Memorial Tablet – I died in hell

Of all my postcards, my most treasured one is the one below.   The image on the front is a boring country scene of Wandsworth Common, South London in 1907 – nothing remotely interesting.  But it’s words mean so much to me.  The recipient of the card was a Mrs Kemp of the Royal Oak, Great Dunmow (her full name Alice Kemp nee Parnall) and the sender was her niece, Elsie (her full name Elsie Parnall Cole).  A few years ago, the husband of Alice’s great-granddaughter found the postcard on the internet and sent it to me.  Me, the great-niece of the sender, Elsie, of Wandsworth.  More than one hundred years after it was first sent, the recipient’s descendant returned it to the sender’s descendant.  And by a strange quirk of fate, I was by then living in Great Dunmow, totally unaware of my family’s previous connection to the town.  So the card has come home to Great Dunmow a hundred years after it was first sent to the town.

Cole to Kemp, Great DunmowPostmark: Wandsworth, 23 Feb 1907
D. A.
Ma heard from A.B that you had all been very queer.  Hope you are quite well by this.  Weather has been very cold & severe suppose it has been the same with you.  Ma’s eyes are emproving [sic] very slow.  G is pulling a tooth out.  With love Elsie. 

The ‘Ma’ was my great-grandmother, Louisa Cole nee Parnall, Alice’s sister and Elsie’s mother.  The ‘G’ who was pulling a tooth was my young grand-dad, George, then aged only 8 – a man I never knew as he died when I was two.

Sadly, the story of the Kemps of Great Dunmow includes the loss of two beloved sons, Harold and Gordon, killed in action during the Great War.

James Kemp, Royal Oak, Great DunmowJames Nelson Kemp (husband of Alice Kemp nee Parnall), standing outside his pub, the Royal Oak in Great Dunmow.

Gordon Kemp, Royal Oak, Great DunmowPostcard of James Nelson Kemp standing in the doorway of his pub.  His son, Gordon Parnall Kemp on the pony and trap.  Photo taken sometime between James’ arrival at the Royal Oak in c.1906 and his departure in c.1911.  The postcard identified in the local newspaper, the Dunmow Broadcast in August 1978.

Sir, The picture in the June Broadcast of Stortford Road shows the Royal Oak and the donkey & cart being driven by Gordon Kemp, the son of J N Kemp who used it for delivering. This was probably taken about 1912. My parents and myself took over the Royal Oak (Mr and Mrs W F Strutt) in 1912 and we kept the donkey for a short period. The garden in front & steps remained till 1931 when my father met with a fatal accident on corner of Rosemary Lane and my mother left. The boards across said J N Kemp supplies the public with their requirements and there was a tin mug attached to the pump near the gate into the yard. Memories of the past. Many thanks Ella M Edwards (Mrs) nee Strutt, Pippbrook Gardens, Dorking, Surrey

Gordon Parnall Kemp, born Edmonton 1887, killed in action 26 September 1917 during the Third Battle of Ypres (the Battle of Passchendaele).  Gunner of the Royal Garrison Artillery, 186th Siege Battery – from 5 September 1917 to 17 December 1917 the 186th Siege Battery was serving under 33rd Heavy Artillery Group.  From the Essex Chronicle, 19 October 1917:

Mr J N Kemp for many years a resident at Dunmow and now of Yarmouth has received the sad news that his second son, Gordon, has been killed in action in France.

Gordon Parnall Kemp, Ypres 1913Voormezeele Enclosures No.1 And No.2,
West-Vlaanderen, nr Ypres, Belgium

Memorial Tablet -by Siegfried Sassoon (1918)
Squire nagged and bullied till I went to fight,
(Under Lord Derby’s scheme). I died in hell –

(They called it Passchendaele). My wound was slight,
And I was hobbling back; and then a shell
Burst slick upon the duckboards: so I fell
Into the bottomless mud, and lost the light

At sermon-time, while Squire is in his pew,
He gives my gilded name a thoughtful stare;
For, though low down upon the list, I’m there;
“In proud and glorious memory” … that’s my due.
Two bleeding years I fought in France, for Squire:
I suffered anguish that he’s never guessed.
I came home on leave: and then went west…
What greater glory could a man desire?

Silk postcard - Royal Garrison Artillery


Harold James Parnall Kemp, born Edmonton 1885, of the British South African Police Force, killed in action German East Africa (now Zambia) 28 May 1916.  From the Essex Chronicle, 9 June 1916:

Mr J N Kemp of the Golden Lion, The Conge, Great Yarmouth for many years resident in Dunmow has received information from the British South Africa Co that his son Harold has been killed in action with the Northern Rhodesian Force.  Harold was educated at the Dunmow Church Schools.  He started in life with the late Mr F J Snelland at his death continued with Mr Gifford, under whose instructions he became very proficient and acting on Mr Gifford’s advice obtained a situation in the Council offices at Sidcup where his instructions stood him in good steed.  From there he joined the R.S.A. Police and became the manager of the Police Review.  When he had served his time he obtained a good situation with Messrs. Arnold and Co of Salisbury and London.  On the outbreak of the war he volunteered for active service and now, alas, his end.  He was a member of the Dunmow church choir from his school days up to the time of his leaving Dunmow and he will be remembered as singing solo in the old church the Sunday before his departure for South Africa.

From ‘Frontier Patrols – A history of the British South Africa Police and other Rhodesian Forces‘ by Colonel Colin Harding C.M.G., D.S.O. 1938

‘In the general advance of 23rd May, 1916, the Nyasa-Rhodisia Field Force were detained to undertake the three following operations: viz., Colonel  Hawthorn was deputed to attack Ipiana, Colonel Rodger, Mwembe, and Colonel Murray was entrusted with the attack of Namema, 26 miles north-east of Abercon. …none of these operations met with any notable success, for the Ipiana garrison retired without presenting any opposition, the Mwembe garrison opposed our advance for two days and then escaped, and the Namema investment after the duration of a week was rendered futile by the flight of the garrison. On the morning of May 26th, 1916, the time and date selected for an attack on Namema by the Rhodesians, whilst A and B Forces had carried out their instructions, C Force had lost direction and failed to reach its allotted position till the following day. Then rather late in the operation it was discovered that Namema was held by a considerable enemy force and situated in such an invulnerable position that to attack with the present force would have been suicidal; consequently tactical positions were established with the idea of completing the investment of the enemy.

It is with much regret I record that this abortive operation cost us the lives of Corporal Hoal and Privates Kemp, Steele and Short; whilst the Germans lost their commander, who was captured and subsequently died of wounds he received during the engagement. It was on the 3rd of June that the enemy succeeded in breaking through our lines, and, making their escape northwards, were without avail hotly pursued by our troops.’

BDV - British South African Police Force

Kemp brothers, Great Dunmow War MemorialGreat Dunmow’s War Memorial with the names of the Kemp brothers

Their Name Liveth For Evermore


You may be interested in the following post:
The Cole family of Spitalfields Market (Louisa Cole (nee Parnall) story).
– Memorial Tablet – I died of starvation
– Memorial Tablet – I died of wounds
– The Willett family of Great Dunmow
– Postcard from the Front – To my dear wife and sonny
– War and Remembrance – The Making of a War Memorial
– Great Dunmow’s Roll of Honour

You may also be interested in the following websites:
Royal Oak, Great Dunmow
White Horse, Great Dunmow
Great Dunmow’s War Memorial – my original research, including more photographs and transcriptions of primary sources held in Essex Record Office on Great Dunmow’s War Memorial.

© Essex Voices Past 2012-2013.

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