Grace Elizabeth Mulford, nee Dumbrell (1893 – 1946) was one of 18 motor drivers and 1 of 3 dispatch riders for the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS), based at HMS Pembroke Chatham Dockyard during the First World War.
During times of war, when telecommunications were limited and insecure, dispatch riders (military messenger on a motorcycle) were used by the armed forces to deliver urgent orders and messages between headquarters and military units. Women excelled as dispatch riders and were often seen taking their motorcycles, in the name of duty through perilous conditions.
Initially only women with prior motorcycle riding experience were selected so some of the first dispatch riders were well-known competition riders from local race circuits.
Grace appears in the photograph of everyone at HMS Pembroke – fifth from the left on the first row.
Image courtesy of Chatham Dockyard Historical Society
Grace was born in Aylesford, Kent on 8th September 1893 to Florence and James Dumbrell. Her father worked at the cement factory nearby on the River Medway. Grace became a a domestic servant for a butcher’s family living in Gadds Hill, Gillingham and in London before joining the WRNS on 18th May 1918.
Grace married Henry Powell Mulford, a Chief Petty Officer in the Royal Navy, on 15th December 1923. Grace and Henry had four children and Grace raised them single-handedly while Henry was on naval and training ship duties. Grace passed away in 1946 and is buried in Woodlands Cemetery.
Her service in the WRNS was recently uncovered by her grandson whilst clearing his Aunt’s house. Grace’s eldest child, Freda, born in 1926 (seen in the photograph above dated December 1926) is still living in the Medway Towns today.
Grace’s story is told in Hidden Heroines: the untold stories of the women of Dockyard. Grace’s daughter, Freda, visited the exhibition with her nephew and great niece, Vikkie Mulford. Vikkie works at the Historic Dockyard today and has been part of the team responsible for bringing the Hidden Heroines exhibition to life.
Hidden Heroines: the untold stories of the women of the Dockyard is showing until 31 October 2021.