Runwell Remembered - (b) 1940s to 1950

In the 1940s Runwell didn’t have a school, any doctors or dentists, fire station or police station. All these essentials were in Wickford and still are. At that time there was one dentist and two doctors all in Wickford High Street, but they were within walking distance of Runwell or you waited for the bus.  You didn’t need to make an appointment to see the doctor, you just arrived during surgery hours and waited your turn or the doctor would come and see you, day or night, no matter what the problem.  Of course you had to pay for their care and attention and any medicine you needed.  No National Health Service then. I think the nearest hospital would have probably been St. Andrew’s Billericay.

Because not many people had cars and petrol was rationed, Runwell residents would have walked or cycled into Wickford to do their shopping, and during the war you couldn’t go to any grocery shop or butchers (no supermarkets then).  If the item you wanted was rationed you had to produce your ration book and be registered with certain shops, e.g. perhaps the Co-op in Wickford Broadway, and go there all the time, so no shopping around.  It is hard to believe but Wickford was quite a pretty village with a mixture of houses with front gardens with trees and shrubs, and shops.  Mr.Cochram the dentist had a house and surgery where Iceland is now.  Dr. Frew’s house and surgery were where Dorothy Perkins is now and Dr. Campbell was on the corner of Nevendon Road and London Road . It is still there but buildings have been added.  The fire station was in London Road opposite the now Police station and the Police station was in a house in the Southend Road . The house is still there.

Now back to Runwell. We actually had a library. It was in an outbuilding in the grounds of Runwell Rectory. You would go through the gate in the wall and I remember going to it to get books.  It was run by Mrs. Brymont, then it moved to the Y.M.C.A. hall in Church End Lane , but that was knocked down a few years ago and houses built on this site. So now we haven’t a library or a Y.M.C.A. hall.

As a small boy I lived with my family in Waverley Crescent and that at the outbreak of war, in 1939, my Dad joined the Army.  I cannot recall seeing him again until 1944 when he came home the day before D-Day to see my mother.  I hadn’t seen him for 5 years and you can imagine what I thought when this complete stranger walked up our path and started kissing her.  Apart from my Grandfather I was the only boy and I considered myself the man of the house, looking after my mother, sister, grandmother and grandfather (who were not as old as I thought they were).  I set onto my Dad with fists flailing.  It must have looked funny at the time, but I was going to protect my Mum.  Looking back I never really did bond with my Dad. It must have happened to a lot of children whose Dads were sent overseas or became Prisoners of War.  Perhaps we should all have had counselling but that sort of thing was unheard of, you just had to get on with it.  I found out later that my Dad had been brought back home especially for D-Day and had gone AWOL to see us and had been arrested by MPs at Liverpool Street Station when he got off the train. I found out later that my Dad had been in the 8th Army, 11th Armoured Division, Tank Recovery, and was what was known as a Desert Rat.  He had fought in the Desert and Europe and when he eventually came home he brought me a clockwork train set from Germany.

There was great rejoicing when the War eventually ended, with bonfires, fireworks and street parties.  I don’t know where the fireworks came from because once the war had started there was no more Guy Fawkes Bonfire Night, and as for the street parties, I think the mums had been saving food for just that event.


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  • In answer to Mr. Marcus Peacock’s question of 25/11/13. The operation in which the Dornier was lost with its entire crew, was titled ‘Operation Steinbock’ and was basically the start of the mini blitz on London – Hitler’s last throw of the dice so to speak. The first of the Steinbock raids took place on the night in question 21/22 January 1944. The particular aircraft that impacted behind Runwell Hospital was Werk Nr. 56017 – U5+CK of 2/KG2 Holtzhammer Kampfgeswader, a twin engined Dornier 217M1, this aircraft was on its second sortie and came down according to the official ARP Reports between 5:00 and 5:10am.

    By Trevor A.Williams (28/04/2014)
  • My mother and Aunt (Rosemary and Joan Rose) lived on Ilgars Road when the Dornier came down. I have heard the story of this crash many times, especially how low the aircraft was flying before it went down. However, my mother claims she was on the way to the rail station (early in the morning, but not completely dark) when this happened. I get the impression, however, that the record shows this was well before dawn. Is that correct? 

    By Marcus Peacock (13/11/2013)
  • Since writing the above piece on the Runwell Hospital Dornier Do217M-1 crash….21/22 January 1944. I have had the most extraordinary piece of luck. Whenever we excavated an aircraft… doesn’t end with preserving the exhibits. That is the fun part, the real task begins when you try and uncover the story behind the incident. The aircraft’s identity…who were the crew that occupied it ?…..what Squadron or unit did it come from?……where was it located and so on and so forth. When you have built up your story its always nice to finish any display of items or exhibits with a photograph of the actual aircraft or its crew. Well the background knowledge we obtained together with everything else I mentioned. The only thing that alluded us was a photograph of the aircraft and crew. In 1980 I sent four letters to Germany, to the last known addresses of surviving relatives, in the hope that I might obtain copies of the photographs I sought. All of my letters were returned apart from one to the pilots widow. So I merely assumed….some you win some you lose…and there my quest rested at the time. Only a week before Armistice this year 2012. A letter fell on my Mothers front door mat….it had a German post mark,…..thirty two years after my initial enquiry I had received a letter from the deceased pilots son. The man apologised for his delay in making contact with me….he went on to say that he was only five months old when his Father was killed. Now at the age of sixty nine he recounted on how his Mother never got over the loss of is Father….could never bring herself to talk about him in front of her son. Further stating that he only found my letter after his Mothers death. My immediate thoughts were immense sadness towards a son who had never known his Father, my own I idolised and still do. This man knows nothing of his late Father and has asked me if I can fill in the gaps for him. Thankfully he does have photographs of his Father. We Brits are a wonderful race…..but we do find it hard to forgive. Over many years of researching the Second World War….and reading about the horrors of war and in some cases the crimes the Nazi’s committed. I have also looked upon the real horrors of war….smashed bodies be they English…American or German are all the same…..young men who were some Mothers sons. I can not and will not believe that every German was a Nazi….there are good and bad in every Country. But I can imagine how it must feel to grow up never knowing who your Father was….simply horrible. So in finding the aircraft’s pilot Erich Reiser….I can now bring closure to another historical incident in Wickford/Runwell’s history.

