Sunday, 29 April 2012

Dorothy Lucy Bagley 1895-1940 - A Widow's Story

A while ago I related the sad story of my great uncle, James Ivanhoe Cullip, who survived the Great War only to die one week after his wedding in 1918 from the Spanish Flu pandemic. I was intrigued as to what became of his widow, Dorothy.

One can only imagine the range of emotions that she must have endured at the time. From the elation of her wedding in the local parish church, where they lived in East Finchley, London, through the worry that she would have felt when her new husband fell ill, to the incredible shock when death took him from her, and the subsequent grief of widowhood.

But evidence shows that she did pull through this dreadful time, as three years later she was to remarry. Her new husband was Alfred Walter Chappell, and I was surprised to see that they were married in Sawbridgeworth in Hertfordshire. The reason for my surprise was that Sawbridgeworth was the village where my grandfather, Nathaniel Joe Stracey, came from. He had moved to London in the first decade of the twentieth century and in 1916 married my grandmother, Esther May Cullip, the sister of James Ivanhoe. The Cullips originally hailed from Tempsford in Bedfordshire; they had had no connection with Sawbridgeworth except through my grandfather. So to see the widow of my great uncle getting married in Sawbridgeworth immediately sparked my interest and a desire to know more.

My first port of call was the 1901 census for Sawbridgeworth. On running a search for Alfred Chappell I was amazed to see that he lived next door to my 9-year old grandfather, Nathaniel Joe, in Bell Street. Alfred was 5 years old. Were they childhood friends? My instincts tell me they were.

The 1901 Sawbridgeworth census showing my grandfather,
Joe Stracey, living next door to Alfred Chappell.

I don't know where Dorothy lived following the death of James Ivanhoe. She may have returned to her parent's home, a few streets away from her new relations, or she may have moved in to what should have been the marital home with her father and mother-in-law. In any case, in this close-knit community where everybody knew everyone else, and to some extent, was related to everyone else, there would have been much contact between Dorothy and her new family. I believe that after Nathaniel Joe returned home from the war he probably had a visit from his old friend Alfred Chappell and introductions were made. This was a new beginning for Dorothy as, on Christmas Eve 1921, she married Alfred and they went on to have three children together.

But this isn't the end of Dorothy's story. Whilst researching Dorothy's death date, I was shocked to discover that her death was registered in 1940, just nine years after the birth of her third child. Why had she died at such a relatively young age? After further investigation, I discovered that Dorothy was one of five people who had been killed on the night of 10th October 1940 as a result of 'enemy action'. It was the height of the Blitz, and with Sawbridgeworth being so close to London, it appeared that a German bomber had dropped its load on Sawbridgeworth resulting in the deaths of two women and three young children. Three houses in Cambridge Road, where Dorothy lived, were to take the full force of the blast. Dorothy, who lived at number 108, was killed, along with a 10 year old girl who was staying with her at the time. Two children in the next door house, number 110, were also killed, along with a mother from number 112 who died of wounds the following day. You can read a moving account of the incident here.

What a sad end for Dorothy. Her first husband had survived the First World War only to fall victim to the raging flu pandemic. Then, having made a new life for herself in rural Hertfordshire, Dorothy was to meet a sudden and devastating death as a direct result of a German bombing raid over England. She was only 44. Seventy years after the Second World War, the happenings of that time can seem very far removed. But as I discover more and more family members whose lives were impacted by the cataclysmic events of the twentieth century I realise just how many ordinary people, and members of my own family, were effected by world events. Dorothy is a case in point, and sadly she was one of the thousands of people for whom the war came to her with such dreadful consequences. She is remembered on the Sawbridgeworth War Memorial, alongside the other innocent victims of that bombing raid.

The Sawbridgeworth War Memorial showing the names of
the victims of the German bombing raid of 10 October 1940.


  1. Oh gosh, what an incredible story. How sad that Dorothy was given a second chance at happiness only to meet her own fate during the Blitz. Bless her. xx

    1. So true. It seemed her whole adult life was book-ended by war, poor love.