- Contributed by
- Dunstable Town Centre
- People in story:
- Eileen Beryl Morden
- Background to story:
- Civilian Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 20 April 2005
Eileen Beryl Morden - entered France in early March 1940 and carried a visa from the French Ministry of Armaments. In order to carry out her duties alongside the Earl, she was granted an identity card that stated that she was attached to The Scientific and Technological Research Service.
This story was submitted to the People's War site by the Dunstable At War Team on behalf of the author and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
Eileen Beryl Morden was connected to Dunstable by the fact that her mother, sister and her brother’s family all lived in this town. She was employed by the Ministry of Supply as secretary and personal assistant to Charles Henry George Howard, Earl of Suffolk and Berkshire, a qualified scientist who was the Chief Field Research and Experimental Officer in the Directorate of Scientific Research of that Ministry.
Documents and newspaper cuttings from that period show that the Earl and Miss Morden were involved with the scientific elite in France and were responsible for some of them leaving that country to continue their work in the U.K. The newspaper cuttings state that they were also involved in procuring a supply of a rare and valuable chemical, available only from Norway and bringing it out via Paris for use in the U.K. This was presumably “Heavy Water”, that was essential for “Atomic Research”. The Earl is stated to have seized that supply and a great many diamonds; he then commandeered a lorry to get them to Bordeaux. This was happening at the time of Dunkirk and the relentless advance of the Germans. Miss Morden’s passport shows that she got back to the U.K. and landed at Falmouth on the 21st June 1940.
Following their return from France, the Earl became involved in dealing with unexploded bombs during the “blitz”. He led one of the earliest bomb disposal teams and was responsible for learning the secrets of the German fuses and developing methods of making them safe. During this time, Miss Morden was at his side taking shorthand notes of his dictation as he worked on the bombs. These notes became the basis of instructions to others involved in bomb disposal. Their work continued into 1941 and on the 13th May they were called to deal with a bomb on Erith Marshes in Kent.
According to a letter in 1962 to the Daily Mirror “Old Codgers”, a Mr.K, who was the Highways Superintendent of that area in 1941 states, “I reported to him (the Earl) that all road signs had been placed and the roads roped off. I left him working on the bomb and had walked only a hundred yards when the bomb exploded. It blew my hat off”.
The explosion instantly killed the Earl, his secretary (Miss Morden), their driver/assistant (Mr Frederick Hands) and five soldiers who were there to assist in moving the bomb. The “Daily Mirror” article states that according to Sir Winston Churchill’s “The Second World War”, that was the Earl’s thirty-fifth operation against unexploded bombs. It concludes with the statement that the Earl’s pioneer work on bomb disposal techniques was recognised by the posthumous award of the George Cross. This award appeared in the “Supplement to the London Gazette” published on Friday 18th July 1941. In the same supplement, both Eileen Beryl Morden and Frederick William Hands were given the King’s Commendation for brave conduct in Civil Defence.
The exact nature of the fuse which killed the Earl and Miss Morden is not given in any of the documents to hand, however, it is known that a number of experienced bomb disposal crews lost their lives around that time due to the introduction of what became known as the “/Y” fuse. Externally this fuse looked like and behaved like the standard fuse, it had the same number except for the addition of the /Y suffix.
The normal German fuse was electrically operated and “charged” at the moment of release from the aircraft. After a short delay, a trembler switch was activated and this would detonate the bomb as it struck the ground. Occasionally, a longer delay was included so the bomb did not explode on contact but would do so if the fuse were moved suddenly when attempting to remove it. This was countered by discharging the fuse with a short-circuiting plug before removal. The “/Y” fuse behaved exactly like the normal one when tested but it had an additional circuit that was isolated after activation. This circuit contained “mercury tilt switches” which would detonate the bomb if the fuse were turned, even slowly. This was a “Booby Trap” designed to kill bomb disposal personnel.
It was eventually countered when a fuse with a faulty connection was recovered and analysed by experts. They realised that by making a cup of “Plasticine” around the fuse and filling it with “liquid air”, the mercury would freeze and the fuse would be rendered safe enough to remove for a few minutes.
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