The Willett family of Great Dunmow

If you know the town and shops of Great Dunmow, then you will know of the newsagents, A Willett & Sons, next to The Saracens Head. Even today, the signage and frontage of the shop is old fashioned and harks back to a more distant time in Great Dunmow’s past. Many of the real photo postcards of the high ways and by-ways of Great Dunmow’s Edwardian past have the name ‘Willett Dunmow’ printed on the bottom left corner.

A Willett and Sons of Great DunmowThe Edwardian shop of A Willett and Son (on the left) – on the right, the road leads onto Market Hill and then out towards Church-end.  

During the Great War, Arthur Willett often ‘popped’ out of his shop, took a few steps to the junction of the High Street and Market Hill and took photos of soldiers marching through his town.  Below are two photos from his camera – from the serial numbers on the cards and the date of the second card, the first card would have been taken in the Summer of 1914 (note the leaves on the trees and the straw boater hats worn by some of the crowd).

Soldiers in Great DunmowI did wonder if these were the Sherwood Foresters (the Notts & Derby) who are known to have marched into Great Dunmow from Harlow in 1914.  However, from the Notts & Derby’s accounts, the Sherwood Foresters first came through Great Dunmow between  16 t0 18 November 1914 but looking at the trees and straw boater hats, this photo had to have been taken during the Summer months. Update March 2014: I am now convinced that these are the Staffordshire Yeomanry, who had, for some reason, marched from Bishop’s Stortford to Great Dunmow – see the bottom of this page for more detail.


Soldiers in Great DunmowThe soldiers playing their flutes are turning left and so are about to head down Market Hill, so were probably marching onto St Mary’s Church nearly 1 mile away.  I have not been able to trace whose funeral this is.  There is not a casualty buried in Great Dunmow’s church on the Commonwealth War Grave’s Debt of Honour who would match with the date of death of November 1914.  It could possibly be a Sherwood Forester, as they had marched into Great Dunmow 16-18 November and only left the area on 28 December 1914.  However, whoever it is, they are not on either Great Dunmow’s War Memorial or the Commonwealth War Grave’s Debt of Honour as the dates don’t match any casualty buried in St Mary’s churchyard.


1916 was a terrible year for the newsagent Arthur Willett and his wife Sarah, for they lost two sons to the Great War.  Arthur Albert Willett, aged 25, of the 6th Battalion Essex Regiment died of wounds in a military hospital on 25 February 1916, and was buried in his parish church, St Mary the Virgin, Great Dunmow.  Younger brother, Frank Willett, aged 20, of the 2nd Battalion Essex Regiment was killed in action on the Western Front and died on 23 October 1916.  Frank has has no known grave and so is commemorated on the vast and overwhelming Thiepval Memorial.

Both brothers are commemorated on Great Dunmow’s War Memorial – their inscriptions on the memorial facing down the High Street and towards their father’s shop.

Arthur Albert Willett - Great Dunmow

Willett brothers - Great DunmowGreat Dunmow’s War Memorial with the names of the Willett brothers

Their Name Liveth For Evermore

You may also be interested in
– Memorial Tablet – I died in hell
– 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

Updates to this story
Update November 2013: There is an update to the story of Military Funeral postcard here: – War and Remembrance: Military Funeral 1914

Update December 2013: There is another update to the Military Funeral postcard here  1914 Military Funeral – a follow-up

Update March 2014: The 2nd postcard down (Willett’s number 830) has been the subject of much debate between myself and another local historian as to which regiment this was.  I am of the firm believe that it is not the Notts & Derby (the Sherwood Foresters) who arrived in Great Dunmow later on in 1914 (I have a postcard of them parading in the Market in November 1914).  A copy of Willett’s #830 postcard exists with the postmark of August 1914.  That well known auction site a few years ago had a Willett postcard showing troops in Great Dunmow, with the postcard labelled by Willett as being the “Staffs. Yeomanry in Dunmow, Aug 31st, 1914”.  The Staffordshire Yeomanry spent 1914 billeted in Bishop’s Stortford.  I have another postcard from a soldier billeted in Bishop’s Stortford in 1915, possibly a soldier of the Staffordshire Yeomanry (he was writing home to his folks in Staffordshire) about his duties whilst he was billeted in Stortford.  Is my mystery card of soldiers marching through Great Dunmow, the Staffs Yeomanry?  They are certainly coming from the direction of Bishop’s Stortford and are marching in the direction of Church End.  If so, what were the Staffs Yeomanry doing in Great Dunmow when they should have been in Bishop’s Stortford?


© Essex Voices Past 2012-2013.

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3 Responses to The Willett family of Great Dunmow

  1. Megan White says:

    My Mum and I were fascinated to read this article and see these images, and I just had to leave a comment, we have recently been working through an archive of photographs left by my Grandmother, many of which have ‘Willett, Dunmow’ across the corner, or are known to be of the Willett family, as Arthur Willett is actually my Great Great Grandfather (My mother, Carolyn, is the daughter of Arthur’s daughter Marjorie’s daughter Ann). I was really not expecting there to be a whole piece dedicated to the Willett family!

    • kate koppana says:

      This is really interesting. Carolyn suggested I looked up Arthur Willett, I am glad I did. He really did a good job recording what was going on when he `popped` out of the shop.

  2. the narrator says:

    Thanks for your comments. There’s plenty more on my blog of Arthur’s images. He was a prolific photographer of Great Dunmow and all the surrounding villages. A lot of what is known about Great Dunmow during these years come from his camera.

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