Agnes Morley was born in Tollesbury on the River Blackwater in Essex in 1857. At that time it wasn’t compulsory to go to school so we don’t know if or where Agnes was educated, but in the 1871 census Agnes is listed as being a Servant, so in common with many girls of the age Agnes went into Domestic Service with a well off family.
Agnes married George Whitwell in 1879 in the Rochford district and they had their first of many children the next year, their son George in 1880. In 1881 the family lived in Barling and George Snr was a Carpenter by trade. The couple had lots of children – Alice in 1881, Charles in 1884, Amy in 1885, Frances in 1887, May in 1891, Crispin in 1897 and Ivy in 1901.
In 1891 the family lived at 9 High St, Sutton and in 1911 the Whitwell’s lived at 120 North Road, Southend-on-Sea.
Early in the Great War, the East coast of England suffered from bombing raids by German Zeppelin Airships. From Hull to London and Southend to Dover the huge grey monsters dropped bombs on English Towns with impunity during 1914 and 1915. It wasn’t until a new type of incendiary bullet was developed in May 1916 that the Royal Flying Corps started to down Zeppelins in large numbers.
Southend-on-Sea was raided particularly badly several times as the anti aircraft batteries on Canvey and Thames Gateway were able to mass their fire at Zeppelins heading for London and turn them back – back towards Southend. On the 10th May 1915, Zeppelin LZ38 was turned back from an attack on London and proceeded to drop nearly 100 incendiary bombs on Southend.
The attack happened at just before 3am and was witnessed by many people who, after hearing the first explosions, rushed out of their houses to see what was going on. George and Agnes Whitwell were asleep in their bed at 120 North Road, when an incendiary bomb from LZ38 dropped through the roof of their house and landed on their bed. Agnes was killed instantly but George was able to save himself and his (reportedly disabled) daughter Ivy by jumping out of the first floor window into the garden below – although both were hospitalised by the jump.
Agnes was buried in Sutton Road Cemetery and crowds watched the funeral procession. Shortly afterwards enraged the locals enough to attack the homes and businesses of German or Austrian association.