AFS Fireman Henry (Harry) John Clifford Carden

Killed in the Line of Duty……….

The following extremely detailed research into the life of AFS Fireman Henry John Clifford Carden has been carried out by researchers Fiona Smith and Kelly Cornwell.

Harry’s story is one of those that leaves only a tiny footprint in the records and it has been difficult to piece together his story. However his contribution and his families loss is no less than any of his 33 colleagues that died alongside him at the Old Palace School. Harry’s story ends with one of the post poignant and beautiful tributes, such a moving tribute to such a wonderful man.

Henry (Harry) John Clifford Carden was born just before Christmas on 23rd December 1911 in Beckenham, Kent, the youngest of four children born to parents John Henry Clifford Carden and Emily Jane Scott. The Carden family had been long standing members of the Beckenham and Penge communities for many years. Henry’s three older siblings, like him were all born in Beckenham, oldest sister Edna Ruth Evelyn Carden was born on 5th July 1904, Sybil Florence M Carden was born on 5th January 1907 and Phylis Celia Rose Carden was born on 23rd February 1910.

Harry’s parents Emily Jane Scott and John Henry Carden were married in Croydon in 1903.

In 1911 the Carden family are living at 4, Felmingham Road in Anerley in Penge, Kent. Living at the family home at the time were Henry’s three older sister’s and both his parents. The house would have been a standard two up two down, typical of the period and the Carden family occupied four rooms. Henry’s father John was occupied as a tramway car fitter with South Metropolitan Tramways. Sadly the house no longer exists today, but from the google street image below we can get an idea for what the other houses in the same street look like today.

Screenshot 2022-08-05 at 12.46.26

(Felmingham Road as it looks today ©GoogleMaps)

1911 Carden Census

(1911 Census)

44, Anerley Road, 1907

(Anerley Road, Penge 1907 image reproduced thanks to Beckenham History Photos)

At the time of the 1921 census, all the family members are still living at home and they are still at the same address of 4, Fremlingham Road, Anerley. Henry’s father John is still working for the South Metropolitan Electric Tramway Company at it’s Penge Depot as a Fitter and is aged 47. Henry’s mother Emily is aged 39 and living at home carrying home duties. Oldest sister Edna, aged 16 is employed as a Junior Assistant Draper with Debenham and Freebody Ltd which later became part of the Debenhams chain of stores. The three other children, including Henry were all in full time education.

Carden 1921

(!921 Census)

Carden 1921 Address

(1921 Census Address Record)

In 1934, when Harry was aged just 22, both his parents died, his father first in May 1934 and he was buried at Elmer’s End Cemetery on 19 May 1934. Then just two months later tragedy struck again when Harry lost his mother in July 1934. Emily was also buried at Elmer’s End Cemetery on 28 July 1934. The burial notifications were found on FindMypast in the Norwood News and are shown below. Despite numerous searches we were unable to find any other references to their deaths in the newspapers.

carden burial 2

carden burial 1

In the summer of 1938, Harry met and married his sweetheart, Amy Amelia Howard in Bromley, Kent. From our researches, we have been unable to identify any children born to this marriage. By the time that the 1939 register was taken our newly married couple were living at 20, Glebe Way in Beckenham. Harry was employed as an ironmongery Salesman and Amy was employed as a Confectionary Saleswoman. Harry was also ‘doing his bit’ for the war effort by volunteering and becoming a member of the ARP (Air Raids Precaution) Ambulance Service. Just two years later, young Harry either volunteered or was transferred over to the AFS (Auxiliary Fire Service) at West Wickham Station, a decision that was to have catastrophic consequences.

Harry 2

(Harry and Amy on their Wedding Day)

Harry 1

(Harry and Amy)

The Air Raid Precautions Act of 1937 required local authorities to make schemes for neutralising, reducing or repairing the effects of enemy action against the civil population and as a result, the London County Council set up an Air Raid Precautions Sub-Committee. As part of ARP plans, preparations for the pre-existing ambulance and fire services to carry out ARP work were put into place. This also involved organising the evacuation of children from London. Upon the outbreak of war, it was the LCC’s Emergency Committee (later Civil Defence and General Purposes Committee) that continued to support the government in the war effort.

With the threat of another World War imminent, the British Government acted swiftly by organising a head count of the whole civilian population, which culminated in the 1939 Register. The Register was the pre-requisite for the issuing of National Identity Cards and the information recorded the full names, addresses, dates of birth, occupations of individuals and additional information such as somebody serving in the armed forces, or an ARP Warden, or somebody serving in the Auxiliary Fire Services (AFS).

The British Government also took the decision to make all men over the age of eighteen undertake basic military training. Certain roles were deemed essential and were therefore not part of the army reserve call up, so conscious of ‘doing his bit’ Harry signed up with the newly formed Auxiliary Fire Service instead (AFS). Prior to the start of WW2 the Government recognised the fact that the threat of War was imminent and that they were poorly prepared for a second World War. The Government acted swiftly with the Fire Brigade Act of July 1938 which demanded the recruitment of an auxiliary fire service as part of the country’s Civil Defence Force. As the nation’s capital, London was a natural prime target. Dockland warehouses packed with highly combustible oils, grain and timber were clearly a risk and the narrow maze of streets would provide an easy path for the fire. It was obvious that a large number of firefighters would be needed to prevent London becoming little more than a smoking ruin. The answer was to expand the regular Fire Brigade by forming an Auxiliary Fire Service. By 1939 about 28, 000 men and women had joined the AFS and regular firefighters, who had been trained as instructors, put the new recruits through 60 hours intensive training. Originally recruits were unpaid volunteers, but eventually the men were paid £3 per week, women received £2 per week, with youths under 18 and messengers earning £1 per week. At first recruits endured poor accommodation, inadequate conditions and were dubbed “£3-a-week war dodgers” by the public who thought they were choosing an easy life. After many recruits left to join the war effort, the Government passed a statutory order preventing full time members resigning. Once the Blitz started, attitudes towards the volunteers quickly changed and they received the recognition they deserved.


