Charles Alfred Knott was born in North Benfleet in August 1932 and his family then moved into a rented bungalow on the east side of Downer Road North. There were only five bungalows on the east side of the then unmade road. The families created their own footpath beside the often muddy unmade road by scattering the ashes from the coal fire each morning.
(The south side of Kents Hill Road had an asphalt footpath laid down into Benfleet, but a sign was put up saying any cyclists using the path would be prosecuted. The local PC hid behind the telephone box to catch people out).
As a child, Charlie contracted measles and Dr Wilkes came out along the unmade road on his white horse to see him. The doctor tied up his horse to their front gatepost. Dr Wilkes lived in Kiln Road near what are now the council offices and was a strange figure to a young child, a white-haired, retired army officer with a monocle.
Charlie went first to school in Rushbottom Lane with Miss Hood as his teacher before going on to Benfleet School in the High Road aged 11. (His teacher, Mrs Punt, at Benfleet was very strict and unkindly made him stand in the corner as he couldn’t get his sums right. Charlie had his own description of her!) So he spent the war years at school. At Rushbottom Lane, they were taught in wooden huts with air raid shelters in the grounds. (Charlie has stayed in contact with classmate Janet Lazell ever since then).
World War 2 broke out when Charlie was 7. It must have been a worrying time, especially for Charlie’s mother, Sarah, as his 20 year old step brother, Percy (Turner), left home to serve at Dunkirk and later in Ireland, the desert and Italy.
The war also came to Thundersley. The army had a tented camp in the fields in Rushbottom Lane and soldiers drilled on the land then in front of the Tarpots pub (later lost to the widening of the road).
At the beginning of the war, men came to put an Anderson shelter in the family’s garden, but this soon flooded making it unusable, so it was taken out and a brick shelter erected for them. However, they didn’t use this; his mum, dad and Charlie preferring to go next door where their elderly neighbour, Mrs Grace Brown (his “Auntie” Grace), had an Anderson shelter fitted out with bunk beds and a Primus stove, which they could use. (Mrs Kemp lived on the other side of the garden).
Charlie remembered seeing dogfights in the sky over Thundersley as the RAF took on the German aircraft trying to attack the London docks. Charlie used to shake from head to toe when the bombs were coming down and when he could see the search lights picking up planes.
His dad, Alf, worked for the Electricity Board and all his workmates who had a depot near the Anchor pub in Benfleet used to meet up in the Clockhouse Café each day, but one morning they heard machine gun fire, so dived under the tables.
Charlie’s family had an incendiary bomb land in their own back garden in September 1940, but his father, Alf, put it out by throwing a sand bag on it, although one bomb did go through next door’s roof, but fortunately there were no casualties.
On the same night, at Johnny Burrage’s woodyard in London Road, just around the corner from Downer Road, their stored scrap timber was set on fire.
On the south side of London Road, Norton’s depository was also hit. [The Fire Service record notes this as being on 16th September 1940: one High Explosive unexploded. Gas main, overhead telephone and electric cable damaged. London Road partly blocked. Depository completely wrecked and a bungalow badly damaged. 1 slight casualty (a female). What appears to be a separate report (by an air raid warden?) for the same incident says, “Building completely demolished. Road partly blocked. Gas mains and telegraph wires damaged. Police on spot. Rescue party called].
An unexploded high explosive bomb landed on the then open field on the other side of Downer Road and was exploded the next day.
In Felstead Road, the corner house occupied by Mary Bunton was bombed. Bombs also fell in Coombe Wood and Charlie remembered one photo of a bomb disposal soldier in that area standing next to an unexploded bomb. No cameras could be used by ordinary people during the war without special permission, for fear of spies passing information to the Germans.
Sweet ration books at the ready, Charlie and his mum would go just across London Road to get their “Winter mixture” from Bert and Ethel who ran the Welcome Stores in London Road which was in an old Nissen hut on the west corner of Downer Road South.
Despite having family working in Clark’s grocer down at Tarpots, they went to George and Rose Dorrington’s butchers on the corner of Kents Hill Road South for their meat ration. (Apparently Charlie’s mum took exception to the fact that Clark’s wouldn’t offer her a little extra off of the ration). Charlie remembers George Dorrington’s curled up moustache.
(Next or next but one to the Dorrington’s near to the corner was Challis the bootmaker, who may have lived in Kents Hill Road. (Orbell the herbalist later took over from Challis).
Later, Charlie volunteered early to ensure that he did his own National Service in the RAF, but that’s another story.
[Other wartime memories of Thundersley can be found on this website and on our sister website at https://www.benfleethistory.org.uk/].