AFS Firewoman Hilda Ellen Dupree

Killed in the Line of Duty……….

Here is Hilda’s story……..

Hilda Ellen Dupree was born on 12th August 1919 in Poplar, East London, the second oldest of five children born to Henry Albert Dupree and Ada Murray. Her siblings were Lillian Dupree, Joyce Dupree, Dorothy Dupree, and the youngest, Harry Dupree. Henry and Ada were Fishmongers and lived along St. Leonard’s Road, the scene of such tragedy many years later. Hilda was baptised on 7th September 1919 at St Frideswide, Poplar, Tower Hamlets, London.

Hilda Dupree baptism

(Hilda Dupree Baptism)

Poplar - St Frideswides Church - pu1912

(St. Frideswide’s Church, Poplar)

Hilda Dupree Far Right

(Henry, Ada, with children Joyce, Hilda in the centre and Lillian)

Of the five Dupree children, Lillian went on to have two children of her own, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Dorothy had four children and eight grandchildren. Joyce had three children, seven grandchildren and Henry Junior did not have any children.

The 1921 Census shows the Dupree family living at 196, Abbott Road in Bromley at home are Henry Dupree aged 32 a fishmonger, Ada Dupree aged 33 carrying out home duties, Lilian Dupree aged 8 and Hilda herself aged just 1.


Hilda Dupree 1921 Census

(1921 Census for Dupree family)

Hilda Dupree 1921 Census Address

(1921 Census Address for Dupree family)

Just prior to the tragic events of 1941, we find Hilda recorded in the 1939 Register as living at home with her parents Ada Dupree and Henry A Dupree, along with two of her siblings Henry A Dupree (Junior) and Doris E Dupree, Hilda is listed as a Biscuit Packer. The family are living at 34, Upper North Street, Poplar in London.

Hilda Dupree 1939

(The National Archives; Kew, London, England; 1939 Register; Reference: RG 101/450H)

Hilda Dupree Mod 10

(Hilda Dupree)

Hilda Ellen Dupree was one of two Firewomen who sadly lost their lives at the Old Palace School, and she had been working as a telephonist for the AFS at the time before her life was cut down so tragically short.

Coincidentally, Hilda’s Sister Lillian was Married to a Fireman, named William Valentine, but as with many things in life, fate decreed that William was not on duty on that fateful night of 19th April 1941.

The family were naturally devastated at the loss of Hilda, taken so young and in the prime of her life. Hilda was just twenty-one years old and, as so often happened, would have been on leave that fateful night, had she not swapped shifts with a friend who wanted to go to a dance. Fate can deliver the cruellest of blows and change so many lives forever, on the one hand, William Valentine was one of the fortunate ones because he was not on duty that night and on the other hand Hilda, who should have been off duty, was tragically taken from her family at such a young age.

On the night of the Bombing, Hilda’s Sister Joyce described that there was a huge explosion and the sky was alight in the direction of Poplar. Hilda’s father, Henry, was anxious and concerned and said that he thought that it might have been Poplar that was hit. Later that morning Hilda Dupree’s sister, Joyce, hoping to avoid the distress for her parents, was sent by her family to find out what she could about Hilda. Little more than a girl herself, in her mid-teens, she was confronted by what she described as complete devastation and confusion and the Playground was smouldering, just like in some of the photographs.

Rescuers 1

Some of the men had also been recovered by the time she arrived and they were laid in a line, in a space that had been cleared in the playground, ready to be identified. Work to rescue or recover any bodies from the devastation, was ongoing and was to continue round the clock for a week, until the final body was recovered. She remembered thinking that they looked “at peace”. She was stopped by a warden and asked why she was there. She said she wanted to find her sister, Hilda. The terrible news returned that sadly there were no survivors, but could she say what Hilda was wearing? Her mum used to crochet and she made Hilda a pink bodice, which she knew she always wore. The Warden returned with a small piece of charred material and said he was really sorry, but this was all they were able to trace from the wreckage. Her Sister always said that “she was an absolute angel, too good for this world, the kindest person you could ever meet.”

There is even more heartbreak surrounding Hilda’s story. Sadly, for some reason, the family were not informed of any funeral arrangements for Hilda and they never knew where her final resting place was. One could not imagine a mother’s pain, not being able to say a final goodbye to their child. The family kept her photo permanently on display at home to ensure that she was never forgotten. Even more upsetting was the discovery that Hilda was due to be married, just two weeks after the tragic night of 19th April, to her Fireman fiancé. Hilda’s life cut down in its prime, before she had even made her way in the world. How does a family cope with such grief? How would a future spouse begin to reconstruct a life after such a tragic loss?

Hilda was buried on 28th April 1941 at The Tower Hamlets Cemetery, Reference Number CTHC/01/034, at the time she was living at 33, Warwick Road, London E17.

Hilda Dupree Burial

(London, England, City of London and Tower Hamlets Cemetery Registers, 1841-1966)

The Dupree Family served their Country during Wartime and Peacetime, both Hilda’s younger Sister Joyce Dupree and her younger brother Harry Dupree, served with the Armed Forces.

Joyce Dupree

(Joyce Dupree)

Henry Dupree

(Harry Dupree)

Dupree family 2

(Henry and Ada Dupree’s Golden Wedding Anniversary at St Saviours in Poplar in December 1961)

Hilda Dupree

(Hilda Dupree)

Another young life cut down in its prime and like many of the families scarred by the awful events that night, they will always be talking about the “what if'” and the future that was so cruelly denied their loved ones.

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