How Laindon Won the War
and derived considerable pleasure while doing so
On New Year’s Day 1941, the citizens of Laindon, backed by the rest of the population of the UK, were just a few days away from entering the 17th month of their war with the Germans. Although, in peaceful times, the habit of celebrating the arrival of each new year had meant for many an evening of revelry lasting until past midnight on this particular New Years Eve the transition of 1940 into 1941 had, for many, meant instead spending a night being ready to take refuge in an air raid shelter. This was because, since the previous September, the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force, had been sending its bombers in waves, under the cover of darkness, to bomb London. In London, it had by then become the routine, as night fell, for many to descend into the deep tube stations, not to travel, but to sleep, if uncomfortably on the platforms, in comparative safety from the assault on the city, an assault that had lasted for fifty-seven consecutive nights from the 7th September and thereafter, spasmodically, until the middle of May 1941.
In Laindon, although not subjected to the intensive bombing experienced in the city, the district was close enough to the air paths followed by many of the bombers on their way to and from London to warrant the community being alerted to the danger, and many followed a similar routine of taking shelter in their Anderson shelters buried in their gardens. Being so close to the enemy aircraft’s flight paths, meant that all too often, “stray” planes would sometimes off load their cargoes of high explosive or incendiary bombs over the district before turning tail back to the continent or, if they had been badly crippled by anti-aircraft fire or the weapons of the British based fighter planes pursuing them, crashing somewhere in the district.
This phase of the Second World War was known as “The Blitz”, and had followed on an earlier phase that had mainly taken place in the daytime sky over the south eastern counties of Great Britain in the period from 10th July through to the month of September when the enemy had seemingly changed their tactics. The Laindon community had witnessed many events of this earlier period of the war, now spoken of as the “Battle of Britain”, at first hand. Often they had found themselves watching incidents, almost as though they were the audience at a theatre, as they took place in broad daylight away above their heads.
One of the problems they faced at the time was the way in which there was an official control on the way that news should be presented to the general public and yet the one important thing that the general public hankered after was, in fact, up to date news. In consequence it became almost so mandatory to be up to the minute on the latest events, that at 9 o’clock every evening the populace at large would gather around their wireless (radio) sets to listen to the BBC’s latest news bulletin. This would come from the lips of Alvar Liddell or one or other of the posh speaking newsreaders of the time with names like John Snagge, Freddie Grisewood and Stuart Hibberd. At this period, also, the BBC, as if deliberately attempting to counter the enemy propaganda broadcast from Germany as news in English by Lord Haw Haw (William Joyce), introduced the regional tones of a certain Wilfred Pickles from Yorkshire as a newsreader in order to lighten to some degree the otherwise sombre proceedings.
The advantages of listening to radio news broadcasts was that, compared with the other forms of the media, like the newspapers with their sombre black and white presentation or the newsreels shown on cinema screens in shades of grey, the wireless was able to present the most recently released information which was so important when events were happening so fast throughout the world. This meant that for many of the audience, particularly those in places like Laindon, the events they may have been witnessing made them feel that, yes indeed, they were as much part of the action as were those who were caught up in deadly earnest elsewhere. However, because of the way in which the news was being stage managed, meant that there was often a strange unreality attached to hearing a statement on the radio like “X number of enemy aircraft were destroyed” and linking that claim to the reality of having stood and watched as the sky had become a mass of twisting and turning vapour trails, thus providing short lived evidence of the deadly contest that was going on overhead. People had stopped, gazed up and stared often in complete oblivion of the danger they faced from falling shell fragments from the anti-aircraft guns that were continuing to blaze away at the same time.
There was even a lack of realism, it seemed, when it wasn’t long after when some of the causalities of these high flying events they had been witnessing such as the crippled aircraft or some of the human beings that had flown in them started coming down to earth. Thus it was that many of the youngsters of Laindon knew exactly where, if they were quick enough on their bikes, they could go and pick up souvenirs of the battle. At the same time tales were spread about how some foreign speaking grounded airman (not all of enemy origin, incidentally) had been detained by the more robust matrons of the district armed with their fireside pokers or garden forks.
It was the fact that news was only made available to the general public under very controlled conditions that makes for difficulty in any attempt to recreate the kind of conditions, the anxieties and concerns that prevailed at the time. In January 1941, for example, there was no real understanding of what is referred to above as the passing of a “phase”. It is only with the facility of hindsight that the passage of time has given us that it becomes possible to state that the change from daylight assaults to night time bombing raids, the change from “Battle of Britain” to “Blitz” as it is expressed above, was an indication that the threat of an invasion across the Channel by an invading German Army had passed. To all intents and purposes, the threat of imminent invasion was still very real as 1941 dawned, and the kind of amusing episodes of “Dad’s Army” which later generations have grown up watching were based on the grim realities of the times.
