Frank Henry Wheeler EM

b. 26/07/1891 Bermondsey, Surrey. d. 16/07/1969 Colchester, Essex.

DATE OF EM ACTION: 20/11/1942 Great Oakley Munitions Factory, Essex.

Frank Henry was born on 26th July 1891 in Bermondsey, Surrey, the only son out of three children born to John Henry and Eva Rosina Wheeler (nee Stratford). His father was a stock broker’s clerk, and sadly his mother died when he was seven. They then lived with his uncle and Frank studied hard and by the time of the 1911 Census he had qualified as an analytical chemist. On 8th June 1916, Frank married Nellie Doris Brown at All Saints Church, Dovercourt, Essex. Little else is known about his life other than his involvement at the explosion at the Great Oakley Munitions Factory in November 1942. Frank died in Colchester on 16th July 1969, aged 77, and he was buried at All Saints, Dovercourt.



On  the   20th  November,  1942,  a  violent  explosion occurred   in   a   building   in  which   explosives   were being  mixed,  and  resulted   in  the  immediate  death of  the  two  occupants  of  the  building,  the  complete destruction   of  the  building  itself,  and   considerable damage  to  adjacent  structures.    In  one  of  these,  a Nitrating   House,  a   charge  of  1,800  Ibs.   of   nitro-glycerine  was  in  the   pre-wash  tank,   and   another nitration  was  about   half  completed.    Although  the building  became  filled  with  fumes  and   steam,   the operator,   Mr.   Wheeler,    and    his   assistant,   Mr.Sallows,  remained  at   their   posts  and  took  prompt steps   to  control   the   nitration   and  render  the  explosion   harmless.     They   were   assisted  in  this  by  Dr Baldwin,   the   Assistant    Works   Manager,  whoarrived  on  the  scene shortly  after  the  explosion.    He noticed  that  about  three  square  feet  of  wood  above the  pre-wash  tank   were  smouldering  vigorously  and throwing  off sparks.   With  Mr.  Wheeler’s  assistance he  extinguished  this  very  dangerous  outbreak.     The danger  which  these  three  men  averted  was  a  very real   one  .since  there   is   little   doubt   that   if   the necessary   steps  had   not   been  taken,   an   explosion in  the  building  would  have  occurred  and  that  such an  explosion  occurring  a  few  minutes  after  the  firstone   when   many  workers  had   left   their   buildings and   were  in  the  neighbourhood  would  have  caused a  great  number  of  casualties.     All  three  men  could probably   have   saved   their   lives  by   running,   but they   can  have   been  under   no   illusion   as   to   the danger   they   were   in.     They   acted   promptly   and courageously,   and   without   thought   of   their   own safety  in  circumstances  of  considerable   danger.