E. Jean Coe
Who was Jean Coe? Those of you who
will have stood around the War Memorial each November, will have heard her
name read out. Here is the story of who was Jean Coe.
Edna Jean Coe, universally known as Jean, was the
older of the two daughters of Edward and Mildred Coe. She was born on
January 18th 1925 in Denton House, Wivenhoe, where the family
lived until moving to Manor Road in 1928. She attended the Wivenhoe
Primary School in Phillip Road until the age of 11.
Jean was a very tall, fair-haired girl who was caring
and domesticated rather than sporty. She had become an enthusiastic member
of the St John Ambulance Cadets, which led to her decision to become a
nurse. Therefore after taking her School Certificate at Colchester High
School for Girls, she stayed on and began a domestic science course. Her
intention then was to carry on until becoming eligible to enrol for
nursing training at the age of 18.
However, when Jean was 17, the school was visited by
recruiting officers from the Chemical Inspection of the Department of the
Ministry of Supply (now under the Ministry of Defence). All chemical goods
supplied to the Ministry had to be quality tested before being accepted.
The officers were seeking suitable candidates for the necessary laboratory
work. Jean agreed to join this group. Following a short, intense crash
course to learn the relevant chemical (inorganic) knowledge, she was
assigned to the laboratories at the Royal Ordnance Factory at Stone in
Each day 3 people were required to go to the various
explosives magazines to collect samples of the previous dayís production
for analysis in the labs. On 3rd April 1943 Jean was one of the
3 allocated this task. Tragically on that day one of the batches was
faulty and the whole magazine blew up. Jean was critically injured and
died about 3 hours later. Her two colleagues were less seriously injured.
The Wivenhoe Parish Council of that time decided
that, although Jean was a civilian and not a member of the armed forces,
her name should be inscribed on the War Memorial.
Before leaving school, Jean had helped in the British
Legion canteen 2 or 3 evenings per week. Here refreshments, mainly tea (at
1p per cup) were served to members of the armed forces, for the most part
army personnel stationed at Wivenhoe Park. Here she had become quite
friendly with Bert, a member of the Tank Regiment. He said later how
difficult he found it to accept that he had come unscathed though the
Desert Campaign but that Jean, a civilian, should be killed in England on
a civilian job.
Barbara Paterson (Jeanís sister)
Photo: Jean with younger
sister Barbara Coe, later Barbara Paterson