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100 years on: Tribute to 13 Bexley factory fire victims

On February 18, 1924, 12 young women and one man were killed in a fire as they dismantled devices on marshes near Slade Green, Bexley.

Now, nearly 100 years on, a man whose aunt was among the dead is trying to trace the relatives of the other victims.

Mike Smith, 66, of Brinklow Crescent, Shooters Hill, will be hosting a service at St Augustine’s Church in Slade Green on February 18 at 3pm, to remember his aunt, Amelia Smith, and the other victims.

Mr Smith said: “I became aware of the disaster when I was about 14. “My dad was 11 when It happened – he got taken out of school and told his sister had died in this fire.”

The group had been breaking open Verey light cartridges – used by soldiers in the trenches to light up no man’s land – and extracting powder, in The Slade Green Filling Factory, between Erith and Dartford on the Crayford Marshes.


On the morning of February 18 between 8.45am and 9am, as the girls were working, one of the flares exploded.

Flames spread rapidly, igniting other devices that exploded, appearing like stars among the smoke and starting a blaze that ripped through the building.

Eleven of the 18 girls were trapped by the fire.

Charlotte Coshall, the forewoman and seven of the girls managed to get out of the building, some with their clothes alight.

One eyewitness said the foreman who died had tried to lift a girl through the window but the heat and smoke were too great and he fell back.

The victims were:
Alice Craddock, 18, of Arthur Street, Erith, Dorothy Sturtivent, 22, of Manor Road, Erith, Irene Turtle, 22, of West Street, Erith, Edith Lamb, 23, of Upper Road, Belvedere, Alice Harvey, 17, of Arthur Street, Erith, Gladys Herbert, 23, of Friday Road, Erith, Alice Sweeny, 16, of St Francis Road, Erith, Stella Huntley, 19, of Oxford Terrace, Erith, Elizabeth Dalton, 24, of Lewis Road, Bexleyheath, Amelia Smith, 19, of Boundary Street, Erith, Ethel Pullen, 18, of Bexley Road, Erith, Edna Allen, 17, of Alexandra Road, Erith and Edward Jones, 29, of Dalmain Road, Dulwich. The group were buried in a mass grave.

Mike Smith 

Mr Smith said: “It’s so important that those girls and the man who was a hero are remembered.

“The youngest was 16. When you look at that picture of them all smiling it’s just so sad.

“My aunt is standing at the top – I think she has the nicest smile out of everybody.

After researching into the disaster, Mr Smith found notes from the inquest with witness statements.

He said: “It makes me feel sick to think about it, but it said my aunt had been burnt beyond recognition.

“If they had been in the trenches and died at war they would have been heroes.

“It means a lot to me that they are not forgotten and I want their relatives to know, too.”

Since the incident, memorial services were frequently held on the anniversary of the fire, but Mr Smith said they stopped in 2019 after the organiser passed away.

He said: “I thought I’d phone around the area and the reverend at St Augustine’s Church said I could host the memorial there.

“We’ve got MP’s, councillors and historians coming. And I got in contact with the Kent fire department because I had names of the firefighters who responded to the scene – so some firefighters will be coming, too.

“I’d be happy if it was just relatives but so many people want to be there – which is very nice.”

 

 

Picture: Hundreds of people gathered for the funeral of the 12 young women and one young man. Pictures: Kent Firefighting Museum, Daily Sketch/Associated Newspapers Ltd, Mike Smith

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