When Night became Day

This short story is how my father told it to me sometime in the late 1950s.

“It was towards the end of World War 11, 1944/1945. All was quiet this night and we were in  bed asleep at our home in Runwell. About 2am my father was woken by a bright violet/ white light. He said it was so bright that he could read a newspaper indoors. He got up and went to the back door,  opened it and went outside, and looking down the garden (east towards Rettendon Church on top of the hill) there was this bright light coming up from the ground to the left of the church. He said this happened about four of five times. It looked as though there were 4 or 5 of these lights in a line from the River Thames in the south to Chelmsford in the north. The whole sky was lit up and so was the ground.

These lights were fixed (search) lights, some 30ft to 50ft in diameter, dug into the ground (I don’t know how deep) with fixed mirrors all around the side and and across the base. This line of lights was under the main air corridor the Germans were using to bomb London.”

At the Rettendon Annual Flower Show some 5 years ago I was talking to a resident about this light and was told that the remains of it were  still there in the wood at the back of the cricket field, at the south west corner, so I had to have a look, but couldn’t find it. In 2014 I had to go the the Essex Record Office in Chelmsford and whilst there I looked at the RAF aerial photos of 1945, taken in September that year. There were two of the area, one of which covered Runwell and Rettendon. On careful examination of this photo I found a bomb hole at the bottom of our garden on the north side, other things like trenches from the pill boxes along the A130 can be clearly seen. Then I found the site of the fixed(search)light. It was where I had been told it was, so when I attended the 2014 Rettendon Annual Flower Show I went to look again and find it. This time I looked in the right place, cleared some of the weeds etc. then took about 4 photographs. The circle is soil and about 30 to 50ft diameter with a 6ft concrete surround. In this path is a manhole (this has been filled in) which means all round there might be a tunnel where the light may have been operated. It is possible that this is the last fixed search light left, that was so important to the defense of London, helping to stop the air raids. I think it would make a lasting memorial, the concrete circle could be cleared of all the weeds etc. and the centre area cleared and levelled, and a plaque placed nearby to inform local residents and visitors of the important part the Parish of Rettendon played towards the end of World War 2, and to let them know the residents are proud to have been involved

Originally published by D.DeAth  14 August 2015

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