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Memorial service to be held for Larne heroine Letitia Henderson

Letitia, known as 'Etta', is pictured in the middle with some of her friends. Photo is courtesy of Etta's great-niece who lives in Canada.

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council will hold a ceremony to remember Letitia (Etta) Henderson, who was among the millions lost in the First World War. Letitia is believed to be the only female casualty of the First World War.

A memorial tree and plaque will be erected in Larne’s War Memorial Gardens at 11am on Wednesday 11 May in memory of Letitia with pupils from Inver and Larne Primary School taking part.

Mayor Councillor William McCaughey said:

“It is important that women, like Letitia, are remembered for the sacrifice and the contributions that they made to the war.

“Letitia Henderson left all she knew in Larne to go and work in a factory where she was putting herself at serious risk and that has to be recognised. We think this is the perfect way to do so and I hope the memorial tree and plaque will bring some comfort to her family.”

The names on the current Larne memorial do not include Letitia, a young woman whose death was every bit as connected to the War as the men from Larne who went to sea or joined the army.

Before the war came along, Letitia was well-known in Larne as a pianist at local dances.

She was the third daughter of Mary Jane Henderson of Mill Street, which was the old part of the town, an area mixed with shops and houses, and a mission hall called the Getty mission. Eventually Mill Street was levelled for development, later in the century. But in 1901 the street provided a home for Robert Henderson (50), his wife Mary Jane (45) and their five children.

Letitia, who appears on the census as Etta, was the eldest child, aged 21 in 1911, and her siblings were James (15), Margaret (10), Charles (8) and William (1 years old).

In 1917, when Letitia died, she was described in the local newspaper as daughter of Mary Jane Henderson, when it was typical to refer to a child through the name of the father rather than the mother, so it may be assumed that Robert Henderson was no longer at Mill Street and probably deceased.

In January 1917, the young Larne woman left the town, boarding a ferry which would take her on the first stage of her journey to the Morecombe and Heysham area. It was there that she had obtained employment in a munitions factory. It was also there that she would die.

While working in the factory, Letitia and another work colleague contracted what was described as “an industrial disease” which was respiratory in nature. When she was in the factory, employees were supposed to keep their masks on, suggesting perhaps a chemical aspect to the munitions which were being prepared.

At some point the girls had been eating sweets and it appeared that two of them briefly took off their respirators to get a new supply.

This looks to have been the simplest of actions that caused them to lose their lives.


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