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.

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  • Most interesting articles. Unfortunately I can only recount some very blurred memories told to me by my mother Mrs Annie Davies. Mr farther, Mr Leslie Davies worked for the Air Ministry in London and commuted from their house in Vowler Road. Apparently the Ministry decided to move certain personnel away from London and they were sent to live in the much safer town of Harrogate, Yorkshire, along with my two elder brothers- Clifford and Bernard. Whist living in Harrogate my mother remembered that they were told that their house in Vowler Road had received a direct hit from a V1 rocket that had severely damaged the property. I believe my mum said a bungalow next door was also damaged.
    My third brother, Anthony was born in Harrogate in 1944, and me in 1946. As I was so young at the time I cannot recall the events very well, but my parents – still living in Harrogate whilst their Laindon house was awaiting re-building – separated. By then the older brothers had left home, and my mum who had always believed the Laindon house to be “jointly owned”, decided that as the house re-built house was almost complete, that she would move in with us two younger boys. Little did she realise that although her mother apparently had either given them or loaned the money for the Vowler Road property, it was my father’s sole name on the deeds. He became aware of us moving in and immediately instructed the builder – believed to be the very religious, Mr Wiggins – to throw us out immediately. We returned from a shopping trip to find what little possessions we owned, piled up in the front garden and drenched.
    We then went to live temporarily with my aunt, Evelyn Slater who lived near the station and I understood owned a haberdashery shop in Laindon High Road. Things did not work out too well, so we then went to live with another aunt – Alice Cronin – in Manor Road, Laindon.
    At the time development of Basildon New Town and District had just started, and we were allocated a council flat in nearby Wickford.
    What eventually happened to “our house” in Vowler Road is unknown. Maybe some kind person can help

    PS My mother always believed that the Vowler Road house was built using proceeds some the sale of various “plots” that my grandmother had earlier acquired after WW1

    By Gordon Davies (07/02/2021)
  • Just a P.S. I forgot to say Miss Dunn’s maid/companion was named Carrie

    By Ellen English Nee Burr (06/08/2012)
  • Hi Len, I remember you, and I remember your sister Brenda well, we were in the same class at Langdon Hills Primary both of us were born same year Sept.1944 Brenda was the 23rd if I recall correctly.

    If you look up Langdon Hills school trip to London I have put a photo on that includes Brenda. I have already entered the names of all the families in the top end of Nightingale between Lee Chapel Lane and Park Ave, Borets, Hopkins, opposite were Mr and Mrs Reid postmaster, Coopers, Nicholls, Donovans, Markins, Grovers, Moons, Cousins, Webbs, Stows, Russells then last bungalow before Lee Chapel were us Burrs.

    You put Dry Street but think you meant Lee Chapel, Dry St was much farther up past the Crown. The name of the house you mentioned was the Lighthouse, Miss Dunn and her maid/companion lived there. We also went and got things from her usually bunches of flowers if there was a special event, usually dahlias and gladiolus.   

    By Ellen English Nee Burr (04/08/2012)
  • I don’t remember them too well but we lived in Nightingale Ave and a family named Burr lived up towards the top near Dry Street.   Also were the Webb, Grovers and Hopkins in the same road. What was the name of the white wooden house in Dry Street going down on the left?  Two elderly ladies sold toms and veggies.

    By Len Boret (03/08/2012)
  • Very interesting article and series of comments. The V1 in Vowler Road fell one or two houses from the Hay’s residence on the corner of Berry Lane and Vowler Road. Mr Hay was the projectionist at the Radion and was responsible for my first young career aspiration. (What could be better than a warm inside job getting paid to watch the flicks all day long!!).

