a long life – lived well – loved by many….

 "I’d like to say a few words about my dearest grandmother, Doris Mildred Messinger.  Grandma’s memory was crystal clear right up until her last conscious moments, and so much of this is known to you all, but hopefully it will serve as a worthy brief testament of her life’s events.

 Doris was born on 18 March 1918.  To put this in perspective – this was a day which was notable in the northern hemisphere for being three days before the last German offensive of the First World War, and in the southern hemisphere for being exactly three months before the birth of Nelson Mandela.  In her final spell in hospital, when Doctors asked for her date of birth (as a means of ensuring she was fully coherent) Doris would respond “the 18th of March 1918, that’s eighteen, not eighty!”.

Doris as a baby, with Violet Gould, who celebrated her 100th Birthday on 2nd April 2005

 Doris was the eldest daughter of John George Padfield and Laura Annie Padfield, who resided at Little Tawney Hall Farm, just up the road here at Stapleford Tawney.  John George (also known as Jack to his many farming friends) and Laura Phelps were married in April 1916. Both hailed from long established dairy-farming families in the Mendip Hills and on the Somerset Levels – families that were proud to trace their farming ancestry back to the early 18th century, and probably before. In 1894, Doris’s paternal grandfather, Hamilton Padfield, had hired a train from Bridgewater in Somerset to Buckhurst Hill in Essex in order to transport his family, animals and implements to a farm that was in easy reach of London - where a pint of milk on a doorstep before breakfast, could provide a good livelihood for a hard-working Somersetshire dairy farmer. 

Laura and John Padfield, Little Tawney Hall Farm, Stapleford Tawney, Essex

 Doris was joined by her young brother, Ralph Padfield, on the 15th July 1920 and the two spent their childhood here in Stapleford Tawney, attending school at the little village schoolhouse next to this church. 

Ralph Padfield, 1940

Farming was a big part of Doris’s life and she was also a keen and brave horse rider, demonstrating a love of the outdoors and nature that was an important and fundamental part of her life.  She liked to say that farming was the only thing she hadn’t had to learn: she had been born into it.  Even in hospital one of my last chats with her was how much she loved the English countryside, and in later years she was happiest during Spring and Summer when she could be out in her garden all day long – often answering the door with bits of leaf and twig in her hair.


Doris Padfield, at Stapleford Tawney , Essex

Back to the 1930s, and as a teenager Doris attended Writtle Agricultural College in Chelmsford.  There, when being told to kill malformed day-old chicks, Doris refused.  When she was rebuked and told that she would never be a poultry farmer’s wife, Doris exclaimed, “I’m only here for the dairy stuff – butter and cheese-making!”.

 The idyll of Essex farming life was soon to be completely overturned by the horrors of World War Two, which started just five months after Doris’s 21st birthday. I am sure that everyone here will agree that Doris’s memories of this period were particularly vivid.  During the War Doris’s first task was to distribute gas masks to farms, houses and cottages between Stapleford Tawney and Ongar. As an ARP or Air Raid Precautions Warden, one of her duties was to patrol the lanes at night, making sure that no lights could be spotted by German aircraft. Due to its location to the North of London, Stapleford Tawney was on the route taken by German bombers as they headed home, and therefore a dumping ground for bombs that had not been dropped on London.  During the course of the War a large number of bombs were jettisoned over the Essex countryside, with some even landing on the farm.

There were RAF fighter aerodromes at Stapleford Tawney and North Weald, and these were frequent targets for the German bombers.  Doris never forgot the sight of two Spitfires colliding shortly after taking off from Stapleford Tawney, bursting into flames and crashing to the ground. The pilots were young Polish men, and Doris’ heart went out to them – they had escaped Poland, only to lose their lives in the skies over England. 

Ambulance driver Doris, in 1940

 During World War Two the East End Maternity Hospital (which was situated on London’s Commercial Road) was evacuated to the relative safety of Hill Hall, a country house located a few miles from here.  When Doris heard this news, she immediately contacted the Matron and asked if there was anything she could do to help. “Have you got a white dress and black stockings?” was the Matron’s response. Doris had both, and soon started work at Hill Hall, helping with the mothers and babies. As a farmer’s daughter, her driving skills were soon put to good purpose, driving an ambulance and evacuating patients from the East End Maternity Hospital after the building was damaged by incendiary bombs during an air raid in September 1940.


