An Islander's War
War time memories of Canvey Island
Many people came to Canvey from the London blitz to it’s comparative safety. This is one such story.
Mr. Gibson, or “Old Gibbo”, as he was affectionately known, was our Science and Biology Master. He was rarely known to smile, and was thought by many to be altogether devoid of human emotion.
It was during the year of 1944, when the Germans began their terror campaign by the release of the Pilotless Flying Bomb known as the V.1. and named by an unknown humourist as the “Doodlebug”. I attended a School in North London, where the procedure in the event of Air Attack, was for the younger children to proceed to underground Shelters built beneath the School Playground. Lesser protection was provided for us older boys. Our instructions were to assemble in the Corridors at ground level and to sit in a crouched position whilst generally pretending that nothing was happening. On this particular occasion, the Air Raid Siren had sounded, and we had assembled in the manner described. Mr.Gibson deigned to crouch like we lesser mortals, but instead, stood in a manner that one would expect of a Shepherd with a flock of Sheep. Our apprehension grew as the sound of an approaching Doodlebug’s engine increased, we had all heard that sound on many occasions, but this time it was too close to be healthy.
The Doodlebug was designed to produce maximum casualties among the civilian population by virtue of the fact that once its engine had “Cut out” there was no knowing what direction it would take on its earthwards plunge. When the engine of the Doodlebug stopped, we all knew that this one was going to be very close. It was so close that it was possible to hear the wind whisting against the Wings and Fuselage.
We braced ourselves for the inevitable explosion but one boy panicked and made an attempt to run into the Playground via the double exit doors. At this point, “Gibbo” galvanised into action and delivered the boy such a blow that he ended in an ungainly heap halfway along the corridor.
There was an almighty explosion.
I felt a wave of pressure so great that my body seemed about to burst. The doorway that the boy was about to exit disintegrated and the Stone Lintel above it collapsed into the corridor. The air was laden with the smell of spent explosives and brick dust. After the explosion there was an uncanny silence, broken only by the wimpering of some of the children. But we had survived. I suffered a haemorrage from the blast, but what the hell! we were alive!!
The anonymous boy owed his life to “Gibbo”, but perhaps he does not realise it to this very day. I never returned to that School, instead, I finished my schooldays at Long Road Secondary School, Canvey Island.
My Father Harry Derek Kennard was commandant of a North London Rescue Station. It was one of many spread over the London area and indeed all Towns and Cities deemed vulnerable to bombing had them. Their function was to rescue civilians buried beneath the rubble of bombed buildings and to apply first aid where necessary. It was located in Wightman Road, North Haringey, changed later to become Haringey.
He was Commandant of The Canvey Island Branch of the British Red Cross after the War.
When my Mother and I first arrived at Canvey Island my Mother, rented a bungalow in Hallet road. Many of the properties were uninhabited due to the War.
There was however, one bungalow nearby, that was occupied by a pretty rough family with numerous kids who seemed to spend best part of their wakening hours running amok. One morning, fairly early, I was in our garden when the father of the family rushed into his garden carrying a spade and started to dig a hole. He could not see me from where I was standing. Having finished digging a fairly deep hole he went back into the house and returned with a bulging sack. He emptied the contents of the sack with a great clatter into the hole. He then disappeared back into the house and returned with the Elsan Chemical Toilet bucket which was also tipped into the hole. He then infilled the hole with soil and went back into the house.
By now I was quite intrigued with what he was up to, until suddenly a car full of policemen descended on the property, and proceeded to carry out a search. They failed to check the hole in the garden, so after all these years, it could be time to call in Tony Robinson and his “Time Team”……….
Another boy and myself were doing what we always did, just rooting around. We found ourselves somewhere between the Lobster Smack and what was then the Infill Site in the middle of a field there was a large hole and pieces of metallic debris spread over quite a large area. There was also something that we had never encountered before, it was very much new to us like pink candy floss. We spent quite a while examining this stuff, and then we began to itch. The itching was followed by a nasty looking rash,over our hands and our arms. We thought that we had caught some terrible contageous disease. The rash gradually faded and the itching stopped. We learned later, that wreckage was that of a V.2.Rocket and that our terrible disease was caused by Fibre Glass, a little known material in those days. Those Germans could be really sneaky at times.
My Mother and Canvey Supply.
During the War many women were inducted into work considered to be of National importance. Canvey Supply Co. were involved among other things in the production of wooden cases for all manner of War materials. My Mother Amelia Kennard (Milly) was one of the ladies employed there. It was during the period of attacks by V .1 Pilotless Planes (Doodlebugs).
In an attempt to combat this problem a Gunsite was set-up at Leigh Beck opposite Canvey Supply.
This later became the Headquarters of the Sea Rangers.
