E. Jean Coe

Who was Jean Coe? Those of you who will have stood around the War Memorial each November, will have heard her name read out. Here is the story of who was Jean Coe. 

Edna Jean Coe, universally known as Jean, was the older of the two daughters of Edward and Mildred Coe. She was born on January 18th 1925 in Denton House, Wivenhoe, where the family lived until moving to Manor Road in 1928. She attended the Wivenhoe Primary School in Phillip Road until the age of 11.

Jean was a very tall, fair-haired girl who was caring and domesticated rather than sporty. She had become an enthusiastic member of the St John Ambulance Cadets, which led to her decision to become a nurse. Therefore after taking her School Certificate at Colchester High School for Girls, she stayed on and began a domestic science course. Her intention then was to carry on until becoming eligible to enrol for nursing training at the age of 18. 

However, when Jean was 17, the school was visited by recruiting officers from the Chemical Inspection of the Department of the Ministry of Supply (now under the Ministry of Defence). All chemical goods supplied to the Ministry had to be quality tested before being accepted. The officers were seeking suitable candidates for the necessary laboratory work. Jean agreed to join this group. Following a short, intense crash course to learn the relevant chemical (inorganic) knowledge, she was assigned to the laboratories at the Royal Ordnance Factory at Stone in Staffordshire. 

Each day 3 people were required to go to the various explosives magazines to collect samples of the previous day’s production for analysis in the labs. On 3rd April 1943 Jean was one of the 3 allocated this task. Tragically on that day one of the batches was faulty and the whole magazine blew up. Jean was critically injured and died about 3 hours later. Her two colleagues were less seriously injured. 

The Wivenhoe Parish Council of that time decided that, although Jean was a civilian and not a member of the armed forces, her name should be inscribed on the War Memorial. 

Before leaving school, Jean had helped in the British Legion canteen 2 or 3 evenings per week. Here refreshments, mainly tea (at 1p per cup) were served to members of the armed forces, for the most part army personnel stationed at Wivenhoe Park. Here she had become quite friendly with Bert, a member of the Tank Regiment. He said later how difficult he found it to accept that he had come unscathed though the Desert Campaign but that Jean, a civilian, should be killed in England on a civilian job. 

Barbara Paterson (Jean’s sister)   


      Photo: Jean with younger sister Barbara Coe, later Barbara Paterson

Click here to see the War Memorial and the names inscribed on it