There are several sources of information of the impact World War II had on the village held in the archives. Collectively these reports and reminiscences paint a picture of what life was like in the 1939-1941 period and give a good impression of the effect the war had locally.
Extracts from Cyril’s memories describing the effects of WW-2
The weekend that war was declared saw the arrival of a searchlight unit in the village, situated on what is now the playing field off Fish Street. After several moves around the village, it took up residence in what was the village cricket square at the side/rear of Goldhanger House, which at that time was empty. The unit became larger and had three lights, the largest, some 6ft across, was mounted on wheeled chassis. They had a gun pit with a Lewis gun for aerial defence and spotter chairs in the adjoining field, all linked by field telephones.
an example of a WW-2 searchlight and spotters
When the lights were on and the electricity jumped between the carbon rods in the lamps they would throw a brilliant blue/white light onto and through the clouds, keeping enemy aircraft high and blinding the crews so they could not see rivers and landmarks. It was possible to read a newspaper anywhere in the village when these were in action even on the darkest nights. They provided their own power from diesel generators, which could be towed by trucks. The men were housed in huts at the back of Goldhanger House.
On a Saturday afternoon during the Early Days of the Battle of Britain I was helping an old village worthy, grey hair and long white beard, Mr. Prentice Jordan to pick apples in the old garden field, now Thistley Close and part of the adjacent woodland. I was 12 years old at the time. Over the Blackwater Estuary proceeding towards London was a large formation of German bombers and fighters, stacked up at all heights. I gave up counting at 300 and the old man was getting a bit hot under the collar and said to me, as I stood wondering what was going to happen “never mind they old b***s boy, lets get the apples picked. He was not going to lose his apples to the enemy. Happy Days.
Another incident which is still clear in my mind [on the 29th October 1940] is the crash of an ME109 fighter one hundred yards west of Charity Farm cottages, on the Maldon Road just out of the village …
A group of roaming ME109s at the latter end of 1940 were making their way homeward over Great Totham, heading out to sea, when they pounced on a flight of RAF Hurricanes on patrol. In the melee that followed further Hurricanes appeared and joined the fray. The pilot of this particular aircraft parachuted out and landed at Sheepcotes Farm, Little Totham. He was badly burned and died in St Peter’s Hospital that night. He was initially buried in Maldon cemetery and later re-buried in the German war graves cemetery at Cannock Chase in Staffordshire.
We also had many more hairy situations which could be described in detail, but other than the night bombing, when Goldhanger had its share in and around the village, which luckily escaped damage. The exception was the barn at Hall Farm that was struck with an oil incendiary bomb which caused a fire and gave the local AFS team some practice. They were near and handy, being based at the Old Rectory Farm. The main centre of control was the Wardens Post at the Chequers public house. The phones were housed in what is now the pub kitchen. I don’t know if this situation was unique to have an ARP post in the pub, but it worked quite well in Goldhanger.
the local AFS team in the Old Rectory farmyard during WW-2
The local fire watchers, whose duty it was to be ready to deal with incendiary bombs with a stirrup pump, water and sandbags, made their nightly rendezvous in the Parish Room, which stood on the site of “Wheelwrights” in Head Street. All were ordinary folk who had to take their turn of duty on a roster basis. The small incendiary bombs were sometimes dropped in hundreds, falling from a large container. They were not good things as I remember as they would get stuck in roofs and all sorts of odd places. They were made with magnesium, and once ignited burned very hot and soon started big fires.
1939 Overseas Tobacco Fund started and by 1941 cigarettes etc. were sent only to local serving men.
1940 Competition - how to make the most of the meat ration.
Agreed to change meetings to 6.30 in evening instead of 2.15 as several members now working on the land. A Wool Fund was started.
1941 Request received for 40 Blood Donors for Colchester Hospital. Raffle Prize - bag of coal.
Mrs B Appleton offered to see that the school children had their milk during the holidays.
Ministry of Food urged all members to preserve all surplus fruit and blackberries. A Jam Centre was started on 10 September. 613 lbs. of jam were made. Ten members offered to gather 3 lbs. blackberries each week.