One of the prevailing anxieties of 1941 that existed in the highest echelons was the availability of sufficient equipment to continue to resist the onslaughts on Britain that the Blitz represented. The hand-to-hand fighting of the Battle of Britain had clearly placed a great strain on the number of fighter aircraft necessary to fend off what was generally considered to be intended as a demoralizing campaign, the object of which was to interfere with the UK’s industrial production. It was generally considered that the enemy’s tactic was, hand in hand with the U-boat onslaught against shipping, to starve a weakened and war weary Britain into submission. The official reaction to these two threats was firstly, to redouble the quantity of effort being put into persuading the general public of the need to “dig for victory” and, secondly to introduce the idea of “War Weapons Weeks”.
The “Dig for Victory” campaign had been introduced from the beginning of the war in September 1939 as the consequence of the decision to introduce the rationing of basic commodities. As has been explained elsewhere it was the intensification of the propaganda campaign associated with this that encouraged the formation in 1941 of the Laindon and District Horticultural Society under the aegis of the local branch of the British Legion. “War Weapons Weeks” were also an intensification of the National Savings Campaign that had also been running since the outbreak of war under the slogan “Save for Victory”. This exhortation had been relatively low key and, as recalled, mainly directed at setting up “savings clubs” in an attempt to encourage regular investment chiefly through the Post Office Savings Scheme. As part of this schools and other organisations like the Women’s Institute were encouraged to set up such clubs by introducing the sale of savings stamps of low denomination, placing them in albums which, when full, could be used to exchange for National Savings Certificates of various denominations.
An attempt was made, at the time of the Battle of Britain, to introduce a “Spitfire Fund” whereby the significance of the savings campaign was linked to the costs of producing an individual fighter aircraft of that type, its role in that phase of the war clearly having captured the public’s affections. By issuing monthly bulletins on the totals that had been invested in National Savings in a district it was felt that a specific purpose could be attached to an otherwise mundane activity. However, in the face of what was generally considered to be a dire position at the beginning of 1941, the central authorities clearly felt that this campaign, also, was in need of a considerable boost.
In April 1941, in common with other local authorities, the Billericay Urban District Council in whose area Laindon, Langdon Hills, parts of Dunton and Lee Chapel lay was compelled to discuss a directive it had received informing them they must oversee the running of a War Weapons Week in their area as part of the war effort. Not surprisingly, given the attitude that some of the elected councillors took towards such mandatory instructions, there was a sharp reaction, one councillor remarking that he thought that as “the job of defending the realm is the job of the Government (then he) didn’t think you should have flag days to help them out.” However, after the Clerk to the Council had pointed out that if Billericay UDC did not engage in the idea then Civil Servants would act on the Council’s behalf, the Council fell in with the idea, largely based on the enthusiasm for the idea expressed by Cllr Joe Toomey and the matter was referred to a special committee for further discussion.
Accordingly, in early June 1941 an announcement was made that a week in the following July would be set aside and a “celebration” would be held throughout the Billericay Urban District, the objective of which would the district’s own opportunity to lend the Government as much money as it could to assist in pursuit of victory in the war. A lot of discussion had taken place about setting a target for the whole district to aim for, a figure of £40,000 had been arrived at although Cllr Joe Toomey, whose enthusiasm for the whole business had been obvious right from the start, was still arguing that £50,000 was “an easy target” even after the final figure for the target had been agreed upon. Four separate organising committees were to be set up, one or each part of the district, namely Billericay, Wickford, Laindon and Pitsea/Vange. Joe Toomey was appointed as “secretary organiser” for the whole district.