    By Trevor A. Williams (18/11/2012)
  • I am new to this site. My Grandfather used to sell rabbits in Wickford Market (not certain of dates, but his final years to his death – 1950 – were very feeble ones so I suspect pre war). What caught my eye was the date of this crash – my birthday! Fortunately evacuated to the Midlands. My Grandfather lived in Kimberley Road, an unmade Road from Wash Road.

    By Michael Harris (02/11/2012)
  • On the night of 21/22 January 1944 one of the first German bombers employed for ‘Operation Steinbock’…would fall in the grounds of Runwell Mental Hospital in the early hours of the morning. Operation Steinbock was Adolf Hitler’s last attempt at what he thought would bring Britain to it’s knees. Basically a mini blitz….using bomber groups in Europe the Germans were now up against a highly efficient night defence force….and unlike 1940 when we just had to sit and take it…..we now more than had the means to hit back. So right from the start Hitler’s mini blitz was doomed to failure. A German twin engined Dornier DO217M1 was the machine that would fall between the main Power House and the workshops leaving a massive crater beside the hospital incinerator. This was Dornier DO217M1 of KG2 Holtzhammer….coded U5+CK…..and carried the manufacturers serial number 56017. The Dornier which had taken off in Holland flew down to Melun south of Paris to then fly across the channel aiming for London as it’s target. Then afterwards fly out across Cambridge back to it’s base in Holland, but it was picked up by a radar predicted gun site in the area of Pitsea, Essex which fired on the Dornier and hit one of it’s Daimler Benz DB601 engines immediately catching it alight. The front of a Dornier DO217M1 is a completely glazed nose and it’s not known if the aircrafts pilot Erich Reiser was hit or not. But it dived into the ground with tremendous force..killing all four crewman. As a member of the Essex Aviation Group….then based at Duxford, Cambs. I was told about this incident by my late uncle Jack Salmons on many occasions as he used to be a male nurse at the time and afterwards. So on the 09th October 1976 we….as a group with prior permission decended on site to excavate the remains of this once big and powerful aircraft. It was a crisp cold morning and I remember the digger driver blowing into his hands to warm them up. We were using an ordinary JCB excavator which at the time we never realised how unsuitable the machine was…..because we didn’t fully realise the depth of the engines. Work commenced and you could tell straight away that we were excavating a German aircraft. It is thought that the Germans put something in their fuel….wether this is true or not we don’t know…..but the smell it leaves in your nostrils is far from pleasant…and you don’t get it with allied aircraft. Very soon we were pulling a assortment of wreckage from an ever growing hole. Allot of cockpit material…navigators bag containing maps,deviders,pencils etc, propeller blade, oxygen bottles a Nd fire extinguishers, two complete just scorched parachutes, the crews dingy, one of the two Daimler Benz DB601 engines….and the biggest assortment of clothing I have ever seen on an aircraft site….pullovers…pieces of tunic…trousers….socks etc. We also unfortunately found some remains of the German crewman…so in accordance with the law work stopped straight away..the police and Coronor notified. Both visited the site and removed the human remains…and then allowed the dig to proceed. Identification in the form of a wallet and contents was found and passed to the appropriate authorities….a hand gun Belgium FN pistol 9mm as well as the remains of an MG81J machine gun and the barrels of an MG81 Zwilling….sacks of ammunition etc. We had no idea at the time….but we had placed our soil Pile over the other engine…propeller blades and other ancillary items…..these items being found about ten years later when another group opened the site. This was a significant site which yielded many very interesting finds… was also the site where four young airmen lost their lives and that was our first thoughts when we opened the site. The crew already had graves in the main German Cemetery at Cannock Chase, Staffordshire….and what human remains were found on our dig were later relocated to Cannock Chase. The artefacts recovered from this site were taken for display in our Museum at Duxford. And now the Museum is no more, the Imperial War Museum, Duxford still retains important items from the Runwell Dornier. But again I find myself saying….this now town of ours….Wickford and Runwell, are both mentioned in the Doomsday Book……we need a museum of our own in order to preserve for future generations of Wickfordians and Runwellians a unique history and any items of memorabilia….in the form of documents…photographs or items from the periods.can be displayed and seen in the future..we were at one time a nerve centre for agriculture…cattle markets…pigs, chickens, so much of it I can remember from my childhood….Market Road, High Street, Wickford in my earliest days of school ….saw penned animals, chickens etc…..Darby’s a well known name in agriculture….and it’s founder who gave us ‘The Darby Digger’ plough…..I think they called them the good old days……..

    By T.A.Willams (09/09/2012)

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