N&M Southend on Sea WWII
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Southend on Sea WWII

A total of 752 high explosive bombs dropped on Southend in WW2. The town also received countless more doodle bugs, incendiary devices, paramines and butterfly bombs. Nobody stopped to count these, although paperboys on their morning round collected the pieces to melt down for scrap.

By the end of hostilities the casualty list totalled 29 men, 24 women and seven children dead, with 394 serious injuries.

The low toll in children's lives was credited to the policy of evacuation - 85,000 school children had been moved out of the town on a single day - Sunday 2nd June 1940.

The sad but smoothly-run operation was handled with great credit by four much abused groups: the railways, the buses, the teachers and the children themselves.

The buses co-ordinated with the trains, which left bang on time at half hourly intervals from five in the morning until seven at night. Each trainload of children was seen off by the Mayor, who told them, possibly with a measure of surprise in his voice: "There is not one amongst you who does not do credit to this town". Many of the children raised on the Southend flats were to have their first sight of hills that day. Their destinations were the towns of the Derbyshire Peaks.

Just a fortnight later Southend High School for Boys was obliterated in Southend's first bomb attack. The missiles that fell on the town had an uncanny knack of singling out well-known Southend personalities. The first victim in Hobleythick Lane was the Mayor's chauffeur and licensed jester-Robert Barret, 55, who had a premonition that he would be the first to be killed. James McMurray, former British Army All India Boxing champion, was killed in the first of two separate incidents at the London Hotel in the High Street. The second assault on the Hotel, this time by a lone raider using cannon and bombs, claimed a symbolic victim in the shape of D.H. Burles, the Architect who had designed much of central Southend, including Standard House. At least one of his own buildings, the shop of R.A. Jones, Jewellers, was wrecked alongside him.

The most horrific raid was the one that killed 14 people in Campbell Road (now vanished).The most exciting was the fire-bomb assault on Southchurch, when the whole district turned out to douse the incendiary bombs in sand (there were no casualties).

"Still", said one resident, "Despite the bombs it's a lot quieter without the kids".

Many thanks to the Member who dropped this into the Club, a wonderful snapshot of Southend at war.

For those of you reading this, who like me are not natives of Southend-on-Sea, I will give you just a little trivia I have gained about the area.

During the war the pier and surrounding area was taken over by the Royal Navy. The pier was HMS Leigh and the surrounding area was HMS Westcliffe.

The pier was closed to the public from 9th September 1939 and was reopened for visitors in 1945.

During its closure it was a staging point for 3,367 convoys comprising of 84,297 vessels which departed from HMS Westcliff. It was also Naval control for the Thames Estuary.

During its notable career the pier was responsible for the sinking of the liberty ship SS Montgomery. The SS Montgomery sank with several thousand tons of explosives aboard, which no doubt is one of the reasons it can still be seen at low tide from both Southend and Kent.

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