For the record, Joe Toomey was a “Laindon” man who had lived in the area since 1929. His home was at “Albany”, High Road, Langdon Hills. His business dealings had gone from strength to strength, starting with the selling and charging of those essential “accumulators” that were so necessary for owners of radios in an area like Laindon when it lacked an electricity supply. To these commodities and services, Joe had added the selling of motorcycles, until such time as he had been able to expand into becoming the successful filling station and vehicle maintenance garage in Laindon High Road just north of the Laindon Hotel and south of Aston Road that many people will recall. In 1941, as part of this complex, Joe administered his business from a specially constructed office that he had called “Service House” and it was from this latter location the running of much Billericay’s War Weapons Weeks took place. It needs hardly to be pointed out that the impressive complex of motor traders that exists in West Mayne, Basildon and elsewhere is the direct successor of the now demolished Laindon High Road site. (Visit http://www.toomey.uk.com/AboutUs for more detail)
Under the headline “ War Weapons Week: The Snowball Has Started To Roll“, the 18th June 1941 issue of the “Laindon Recorder” gives a report of a meeting held at the Laindon High Road Senior School attended by Councillors Land, Cottis, Pikesley, Barrett, Selby, Reed and Moore and seventy Laindon residents plus, of course, Cllr Joe Toomey, in which the preparations for War Weapons Week in the Laindon area were finalised. Several sub-organising committees were formed which included the appointment of a coordinating secretary, Mr Arthur Pavie of High Road, Langdon Hills, who was well known for his long involvement in arranging social functions and for his necktie-making business run from the “Old Fortune” at the time. Mr Basil Brookes of “Goldsmiths”, Langdon Hills and County Councillor, was declared as presiding over the whole savings scheme and gave a pep talk about its essential nature. The meeting was ended with a statement that already £1,000 had been invested in the area and that, thus “the Laindon, Lee Chapel and Langdon Hills district had started the snowball on its momentous way.” By the end of the month of June the dates with some of the details of the events associated with “War Weapons Week” are being announced and pronounced as beginning on Saturday the 5th of July. Many fingers are being kept crossed that for that week the weather will be favourable; weather forecasting being one of those items forbidden under the special powers act in wartime, not that the public was less sceptical of such matters in those days as they are today.
The “Laindon Recorder” issued on the 9th July, halfway into War Weapons Week reveals in several articles and adverts that, the sale of a dozen eggs at the regular meeting of the Women’s section of Laindon British Legion by Mrs Parker had realised a contribution of £1/14 shillings to the week’s effort; that the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) and Laindon Athletic Club, the former under the direction of Section Officer Cole, the latter directed by Mr Fred Wickenden had given a joint display of their relative skills at the Laindon Hotel Meadow and that, already by Monday, the target of £40,000 for the week was well assured because £33,220 had already been secured in the BUDC area! Despite this, the message that went out from the organising committees was “Save Till It Hurts!”
According to later news reports in the “Recorder” issued after the end of the special week, a concluding total of over £175,000 had been reached in the whole district. In order to reveal this detail each of the four townships of the Billericay Urban District had erected large “thermometers” in prominent places upon which the indication was displayed as the total progressed. That for Laindon was erected in the car park of the Laindon Hotel in the High Road. The actual week had, for Laindon, been started off with a procession from the “Crown” meadow on the top of Langdon Hill led by the band of the Southend Home Guard, followed by specially decorated vans and cars. A drumhead service had been held on the playing fields of Laindon High Road School and a dance had been held inside the school on the evening of the same day. As well as the AFS and ATC display at Laindon Hotel Meadow mentioned above there was a further Military based display at the same location later in the week. During the course of the week dances, whist drives, garden parties and talent competitions had been held at various locations throughout the district including a variety show and darts match at the Winston Club. Collection boxes had been available in many shops and businesses in the district and on the final Saturday a long procession with fancy dress etc. toured the district. On these processions, there had been an exercise along the length of Laindon High Road to achieve what was being called a “Mile of Pennies” in which penny pieces were laid edge to edge on top of the kerb all along one side of the carriageway. At the same time stirring addresses were given by various dignitaries like Basil Brookes outside the Laindon Hotel and at one point, local Estate Agent and Auctioneer, Harry Bebington conducted the auction of a photograph autographed by Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, consort to the future Dutch Queen, Juliana daughter of Queen Wilhelmina, living in the UK in wartime exile, of a RAF Spitfire, named “Bitsea”, that had been on display at Lee Chapel Lane, Langdon Hills. This auction had realised a further £7 and was bought by Mr. John Holman, licensee of the Laindon Hotel.
A week later, the final figure for the special fund raising week was given as £185,000 for the BUDC, more than four times the £40,000 aimed at. This was considered to be an outstandingly successful result, which it was, given the general conditions of the time. The way in which the way was organised against a background of entertainment probably resulted in a general lifting of morale in an otherwise depressing period and the experiment was repeated in later years, only the aimed at “target” differing. (One year it was the “purchase” of a Navy Frigate to be named HMS “Bud”) In reality, the circumstances post 1941 were never quite the same, the entry into WW2 of the USA considerably altering the situation. Nevertheless, the circumstances of the effort made in War Weapons Week of 1941, helped to preserve a community spirit that survived until after the war when, for a number of years, processions became a regular feature, often preceded by that ex-serviceman the late Billy Foyle on his Palomino named “King”.