    The little house, inhabited by a couple of female retired schoolteachers (as I remember) simply disappeared. It was replaced by a small lake which rapidly filled with water.  The demolished house was less than seventy five yards as the crow flies from where we lived at Lowlands, Raglan Road, an aptly named bungalow as most of the time it floated in a sea of mud. Raglan Road ran parallel to Vowler Road half way to where Berry Lane turned left toward the plotlands. It only two small bungalows on this road and then it dead ended in a tangle of bush and underbrush.

    Every piece of glass flew out of the house and our very insubstantial roof was lifted up, turned 15 degrees, and dropped back down (for more details read Alan’s article “A laindon lad’s memories of world war II”)

    In the various comments I find no reference to butterfly bombs. I never saw or encountered one but I do remember the dire warnings and posters at Langdon Hills School urging no child to touch or go close to them. Butterfly bombs weighed about four lbs and were released in clusters so that, if one was seen, others were close by. They were anti-personnel bombs in the sense that they did not explode upon hitting the ground but only later when handled, kicked, or otherwise disturbed. Does anyone remember them or had any up close and personal experience with them? 

    My close friend Alan Burr lived in Dry Street Cottages and every morning on the way to Langdon Hills School he would climb into a bomb crater and out the other side and so on to school. It was just the sort of thing that boys (and perhaps girls) routinely did. One particular morning, as he was climbing out of the crater a wayward root tore a big hole in his short trousers. In that era most of us young lads did not aspire to underpants and he spent the rest of the day with one hand holding himself together. He said that it was the longest school day he could remember and one of his most embarrassing moments.

    By Alan Davies (02/04/2012)
  • Very interested in the comments by John Bathurst, regarding the properties in Essex Road . We lived opposite the five bungalows named. Our bungalow was known as “Bush Cottage”.  I seem to recall that Mr.Pasco worked on the railway.

    By Harry Horton (23/03/2012)
  • Hi Harry, I knew there was a house opposite us in Essex Road but could not recall the name.  If I recall, Bush Cottage was set a long way back from the road and could have even backed onto Rutland Road.  My Dad worked on the railway as you suggested

    By Eric Pasco (23/03/2012)
  • Ken Page’s memories of the bomb which dropped in Ronald Ave has inspired me to write a few notes about the high explosive bomb which fell in the pond behind the properties on the west side of Brackenmount (including our own), midway between the Arterial Road and Basildon Road, at 03.25 hours on 10th September, 1940. 

    Although I was less than a year old at the time of the incident, my childhood memories of the ‘bomb crater’, as we came to know it, are quite vivid. The main pond, which we were always told was served by an underground stream, naturally became the focal point of play for us during our childhood days and I am certain that my interest in the natural environment stemmed partly from those early days spent playing and observing the wildlife around the pond.

    The bomb crater was, in fact, my own personal favourite corner of the pond for newts, tadpoles and the like, but the whole area was a sanctuary for many other forms of wildlife, including moorhens, coots, mallards and the occasional heron. The pond, which was rich in plant life, also provided an ideal habitat for all kinds of pond creatures, including the lovely, and quite harmless, grass snake. 

    When she was alive, my mother recalled that on the night of the bombing incident, we were all asleep in our bungalow ‘Danecourt’ when the bomb exploded. My father was on night duty in London on that particular night, and at that time, the brick air-raid shelter that was later to be built in the garden, was not yet available. Fortunately, the incident caused no loss of life or serious damage to the properties in Brackenmount, apart from many broken windows and roof tiles – not to mention a generous layer of black mud everywhere! This was certainly a very close encounter for our family, in what was a particularly active period of the war, in terms of the night-time raids on London and elsewhere. 

    The pond? Well, this suffered the same and almost inevitable fate as so many others in that part of Essex during the development of the Basildon New Town. It disappeared completely during the excavation works for the new Basildon to Billericay Road (Upper Mayne) some time after we left Brackenmount. As to what happened to the underground stream, this will forever remain a mystery. Perhaps there wasn’t one there in the first place!

    Editor: There are a number of filled in spring fed ponds under the Basildon Development Basildon Police Station sits on one.

