On Friday I went to the unveiling of a memorial to Yvonne Green, a Canadian woman who served as an auxiliary firewoman during the Blitz in London. She was killed by German bombing while on fire watching duty at Chelsea Old Church on 17 April 1941. That night would prove to be one of the deadliest of the Blitz, with over 1,000 Londoners killed and double that number seriously injured.
The memorial and service were organised by a charity called Firemen Remembered, which erects plaques to members of the Auxiliary Fire Service who were killed while serving in London during the Second World War. Yvonne’s memorial is the 15th plaque they have erected to date.
The unveiling and dedication service was very moving, not least because Yvonne’s daughter, grand-daughter and great grandson all attended, along with the Mayor of Kensington and Chelsea and representatives of the local fire service.
Two things particularly struck me about the day.
Firstly, the day previously that very same church had seen the funeral of a woman called Winifred, who had been due to be on fire watching duty on 17 April 1941. Yvonne had swapped duties with her and although Yvonne had sadly been killed, Winifred subsequently survived to be nearly a hundred years old. It was a poignant co-incidence that her funeral should fall the day before the unveiling of Yvonne’s memorial.
Secondly, several letters written by Yvonne to her mother in Canada are stored in the archive of the Department of Documents at the Imperial War Museum where they are available for anyone to make an appointment to view. When I spoke to Yvonne’s daughter, Penelope, she told me that she’d carried these letters around for fifty years. They were extremely precious to her, but eventually she’d made the decision to donate them to the museum. Since doing so they’d been used in the research for several books. Penelope was delighted that something that had meant so much to her was now proving valuable to so many others.