There was an odd sequel to the 1941 War Weapons Week saga that might be worth telling involving a pair of long gone Laindon characters about whom little or nothing has so far recorded on this archive. The first of these was a man named Bert Holliday, who, while not exactly a Laindon resident, became associated with Laindon due to one of his many activities. Bert Holliday was, in fact, the owner of the general shop in Church Road, Basildon that doubled as the sub-post office for what was, prior the coming of the New Town the small-scattered community that was Basildon parish. In the spring of 1941, in his capacity as sub-postmaster of Basildon, Bert had attended a meeting at Romford of the National Federation of Sub-postmasters (Romford, Ilford, Grays and Brentwood District Branches) which meeting was also attended by, at least, two of Laindon area’s sub-postmasters; M Boon, whose business was, if memory serves correctly, in North Parade, Laindon High Road and Mr Green, the whereabouts of whose business premises has yet to be established. The meeting at Romford that these three local representatives attended was presided over by a sub-postmaster from Ilford (a Mr Millard) who had to confess to those present that, due to enemy bombing destroying his premises, he had had to go out of business and was, thus, being compelled to give up his role as President of the branch. As a result, the meeting had duly elected Bert Holiday of Basildon as the substitute president vice Mr Millard.
In his alternative capacity (and this explains the Laindon connection), Bert Holiday was a regular contributor of a column published practically every week in the “Laindon Recorder”. This was written and published over the name “Cumbrian in Essex” (Holliday’s birthplace was in Cumbria) and, generally, was a mixture of general comment, some of which occasionally strayed into the controversial. It was as the columnist that the editor, in the “Recorder” issued on the 30th July 1941, under the heading of “In Praise of War Weapons Week Organisers” Holliday’s offering of the week which read: “I thoroughly enjoyed my visit as representative of South Basildon to the residence of Mr Basil Brookes, president of Billericay War Weapons Week where a preliminary “balancing up” meeting of the War Weapons Week was held.
“The summary presented by Mr Coles, (treasurer) immediately attracted our attention and reminded us that we were not sitting around the garden table holding a private garden party. Oh dear me No! The figures mapped out by Mr Cousins and his staff in the financial department of the Urban Council offices was a work of nature that even made school masters “sweat”. Readers may like to have a few “financial problems” to be going on with in readiness for the big meeting to be held in Billericay Senior Schoolroom on August 7 at 8p.m.
“Study this you pessimists who said that the Organising Secretary, Councillor J Toomey would never be able to raise £40,000 in Billericay District.
“Billericay (North and South Basildon) raised £14,529
“Laindon raised £8,833.
“Barclays Bank in Billericay raised £41,990; in Wickford £27,638; in Laindon £1,940; in Pitsea £3,854
“Lloyd’s Bank raised £11,219; National Provincial raised £3,000 and Midland Bank raised £10,000.
“Billericay raised £3,949, Laindon £4,522, Vange £2,523, Pitsea £1,561, Ramsden Bellhouse £1,438, Wickford £1,485. Other accounts £39,540.
“There is no need to add up because we have already read and head on the wireless that the amount invested was £185,106.
“Then there was a long discussion concerning money raised as a result of entertainments. When all expenses were paid, Mr Toomey said there would be £600 left.
“Interesting matter was raised by Mr J. Scorer (Chairman Pitsea and Vange), Councillor Pulsford (Chairman Billericay) Mr Broughton (North Basildon) and Mr Black (Nevendon) Secretary of Group Savings for the area.
“I hope this brief summary taken from the Grand Summary will “whet the appetite” of all interested in the National Savings Movement with a view to making the forthcoming general meeting attractive and enthusiastic.” (End of Holliday’s article).
A fortnight after Bert Holiday’s article appeared, the following letter was published in the “Recorder” under a heading reading Basildon – North and South
As a regular reader of your valued paper, I have noticed with great interest, the persistence with which that pleasant rendezvous Basildon is becoming known as merely “North” and “South”. As an old Basildonian living just over the border, perhaps one of your readers will enlighten myself and others as to the term “North” and “South”. I have no knowledge of the existence of any demarcation line, one does not read of Laindon, Billericay, Wickford, Pitsea etc. being referred to as North and South.
Wake up Basildon! You have done great things in the past and will do greater things in the future of this I am convinced but it will become a difficult road if you allow yourself to be split into two camps in such critical times as the present because of the differences of a few individuals who would do well to follow the advice of last week’s “Wayside Pulpit”: “The only way to find friendship is to send friendship out to look for it”.
