Ernest Kemp

Ernest James Harman Kemp was executed on 6 June 1944 for the murder of Iris Miriam Deeley. Due to the Army not discharging Kemp before his execution, he is commemorated on the Brookwood Memorial.

Ernest Kemp on the Brookwood Memorial
Ernest Kemp on the Brookwood Memorial.

The Brookwood Memorial commemorates service personnel who died in World War Two, who have no known grave and have not been listed on a specific-campaign memorial.

Ernest James Harman Kemp was born illegitimately on 4 October 1923, at Gillingham (Kent). He adopted his Mother’s name, later claiming that his Father had died when he was aged 4. He lived in New Cross (South London) and worked as a Porter at the local rail station. Kemp enlisted in the Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surreys) on 29 December 1942, serving at Maidstone, Exeter, Illfracombe and Taunton. During 1943, Kemp transferred to the Royal Artillery and served at Aberdeen, Cromer, Watford and Woolwich. On 8 February 1944, whilst under military police escort at the dentist Kemp escaped by climbing through a toilet window.

Miriam Deeley had joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) on 7 August 1942. She was one of a family of four and lived in Wanstead, London. During a posting in Cornwell, Miriam became engaged to one of the station’s radar mechanics, Aircraftsman William Quill. After William Quill’s commission had been announced, Miriam was posted to No. 1 Balloon Centre at RAF Kidbrooke (south-east London) while Quill had been posted for a course at No. 7 Radio School, which was located at the Science Museum.

On the weekend of 12-13 February 1944, Miriam obtained a weekend pass which she spent with her fiancé at her family home at Wanstead. Her fiancé escorted Miriam back to Charing Cross Rail Station, where she could catch a train to Kidbrooke and rejoin her unit. However, when she arrived at Charing Cross she had missed the last direct train to Kidbrooke. She phoned her unit to notify them that she would be late, and boarded a train for Lewisham.

On 14 February 1944, Miriam Deeley’s body was discovered in an allotment alongside the railway at Well Hall Station, the stop after Kidbrooke travelling from London. She had been raped and strangled with her scarf. After being killed, her body had been dragged some distance to its present location. Some items were also found nearby, together with some large footprints.

From numerous appeals, witnesses came forward who had seen Miriam with a what appeared to be a soldier. A description was circulated describing the wanted person as a talkative soldier with what might appear to be an impressive collection of medal ribbons.

Early in the morning of 22 February 1944, an ex-WWI soldier and now a Police Constable called Charles Memory spotted a soldier with a WAAF. The soldier was wearing an unifrom with an impressive collection of medal ribbons, including medals that were issued before the soldier was born. Once the WAAF had departed, the constable arrested the soldier and took him to Albany Road Police Station. Chief Inspector Edward Greeno, who was heading the enquiry into Miriam’s murder, was notified of the arrested suspect’s description. The suspect stated that he was Gunner Ernest Kemp.

After finding out that Kemp was a deserter, Greeno asked Kemp to account for his actions over the period of 12-14 February 1944. He provided some evasive answers and also failed to account for some of Miriam’s possessions he had in his rucksack, to which Greeno asked Kemp to remove his boots, which were the same size as those found near Miriam’s body. Kemp was then informed that he was being detained as a suspect in the murder of Miriam Deeley.

On 18 April 1944, Kemp’s trial for the murder of Miriam Deeley began at the Old Bailey before Mr Justice Cassels. The Prosecution case was presented by Mr L.A. Byrne and Mr Gerald Howard. Kemp was represented by Mr F.H. Lawson. Kemp pleaded not guilty and no evidence was presented by the defence. The jury found Kemp guilty of Miriam’s murder and added a recommendation to mercy. Kemp was sentenced to death by hanging.

On the morning of 6 June 1944, Ernest Kemp was executed at Wandsworth Prison. As with all executed prisoners, he was buried within the prison grounds.

2130707 Leading Aircraftswoman Miriam Deeley is buried in City of London Cemetery, Manor Park, London (Square 261 Grave 111455). Her death is also recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.