many workmates. In a moving sermon Father Clayton paid tribute to William's many fine qualities including his loyalty and faith to his church. Father Clayton also made sympathetic reference to this being the fourth bereavement suffered by the family in a few weeks.

According to a 'report in 'The Whitehaven News' about the tragedy, the loss of Ada Bawden " ... cast a deep gloom over Pica....". Ada was also described as a "... cheerful and popular girl" and that before the undertaking war work had helped her father with his business. Ada's funeral at Distington Parish Church was taken by the Rector, Reverend Charles Warren. Many of Ada's workmates also attended the funeral. One assumes that many of these workmates attended both funerals. After Ada’s funeral she was laid to rest in the churchyard at Distington.

(6) Remembrance

In the mid-1990s Cleator Moor Town Council first began compiling a list of names for a ‘Roll of Honour’ for the town and William Darby’s name was one of those submitted for inclusion. However, civilian casualties of the Second World War tend to be listed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission only if they lost their lives as the result of enemy action, or a member of a civilian force (such as an A.R.P. Warden or Home Guard) and the death occurred whilst they were on duty. Those who died in accidents at work while employed in what was deemed as ‘essential war work’, such as William Darby and Ada Bawden, would not normally be listed by the Commission. Hence, it has taken some time to research William and Ada’s story, which has now finally been told.

In the introduction the story of William Darby and Ada Bawden was described as one of love and loss. There is no way round it being anything but a tragic tale with no happy ending. But these are events that happen in wartime and very often the casualties have been largely forgotten, except perhaps by their family and friends.

How much better would it have been if the accident of 5 June 1943 had never happened? In that case then one could have imagined William and Ada would have married and hopefully had a long and happy life together. A story of love and marriage must always be better than one of love and loss. Unfortunately in William and Ada’s case their story was not the one they had planned. While William Darby and Ada Bawden do not share the same earthly resting place there will henceforth be one place where they will be remembered together – on the Cleator Moor ‘Roll of Honour’. This was the town where they both lived when they lost their lives and will always remember them. One might also like to think that there is some better place where their love for each other will go on.

May they both rest in peace!


Cumbria County Archives (Whitehaven Records Office)

‘The Whitehaven News’ (archives)

Baptism & Burial Registers, Distington Parish Church

Baptism & Burial Registers, St Mary’s R.C. Church, Cleator

Mrs Colette Hodgkinson (niece of William Darby)

Monday, 16 November, 2009  

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