W W Card (Laindon)
The person whose signature appears at the bottom of the letter, W W Card, Walter or as he was more popularly known, “Wally” Card, would, in 1941, be instantly recognisable. Wally was one of those long standing members of Laindon’s community who was happy to indulge himself in many of the district’s social activities and the name “W Card” would appear time and time again acting as Chairman of this, secretary of that, Master of Ceremony at this dance or that whist drive and so on. As a completely extraverted person, he had the reputation of being the sort of absolutely reliable type of person to call upon to make a social function a great success and his services were, therefore, in constant demand.
On the 20th August, much of Cumbrian in Essex’s “Recorder” column, (not reproduced in full here) is placed under the heading “Response to Letter” Bert Holliday indicates that he is aware of Wally Card’s past poaching associations with Basildon because of Wally’s marriage to Gladys Nice who was a girl local to the parish. His (Holliday’s) explanation of his earlier allusions to the “geographical divisions” of North and South Basildon arose out of a visit in 1933 of the Bishop of Chelmsford to the missionary church of St. Albans. This newly constructed church, to the south of the parish, had been established to serve the newest settlements in the area, while the longer standing community were to the north closer to the original parish church. In any case, he took his inspiration and justification for such revised nomenclature from the railway’s habit of using local topographical names like the fact that there were “Basildon East” and “Basildon West” signal boxes and the fact, also, that the railway line actually dived the parish into north and south.
The “Recorder” issued on 27th August 1941, contained two letters. The first:-
Basildon must not split reads:-
“Cumbrian’s” attempt to impress your readers that he has settled the question of North and South Basildon calls for clarification. Perhaps many of the inhabitants in the vicinity of Basildon Church Road Post Office should know who this W W Card is who dares to find the audacity to differ from the sub-postmaster. Well, ever helpful and having no wish to allow anyone to misunderstand or be wrongly impressed, I first stepped footed in Basildon in the year 1918 as a budding “matlow” as all nice girls love a sailor. I became a Baildonian continuing to sail and roam to different parts of the world, experiencing more “downies” than “upsies” but always keeping in touch with local affairs via the local press and spending all possible leave, including “french” in old Basildon. So I know a lot about the place. Eventually, my happy day arrived but as my wife herself chose our spot in Laindon where one can see the sun shining over the hill on Basildon I can hardly be accused of enticing her away, Bert! I would mention here that she has a distaste for bouquets and Laindon knows well enough I have no use for them either.
Now, Cumbrian and interested readers, I must point out that when I decided to question the subject of North and South Basildon, little did I realize and was surprised to find that Mr Holiday was so responsive and ready to delve into the past to find ways and means to answer my query. Why the past should have a bearing on the present or future sufficiently to split Basildon in two I cannot understand. This cannot be allowed to happen at the whim of a few individuals even if the previous Rector and Bishop made some reference, they should not have done so. No, Cumbrian in Essex, this important and constructive point has a bearing on the future then we must follow the advice of Mr Basil Brook our president of War Weapons Week that “Unity is Strength”
W W Card. (Laindon)
The second letter reads
Basildon North and South
Mr. Card’s warning in your issue of August 13 is not a moment too soon – for a house “divided against itself cannot stand”. The strange matter emanating from the brain wave of a well intentioned gentleman whose official position should have directed him in a better channel and it is regretted that the Church or at least a certain portion of it, countenances the innovation, otherwise it would have been smothered at birth. Nothing but chaos will follow if Billericay area decides to split into sections. Basildon hitherto has been a united parish and I need hardly remind your numerous readers that “Unity is Strength”
William A Saunders. Dale Farm, Basildon
In the 3rd September issue of the “Recorder” it is clear from the letter reproduced below that Bert Holliday, having tired of the dispute his contributions had engendered, had slipped a brief comment (not recorded) that acknowledged his defeat for in the issue a week later on 10th September the following appeared:-
Cambrian’s Olive Branch.
From Cambrian’s brief remarks in his Football Column, I take it that he is holding out the olive branch. It would be gratifying then if he would drop the “South” and just write Basildon in his future comments to prove his sincerity and show that he at least has no desire to divide the district. What a pleasant taste this would give to your future columns, Bert! After all, I for one look forward to my “Recorder” and the weekly article of “Cumbrian in Essex”. Might I also thank you Mr Editor for your impartiality in publishing my letters which I feel have done and will be of constructive value to Basildon. This is proved by the letter of Mr A Saunders one of Basildon’s long standing and respected residents.
W W Card, Hilltop Road, Laindon.
There well may be special significance in the fact that Wally Card’s dwelling in Hilltop Road was named “Peacehaven”.