The V1 incident
You were all right as long as the engine did not cut out before it had passed over
Further to the Vowler Road incident, (for those who escaped the experience). One way and another, between 1939 and 1945 Laindon received within its boundaries practically every type of nasty explosive device invented by the Germans to throw at London.
The V1 that fell on Vowler Road was an un-manned rocket, launched from a ramp somewhere on the continent and directed in the general direction of its target, proceeding noisily at different levels above the ground until the motor stopped and the V1 or “doodle bug” either dived or glided to the ground and exploded. The “advantage” if that is the right word to use about such a nasty thing, was that as long as the noisy engine didn’t cut out, you were safe. Once it had gone over you knew that some other poor sod stood a chance of experiencing the big bang.
The other so called “advantage” was that the RAF’s fighters could shoot them down. This was also possible at night because the exhaust from the V1 was like a bright tail lamp and, in fact, I recall being under canvas at Roman Camp, Colchester, on fairly high ground when a V1 flew over about 25 feet above our camp and the heat from the back could be felt on the ground.
Far scarier were the V2 rockets, which, because they were launched from mobile platforms, could only be destroyed before they were fired at London by being bombed from the air. This was a fate they could avoid by moving location. The only thing that stopped their use against the UK was that the Allied advance through Belgium and the Netherlands meant the launch pads had to be moved and they eventually got out of range.
When they first fell on the UK without warning with devastating explosions, the rumour was spread around for quite a time that the resultant damage was due to exploding gas stoves in the demolished building. However, this weak excuse could not prevail, because people in earshot of the explosion wanted to know what was responsible for the “rushing” noise that seemed always to follow on from the bang. The truth had to be announced and this raised a difficulty because, unlike with the bombardment by the V1, it was impossible to give any warning of their approach. In effect, the civilian population of South East England had become virtually front line troops without means of protection. This created a funny fatalistic feeling, and, since nobody wanted to spend hours crouched in a bunker in a funk, everybody just “got on with it.
I recall the experience of being outside and experiencing the back blast when a V2 exploded on top of the railway embankment adjacent to Helmore Crescent (the extension towards Dunton of Durham Road). The damaged caused by this was remarkably slight, being little more than a few wheelbarrow loads of spoil on the railway track in the cutting and the dislodging of the parapet bricks on the railway bridge across to Berry Lane. On the other hand, there was a vivid flash when one hit the ground in January 1945 behind Dickens Drive and Pound Lane when a lot of properties were re-damaged shortly after the repairs necessitated by the August 1944 V1 strike, which had included a field of wheat being burnt shortly before harvesting, had just been completed.