John Padfield on the binder with daughter Doris driving the tractor in 1940

Doris was a highly proficient driver, from driving the tractors on the family farm to ambulance driving and later speeding along the Essex lanes in her beloved black classic Austin Allegro. Doris drove for over 67 years without mishap.  She did however incur the odd scandalous speeding ticket which she tried her best to keep a secret from the family!  Doris was also a skilled car mechanic – hence she had a second Austin Allegro stored in her shed for spare parts.  Doris used to say that she had to drive the Allegro as “no one will recognise me otherwise” and how it knew its own way to Stapleford Tawney.


The War had seen the arrival of a searchlight battery at the farm, big bright lights designed to search out and hunt down German bombers.  It was operated by handsome young men eager to chat up the farmer’s daughter.  However, whilst Doris had some fun memories of this, she was not at all interested.  Doris’ heart had already been won by a sailor.  One afternoon, when Doris was driving home with her father after a visit to Romford Market, they gave a lift to a young man in naval uniform, weighed down by a heavy kit bag. His name was William Ernest Messinger and his parents and siblings lived in the cottages, just up the lane from this Church.  Doris used to see Will's younger siblings quite a lot before they started "courting" and she couldn't understand why sometimes they'd run away when they saw her.  Later, when she and Will became engaged the children said to her "oh no, now we won't get any more money" and Doris found out that Will used to pay them to run and tell him when she was walking down the lane - so he could casually appear, raise his hat and say "Good morning Miss Padfield, may I walk with you?".

HMS Ark Royal of 'Force H, Malta Convoys

 Doris and Will were married in July 1942, when Doris was 24 years old, here at St Marys Church.  Their wedding banns were called no less than four times, but with Will away at sea during the War it proved difficult, even for Doris, to pin him down!  Will was serving in the Royal Navy, in the thick of it, on the staff of Admiral Sir James Somerville, aboard the  Force ‘H’ flagships, HMS Nelson, Renown and Ark Royal.

Wedding Day - July 1942


Lieutenant William Messinger RN

One of Doris’ famous stories is the birth of her eldest son, my father, Nicholas Richard on the 21st of September 1943.  On this date Will was in the Mediterranean, now a Lieutenant onboard the command ship HMS Hilary and involved in an invasion at Salerno, Italy.  The news of his son’s arrival took several days to reach Will through the Navy’s signals traffic.  The wires were, quite literally, crossed.  On hearing he had a son, Will selected Nicholas as the name of his first born.  However, this instruction reached Doris quite some time after she’d already named the little boy Richard. As she was being prepared for her anaesthetic at the Royal London Hospital, she told the medical team, ‘His father didn’t see him until he was six months old!’.

Doris and Nicholas Richard, born 21 September 1943

 On the 1st of March 1945, a German V-One ‘Doodlebug’ flying bomb narrowly missed Little Tawney Hall Farm. Launched from occupied France, they were terrifying weapons - as when their engines cut out, they fell to earth in a shallow dive. Doris heard its engine cut out and grabbing young Nicholas Richard, she dived under the dining room table, clutching the toddler in her arms. She was later to relate that he was never quite the same again! The flying bomb clipped a tree and exploded just down the lane, killing a number of farm animals.


85 Queens Road c 1965

World War Two ended on the 8th of May 1945, when Doris was 27, and on the 30th of October, a new baby arrived – Phillip Anthony, born at Epping. Then, on the 4th February 1949, Robert Paul arrived, born at Woodford. The family was now complete and residing at 85 Queens Road in Buckhurst Hill, which was to be the family home for the rest of Doris’ life.  Will was now a Lieutenant Commander, based at Chatham in Kent, commuting weekly in his first motor car – a Morris Eight – Series E.  Doris visited Chatham in her later years, and as part of her visit strutted down the quarter-mile long ropewalk at Chatham Dockyard and back, in her straight skirt and high heels, scoffing at the idea that it might tire her - "I'd rather wear away than rust away!" she exclaimed. 

Nicholas Richard, Phillip and Robert

 On the 26th June 1950, when Doris was 32, the family idyll was broken when Doris’s mother, Laura-Annie Padfield died suddenly following a massive stroke. She was only 60 years of age and Doris was devastated by her untimely death - a loss that remained an extremely sad memory for the rest of her life.  Doris would always make sure that primroses were growing on her mother’s grave – her mother’s favourite flower.

 Doris’ bereavement was further compounded when Will was posted overseas, to Norway, as a Commander on the staff of the newly formed Allied Forces Northern Europe NATO Headquarters at Kolsas, just outside Oslo.  Will went ahead and found lodgings for Doris and her boys in a cottage on the island of Nesoya, in the Oslo Fjord.


