More Hadleigh Memories 1930-1940
I was born at Number 9 Seaview Terrace on the Salvation Army Farm, but at the age of about four my parents moved to Sayers Cottages in Chapel Lane, as this was near to the dairy where my father worked. It was essential that we lived closer to his work, as quite often he would be called out overnight to see to cows that were calving. A night watchman by the name of Mr Weeks was employed at the colony and he would call dad out during his rounds.
Our neighbours were Mr and Mrs Cork and their son was Arthur, he was older than me and was already at school. His father worked at the Salvation Army Nursery and Market Garden.
At the age of five I joined Hadleigh Infants School and I can well remember the first day, as my sister took me because I was reluctant to go. Going to school in those days was not as interesting as it is today. There were no school meals and we either had to take sandwiches or go home for dinner and we always chose to go home. My parents were good providers as we had a very large garden and grew lots of good vegetables. My father always kept chickens, rabbits and at one time we had ducks so good food was always available. This was especially advantageous in WW2.
My first teacher, I believe, was Miss Steadman and the headmistress at the time was Miss Calderbank. The school picture shows Miss Leafield’s class and I am the one saluting with the sailor’s hat on. I still have many of my annual reports.
I had just had my sixth birthday when I became ill with Scarlet Fever, Doctor James came to my house and immediately sent me to the isolation ward at Rochford Hospital in a very old-fashioned ambulance. The driver only had a canvas cover over him to stop him getting wet, there was not even a windscreen in those days. I remember looking out of the window of the ambulance as we passed the building in progress of the Kingsway Cinema, at that time the walls were about half way up.
The hospital was a terrible old building and the walls were mainly of corrugated iron sheets. All our clothes and belongings were taken and fumigated and kept until we were discharged.
Scarlet Fever was a killer disease but is very rare these days. I was there for about six weeks, visitors were not allowed inside and could only see through the windows from outside. During this time my father stopped working at the dairy in case he was a carrier; the medical office came to take throat swabs and he could not do his normal job until the swabs were proved negative, luckily they were.
In 1938 a crisis was declared as Hitler was up to his tricks in Europe. I well remember London Transport Buses appeared in Chapel Lane loaded with the Royal Artillery Territorials, they were followed by army lorries loaded with kit also towing 3.7 inch anti aircraft guns.
Within a short period the army set up a gun battery in the fields alongside Sayers Cottage. They erected tents and field kitchens etc and in no time they were operational.
About this time the Salvation Army had taken in refugees from Austria and I made friends with one named Otto Wies, I remember he carved his name in the brickwork of one of the cowsheds, now long gone I expect. I often wonder what happened to him.
Sayers Cottages had an extension on the back constructed of corrugated iron sheets. The one on our side was used as a scullery with a brick built copper that my mother used for washing and also to heat water for the once-a-week bath for our family of six.
Next door was used as a shed and the Territorals immediately commandeered it and set up all their telephones and communication kit; this was in operation all day and night. All of us children thought it was exciting, not realising the consequences of perhaps a war. My father was not excited as he had been in the Army in WW1 and spent 5 years in India and Afghanistan as a signaller and dispatch rider on horseback, with the experience of having to use the Kyber Pass.
When Chamberlain returned from Munich, the Territorials packed up and went home. But all was not well and it soon became obvious that the Ministry of War, as it was then called, had decided that Sayers Farm was an ideal place to put a gun-site, as at the time, one could see almost to Tilbury Dock to the west and sometimes to the end of Southend Pier to the east, but of course that has changed.
The War Ministry chose a very high field that we knew of as Sand Hill and many contractors arrived to build the site that was to defend against the Luftwaffe. They also installed 3.7 inch anti aircraft guns until the 4.5 inch guns were available. Of course this restricted our movement as us boys had used to wander all over these fields. They were also a favourite place for people like our police Sgt. Treggitt and Mr Tutt to shoot rabbits and many others were allowed to do this.
After the dreaded announcement of war the camp was fully operational and we got used to the soldiers. I can remember that the Royal Artillery commandeered Sayers Farm House as their headquarters and we used to talk to the dispatch riders that had their motorbikes lined up in the driveway.
