Wartime Memories Of Canvey
from Charlie Ford in New Zealand
I was born on the 13th of December 1937 at Saint Leonard’s Shoreditch in the east end of London. I was baptized at Shoreditch Church on the 2nd of January 1938. My parents at the time were living at 1 Grove Walk Hoxton, a huge house where my paternal Grandfather had a furniture manufacturing business that employed 14 people including my father and his brothers. My father’s name was Henry Charles Ford although I never heard any one, family or friends call him by his given names he was always called Wag and my grandfather always called me young Wag, My mother’s name was Eileen (nee) Osborne and came from Bethnel Green where her family had lived for centuries.
Living on Canvey during WW2
I came to live on Canvey Island with my parents after being blitzed out of London at the beginning of WW11, I was about 3 years old at the time. I have just dug out my war time identity card that shows that we were living in Leigh Road in 1941 but we lived in other locations on the Island before this.
I have quite a few memories of the war including being blown off my feet by the shock waves caused when the V1 bomb dropped on DeepWater road, some of your older members may be able to clear up a mystery for me and settle an argument that I had with my mother that lasted till the day my mother died about the events of that dreadful day. [The full story is published further down the page].
I don’t know how far it is possible for memories to go back into early childhood but I have some recollection of living in a bungalow in a road where the infrastructure had never been completed, common on Canvey at that time as all development had been halted by the war.
The “road” surface was simply a grassed area, what New Zealand pastoral farmers call “the long acre” and used for free grazing, also there was no potable water reticulation instead at the end of the road there was a well constructed concrete cabinet with an iron door that was locked, every house in the road had a key and inside the box there was a single tap where we drew our water and carried it home in big enamel jugs. There were no sewer pipes, instead for a lavatory there was a one holer long drop in the back gardens. At the end of the road by the tap there was a high rise foot path which must have been the Winter Garden’s path. As I write this I am beginning to wonder how on earth I could remember all this at such a young age or may be we stayed at this address for a while after our home in Leigh rd was damaged by the bomb that fell in Marine Approach which ran parallel to our road.
I have just picked up my I.D. card again and the address showing that I was Living at 14 Leigh rd, 9th June 1941 is typed on a small form that has been glued inside the card and it has become unstuck and fallen out showing an earlier address 48 Buttesland St East Rd dated 22nd of may 1940 this means nothing to me, must be London. I was amused by one bit of information in my I D card, it states that I am required to show my card to any officials who have the authority to ask for it, I know that there was a lot of paranoia around in those days but I don’t think there were many three year old spies or saboteurs.
The Day the Bomb fell on Canvey
I have a very clear and sharp recollection of that event even though it probably only lasted a few seconds, it had such a traumatic effect on me that it may have some what blurred my peripheral memories of the rest of that terrible day. The day for me began when my mum told me that she was going to the shops in Furtherwick Road taking my younger brother David with her in his pram, David must have been about two years old.
It was probably some time before mid day and the weather I think was warm and sunny and certainly very clear. My Mother’s usual shopping routine in those days was to go to Chamber’s grocery where the sides of bacon hung from the ceiling and the cheese was in great rounds stacked on the the floor, I loved the smell of the place and enjoyed watching the hand operated bacon slicer producing rashers of bacon and the cheese cutting wire, turning a round of cheese into large wedge shaped pieces later reduced to a family’s weekly ration, this visual bounty was meaningless unless you had sufficient coupons in your ration books. Perhaps Mum would then go to the CO-OP and then on the way home maybe visit Tremain’s tobacco and confectionery, where even if you had enough coupons the selection of sweets was very Spartan, no reflection on the shop but due to war time shortages. I think that Mr Tremain lived at the far end of Leigh Rd where the houses were very grand and built in the Art Deco style. All this left me to my own devices because in those days, in spite of my age I was allowed amazing freedom and spoiled rotten by the many wonderful doting aunts of mine that lived on the Island. My father was in the Royal Navy and was on active service in the South Pacific after serving in the far East, so I was never subject to any form of male discipline apart from school. My favourite recreation at that time was to roam about “our” part of the island and on that day I took off in the general direction of the Village but keeping away from the few roads that existed in that part of Canvey at that time. Instead I kept to the hay fields, jumping across the dykes and frequently falling in when I under estimated their width this usually earned me the mother of all hidings when I arrived home smothered in green slime and smelling like a bog. I had no particular destination in mind that day, instead I was trying to find a small stream that I had discovered on a previous expedition, the stream had clear running fresh water unlike the smelly stagnant stuff in the dykes. This stream also had a good supply of stickle backs and that was what I was after although I was always getting ‘spiked’ when I tried to catch them by hand. I never got to find the stream that day and was thinking of returning home when I heard the guns on the sea wall firing, no big deal in those days because the sound of gun fire was far more common than the sound of thunder. I must have been facing west because the sea wall was on my left a long way off and on my right some distance away I could see houses, then I heard a noise that sounded like a badly tuned motor bike.