MS Bretagne in the Oslo Fjiord

Doris’ father, John George, and his new housekeeper, Miss Holder, bade them a tearful farewell from the dockside at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. The family crossed the North Sea to Oslo aboard a tiny, three-thousand tonne Fred Olsen ship.  It was an unwelcome introduction to shipboard life – everyone, apart from baby Robert, was seasick and the ship’s kindly stewardesses provided a constant supply of sick bags! Will was waiting to welcome his family on the quayside at Oslo – with his brand new motor car – a Vauxhall Wyvern – complete with its Union Jack flag. On the drive out to Nesoya, Doris was touched by the friendliness of the Norwegians, who waved happily as their ‘liberators’ drove by! Unloading the bags and boys at their new home, Will announced he was off – back to work at NATO HQ Kolsas, which was buried deep inside a mountain!

Nesøya, Norway

Needless to say, Doris coped brilliantly – miles from home and away from her beloved dad for the very first time, she bravely contended with two boys, hell-bent on dangerous pursuits.  These included activities such as almost drowning themselves in the icy waters of the Fjord or, on one occasion, falling off a nearby precipice, which they had decided to climb roped together with electric flex, and with little Robert bringing up the rear. Fortunately they were spotted by the local postman, and safely helped down again.

 The family spent two years in Norway, and then they came home again, back to Buckhurst Hill and the normality of suburban life.  Will was now working at the Admiralty, in London – a Whitehall warrior, resplendent in bowler hat and neatly furled umbrella. The older boys were enrolled at Loughton School and Robert at Daiglen.

 Doris was very proud of her three boys and when the older ones left home for secondary school aboard the training ship, Worcester, Doris purchased a Morris Minor and began a highly efficient taxi service.  This was despite condemnations by Will - who did not really agree with women drivers!  As if three boisterous boys were not enough, Doris also adopted another three – foreign cadets from the Worcester - Waggie and Otto from Malaysia, and Neven from Zimbabwe.  She became a substitute mother to these boys, particularly enjoying when they called her “mum” in public, which raised a few eyebrows.  We received a tribute from Waggie’s widow after Doris died, which mentioned how Waggie used to speak often of Doris proudly as his great-guardian or mum.


Phillip, Robert, Neven and Waggie, 1963

When Nick and Phillip joined the P&O line, Doris would drop them off at Tilbury or the Royal Docks, and pick them up again at the end of their voyages – smiling at the ships’ Indian Crews when they called her ‘Memsahib’ as the gangways were lowered and she was welcomed aboard.

 n 1972, Doris and Will sailed on a Mediterranean cruise on board the P&O liner SS Chusan, where Nick was serving as First Officer. Doris had a wonderful time, dancing to the ship’s band, enjoying first class dining, and visiting fascinating ports of call. All her memories of crossing the North Sea to Norway were long forgotten aboard the stabilised luxury of a P&O steamer!

 The late 1970s and 1980s brought a gang of seven grandchildren to 85 Queens Road.  My cousins will all agree that Grandma’s Sunday lunches spent round the family table in the dining room were a fantastic feast, particularly at the end when they were topped off by rice pudding and a mountain of squirty cream.

 During their retirement the three boys bought Doris a Yorkshire Terrier, Katie – a feisty little dog who was extremely loyal to her owner and accompanied her everywhere.  Tragically Will was diagnosed with cancer in the early 1990s, and Doris became his devoted carer.  Will died at home at 85 Queens Road on the 15th March 1993, and Doris faced a double blow, as this was just a few months after Katie had died prematurely.

William Theresa (Waggie's wife), Doris and Katie, 1991

 For the last 20 years of her life, Doris endured being a widow, and carried Will’s photo in her handbag everywhere.  Despite her loneliness, particularly at night when she kept the radio on as company, Doris stayed strong and continued to embrace life.  She had a solid community of church friends at Tawney and then a stream of grandchildren came to lodge at 85 Queens Road, taking advantage of the proximity to the Central Line and, even better, the abundant supply of Grandma’s flapjacks. 

 My particular memory of this is being at my desk studying (aided by said flapjacks) and being interrupted by a rattling as my impeccably tidy Grandma polished the brass door knob of my room.  Grandma was a fantastic source of wisdom for each of her grandchildren, and relationship advice included saying “when you go into a hat shop you don’t just buy the first hat - you have to try on all the hats before you buy one”.  Doris’ great-niece Rachel also stopped by for breakfasts at Queens Road, and by her arrival at 8am Doris would already have selected the highlights from the Daily Mail and be entertaining us at the breakfast table, although she never sat down – protesting that she had to have breakfast “on the hoof” due to her busy schedule, which included maintaining her garden - armed with an electric hedge cutter, high heels and pearls. 

