One of the stories that jumped out at me as I first scoured several years worth of the Sevenoaks Chronicle was that of Gladys Chapman, who was honoured for an act of bravery during the war.
According to a news report in the Chronicle on 31st January 1919, Gladys lived at 3, Barrack Corner, St John’s, Sevenoaks and during the war, worked at the Kings Norton Metal Factory at Abbey Wood. About 7000 workers were employed at the factory during the war, most based in temporary huts on the marshes. Cases were made in Birmingham then assembled and loaded at the Abbey Wood Factory, next to Woolwich Arsenal.
Gladys Evelyn Chapman
The article explains how Gladys was on duty when a fire broke out in the factory, caused by a spark from a machine igniting some cordite.
The outbreak spread to a stack of aerial bullets, and but for the energies of Miss Chapman might have become much more serious. Miss Chapman first filled pails with water, which were poured on the cases, which were smouldering; then when the foreman threw off the corrugated iron covering to get at the burning wood with hose pipes, she threw the sheets to one side. This done, she secured a small hose and played on the fire, although all through these operations the bullets were exploding and flying in all directions, making the undertaking at once extremely dangerous and alarming.
Gladys was rightly awarded for her bravery and attended a ceremony in Brighton, where she was presented with her medal by Lord Leconfield, Lord Lieutenant of Sussex as a ‘recognition of coolness and courage displayed by her, in face of great danger’.
Although her award was credited as the OBE, it was actually a Medal of the Order of the British Empire, which was awarded to over two thousand people from 1917 until 1922 when it became the Medal of the Order of the British Empire for Meritorious Service (usually referred to as British Empire Medal or BEM).
Gladys gave her full name as Gladys Evelyn Chapman on the reverse of the photo but I have not yet been able to discover anything about her after 1919, so please do get in touch if you know any more about her story or have a similarly heroic relative from Sevenoaks in your family tree.