I was born in May 1937, living in Downham Road, Runwell, and in 1938 my dad built our bungalow in Waverley Crescent. In 1939, at the start of the war, all building work stopped, and my dad joined the Army. I was two years old and the next time I can recall seeing him was in 1944 when he came home on leave prior to D-Day.
At the start of the war Runwell was a plotland. In 1940 the Government ‘compulsory’ purchased the fields, with their little wooden sheds, and I remember tractors with chains dragging all the sheds and huts to the corner of the fields, the land being ploughed and the growing of wheat, barley, flax etc., as we were digging for Victory, according to the posters of the day. During this time German and Italian P.O.W.s tended the fields, cleaning ditches, cutting hedges etc. About thirty would turn up with probably one English soldier guarding them. They possibly came from the P.O.W. camp in Nevendon Road, but as children we didn’t really know what they had done.
My earliest memories of that time were of the planes doing aerial combat known as ‘dog fights’ over Wickford and Brock Hill, the air raid sirens going, incendiary bombs falling in Lindon Road and Downham Road and strips of tinfoil hanging in trees (to block radio signals etc.). To protect us from the air raids, air raid shelters were provided. There were several types. We had a Morrison shelter (2 heavy sheets of metal supported by 4 angle iron supports 2’6’’ high) which was placed in a room, the bed was made inside and the top was used as a table. Local people became Air Raid Wardens to watch that light was not showing through blacked out windows etc., and any fires from incendiary bombs were quickly put out. I also remember the Doodlebugs (V1 Rockets) going across the bottom of the garden, and as my Mum said “if the engine stops, run” but I don’t remember her telling me which way – I expect is was to the air raid shelter.
As a child, and being a boy, I must admit it was an exciting time. Wickford was an army town (well village); tanks, lorries guns etc. were always travelling up and down Brock Hill. Mum used to say to me when she could hear the noise they made “quick run down the road and wave to the soldiers, Daddy might be there”. I couldn’t remember what Daddy looked like except from photos, but I still waved.
Most nights lorries with guns would park in any of the side roads to fire at the German planes, lit up by searchlights placed in Sudbury Farm Downham. As a little boy I thought a searchlight was a special ray which caught planes and brought them down.
During this time traffic in Swan Lane could go no further than Wantz Corner (the junction with Church End Land ) owing to the anti tank blocks (upside down concrete cones) in the road. You could cycle or walk through them, but not drive. Still there wasn’t much traffic about, just a few buses and tractors. Not many people had cars in those days and anyway petrol was rationed. It was just the army traffic, and everything went along Church End Lane . One thing from the war years that really sticks in my mind was, towards the end of the war, we were going shopping, when the noise of planes came from the north (Chelmsford Way). The sky was filled from north to south and east to west with planes towing gliders. This was quite a spectacle to me, a seven year old, which will never leave my memory. One of these gliders broke free and landed in a field on east side of Brock Hill. We went up to have a look, but the local policeman stood guard and wouldn’t let us near. Later it was broken up and taken away by the R.A.F.