AFS Despatch Rider Ernest Herbert Henly

Killed in the line of duty……….

Ernest Herbert Henly was born on 22nd January 1922 in the Mile End area of London, the eldest child of Albert Frederick William Henly and Elizabeth Irene Christie. Albert was born in Chippenham on 8th February 1900 and he married Elizabeth at St Michael and All Angels Church, Bromley, Tower Hamlets, London on 11th April 1921. After the wedding, the couple settled down to life in the East End of London.

A few months after his birth, his parents sought poor relief from Poplar Borough due to sickness. However, there was a complaint that the family were Chippenham’s responsibility and on 15 June 1922, an order was made for their removal to their last legal place of settlement, Chippenham Within. But that doesn’t seem to have happened, as the following year a daughter was born in Poplar, Irene Francis Henly, followed by two brothers, Robert Frederick Henly and Alan Cyril Henly and another sister Margaret Claudia Henly.

Ernest Henly Poor Relief Removal

(London, England, Selected Poor Law Removal and Settlement Records, 1828-1930)

Poor Relief 2

(London, England, Selected Poor Law Removal and Settlement Records, 1828-1930)

The next record that we find for Ernest is a wonderful school report and this is a record that we rarely find for our ancestors and something that gives a real insight into a young Ernest and his character. The school that Ernest attended was the Hay Currie School in Poplar in East London and the report is for the Elementary Year. Some of Ernest’s worthy achievements include a placement of 14th out of 40 in his class, he also had very good attendance, with Geography and History, particularly strong subjects. His conduct was marked as excellent and his problem-solving skills were top of the class as he scored 48 out of 48! The summary at the end is such a wonderful tribute;

“A very earnest little scholar, great improvement”

Ernest's School Report

(Ernest Herbert Henly School Report)

Sadly, in 1938 Ernest’s sister died and around Christmas time 1940, the family were bombed out, so they went to live with relatives at Derry Hill in Wiltshire, Albert securing work at a factory in Chippenham.  

Ernest had joined the AFS as a boy cyclist messenger before the outbreak of war, and when hostilities began, he was called up for whole time service. Keen on his job, he made rapid progress to Dispatch Rider (Motor-cycle) and earned efficiency stripes. He had been in a number of raids and had been commended for his services.

By 1939 the family were living at 25, Shey Street in Poplar, living at home are Albert Henly, who is recorded as an “Acetylene Gas Maker’, with him are his Wife Irene Henly, who is recorded as “unpaid domestic duties” (Housewife), their daughter, also called Irene Henly, who is recorded as a “Tailoress”, plus Ernest himself, who is recorded as a ‘Ladies Comb Maker”. There is also a note stating that Ernest was a volunteer with the Auxiliary Fire Service.

Screenshot 2021-08-08 at 09.40.37

(Typical Factory Setting for a Comb Manufacturer)

1939 Register

(The National Archives; Kew, London, England; 1939 Register; Reference: RG 101/446F)

Mrs. Henly was in London during the raids of that fateful Saturday night of 19th April 1941, having journeyed there a few days before to attend the funeral of her father. Her father had died on 13th April 1941 and was buried on the morning of 19th April. Mrs Henly even saw her son, Ernest, on the Saturday morning and returned home on the Sunday, the day before the sad news was received by the family. Little did Mrs. Henly know, or Ernest himself know, when they met on that fateful Saturday morning, what awful tragedy was literally only hours away for them both. Fate can deal the cruellest of blows.

The North Wiltshire Herald dated 25th April 1941 contained the following article about the tragic events at The Old Palace School and how it affected the Henly family.

Killed in Air Riad

(North Wiltshire Herald 25th April 1941)

His funeral was conducted at Derry Hill Church and attended by colleagues of the Auxiliary Fire Service and members of the Chippenham Fire Brigade. His body was brought by road, in a Union Jack draped coffin, by a detachment of the London AFS, who also provided the bearers and at the Church members of the Chippenham Fire Brigade and AFS formed a guard of honour. 

Ernest Henly's Funeral

(Wiltshire Times and Trowbridge Advertiser 3rd May 1941)

Ernest Scroll

(Ernest Herbert Henly Memorial Scroll)

Ernest Scroll named

(UK, WWII Civilian Deaths, 1939–1945)

However, his grave remained unmarked and his parents moved to Kington Langley. In May 2019, the location of his grave was discovered by a nephew and niece who arranged for a headstone, which was positioned in the October following a church service by Rev. Linda Carter. 

Chrstchurch Derry Hill Grave Plan

(Ernest Herbert Henly Burial Location)

Ernest Herbert Henly

(Ernest Herbert Henly Gravestone)

Ernest’s mother died in 1975 in Chippenham District Hospital and was buried at Kington Langley. His father died there just three days later. 

With special thanks to Paul Henly and Sue Stenning for their wonderful research and for allowing permission to use their photographs.

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