There were a few civilians employed in the camp. One of them I remember well, his name was Mr Izod who lived in New Road. He had lost an arm in WW1 and he had an iron hook, it was amazing what he could do with it. He walked several times each day from home to the camp; he had the job of boiler-man and stoker.
Prior to this the house was occupied by the farm manager, Mr Morris and about that time the colony got its first tractor (a Fordson) driven by Mr Jarman. The trees behind the farmhouse were blown down in a gale and ended up across the back of the roof doing a lot of damage as the building was all wood.
The winter of 1939 was a very bad one and Chapel Lane had snowdrifts higher than the hedges. The vehicles bringing supplies to the gun-site were unable to get to it, so the soldiers had sledges and used them to move supplies across the adjacent fields. The camp C/O was a Major Blagdon and he supervised this on his skis and he was very good at it.
The batmen, who looked after the officers, did not like doing their washing and one of then asked my mother if she would help him out. Although there were no such things as washing machines and she did not even have a mangle, she said she would. The word got around and soon she was doing this for several batmen. Even when the troops moved on, others took their place as word soon got around.
At one time all our own Royal Artillery move on and they were replaced by the Canadian Royal Artillery they also got the message about the washing. So mum decided that with the small amount of money she earned she would have a mangle.
At the time a Mr Attwood used to have a van that he used to trade in Hadleigh selling all sorts of goods like soap, paraffin etc. He used to call on a Friday and one day he turned up with a new (old fashioned) mangle on the roof. My mother was over the moon as she had never had any help except to use her hands. She also had three old flat irons that she used to heat on top of the kitchen range, even if she had had an electric one it would not have been any good as we did not have electricity, all our lights were gas. I still have the irons hanging on the wall next to the name of our bungalow. Mr Attwood can be seen on the picture of Hadleigh Football team, he is the referee. I think he lived in Castle Road.
After the declaration of war, nothing seemed to happen for some time and the first activity I can remember was the Luftwaffe dropping mines in the Thames Estuary. This was the assembly point for convoys and they would drop by parachute but not very accurately as I seem to remember many dropped on land causing a lot of damage.
But it soon transpired that the Hun was gearing up for the Battle of Britain with a vengeance. Hitler put all he could into it but he did not count on the bravery of the RAF. The first raids were in daylight as night flying was in its infancy, the river was perfect for navigation to London. Some of the first targets were the oil installations at Shell Haven and I remember a storage tank was on fire for weeks as the best way was to let them burn out. Us boys would ride our bikes as far as the top of Essex Way to get a good view.
I witnessed many dogfights but the day I will always remember was in 1940, the day that Hitler thought he could defeat the RAF for good but it was the day that we won the Battle of Britain. The sky was full of aircraft both German and ours, we were all supposed to be in our air raid shelter, but it was irresistible to witness the dogfights with Spitfires and Hurricanes weaving in amongst the Luftwaffe. The RAF planes were outnumbered but they forced the Germans to change direction and head for the coast. Many of the German planes just dropped bombs indiscriminately to be able to get away. The reports on this day vary but the best claim is that the RAF shot down at least 185 aircraft but of course we lost some very brave pilots.
Hitler had been beaten on daylight raids so things were fairly quite for some time but he tried another tactic, that was night raids. He knew that we did not have night-fighters, so we had to rely on anti-aircraft fire. The RAF was developing aircraft for night flying but not quickly enough.
Of course the gun battery down Chapel Lane did not fire many shells during daylight raids so as not to shoot down our own planes but at night they could. I lost count of the nights that we spent in our shelter but the shelters were very small and often full of water until the council concreted the walls; we used to shelter as best we could. Several people in Chapel Lane had not got shelters and we often had visitors; one in particular was Kate Cooper, a very large lady and she had a real problem getting in and out of our shelter.
Most of the raids were concentrated on London but with the intense gunfire many aircraft just dropped their bombs and tried to get away, but many got through. The first and most frightening night was when bombs were dropped that caused the damage to the Chapel Lane area.
The Salvation Army Temple was very badly damaged and also Florence Gardens. Sayers Cottage survived but the damage was such that all of the upstairs ceiling came down, so the bedrooms were unusable and the roof had to be covered with tarpaulins. At the time, the house next door became empty, so workmen from the colony came and knocked a doorway from our living room into next door so we could use all the downstairs rooms of both houses. The night raids went on but Hitler then started bombing other cities thus easing things considerably. My mates and myself would go out looking for souvenirs from the raids; I still have some 20mm canon-shell cases that would have come from a Spitfire.