 Doris’ schedule also included attending to her close friends.  She regularly visited her lifelong friend, Dora Fathers, and drove her to church here each week.  She also spent a great many weekday afternoons with Squadron Leader Bill White, a neighbour on Queens Road and a very devoted friend. 


At all social gatherings – weddings, the local pantomime at Magdalen Laver, and birthdays – Doris would be one of the last to bed, enjoying a gin and tonic and holding court with keen listeners of all ages, passing on amusing stories and local history gems.  She would also be quick to give a cheeky wallop to anyone who mentioned something disagreeable in her presence.  What was to be one of her last outings, a trip to the pantomime closing night party in January 2013 with the Little Tawney Hall Padfields, was especially memorable – Doris was busy chatting and, when asked to leave at half-past midnight, she was too busy to tear herself away.  By 1am the Padfields were beginning to flag but still Doris couldn't extricate herself from conversations with complete strangers - about the war, the navy and all the farming families in west Essex.  At 1.30am she had to be frog-marched out, still chatting nineteen to the dozen.  Next morning she was in church, bright and breezy and immaculate as ever.  When asked if she might have wanted a lie-in and she said she'd had one - she didn't get up till 8.30am.  Six hours sleep, she thought, was plenty!

 Doris was always extremely proud of Will’s naval service - at the Royal Tournament she accosted a handsome young naval cadet and accused him of not knowing enough about the Ark Royal in the War, brandishing her photo of Will on board the ship to prove her point.

 In more recent years, Doris found winters increasingly hard as the darkening days meant less hours outside in her garden.  She was particularly aware that she was one of the last of her generation and of her loved ones moving on – you could tell her mood on phoning her and seeing how early in the conversation she would utter the comment “I’m the only one left”.  Doris stopped driving of her own accord just a few months before she died, but her eyes never stopped twinkling and her stories and memories were just as vivid.  We lost her after a short illness on a beautiful summer’s day just as the fields at Tawney were being harvested. 

 It is of great happiness that Doris is now back to finally rest at the family church where she was christened, confirmed and married; and also that she is to be buried alongside her family and with her beloved husband, and although we miss her terribly, we have comfort in knowing that she has truly come home to Stapleford Tawney to be at peace.

 Compiled and read by Laura Kiwelu, nee Messinger - Doris's Granddaughter

Some more Padfield family history...


       Laura Padfield, nee Phelps, of Meare in Somerset,   and her brother Harry Phelps. West Somerset Yeomanry 1914-18*    My Grandmother, Laura Phelps was a remarkably beautiful young woman.

                                                                        My Grandfather adored her and was devastated when she died,  at only 60 years of age.                                                                                            

* The Regiment started the war as Yeomanry Cavalry and fought dismounted at Gallipoli. Later as Infantry (12th Battalion The Somerset Light Infantry) it fought in Palestine in operations culminating in the capture of Jerusalem and later in France, where it  took part in the recapture of the Hindenburg Line.

Back: My Uncle, Fred Padfield, of Skinners Farm, Abridge, Essex; his Father, Great Uncle Edward Padfield of Blackbush Farm, Abridge, Essex

Front: Uncle Fred's Eldest Son, Bruce Padfield and My Great Grandfather, Hamilton Padfield, Edward's Father, of Hill Farm, Buckhurst Hill, Essex.*

* In 1894, Hamilton Padfield hired a train and moved his family, six children, livestock and implements, from Bridgewater, Somerset,  to Hill Farm, Buckhurst Hill, Essex, having learned that a dairy farmer could make a good living if he could deliver pints of milk to London doorsteps by 6 o'clock in the morning.

Hamilton & Fanny Padfield had six children:- Mary, Edward, Eva, Austin, John (my Grandfather) and Lena.

Mary died at the age of twenty-one. Edward married Bessie Giblett of Meare,Somerset; Eva married Hugh Abraham, a grocer of BuckHurst Hill, Essex; Austin married Maude Berham, an Essex farmer's daughter; John married Laura Phelps of Meare, Somerset - District Champion Cheese Maker; lena married William Watts, a farmer of Devises, Wiltshire.

Back: Austin Padfield, Dick(brother-in-law), John Padfield, Edward Padfield

Middle: Maud, Eva Padfield, Hamilton Padfield *, Fred Padfield, Fanny Padfield (Nee Bird), Lena Padfield, Bessie

Front: Jack, Mary, Ida, May, Alan

* Hamilton Padfield married Fanny Bird at Walton, Near Glastonbury, Somerset. 

After 15 years farming, and keeping the The Royal Oak Inn at Walton, they moved to Hill Farm, Buckhurst Hill in 1894.