The 1939 Register also sent us down one of those genealogical rabbit holes that we all go down every once in a while. Alongside Amy’s 1939 Register entry was a code and added name. Now initially we assumed that the name and date referred to a marriage in 1984 to a chap called Evans. The code ‘CR283’ mentioned usually denotes a name change. Such a name change is usually accompanied by the letter ‘M’ along with a date, which indicates a marriage.  However in Amy’s case the ‘M’ is followed by an ‘x’. We initially presumed the M was for the Marriage but the addition of the X threw me somewhat. After a lot of digging and getting nowhere we put a request out on #AncestryHour and Audrey Collins gave me a really detailed explanation of what the letters denoted and why. The MX actually was an abbreviation for Middlesex! But we still needed to find a marriage!

Harry John carden 1939

(1939 Register)

07, Anerley Road, 1942

(Anerley Road, Penge 1940 image reproduced thanks to Beckenham History Photos)

Fate can deal the cruelest of blows and in April 1941, Harry and 33 of his brave colleagues were to tragically lose their lives at the Old Palace School in the largest ever loss of life for the Fire Brigade. Young Harry’s life over before it had even begun.


(The Guarding of the Coffins)

Harry Carden was buried with his fellow Beckenham Firefighters at Beckenham Cemetery on the 25th April 1941. Nineteen of the Twenty-One Beckenham Firemen were buried in a mass grave, at the Beckenham Cemetery, after a memorial service at the parish church of St. George by Canon Boyd and a solemn procession through the town. The grave was dug entirely by their comrades and was softened by masses of daffodils. The 19 coffins were placed in St. George’s church on the Wednesday before the service and guarded by Firemen. The 19 coffins were borne from the church to the hearses by 114 bearers from the Beckenham AFS. As they left they passed between the lines of The Guard of Honour lining the path to the lychgate. The silence and peace was deeply affecting, all the traffic through the town had been stopped. The bearing of the coffins to the hearses seemed endless. As the Chopin Funeral March was played, the procession of hearses, firemen, service personnel, 19 cars with the families of the deceased and two fire appliances loaded with a mass of flowers, left on its journey to the Beckenham Cemetery. It took half an hour for the procession to pass any point on the route to the Cemetery. After the coffins had been placed in the grave, posies and bunches of flowers were dropped in and there were 350 wreaths. A plaque at the graveside read;

“We remember proudly the deeds of these bravemen, martyrs in the cause of liberty”.

The pictures below are taken from the Funeral Cortege for the 19 Beckenham Firemen.

Scan_20211121 (8)

Scan_20211121 (7)

Scan_20211121 (9)

Harry’s death is recorded on the Civilian War Dead record shown below, at the time he was living at 7, Mounthurst Road, Bromley, Kent.

Harry John Carden CWD

(Civilian War Dead  Record)

Harry’s family were another family torn apart by war and one in the long line of families devastated by the events that took place at the old palace school in April 1941. A young couple just beginning their journey in life and robbed of a future together by the German Luftwaffe. We can never under estimate the impact of a loss like this, Harry was a husband, a son and a brother and each and every one of his family members would have felt the impact of his loss deeply. Our research has only uncovered part of Harry’s story and we hope in time that we can add a bit more to Harry’s story. A man who gave the ultimate sacrifice for his King and Country and his contribution will always be remembered here.

We couldn’t leave the story of Harry’s wife Amy, untold, so we carried out further research into what happened to Amy after Harry died and despite the reference on the 1939 register to her becoming an ‘Evans’ and finding a later death record for Amy Amelia Evans and a Will, we could find no marriage record here in the UK for an Amy A Howard or Amy A Carden to anyone with the name of Evans. Now that doesn’t mean that a marriage never took place, it just means that maybe we were looking in the wrong place or the record has been recorded incorrectly. We did however find further records of Amy’s life after harry died and if she did indeed re-marry it would have been between 1964 and 1986.

The March 1950 Postal Service Appointment Book shows an Amy A Carden nominated as a telephonist.  The place of appointment is LTR. (Source UK Postal Service Appointment Books 1737-1969) Note: LTR stands for London Telecommunications Region.

The 1964 Electoral Register shows Amy A Carden living alone at 118 Parish Lane, Penge. Note: This is the same address at which Amy was recorded with her parents and siblings in the 1921 census. It is also the address at which Amy’s mother, Amy A Howard, was living at the time of her death in 1958. (Amy and her mother were both Amy A Howard).  Perhaps ‘our’ Amy moved into the house after her mother’s death.

As mentioned above, according to the 1939 Register, Amy Amelia Carden appears to have at least changed her surname to Evans, between 1964 and writing her 1986 will, which she signed as Amy Amelia Evans. The 2002 Electoral Rolls show Amy A Evans at 19 County Gate, Barnet, Hertfordshire EN5 1EH. 

The death of Amy Amelia Evans aged 89 (born 30 March 1913) was registered in Barnet in 2Q 2002.  (Source England and Wales Deaths 1837-2007 via FindMyPast)  

So why did Amy change her name? After tracing Amy’s living decedents today, the reason she changed her name became obvious. This is one of the most moving and beautiful things that you will ever read, its truly wonderful. Amy never married her new partner out of respect for the memory of Harry, she wanted to remain a widow, so the changing of her name to her new partner’s name of Evans was the best option. What a truly beautiful tribute.

In memory of Harry and Amy and their extra special love together.


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