What also helped was the Americans mounting daylight raids on Germany, also the RAF one thousand bomber night raids.
My brother reached the age of eighteen and he was called up to serve in the Royal Engineers in North Africa and Italy, my sister volunteered and joined the Royal Marine Wrens and fortunately they both survive to this day.
During the war I did a paper round for Ruggins the newsagent every day of the week. I also did a Saturday job for the Greengrocers in the parade of shops just past Canvey Road, Leigh; the business was run by Mr & Mrs Knot, I did the weekend deliveries on a trade bike.
I was attending school all this time, sitting in the air raid shelter. The senior classes had an allotment that we cultivated; this was on a piece of land behind the parade of shops with access just in Rectory Road. Working on the allotment meant we were answering the call to “Dig for Victory.”
I reached the last but one class in the seniors and my last teacher was Mrs Picken, she lived in Rayleigh and used to walk to school almost every day and would be accompanied by children going to school. She returned to the UK after spending years in New Zealand.
Many will know Mrs Picken, I believe her family perished when the house at the top of Weir Hill received a direct hit from a bomb. She was a much-loved teacher and had time for all her pupils. Both the men teachers at the time were called up; that was Mr Freeman who was a science teacher and Mr Skinner who had a habit of throwing chalk at pupils that were misbehaving.
I managed to get a job with Devenish Haulage Contractors who had a garage and yard opposite Rayleigh Station. I am not sure how long I worked there but my next job was at Thames Haven. Apprenticeships were few and far between in those days as there was always the fact that employers did not want to take people of my age on as the threat of their call up was always there.
One day it happened, a brown envelope marked O.H.M.S dropped through the letter box and the contents were precise. You will report to RAF Padgate, Lancashire on 11/11/47 using the enclosed railway warrants.…But that is another story.
The picture of Chapel Lane is before my time but is the only one that I have found that shows Sayers Cottages on the right. The house on the left was then called Killarney and the last people that I remember living there were named Mr and Mrs Brooks, their daughter was named Yvonne and she had a brother who served in the Parachute Regiment and lost his life at the battle of Arnhem. I notice that his name is not on the memorial plaque in Hadleigh Church, this has always puzzled me but perhaps someone can answer that question for me.
The top of the house between the trees is Holboro House and the last people that I can remember there were Mr and Mrs Lelliot. The next house was called Ferndale where Mr and Mrs Graham lived, Mr Graham would come out in the morning dressed for his job in the City wearing a Homburg hat and walk up the lane to catch the bus to Leigh Station to go to London. I remember they had one of the first televisions.
The next houses were Horatio Villas; No.2 was occupied by Mrs Ivy Eaby and she was a very good friend of ours; she had two sons: John who joined the Royal Marines before WW2 and Don who was in the army and they both survived. Ivy was directed to essential work during the war and had to travel for the night shift at Briggs Bodies welding jerry cans, but managed to get away from that to work in Southend hospital. She emigrated to Alberta, Canada to look after her father after the war. Donald also went to Canada and when my wife and I celebrated our 30th anniversary, we visited both of them.
No.1 Horatio Villas was occupied by Mrs Hutchinson; at the next house on that side lived Mr and Mrs Hayward; Mr Hayward worked for Stibbards the undertakers. Next door lived Mrs Greenwood and her daughter Doris, she was the manager of the Salvation Army Farm Colony shop for many years and walked to work every day even in very bad weather.
The photo of my brother and myself is taken in front of the house that Kate Cooper lived in, her husband worked at the bus garage on the corner of Oak Road. At the top of the lane lived the Edwards family and their two boys were Percy and Roy.
There are three names on the memorial plaque that are very familiar to me. They are Judge, he lived on the colony in Seaview Terrace and his father was in charge of the piggery. Brookwell, he lived at the Bakers shop called James in the parade next door to the Ironmongers called Turners, and Bainbridge he lived in Beech Road and was a teenage friend of my brother.
One of my best pals was Bert Todd; Mrs Greenwood was his Grandmother, I kept in touch with him for years but lost touch when his wife died. If anyone reading this has any knowledge of his whereabouts, I would be pleased to hear from them.