Munitions disaster victims commemorated

First published on: 19th February 2024

A church service has been held to mark the 100th anniversary of an explosion at a munitions works on Slade Green Marshes in 1924, which tragically killed 12 young women and their foreman.

The service was held in St Augustine's Church, Slade Green, and was attended by relatives and friends of those who died.

Photo: Most of the young women who died were aged between 16 and 24, and are seen here alongside their fellow workers (Courtesy Kent Firefighting Museum)

Also in attendance were Bishop Jonathan Gibbs, the Bishop of Rochester, the Venerable Allie Kerr, the Archdeacon of Bromley and Bexley, the Mayor and Mayoress of the London Borough of Bexley, MP Sir David Evennett and Lady Evennett, local councillors, and members of the church and community.

The memorial was organised by Mike Smith, whose Aunt Amelia, was one of those who died in the explosion.

According to an account he has been able to compile, on the morning of the accident, the women were dismantling and emptying Verey Light cartridges, which were used during World War I by soldiers in the trenches to send signals and to light up “no man’s land” between the opposing trenches.

The work entailed opening the cartridges with a brass tool, called a digger, and emptying the explosive, which the girls called 'the powder'. This was then pushed through a little door into a separate part of the shed.

At around 8.45am a cartridge ignited, with eyewitnesses recalling seeing a flash and a loud bang. One girl, Edna Allen, survived the ensuing fire and was taken to Erith Hospital, but died the next day. 

The foreman, Edward Jones, died after trying to rescue one of the girls from the shed.

Photos: During the service, candles were lit for each victim.

In his address, Bishop Jonathan spoke about the importance of the service in allowing those present to remember those who had died and to acknowledge the pain and tragedy of what had happened.

He also said it was opportunity to look to God for comfort, hope, and direction for the future:

"Our reading from Paul's letter to the Romans brings all these themes together - acknowledging the pain of loss, the death of the innocent; but also assuring us of the nearness and compassion of God in our loss, and also of the hope that we have through Jesus Christ of resurrection, of life beyond death and of new beginnings in the aftermath of tragedy."

Photo: Bishop Jonathan (centre), with Rev Ethlyn Roy-Johnson, Assistant Curate at St Augustine's (centre-right), Rev Jim Bennett, Vicar of St Augustine's (centre-left), and two volunteer fireman wearing the same uniform the firemen of the day would have worn.

Reflecting on the occasion, the Rev Jim Bennett, vicar of St Augustine's said:

'It was a privilege for us to host this very important service and to enable relatives, friends of those who died, along with the wider community, to come together and to remember those who died.'


The names of all the victims are:

  • Alice Sweeny, 16, of St Francis Road, Erith
  • Edna Allen, 17, of Alexandra Road, Erith
  • Alice Harvey, 17, of Arthur Street, Erith
  • Alice Craddock, 18, of Arthur Street, Erith
  • Ethel Pullen, 18, of Bexley Road, Erith
  • Stella Huntley, 19, of Oxford Terrace, Erith
  • Amelia Smith (also known as Polly), 19, of Powell Street, Erith
  • Dorothy Sturtivent, 22, of Manor Road, Erith
  • Irene Turtle, 22, of West Street, Erith
  • Edith Lamb, 23, of Upper Road, Belvedere
  • Gladys Herbert, 23, of Friday Road, Erith (it had been her first day in the job)
  • Elizabeth Dalton, 24, of Lewis Road, Bexleyheath
  • Edward Jones, 29, of Dalmain Road, Forest Hill

Watch a report on BBC London (begins 17")

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