1942 meetings held on 1st Wed. at 6.45 pm so Totham and Beckingham members could come on the bus.
Cigarettes sent to B Appleton, H Appleton, E Appleton, B Blighton, G Baker, D Brazier, J Brazier, K Bunting, P Bunting, A Chaplin, C Fuller,
1943 Social time - putting on Hitler’s moustache. Competition - peeling potatoes while blindfolded.
1944 Began knitting for Liberated Europe. 5 lbs knitted during month.
1945 Mrs McMullen proposed as a war memorial that money should be raised by whist drives, dances, fetes etc. to "Build bungalows for the Aged".
1946 Cheques from the Victory Fund were presented to local boys J Pledger, J Willis, R Johnson , H Appleton, R Weaver, J Moulton, A White, G Baker, J Lane, C Fuller who had been demobbed. Cheques would be presented to all boys and girls who were in Forces.100 members and friends present at meeting.
Draw for parcel of groceries sent from Australia. It was decided for a few months to do without refreshments at Whist Drives owing to bread etc. being rationed.
Collection of books to send to Australia and New Zealand in appreciation for gift parcels received from them.
(not in chronological order)
o At the beginning of WW-II Sadds of Heybridge were contracted cut down many of the large Elm trees in The Avenue for use in the war effort. (the remainder disappears due to Dutch Elm disease in the 1970s)
fine old elms once seen along The Avenue
o In 1939 Mrs Page of the Old Rectory received a certificated from the Queen for “services to your country and opening your door to strangers in need of shelter”.
o During WW-2 the Maldon Road was closed to civilians and had barriers manned by army personnel. This was probably because of the searchlight base on the Park near the Rectory/Goldhanger House. All residents were given passes to allow them enter and leave the village.
o As well as the “spotters” referred to in Cyril Southgate’s memories above, there was also a “listening post” post located on high ground three hundred metres past the red brick house on the track to Lauriston’s Farm, where two wooden huts were located. These spotter and listening posts could have been equipped with a “Post Instrument Plotters” similar to spotter/listening post at D’arcy and were a very simple but effective forerunner to radar...
King George IV at the D’arcy Listening Post in 1940
with the “Post Instrument Plotter” and “Height Adjuster”
When an aircraft was spotted the coordinated and elevation were telephoned to the local operations centre who took readings from other spotters in the area and, using simple triangulation on a large-scale map, would determine the position, height, speed and track of the approaching enemy aircraft.
o The Rectory with 2½ acres of land had been put on the market in July 1939 for £3100. During the war the building and land was used by the army and it has not been used as a Rectory since.
o A Messerschmitt fighter aircraft Bf109E-4 Wnr 5562 was shot down on the 29th October 1940 whilst on a low level fighter bomber attack on RAF North Weald. It crashed beside Goldhanger Road, Maldon. The pilot Hans Joachim Rank was severely wounded and later died of his injuries. [See Cyril’s memories above]
o An air-raid shelter was built in the village school playground in 1941 and remained there until well after the war.
o During an air raid in 1942 a German bomber passing over the village was caught in the beam of a searchlight based in The Park. The bomber’s gunner attempted to fired his cannon towards the searchlight but one of the bullets went through the roof of the Cricketers Inn, ending up imbedded in a landlord’s chest-of-drawers.
o A Boston bomber crashed in the estuary near Lauristons farm in 1942 having taken off from Bradwell aerodrome. One of the crew was killed. Teenagers from the village attempted to reach one of these aircraft “to remove the Perspex windscreens”, but an RAF patrol launch fired warning shots to persuade them to return to the shore.
o Also in 1942 a Spitfire came down to the east of Osea Island. The pilot survived.
o On a training exercise during the war an RAF Mustang and a US Thunderbolt had a mid-air collision just east of Goldhanger. The Mustang came down in a field between Goldhanger & Darcy and the pilot bailed out and landed safely in the same field. The Thunderbolt made a “wheels-up landing” on Stone beach on the other side of the estuary.
o Between 1940 and 1943 the government ordered that Church bells must not be rung except for air raids and St Peters Church would have complied with the order. However, as in WW-1 it is likely that most of the ringers would have been serving in the forces and so not available to ring.
o In January 1945 a German V2 rocket “Big Ben 544” came down in the Estuary near Bounds Farm and exploded. The farm building were damages and pieces remained there for many years. A large part is still in the mud flats near Osea Island...
