Search

Nostalgia: We remember Rainham’s ‘forgotten hero’ Griffith John, who died in an explosion in 1916

PUBLISHED: 12:10 17 April 2013 | UPDATED: 14:24 17 April 2013

Griffith John

Griffith John

Archant

A forgotten war hero who died trying to save his factory co-workers is to be commemorated at last thanks to a project in Wales – and a chance clue in the Romford Recorder. Ramzy Alwakeel finds out how.

Rainham beach, near where the factory exploded in 1916 Rainham beach, near where the factory exploded in 1916

On September 14, 1916, former schoolteacher and Royal Engineer Griffith John was killed after a factory in Rainham caught fire and exploded. Griffith’s local paper the Llanelly Mercury reported that Griffith, “thinking only of others,” had run through the burning factory “to give warning to the female employees, and so he lost his life in the attempt to save the women.”

But the Mercury’s report, conscious of the need for secrecy, gave no information about where in the UK the factory had been.

Steve John and Les Nixon from the West Wales War Memorial Project had already dug up some information about Griffith’s time with the Royal Engineers during their own research.

But it wasn’t until Les caught sight of the Romford Recorder that the pieces came together.

The Llanelly Mercury's report about Griffith's death - which makes no reference to where he was killed The Llanelly Mercury's report about Griffith's death - which makes no reference to where he was killed

The Recorder ran a story in March about two Romford firefighters who received the OBE for helping save workers from a factory fire in Rainham – in September 1916.

Moments after George and Edward Holby had made it out, the factory was blown hundreds of feet into the River Thames.

Les said: “Naturally, in the middle of the war no details were given as to the whereabouts of the munitions factory.

“It wasn’t until reading the article in the Recorder that we were able to piece things together and deduce that Griffith must have been killed in the explosion at Rainham.”

Griffith John's death certificate, dug out by the West Essex War Memorial Project Griffith John's death certificate, dug out by the West Essex War Memorial Project

They sent for a death certificate to be sure – and, indeed, it was found that a 37-year-old Griffith John, born near Llanelli, south-west Wales, died at the Rainham Chemical Works that day.

Researcher Steve said Griffith had been all but forgotten for the simple reason he’d been injured and invalided from the Royal Engineers before he died.

“As a civilian munitions worker, Griffith’s selfless heroism went unrecognised,” he said. “Had he not been invalided out of the Royal Engineers weeks earlier he would have at least been commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission but, like hundreds of civilian munitions workers who sacrificed their lives in two world wars, Griffith’s bravery received no recognition.”

Griffith, a science teacher at Slough Secondary School, had enlisted in the Royal Engineers in August 1915 – but within three months he’d been sent home. Following an injury he was deemed “not likely to become an efficient soldier”.

Rather than going back to Slough, he started work at a weapons factory at Rainham Ferry. The site had been used to make soap and candles for J. C. and J. Fields, but began manufacturing a TNT substitute called Dinitrophenol when war broke out.

It is now thought the fire that killed Griffith was started by a night watchman smoking in the powder room.

Steve said Griffith’s sacrifice and bravery deserved to be known more widely.

“Through our website we try to commemorate men like Griffith who might otherwise be forgotten,” he said. “Hopefully, one day the part played by all munitions workers will be acknowledged.”

That day may be fairly soon. This week a parliamentary group announced it was hoping to raise upwards of £75,000 to commemorate wartime munitions workers.

The Parliamentary All Party Group on the Recognition of Munitions Workers, chaired by South Wales MP Huw Irranca-Davies, hopes to use the cash to build a permanent memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

In the meantime, you can visit Steve’s website at http://www.laugharnewarmemorial.co.uk/, where men like Griffith are remembered.

Thanks to Steve John and Les Nixon for the research and photos used in this feature.

Related articles

Latest Romford News Stories

Rats swarming in and out of bin bags, roaming confidently across front gardens and gnawing their way through fences – that is what residents of one Rainham street have found themselves up against.

15:02

Fans can relive the unique musical talents of George Michael in a special tribute performance.

Havering’s councillors look set to brand Sadiq Khan’s increased housing targets for the borough “unacceptable, unachieveable and unsustainable” at a meeting later this month.

09:08

Medical failings stretching back more than two decades cost the NHS trust running Queen’s Hospital millions of pounds a year.

08:13

An outspoken teenager from Romford is looking for two young people from the borough with mental health issues to take part in some mentoring sessions.

Yesterday, 17:00

A small Romford charity is celebrating their 20th anniversary with a special ball.

Yesterday, 16:30

Rail staff have shown their support for Havering Samaritans’ bid to turn “Blue Monday” into “Brew Monday”, by encouraging people to get together for a cup of tea and a chat.

Yesterday, 15:00

Havering Council cabinet members are set to discuss a proposed £30million grant from the GLA to pay for more affordable housing in the borough over the next three years.

PROMOTED CONTENT

Window and conservatory specialist Ken Rhodes talks about the possibilities for brightening up your home for the new year, and with their home improvement finance deals it’s possible for everyone to make some changes

Lisa and Jennie are cousins who grew up in the borough. Their grandmother, ‘Nanny Fish’ was a huge part of their lives, and while she had dementia and increasing needs, she really benefited from having care in her nephew’s loving home. This experience was the inspiration for Lisa and Jennie to set-up their own home care service.

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Most read news

Show Job Lists

News from your area

Competitions

Having a brand new kitchen is something that lots of people want but can only dream of. Sadly keeping up to date and making our living spaces as nice as they can be is a costly and incredibly stressful business. Even a fresh coat of paint makes all the difference but isn’t easy or quick.

Who wouldn’t love the chance to go on a shopping spree. Imagine being able to walk into a shop and choose whatever your heart desires without having to worry about how much it costs.

Digital Edition

cover

Enjoy the
Romford Recorder
e-edition today

Subscribe

Education and Training

cover

Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now