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Killed – Answering the Call of Duty…

Towards the right of the ancient path leading up to our church of St. Margarets, you will find a grave and headstone dedicated

In Loving Memory of Mabel Ossenton.
Killed Answering the Call of Duty
at the Outbreak of War, 3rd September 1939.
” While the light lasts we will remember.”

‘Killed on way to Duty’ was also a sub headline of the story in the Chatham and Rochester News, in early September 1939, overshadowed by the main headline story, the Declaration of the 2nd. World war.

Mabel Ossenton, aged 52, died on her Wedding Anniversary, on the 3rd September, 1939, some 20 minutes or so after the 11 am broadcast of Nevil Chamberlain, declaring the 2nd World War. She may well have been our countries first casualty resulting from a call to duty, following the declaration of that terrible war. Ironic perhaps that this casualty should be a woman, in a civilian defence capacity, of our small village of High Halstow and also probably the first fatal victim of the Four Wents cross road- the junction of Bells Lane and Ratcliffe Highway (the A228).

In the Summer of 1939, war was in the air, and civilian and military defence had been organised around our village and area. Civilian casualties from German air attack were anticipated and children from the Medway towns had already been evacuated. Mabel Ossenton, the wife of farmer Frank Ossenton, of Wybournes Farm, answered her call to duty by volunteering as an ambulance driver for the A.R.P. in a post established at Hoo. Her family were well versed to ‘duty’, her dad David Harryman had been the village wheelwright, decorator and undertaker, at the old tythe barn (St. Margarets Court), and her brother, Lieutenant Sydney Harryman had died leading his troops ‘over the top’ in Flanders bloody fields during the 1914-1918 war.
Mabel Ossenton was a good, much respected lady, a practising Christian who joined loud and joyfully in the hymns sang at St Margarets Church. That fateful 3rd September, 1939, was a Sunday and George Jewell then a young choirboy recalls Mrs Anne Manning, a lady of Dutch extraction, who lived next to St Margarets, interrupting the service and, white faced and shaking, whispering the news to the Rector ‘Tommy’ Longfield that War had finally been declared. Grace Milner remembers being told by her dad George Billing, who worked for Arthur Plewis, the successor to David Harryman, how after the radio announcement the villagers came out from their homes and Church, and, including Mabel Ossenton, drifted towards the Red Dog where they anxiously congregated in ‘The Street’.

Almost within the 10 minutes following the radio broadcast an air raid warning sounded, following the report of an unidentified aircraft approaching the Kent coast. Eight minutes was then the estimated preparation time for Medway, between an air raid alert and possible attack and Mabel Ossenton, responding to her orders and duty, tried to reach her ambulance post in Hoo. She was being driven there by same Mrs Manning when at the Four Went cross they were in a head-on collision with another speeding car. Mabel Ossenton was killed outright, Mrs Manning slightly injured whilst the other driver involved, Mrs Eileen McCarthy, the eldest daughter of Bill Baskin, the feared Head master of High Halstow village school, together with her passenger, an army officer who was hurrying to his artillery battery, received more serious injuries. There was a large funeral service, conducted by the same Rev. Tommy Longfield, whose own son was later killed during the war, with a massive attendance from the village.

Amongst her other social activities, e.g., member of the High Halstow Tennis Club – does it still exist? and village organisations, Mabel Ossenton was the High Halstow representative of the Friends of St Bartholomew’s Hospital, the patients of which received the many gifts of fruit and produce from the Harvest Festivals. She also organised the annual traditional gift for the poorest family in the village, which was a large well crafted loaf of bread shaped in fine detail like an ear of corn, baked by Messrs. Luckhurst, the bakers in Cliffe. This tradition which probably stopped when there were no more poor in the village!!. could have been a hang over from Mediaeval times when, as a ‘Church Light’, Richard Whitebrede of High Halstow is recorded as donating annual loaves of ‘brede’ to the poor of St. Margarets. Perhaps our own Margaret Whitebread, of Wybournes Lane, should start baking!

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