Ivy for VE Day
Happy VE Day! Never can pass this day without thinking of Ivy.
Ivy Millichamp, Beloved Wife of Eric
She was born into the enormous Croughton family of Rayleigh, Essex, in 1911. She had 6 sisters and 5 brothers; three were younger than Ivy and she loved mothering them, so much so that when she left school, she went to work at the Sunshine Home for Orphans at Shoeburyness.
At 17, she got a live-in job, looking after ‘unmarried mothers and unwanted children’ at the Croydon Mission of Hope.
She loved her family, especially her sisters Maurine and Molly, and every weekend, they would go to the Saturday dance at the Streatham Palais (though she didn’t mention this to the nuns at the Mission!)
One evening at the Palais in 1935, she met 26 year old Eric Millichamp, He had a good job at a factory in St Paul’s Cray, Kent, which engineered electrical components for aircraft.
After the minimum two years’ courting, they married and, thanks to Eric’s job, they were able to rent a bungalow in Orpington, close to his work.
Of course, she wanted to start a family as soon as possible, but a year after their wedding, Britain was at War with Germany once again.
Eric was exempt due to his job at the aircraft factory from military service, but volunteered for the Home Guard nevertheless, and so Ivy didn’t see much of him.
She took up war work herself, at a munitions factory; Eric worried about her safety there.
The London Blitz began.
Their Orpington home was under the Luftwaffe’s flight path to their targets around the capital. Eric insisted while he was on night shifts that Ivy should go to the air raid shelter in Chislehurst Caves, but when he was not at work, they took their chances at home...
They didn’t so much mind dying, if it really came to it, just as long as they were together when it happened.
The War ground on, but the tide was at last turning in our favour.
In February 1945, at a little party for Ivy’s 34th birthday, she and her sisters planned how, when Victory was finally won, they would each down tools and catch the nearest bus to the West End to celebrate with everyone else.
But it was not to be.
On the afternoon of Tuesday 27th March 1945, the Germans occupying Holland were in retreat, and a mobile rocket launch unit just outside The Hague decided to fire their last two V2s before they ran away.
At 16.49, the 1115th V2 to fall on the British Isles was on its way.
That afternoon at Ivy and Eric’s bungalow in Kynaston Road, Orpington, Eric, being on nights, was fast asleep in the living room, when Ivy quietly went to make a start on his dinner in the kitchen at the back of the house.
At 16.54, the ton of explosives contained in the German missile fell directly onto Ivy; the back of the bungalow was gone.
Eric, in the front half of the building, survived, and tried desperately to find his wife in the rubble, but she too was simply gone.
And so Ivy Millichamp, beloved wife of Eric, became the last person in Britain to be killed by enemy action in WW2.
Less than a year after Ivy’s death, Eric died, aged 36, it was said, of a broken heart.
The traces of Ivy that could be recovered were buried in the old part of All Saints Church, Orpington but over time, her grave was lost, so in the 1980s, a determined effort re-located the unmarked plot and a #CWGC headstone for Ivy was erected over it.
I grew up not far from here and visit her as often as I can, since I learned her story, planting a lavender by her headstone one year.
You see, she loved children and her family, and wandering out to the kitchen to see what's for tea maybe a bit early because I'm perpetually hungry is exactly the sort of thing I do...
If I'd arrived in the world 60-odd years sooner, she could have been me.
So: Happy VE Day, Ivy... I wish you had lived to see it.
(Ivy is on the right of the photo of the three girls, with her sisters Maurine on the left and Mollie, with whom she was going to go up to town when VE Day finally came.)