    By John Peters (24/01/2012)
  • I am glad Mr Bathurst has written about the explosion on the railway embankment adjacent to Helmore Crescent (the extension towards Dunton of Durham Road). We lived in Denbigh Road and I think this may be linked to the story my mum used to tell me – about how my older brother was in bed when there was a huge explosion; his window blew in and he was covered in glass. Because he always covered the whole of his body with a blanket mum said he was saved from any cuts etc. She said my brother visited the site next day and came back with mementos. Unfortunately my brother is not well enough now to ask but I would love to know the real facts.

    By Andrea (24/01/2012)
  • HY guys, re bombs in Laindon, at the very bottom of Ronald Ave where we lived, a substantial house was destroyed by a bomb dropped by a jerry bomber. As I grew up the crater left by this bomb had filled with water and us kids used it for newting and fishing for sticklebacks, there was always frogs and frogspawn etc. The remains of the house gradually disappeared over the years as locals came and ‘salvaged’ useful stuff from the wreckage. From vague memory there was another crater further out in Markham’s wheat field which he fenced off to keep his cattle from harm I wonder if these bombs were part of the stick that may have formed the ponds that were roughly in a row from Dunton Road across the plotlands area?

    By Ken Page (15/11/2011)
  • Thanks for your vivid description of the area ,spot on in every respect. The 3 houses that were the same were Homeland (my home), Trebar & Delwood. Also remember the 7 sisters one of which the Mansfields lived in during the 1950’s and I think also the Quinns.

    By Eric Pasco (23/10/2011)
  • I’m very sorry, Eric, but, even though I have been thinking very hard, I cannot visualise anywhere near the junction of Essex and Sandringham Roads that would account for your memory. There is nothing in the ARP official incident diaries nor in Peter Lucas’s account that remotely suggests extensive war damage to any properties in either of those two streets and, although I am not claiming perfect recall for myself, nor can I remember anything that might have provoked the scene that you describe in your memory. 

    I can recall, however, how Essex Road and Sandringham were linked. Such was the poor nature (un-made up) of the carriageways of both roads that only the foolhardy would attempt to negotiate them in wheeled vehicles. While Sandringham Road had a concrete strip path running virtually it full length on its east side from its junction with Tyler Avenue to just short of its junction with Ulster and Leicester Roads, Essex Road had a footpath on its north side mostly composed of compacted ash for its full length from Sandringham to Laindon High Road.

    Although Essex Road might seem quite lengthy from that description, in fact there were only five habitations in its length. These were “Shamrock”, “Fairview”, “Homeland”. “Trebar” and “Delwood”. Three of these (I cannot recall exactly which three) were all of a similar design and were clustered together on the north side of the road on “top”, as it were, the hill and close to the actual junction with Sandringham Rd. 

    Where Essex linked with Sandringham, the actual “T” junction tended to be a quagmire in wet weather and one picked one’s way between the two roads with considerable care, but on the east side of Sandringham there was a line of seven identical four-roomed cottages that were known as the “seven sisters” and one of these, centrally placed and named “Asterley”, was immediately opposite the east end of Essex Road.

    The writer’s home backed onto “Asterley” in Basil Drive, parallel and to the east, and a long standing reciprocal arrangement with the occupiers of “Asterley” (in the 1930s and early 40s; the Perry family) meant that a short cut through their garden gave easy and speedy access via Essex Road to Laindon High Road between Curtis’s shoe shop and Carey’s Builder’s Merchants.

    By John Bathurst (22/10/2011)
  • Hi John, Is there any record of bomb damage at the T junction of Essex Rd., & Sandringham Rd., as I know there was a total wreck of a property on that spot and was there for all of my 15 years in Essex Rd., I am sure people said it was damaged in the war and just left.

    By Eric Pasco (21/10/2011)
  • Another interesting read John, well done.

    By Gloria Sewell (19/10/2011)

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