Thurrock Local History Society: February meeting

Meeting 26 Feb 2016

By John Matthews

Unfortunately Susan Yates, our speaker for the Society’s February meeting was stuck in traffic, so we were unable to hear her talk on Jack the Ripper. However, we passed an enjoyable evening when several members came to our rescue.

The first to speak were Mike Ostler and Philip Edgar who told us about new funding through the Tilbury Riverside Project for Guided Heritage Walks this year. They will be once a month Mar-Sept and must be booked (see the Tilbury and Chadwell Memories website); free but donations are welcome.

Secondly we welcomed John Matthews who enlightened us on Chadwell Place. Sir Alexander Temple was living in Rochester having married a rich widow with property. When she died the property went to her eldest son and Sir Alexander had to look elsewhere, eventually settling on Chadwell Place about 1607, where he established a deer park providing venison. He was a JP and in 1619 took on the captaincy of Tilbury Fort, a residential post. His eldest son John fought in a campaign on the Isle of Ré; he was first off the ship in 1627 and killed by arrows. Alexander Temple commissioned Cornelius Johnson to paint his portrait in 1620, which emphasised his military status. Johnson flourished and became a court painter.

Our next speaker was Kath Ostler who spoke of her early days as a nurse. She had trained at the Royal Free in London. After training she joined the RAF and was posted to troop ship Devonshire at Tilbury, which was complete with padded cells. Her full uniform was air force blue with a black trilby. It took five weeks to get to their destination, Singapore. Her duties included giving bed baths and tending those with seasickness. The ship stopped at Gibraltar, Malta and Cyprus, where she was shown around Famagusta ruins; then the Suez Canal where staff were told not to wave or be seen on deck (this was in 1961). They stopped at Aden, where Kath had to take a lady shopping in Crater, quite a seedy area. Then on to Columbo where she went swimming in the sea and visited the main town. After Kuala Lumpur they arrived at Singapore on Christmas Eve. There was no one available to unload but between the staff hey carried Christmas decorations to the hold, where they celebrated. Mrs Ostler also mentioned that half naked Chinese ladies painted the ship, two miles off shore! A memorable voyage.

Finally Dennis Parker regaled us with his early memories of St John Ambulance, joining as a cadet in 1941. His training at Brooke Road included providing slings and setting collarbones and he also joined the army cadets in 1942. You were a man at 16 if you were a cadet. His first trip through the Bay of Biscay was rough and everyone except Dennis was sick; then on to a North African POW camp. Back in the UK he helped with first aid when a Doodlebug struck Grays in October 1944. He assisted at Tilbury docks with troop ships returning from D Day; there were horrific injuries, stretchers being carried via straps over the shoulders.

The ships only came at night for fear of torpedoes. Dennis became the Social Secretary and organised whist drives at Park school; before that they met at Quarry Hill, also the old fire station in Orsett Road. Later on he was a first aid man at Purfleet Deep Wharf, his duties including rat catching when shrimps were used as bait. As a tally clerk he asked for a rise and when this didn’t happen he left and went to London. New premises were needed for St John Ambulance in Grays as the old hut was being pulled down. The Council provided £1000, the rest being made up with donations. It was opened in 1974 by Sir William Pike. Mr Parker has certainly had an eventful life in St John Ambulance, which dates back to 1095, having served for 75 years.

Our next meeting is at 8pm at the Grays Adult Centre in Richmond Road on Friday 18 March when our speaker will be Mike Tabard, entitled Bata Reminiscences. Visitors are most welcome.

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