Remains of the V2 still in the Estuary
o During the war USA personnel from the Messing aerodrome came to Goldhanger for machine gun practice on the mud flats. After their practices they would call in at The Chequers and a row of Jeeps would be seen parked against the Churchyard wall.
digital reconstruction of USAF Jeeps outside the Church
o In WW-2 an American USAAF fighter pilot who was living at the Old Rectory horrified residents with his dive-bombing antics over the village, he was eventually stopped by the Parish Council who wrote to the Commanding Officer of his base. However there was one final event when two fighters flew very low over the village square just above the tree-tops at dusk preventing the aeroplanes from being identified.
o Major Bill Hopwood who lived in the Old Rectory, participated in the WW-2 raid on St Nazaire which took place in March 1942. The raid was successful in demolishing a large lock-gate, but lost the lives of a large number of British commandos. Major Hopwood survived and was mentioned in dispatches but he was killed later on in the war in a “non-combat accident”. After his death his family presented his military medals and papers to Chelmsford museum.
o A Maldon Road resident in the Army and based in North Africa was badly burned by a bomb explosion while he was refuelling a British tank with a petrol engine.
o A Fish Street resident who served as an RAF officer during WW-2 was posted Belsen at the end of the war to help liberate the POWs, an experience he could never forget.
o The widow of a paratrooper killed at Arnhem lived after the war with her parents at Lavender Cottage. It is not know if the paratrooper himself ever lived in the cottage.
o Four high-explosive bombs of 250 - 500kg weight fell around the farmland in the centre of the village. One landed by the roadside, near the Maldon Rd shop and took off most of the shop’s roof. The thatched roof of the barn at Hall Farm blazed and the bomb killed two of Simpson's cows. During investigation of the crater by the shop next day, a bomb disposal soldier who climbed down into the hollow became gassed and was extracted by his mates, blue in the face and unconscious, to be taken away by ambulance.
o Several incendiary bombs fell in the village in WW-II. One fell on land next to the village shop in Maldon Road, before the bungalow at number 42 was built. Another fell near Falcons Hall. Other incidents are described above in the extract from Cyril Southgate’s Memories above.
o A Hall Estate teenager retrieved an unexploded incendiary bombs and dismantled it in his fathers shed, clamping it in the bench to work on it.
o During the war miniature submarines were occasionally seen across the Estuary near Osea Island. Long after the war however it was learnt that these were mock wooden vessels places there to deceive the enemy into thinking there was a military base on the Island. See... Estuary Activities - Military
o German prisoner of wars billeted in Witham were brought to Goldhanger to work on the farms. Crawshay Frost who spoke fluent German, frequently chatted to the POWs and acted as their translator.
o At the end of WW-2 one German prisoner of war stayed on just outside the village, living in an old railway carriage at Fruitfields Farm for many years. He claimed to have fought on the Russian Front for four years. With his regimental survivors he retreating into Germany, only to find that his wife and children had been killed in the bombing of Dresden.
o At the end of the war when the searchlight battery was being removed, troop were seen depositing surplus ammunition into Rectory Cottage pond. After they had left the village, teenagers fished the live shells out of the pond and used them as “fireworks”.
o The large semi-circular metal Nissen Hut, adjacent to Falcons Hall came from a local WW-2 airfield, probably Messing. It was moved there just after the war when Falcons Hall was still a working farm, and replaced a ancient framed timber barn that was in a bad state of repair and had to be pulled down.
the large Nissen Hut at Falcons Hall
o After the war surplus, funds collected in the village to support those who had served were used to purchase a pre-fabricated wooden hut for the veterans which became known as the
o Just after the second World War several redundant military aircraft seats were acquired and were used for many years as seating in the Chequers Inn tap room.
Armistice Day parade in Church St. in the late 1940s or early 50s.
The village school and tithe barn are in the background.