Then I looked up and saw the rocket. Years later when I had a better sense of direction, I realised that the Doodle Bug must have been way off course flying due north and as it appeared to be flying very low at the time and would have surely hit the Hadleigh downs had it not crashed when it did. I watched the rocket with excited fascination and could clearly see every detail of it but what I could also see has remained a mystery to me for more than sixty years and the subject of an argument that I had with my mother till the day that she died in 1989. Close behind the rocket chasing it was a aircraft, I was pretty good at aircraft recognition in those days, as all young boys in England were also I had a collection of model aeroplanes that included most of the iconic British fighters of that era, Spitfires, Hurricanes, Mosquitoes and so on, plus mum and I went to the pictures at least twice a week Canvey and Southend and the newsreels always showed the RAF walloping the tripe out of what was left of the Luftwaffe. The strange thing was that this plane looked to me a biplane and as I became older I realised that this would have to be impossible because even if there was any land based biplanes operational in coastal defences so late in the war, the biplane was never made that could match the speed of a rocket propelled flying bomb, but I know that I definitely saw an aircraft in pursuit of that Buzz Bomb that day. Anyway watching the V1 and the aircraft in the air, nothing could have prepared me for what happened next, the rocket suddenly dived to the ground and exploded. Instantly I was hit by some thing like a tornado force wind (I have experienced tornados in adult life so I am qualified to make a comparison) then it was as if a giant gorilla had picked me up and body slammed me on to the ground with the back of my head, back legs and heels hitting the ground simultaneously. By good luck I had been standing on soft grass at the time so I was more shaken than injured.
When I got over the shock I picked myself up and ran home to tell my mum and not expecting her to believe me when I told her what I had seen and experienced, but mum had watched the whole drama from Furtherwick Rd and told me that the rocket had been turned around by the guns on the sea wall, Mum must have got this from some of the people who had gathered in a crowd where she was standing at the time. I have thought about this a good deal over the years and know next to nothing about aero dynamics but could the rocket travelling at over 300 miles per hour turn so sharply in the relatively short distance that was the sure hitting range of the guns? What brought it down, did it simply run out of fuel as it was designed to do but 40 miles from it’s intended target? There was some very serious ordnance shooting at it, was it brought down by ACK ACK fire or did a fighter knock it down? I know that the RAF sometimes did not claim credit for stuff that they shot down that caused civilian casualties, I guess we will probably never know but I would like to hear from any one else who saw the incident.
VE Day on Canvey
I have a few photographs of friends and family including one taken outside our house in Leigh Rd during the war, the photo that shows us with our friends and neighbours at a street or victory party as they were called then. We were celebrating a victorious event that was won by our armed forces but I cannot recall which one, I think this one was held towards the end of the war and these parties were becoming a regular feature of our lives due to Allied Successes on the battle field becoming more and more frequent.
There were two compelling reasons why these parties were held outside our house one was that because of a strange design feature of the road that no one understood, our house was built a lot further back from the road than those of our neighbours giving more space in front of our fence, the other reason was that we owned a piano that was always taken outside on these occaisions. A huge bonfire would be lit in the middle of the street, totally ignoring traffic regulations and the celibrations would go on well into the night. I think I will get one of my grand children who live up the Kapiti coast not far from me down here to put my pictures on the computer to send you otherwise if I try to do it. I will be in for another white knuckle ride through cyber space. [Update: Photo added above thanks to Charlie & Robyn]
I joined the Merchant Navy when I was sixteen and after some years at sea I jumped ship in Wellington New Zealand in 1958, I did not return (for a visit) until 1988 and was astonished to see how much Canvey had changed in thirty years. My parents continued to live at Leigh road until they died. My father died in 1973 and my mother died in 1989 and both are buried at St. Katherine’s Church as well as quite a number of my extended family.
