The Pratt Family, Swan Lane, Wickford,
2nd October 1940, land mine attack.
It was the 2nd October 1940, when two German land mines were dropped over Wickford. These mines, although classed as land mines, were actually sea mines suspended beneath a parachute….its canopy was either a sickly green colour or off white…mainly green, with thick silk guide ropes. These mines were usually dropped in pairs….carried externally beneath the aircraft between the fuselage and engine nacelles. On the above date two of these thin wall blast weapons were dropped over Wickford.
One of the mines floated past my Great Grandfather’s top bedroom window in Jersey Gardens, acually No 1 Jersey Villas…where my Mother was staying with her own Mother…..my Mother looked out of the bedroom window and said she heard the swish swish as the mine swung beneath its parachute. In a matter of seconds there was a horrendous explosion and unknown to my Mother it had impacted on the Pratt’s home approx 250 yards away. The land mine was designed to cause maximum damage through blast…….blowing down walls…taking out doors and windows and collapsing walls. The blast from the mine that fell in Swan Lane destroyed a number of homes on both sides of Swan Lane……..
The second mine fell at the bottom of the Cricket field…….and the blast from this mine caused wide spread destruction to lower Swan Lane….Elm Road and Jersey Gardens and the Broadway…….photographs which exist of the Broadway showing the damage and repair work. My late Grandfather was Leading Fireman Samuel John Wright who had joined the brigade long before the war. He had recently had a new bungalow built in Guernsey Gardens, the neighbouring road to Jersey Gardens. He was on duty the moment the mines fell….and not knowing my Grandmother was staying with her Mother and Father…and their daughter in Jersey Gardens….looked in the direction of where his new bungalow was and immediately thought the worse.
The Fire Station (Station 27) was at that time located in London Road…..the fire tender was an American built Dennis, with the registration number FNO 163….the ladder was carried centrally and the firemen clung to each side of the appliance …..the cab was an open design with just a windscreen to protect the driver and passenger. They raced through Wickford High Street turning into Swan Lane, but the blast from the mines had bought down the telegraph overhead cables and my Grandfather who was driving the appliance had to break hard as he and the passenger tore at their neck and throats as the cables threatened to choke them………….
As they arrived at the scene where once stood the Pratts home the scene….was now rubble and dust. The daughter Judith Mary Molly Pratt was due shortly to be married to her fiance in Ramsden Bellhouse, and her wedding dress was seen hanging from a tree at the rear of the house where it had blown ……my Grandfather made his way through the rubble and found the family of three huddled together under the stairs with their spaniel dog which was with them. All three occupants had been killed as a direct result of blast effect…….my Grandfather wept as he told me there wasn’t a mark on any of their bodies…..the blast had sucked the air from their lungs. The Spaniel was still alive and my Grandfather said the dog and the bodies couldn’t be removed because the Police in those days had to be present because of the gas mains etc. Eventually the bodies of Cecil Arthur …Gertrude Hannah…and Judith Mary Molly Pratt were removed from the rubble and placed on the green verge across the other side of the road. Thankfully there weren’t too many tragic incidents that took place in Wickford during five years of hostility……….but this particular incident was one that my late Grandfather often talked about. The Pratt family was laid to rest in Wickford Cemetery, Nevendon Road, not far from the main entrance to the cemetery. About seven years ago I was sitting in the Royal British Legion talking to Mr. Roy Simpson…..the subject of the war was raised and it was then that I realised his late father, Charlie Simpson, was formally Corporal Charlie Simpson of Wickford 1st Battalion Home Guard……Roy told me that their home was in Alderney Gardens running along the bottom of Guernsey Gdns. It too had the windows blown in by the blast……sister had her bed beneath the window and the glass had come in on top of her……Roy Simpson told me that his Father had been one of the rescue party and upon returning home had a long piece of parachute mine chord that he had knotted in the middle and was twisting it around his hands……he was dazed….dirty and clearly in shock at what he had encountered…..after Charlie died the chord was passed to Roy……..who in turn passed it to me…….he had one other piece which was longer….this was washed and used later as a silk belt on his daughters wedding dress……to date I have been lucky and possess pieces of all the parachute mines dropped on Wickford and Shotgate………..one of which the canopy was made into a young girls underslip………..its hard to imagine when walking through Wickford today…..that so much violence and destruction took place…..but a walk up to Wickford’s War Memorial and a glance at the names upon the granite walls tell their own story of sacrifice, hardship and suffering…….lest we forget.