Censorship at the time meant very few newspaper articles were published
1939 An emergency census was undertaken by Maldon Borough Council in 1939 to compile the number rooms, spare mattresses, blankets and sheets that each house had. Fees were paid to each household taking in evacuees and foster children. Although Goldhanger participated in the Maldon Borough Council scheme, it is not known how many evacuees were billeted in the village. The information is held in the “Roll of Householders” preserved in the Essex Records Office (D/B 3/10/20 - but closed until 2040). More details in the book entitled: “Migration to Maldon” published by Maldon District Council in 1995, Maldon library ref: E.MAL.940.53. A certificate was issued to the households who took evacuees, this is a copy of the one issued to the Page family at The Old Rectory…
1939 an abridged version of a letter from the book entitled: “Migration to Maldon” published by Maldon District Council in 1995...
In September 1939, expectant mothers, of which I was one, and mothers with children under five, had to report to the school in Churchfields, Woodford. Several double-decker buses arrived, and in due course set off - none of us at the time having the slightest idea where we were going. We eventually arrived at Goldhanger. The people of Goldhanger had unfortunately been led to expect that they would be getting a group of unaccompanied schoolchildren, but despite this they turned up trumps and billets were found for everybody.
I and another expectant mother were sent to the pork butcher Mr Scobell, who had a house in Fish Street, Goldhanger. Mr Scobell didn't have a shop, adjacent to his house he had a small, newly constructed building, where he cut up the pig carcasses ready for him to deliver in his van. He was a German who had been a prisoner of war during the First World War, had married an English girl and he had remained in England since. It was a lovely billet. Not surprisingly, we ate various cuts of pork, I didn't ever find it too rich and there were always plenty of home grown vegetables. Mr Scobell had what he called his field garden - an allotment at the top of the street. Mr and Mrs Scobell had two sons, one of 21 who was in the Army and Alfred who was 14. All the water for drinking had to be fetched from the pump at the top of the street, and I have a lovely snapshot of Mr Scobell and Alfred standing by the pump, with the container on wheels. The water used for washing ourselves was so soft, that it was very difficult to wash the soap off.
One occasion which stands out in my mind, was when we were invited to tea by the novelist Marjorie Allingham. She lived in Tolleshunt D'Arcy, in a lovely old house, which I remember as having a very big kitchen with an Aga cooker in it. Marjorie herself looked rather like a figure from a fairy tale, wearing a long black dress and she had a little white apron over it.
The problem was where were expectant mothers to go during confinement? The powers that were, solved the problem by taking over an empty house on the road between Goldhanger and Tollesbury. They also managed to find enough furniture for me and other mothers with little children, to be able to occupy the house. The idea was that these mothers would do the cooking and look after us mothers with our new babies. A retired nurse came in to see us each day. On the 3rd of October 1939 one month arriving in Goldhanger my son was born. After the birth, Mrs Scobell from the billet came in Mr Scobell's delivery van to visit me, and brought a little stone coloured vase with some honeysuckle. My stay in Goldhanger was a very special time for me. The weather had been perfect.
1940 short extract from “Luftwaffe Fighter-bombers over Britain”…
1941 Essex Chronicle - Goldhanger Fire Watchers. A successful meeting was held in the Village Hall, nearly 40 volunteers registering for fire watching including 9 of the A.F.S. Group.
1942 part of a letter from the Essex Aviation Group to a Goldhanger resident in May 2000…
1945 The Times - Obituary - On Active Service, 16 February 1942 at sea near Sumatra, Eric John Kempson, Lieut. R.N.V.R., aged 25 and second son of Mr & Mrs Eric Kempson, Corner Cottage, Goldhanger, Essex…
Essex Newsman - Goldhanger, with a population of 360, sent 50 men and women to the services, all of whom returned to receive a gift of 17 guineas as a welcome home token.
Essex Newsman - A fifth accident caused by unmarked WW-2 defences in the Blackwater Estuary caused the death of a Goldhanger man while fishing from a small boat.
Evacuation of civilians
The Evacuation Scheme of civilians during the Second World War was designed to save civilians in Britain, particularly children, from the risks associated with aerial bombing of cities by moving them and billeting them in the private houses in rural areas thought to be less at risk. Goldhanger was one such location, see the 1939 letter above. “Operation Pied Piper”, began in September 1939, and relocated more than 3.5 million people across the country.
