My War Years Memories - Chapter 1

School Days

By John Bathurst

Most of what happened in Laindon between 1939 and 1945 as a result of enemy action is recorded in the works of Peter Lucas like “Basildon” or “Basildon Behind the Headlines”. His accounts are backed up by the official log of the ARP of Billericay Urban District Council which organisation ran the district at the time. The official log is deposited in the Essex County Records Office at Chelmsford for all to see. 

What is apparent from an examination of that log is that most of what happened to Laindon was purely incidental. There were no real targets worthy of the enemy’s attention and if bombs fell on the district it was most probably because they were jettisoned by Luftwaffe aircraft off route to the more important targets like the industries of Thameside or of London, the capital city. 

Some disabled aircraft were “downed” in the district because they were unable to return to their base wherever it was; either this side or across the English Channel. Later in the war, the Germans developed un-manned weapons of aggression, the V1 and the V2. These were, by modern examples of such devices, somewhat unsophisticated and although it was probably intended that, when they were launched, they should fall on areas of heavy population like London and cause panic, some fell short of their target and exploded in the Laindon area. 

This means that any account of events described like those published by Alan Davies are purely anecdotal by nature but no less interesting to read for all that! Some of my own recollections of that period might, therefore, also be of interest. One of the events recorded by Peter Lucas that occurred in the Laindon area concerns the damaged British aircraft (a Hurricane from the squadron based at the North Weald RAF airfield) abandoned in flight by Pilot Officer Robert Barton that on 5th September 1940, crashed to the ground in the field across Markham’s Chase from the school of that name now re-named “Janet Duke’s”. The event is also recorded in Janet’s (the Headmistress) log of the same day. I do not know if it was ever realised how close to a real disaster they came on that particular day because I and my father were witnesses to the whole event. We were standing outside the Anderson Air-raid Shelter in our garden when the disabled ‘plane flew over our heads from the west descending at a banked angle such that it seemed to us the port side wing only just cleared the chimney of our bungalow. Our bungalow was approximately half a mile west of the school which was clearly visible to us across the fields and as the ‘plane passed on it seemed as if its trajectory and speed was such that it was actually and inevitably going to crash into the school. We knew the school to be occupied because the autumn term had only just reconvened after the summer holidays, so we were both greatly relieved when at what seemed to be the last second, the aircraft did a final dive and buried itself in the ground of the empty field just behind the perimeter hedge. Years later, Markham’s Chase Leisure Centre was built over the site of the aircraft’s crash, a building now demolished and replaced by houses. 

It might reasonably be asked how it was that I was able to have been an eye witness of this heart-stopping event. Should I also not have been at school on this day? The answer is contained in the aforesaid log compiled by Janet Duke at the time. Having become 11 years of age in July 1940, I was waiting to commence at a new school, having left Markham’s Chase (Janet Dukes) at the beginning of July. From the log, it would appear that in that year, many schools were in a considerable state of flux because of the war and at Markham’s Chase School, the long summer holiday had been reduced to just two weeks and the autumn term had, therefore, been restarted in mid-August. My “new” school, on the contrary, was not, however, due to start its new term until later the same September week in which the described incident above occurred. 

For many children of the Laindon and Langdon Hills area who had reached the age of eleven, those who were not to continue what became known as their “secondary education” at Mr George Radford’s council school in Laindon High Road had to travel outside the district. This meant to places like Westcliff-on-Sea, Chelmsford, Brentwood, Upminster or Romford. There were also some, myself included, who travelled to Grays Thurrock to attend either Grays Intermediate School or Palmer’s Endowed School. In those days, this latter educational institution consisted of two separate wings; firstly, the Girls School situated at Chadwell Road, Grays which building still survives to this day as Palmer’s Sixth Form College. The other wing was the Boys School, the buildings of which were on the corner of Southend Road and Chadwell Road over a mile distant from the girls’ school building. As is perfectly to be understood, because of the superior nature of the male species, Palmer’s Endowed School for Boys was regarded as the more important of the two wings, despite the fact that it was their building that was demolished and replaced by the housing estate that now exists in its place! 

To reach Palmer’s from Laindon, the choice was to travel by either train or ‘bus. The journey by train involved a change at Upminster to travel forward to Grays via the Ockendon single line. I only ever knew of one pupil who did this and he had to get from Grays station to the School which was the other end of the town from the station. This made his days very long as he had to catch a train at about half past seven in the morning to get there on time!

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This page was added by John Bathurst on 30/05/2012.
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Have just read about the Hurricane fighter that came down across the road from Markhams Chase School. I was a pupil there at the time (aged 9) and was in an air-raid shelter with the rest of my class when a piece of blazing fuselage fell on top of the shelter. We were all very excited and wanted to run out to inspect it but were restrained by the teacher! Fortunately the heavy bits, (engine) fell in the fields so none of us were injured.

By Helen Brewin
On 21/09/2012