Paralysis couldn’t stop Romford woman’s war effort

Phyllis Woodham - taken in 1942

Phyllis Woodham - taken in 1942 - Credit: Archant

“While there are people like you there will always be an England.”

letter to Phyllis Woodham

letter to Phyllis Woodham - Credit: Archant

These were the words written about Romford resident Phyllis Woodham after she was paralysed by shrapnel as she battled to extinguish flames during a German attack on Romford, during the Second World War.

Phyllis, who died aged 99 last week, came to Romford with her mother and two sisters during the First World War.

When the Second World War broke out Phyllis was evacuated to Herstmonceux Castle, Sussex, with her employer The Hearts of Oak Benefit Society.

While staying at the castle she supported the war effort by joining the Auxiliary Fire Service.


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On March 15 1941 Phyllis was visiting her family in Romford when the Germans launched an explosive incendiary attack setting fire to vehicles in Carlisle Road. As she helped to extinguish the flames a piece of shrapnel struck her and became lodged in her neck.

Phyllis’ friend, Sandra Killion, told the Recorder she was left paralysed down her right hand side and had to spend six months in hospital.

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A letter sent to her by the Romford Supplementary Fire Party read: “It was most courageous of you to do what you did to frustrate the plans of the enemy.”

Thanks to the dedication of medical staff she eventually regained the use of her leg and partial use of her arm.

Phyllis’ injuries were too severe for her to rejoin the fire service but her war effort was not over.

She joined the Castle Platoon Home Guard, attending lessons in map reading, intelligence and rifle shooting – it was later decided it would be safer for all if she remained unarmed.

Phyllis lived in Havering for the rest of her life and was the longest serving member of Romford’s Conservative Association.

Sandra, 63, of Hornchurch, said: “She was a tremendous lady who did not have an easy life but always helped others and supported various charities throughout her life with a smile.”

Her funeral will be held at South Essex Crematorium, Ockendon Road, Upminster at 1.20pm on December 4.

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