Food & Drink
The Ministry of Food instituted food rationing in 1939. Everyone had to register at chosen shops, and were provided with a ration book containing coupons.
Some basic food items were only available in a government controlled form eg "National bread", "National butter", "National margarine" and "National Cheddar". Commercial versions of these products were banned. "National Dried Egg powder" came from the USA. The national loaf of wholemeal bread replaced ordinary white loafs, to the distaste of most housewives who found it mushy, grey and was blamed for digestion problems. Bread could not be sold to the public until the day after it was baked: the stated reason was to reduce usage.
Many people grew their own vegetables, encouraged by the successful "dig for victory" poster campaign. Many also reared chickens in back gardens and were encouraged to do so by a favourable exchange of food coupons for grain. Like many non-rationed items, fish was rarely available and long queues built up at fishmongers and fish and chip shops. Fish prices were controlled from 1941. Goldhanger had its own fish and chip shop during the war, maybe selling locally caught fish, although defences places in the Estuary and some practice firing ranges may have made fishing difficult and impossible.
Fresh milk was limited and the Ministry of Food created two types of powdered milk. "Household Milk" was dried skim milk for general consumption. "National Dried Milk" was dried full cream milk powder for feeding infants.
The Ministry of Food issued many leaflets and suggesting recipes, often dedicated to specific topics such as “The Magic of Carrots”. Cooking demonstrations by school teachers and other specialists were held regularly in public places and would have been conducted in the village hall. Educational short movies on cooking were made for showing at local cinemas, and BBC Radio ran a morning radio programme entitled "Kitchen Front".
Aware of the impact rationing would have on morale, the government did not ration bread, potatoes, cigarettes or beer. More concerned about workers not turning up to work due to hangovers or worse being drunk, so instead of rationing beer the government introduced strict opening hours. Public houses were only allowed to open from 11am until 2pm, and from 5pm until 10.30pm. These restrictions that were only eased in the 1990s.
In 1942 civilian petrol rationing was terminated and was only then available for “official users” such as emergency services, public transport and farm vehicles. Fuel supplied for these uses was dyed and its use for non-essential purposes was a serious offence.
Black-out regulations were enforced at all times during the war covering private and public buildings and vehicles. All the stained glass windows in St Peters Church were blacked out so that the normal Sunday evening service could continue. All street lights were permanently switched off (there were none then or now in Goldhanger). White lines were painted on roads and on the edges of vehicles (private cars were mostly black at that time), and torch batteries were in very short supply. Within a year the regulations were relaxed due to the many accidents and deaths and a 20 mph speed limit was introduced. In 1940 all road and rail signposts and maps in public places were removed.
Gas masks were supplied to everyone in case the enemy dropped gas bombs. The majority of WW2 gas masks contain blue asbestos, which is now classed as “category one carcinogenic”. They were never used.
Recovery of metals
A government call for scrap metal to recycle into Spitfires resulted in the removal of decorative iron railings surrounding civic buildings and open spaces, and millions of aluminium saucepans were collected and melted down for the war effort.
The Home Guard
In May 1940, the Government made an urgent appeal on the radio and in newspapers to all men aged between 17 and 65 not already serving in the armed forces to become part-time soldiers, initially called Local Defence Volunteers (LDVs). Women were not recruited. At first no uniforms were supplied and only armbands were issued, and the public were invited to donate shotguns and pistols. Only half of the force was ever supplied with armes. In 1943 “nominated women” were admitted into the Home Guard as cooks, clerks and drivers. One of the main roles of the Home Guard was to patrol the coastline so this would have been an important assignment for a Goldhanger platoon. Nationally over 1,600 members of the Home Guard were killed while on duty. They were mainly killed in air-raids and while disarming live ammunition.
The Land Army
Three months before the beginning of the war the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries formed the Women's Land Army. It was initially voluntary, with many women from towns and cities working seasonally and part-time as needed on farms and were billeted locally in farmhouses and cottages. Later in the war conscription of girls over 16 was introduced.