Stories

The women of Port Sunlight War Memorial

by Donna Pearson, genealogist

Having stood in awe reading the names of over five hundred men from Lever Brothers’ soap factory who lost their lives in World War I, and then reading the hundred plus men who gave their lives in World War II, did you notice the eleven women named in full?

Only those connected with the soap factory, which by the start of World War II was operated by Unilever, could be added to the War Memorial.

So, who were these women? What was their connection with the factory? Had they left their jobs to help with the war effort in some other way? Were they nurses or ambulance drivers, for example? 

Well, no – all these women were civilian casualties of the War, dying in the Blitz attacks during the early 1940s in and around the port of Liverpool. Their names are:

Mary A Jones; Ann D Woodward; Florence Williamson; Doreen Smart; Lily Parker; Olive M Ellis; Muriel Jennings; Beryl J Sennett; Florence McGrath; Mary C Harrison & Florence R Robins.

Photograph ©Donna Pearson
Photograph ©Donna Pearson
Photograph ©Donna Pearson
Photograph ©Donna Pearson
Photograph ©Donna Pearson

It was possible to search the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) website and find a certificate for each of the women.  The certificate detailed the name and age of the casualty, the home address, and next of kin as well as the place and date of death.

Let’s look at the life and death of one of the women, Mary Alice Jones, who died on 17 October 1940.  Her CWGC certificate read:

In Memory of Civilian Mary Alice Jones. Civilian War Dead who died on 17 October 1940 aged 41, of Pool Bank, Port Sunlight. Daughter of John James and Alice Jones. Died at 33 Pool Bank. Remembered with Honour.

Mary not only worked in the soap factory, but also lived in the village at 33 Pool Bank with her parents, John, and Alice Jones. The family had lived in the village from at least 1901, when they completed the 1901 census.  In fact, her father John worked for Lever Brothers, firstly as a dock worker, then as a store & wagon keeper.

By the time of the 1921 census, Mary was working for Lever Brothers, along with her father and younger sister Louise, as a clerk in the planning department.

By the start of the war, Mary had moved departments, and was working as a statistical clerk for the soap and glycerine department. John had recently retired after fifty years of working for Lever Brothers

On the night of Thursday 17 October, Mary and her parents, John and Alice were all killed when a bomb landed on their home in the village.Mary and John (alongside all the World War II names) were both added to the War Memorial in 1947, in a service which included Mary’s brother, Ernest. Alice, however, was not added as she didn’t work in the factory. She is not remembered anywhere.

Port Sunlight News ©PSVT Archives

All of these women have similar stories; Florence Williamson and Desiree Woodward were killed when a bomb hit the Ritz Cinema in December 1940. Muriel Jennings and her whole family, except for one brother who had been sent to safety in Wales, died when a bomb fell on Well Lane in Rock Ferry, March 1941. She is remembered on the War Memorial alongside her brother Herbert.

Using census records and the Port Sunlight News, the village magazine, it was possible to find out what each of the eleven women did as a job in the factory, and to be able to tell their stories. Their roles in the factory are listed below.

NameOccupation at death
Mary Alice JONESStatistical Clerk, Accounts Department
Desiree Ann WOODWARDTin Box Department
Florence WILLIAMSONTin Box Department
Doreen SMARTShorthand Typist, Service Department
Lily PARKERShorthand Typist, Home Sales Department
Olive May ELLISFancy Card box Department
Muriel JENNINGSPrinting Machinist, Tin Box Department
Beryl Jean SENNETTSoap Wrapper, Toilet Preparations/Card Box Department
Florence McGRATHShorthand Writer, Hardening Plant
Mary Carr HARRISONM. O. Stage
Florence Ruby ROBINSSoap Packer, Tin Box Department

A fuller version of the research can be found by contacting Donna via email [email protected]

The research did not include trying to locate living relatives of the women, but if anyone has information about what happened to the remaining family members and would like to share it, please contact Donna.