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Thursday, 30 August 2018

Vera Derry

The Haven
Vera lived at The Haven on Village street from the late 1960s to the early 1990s. A spinster from Surrey, she originally purchased the house with her older brother George and following his death in December 1976 she lived there alone, although latterly with her little dog Terry. 

Researching Social history always throws up a few surprises and I initially began looking at Vera as I wanted to know more about her brother and his involvement in the war. Local knowledge suggested that he was shell-shocked or suffering what we now refer to as Post Traumatic Stress disorder and I wanted to know what had happened to him.

George Trevor Derry was born in 1904 so was too young to take part in World war one. In 1939 he was working as a Mechanical & Electrical Supervisor for the Air Ministry in St Athan, Wales.

"During the Second World War the station had over 14,000 personnel, and was used for training ground and air crew. It was linked to the aircraft storage and maintenance facility at RAF Llandow.
During the war a dummy airfield was built using wood and cardboard a few miles west of the original airfield and successful efforts were made to hide the proper field (supposedly led by Jasper Maskelyne). Aircraft and buildings were made of cardboard and wood and some real, but old tractors were driven around the site. The Germans attacked the dummy field a number of times and it was rebuilt each time. On 15 July 1940, four 250 kg bombs failed to explode, 2 of them near assembly sheds. It was unclear to the newly appointed bomb disposal team led by Colonel Stuart Archer GC whether they were dealing with delayed action fuses -then causing major disruptions to vital buildings and airfields or more likely booby-trapped devices. The decision was taken to move the bombs to be detonated elsewhere.[5]
The UK's Airborne Interception radar (AI) efforts were briefly housed at St Athan in late 1939 and early 1940. Prior to the war they had been located with the rest of the radar research efforts at Bawdsey Manor on the east coast, but with the opening of hostilities they were quickly moved to a tiny civilian airfield outside Perth, where they found the conditions entirely unsuited to their efforts. After a short search, St Athan was selected for the AI team while the rest of the researchers stayed in Dundee. When they too found the conditions unsuitable, both teams moved to Worth Matravers in May 1940". 
Reading this account of George's posting to St Athan it is difficult to see how he would suffer PTSD from being in a training environment, but as the records for this period are not currently available to the public it could be we are not privy to the full story. Also it is highly likely that many people whom he worked with and trained were killed during the conflict.

Back in the 1980s I was told that George spent much of his time in the garden and greenhouse at their property in Osmington - preferring to live outdoors - and the greenhouse had a collection of war memorabilia in it, which was found after he died.
Vera and George had a sister, Marjorie Dorothy who was born in July 1906.
Both sisters were never registered as having an occupation, living instead with their parents supported by their father George Thomas Derry who was a Manager for the Sutton Water board.
Evidently the social liberation from the first world war allowed both Marjorie and Vera a great deal more freedom than other generations of young women. In 1927 at the ages of 19 and 20 years they travelled independently on a steamship destined for Sierra Leone, alighting in Los Palmas, Spain. They returned to England in September of the same year and travelled again (according to immigration records)  in July 1935 this time taking their parents.
In January 1935 the sisters travelled back on a steamship originating from Argentina, which also stopped in Spain  and in 1936-37 Marjorie travelled on the Boniface Booth Steamship from Portugal with Charles Undy Lind a merchant who was resident in Portugal. The sisters travelled First Class on their travels, but it is not clear why they were travelling as frequently as they were. On her travels with Charles Lind, the couple listed their destination address as 35 Carlshalton road, Sutton Surrey (her parent's address).
By 1937 Spain was in the midst of Civil war. W.H. Auden commented,
“Our day is our loss.” The people of Spain cry out. The greatness of Spain’s early days, with its military and its city-state, are now in crisis. Life can only claim that it cannot do anything to move events; life is the simple things, such as marriage or funny stories or business voices. Spain was formed from people migrating to this jagged peninsula “nipped off from hot / Africa, soldered so crudely to inventive Europe,” a mix of African and European influences. Now people are filled with fear, and moments of tenderness and love and friendship are carried out during war".

Charles Undy Lund 1904-1955
We do not know conclusively whether Marjorie or Vera were any part of the Spanish Civil war sympathiser movement. Sadly in 1937 at the age of 30 year Marjorie died. She was buried in Sutton, Surrey on 17 April 1937.
The 1939 census shows that following her sister's death Vera took no further part in globe-trotting but was listed as carrying out unpaid domestic duties and living with her aging parents.
Vera's father George Thomas dies in 1947 and her mother Florence Derry (nee Deasey) died in 1952. She moved to Osmington in 1968.

...more data to be added.

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