A detachment of Gunners was deployed there, together with a Bofors Gun. It was not too long before the Gunners hit and destroyed their first V.1. The Ladies at Canvey Supplies left there work benches and mobbed the Gunners, who thouight all there birthdays had come at once.
U boat battering Shellhaven.
It is quite a few years ago since I had a really bizarre and quite uncanny experience. I was enroute to Yugoslavia with our caravan. I stopped at a shop in Munich to buy cigarettes. A fellow customer approached me
and asked If I was English. Having said yes, he proceeded to tell me that he was in the German Navy during the War. He said that he was on patrol in the Channel in an “Unter SeeBoot (U -Boat).”
He said that they had sunk several small coastal vessels in the Southampton area and had then moved on to the Thames. Having reached the Thames, they proceeded approximately 10 to 15 miles up river.
It was at this juncture that something “Clicked” in my memory and I interrupted him and I said, “At this point you came onto the surface and with your Deck Gun you fired three, possibly four rounds towards the Oil Storage Tanks on the Starboard side of the River. “Shellhaven.”
By now he was looking at me a little curiously. I then said that The Shore Battery became aware of your presence and began to return Fire and you decided that this was not a good place to be and submerged. He was now looking aghast and said, “How do you know all this?” I said that I was a young boy and that I watched it all from the Sea Wall at Canvey Island…
At this point we parted company. I am not sure how he felt, but it certainly left me with a strange feeling.
A parcel of land not too far away from where the Manly family lived (Westman Road) had been vacant for years, until one day a team of builders from out of town appeared and proceeded to clear the site. Then they laid concrete rafts for two properties.
Several days later, lorries arrived loaded with 2″ x 4″ timbers. The timber was riddled with wood beetle and had obviously been obtained from a bomb site. Vehicles then began arriving laden with wooden boxes, many of the boxes had the logos of very well known retailers stencilled on them.
The next stage was for all the nails to be drawn from the timbers and the boxes dismantled into short planks.
They then constructed the framework for two chalet bungalows, using the planks from the boxes to fill the gaps between the vertical studwork.
The whole outside was then sheathed in chicken netting and rough rendered. Finally psuedo cement timbers were added and the spaces between these timbers, pebble dashed. When completed, these properties looked magnificent, and very shortly afterwards were purchased by some poor unsuspecting souls. This could not possibly happen today but in those times, all of the surveyors and building inspectors had yet to return from the War.
The May family.
The family, which comprised of Phillip, Peter, Neil and Margaret were very nice people, but Father was something of an martinet. On the day in question Father was attempting to board a dinghy at the old Clubhouse Pontoon. With one foot in the dinghy and the other on the pontoon he, with a look of extreme horror on his face, proceeded to give a marine version of the “Splits”. He disappeared momentarily beneath the murky water of Small Gains Creek, to re-appear seconds later, still clutching the stub of his extinguished cigar in his mouth.
It was perhaps an indication of his popularity within his family that not one of his offspring attempted to go to his assistance. He was eventually pulled from the water like a drowned rat. His first thought was to empty his bulging wallet and lay out the contents to dry on the tops of the many small tables in the IYC Clubhouse. Would you believe, after all these years, the thoughts of that day can still produce a little grin.
Under “Two Dereks one a Viscount” on this site there is a letter from Derek Kennard to Viscount Heathcote – Amery asking for his help to be accepted into the Navy. This request did not come to fruition as DK was drafted into the Royal Military Police but justice was done as he spent most of his two years of National Service working on troopships.
Bailing out a Mate.
Charlie Osborne was a member of an well known Scottish Regiment, and had an inborne hatred of Military Police. A whole crowd of us went by coach to a Dance at the Victoria Ballroom, Southend. Laurie Merriot one of our happy band, won a bottle of whisky and wagered Charlie a pound that he couldn’t drink the Whiskey in one go. To Bull-Headed Charlie this was a challenge that could just not resist.
Charlie drank the Whisky and received his Pound note, but life went dramatically downhill very shortly after his presentation. I managed to get Charlie outside into the fresh air, whereupon he promptly divested himself of all that he had eaten in the past six months. The coach driver grudgingly allowed him to board the coach on the promise that I would clean-up any little accidents that he may have enroute.
Arriving back at Canvey, in the early hours of the morning, I manoeuvred Charlie into his kitchen, he staggered across the room and blundered into the sink draining board, which was laden with pots, pans and crockery. The sounds of breaking crockery echoed through the house and his dog began barking like a mad thing.
It was at this point, that my nerve broke and I evacuated at a great rate of knots before his wife appeared on the scene. A much chastened Charlie emerged several days later and he said that I was the only Redcap he had ever liked and almost proposed marriage.