Today in NZ it a public holiday, the day when we celebrate the advent of the 8 hour working day. I am a very slow two finger typist, why didn’t they let boys learn to type when I attended William Read school?
Charlie Ford is a new member of the Canvey Community Archive – If you would like to join or add your memories please email us
Comments about this page
Re: The bomb that fell in Marine Approach.
This would have happened some time during 1940, my mother, who was living with her parents at No.19 Marine Approach while my father was abroad in the army, was expecting me at the time the bomb dropped toward the end of the back garden (the house had a very long garden) – she was thrown out of bed and my grandfather’s vegetable patch was blown up, fortunately no one was injured.
On another occasion, this time I was three years old and living at No1 Marine Approach, an incendary bomb dropped on stables at the Furtherwick Road end of Leigh Rd, killing the horses inside. I can clearly remember seeing this from the attic window of the house. For many years part of the concrete foundation of the stables (on the opposite corner to Marine Garage) was visible until two houses were built on the site.
Charlie Ford is my uncle and his younger brother David who he mentions in his article was my father, who sadly died in 1986 at the young age of 43. It is very interesting to read the story about some of my family members back then, particularly my grandmother & my grandfather, stories I never knew. Charlie is a well of information and interesting stories but alas the 12,000 miles that separate us have meant that there hasn’t been enough time on the 3 precious occasions when we have been able to meet up since 1986 when i first travelled to NZ to visit my dearest uncle. Bless you Charlie xxx
I came across this story by chance whilst browsing for family history information. Charlie it seems that we are distantly related. Your mum Eileen was my nan’s sister Mary. I recall spending time visiting her in Canvey with my family when I was young. Your story reminded me of her and of my grandad Pop. What a great story to read especially as it gives me an insight to life during the war, especially as I am currently trying to research more information on Shoreditch during the blitz and life in Canvey during the same period. Again thanks for a very interesting read.
Lisa, if you read this i remember your Nan Mary quite well, she used to visit my Nan Eileen when i was young, so we are also distantly related. I remember your Nan had twin girls but I can’t remember their names. Nan Eileen had 2 more sisters, Kit (who passed away some years ago) and Marie who is in her 80’s now and lives in Southend. Good luck with your research.
Do you know how I can reach Lisa who wrote the lovely letter to me on the WW2 page. I have some more War stories for her including the tragic but heroic way Lisa’s Great Great Grandmother (my Great Grandmother) was killed in the Blitz while saving the lives of her Grand children.
I remember the day the Doodlebug fell on Canvey. I lived near Deepwater Road at 1 Grassmere Road. I was in the kitchen of our bungalow and said to my Mum “watch me bounce my ball” as I let it drop doors and window were blown out of our home.
The remains of the rocket ended up at the back of the derelict garage at the top of Grassmere Road. As children it, along with our den (a derelict ambulance) became the property of local Canvey village children. I went to the Canvey Junior school in long Road.
My Dad was killed in December 1942 and we moved to Dagenham when I was 11. I now live in Upminster but still take a trip along the A13 to Canvey. It is not the Island we grew up on. Fields, Farms, Cows and Haycarts on Cooks farm have long gone but I still feel a sense of childhood freedom when I go back.
I also went to Sunday school at St Katherine’s church. Rev Swallow was the vicar then.
Jenny “Lee” Oates
Nice story Charlie,I was born in Marine Approach in 1941 and until I read your story I was unaware that a bomb had dropped there.I hope you and yours are all well. John.
I did the interview with your cousin Bill Gower, what a character he is! still playing his Gretsch guitar with a 1960s Watkins amplifier. Also for nearly 20 years I was the vocal half of the ‘Ford Pop Duo” with another of your musical cousins Fred Ford.
Re the story of the Doodlebug the only eye-witness account I’ve heard was from George Spires(my wife’s uncle), he was about 10yrs at the time and was living at Clifton House, behind Clifton Stores at Lakeside Corner (now the North Service area for the Knightswick Centre) He’d been sent down to our Bakery shop in Furtherwick Rd for a loaf when he came out of the shop he saw and heard the Doodlebug to the sea-wall end and saw two puffs of smoke from the ack-ack guns.He said ”I said to myself ROTTEN SHOTS and high-tailed it back to Lakeside as fast as my legs could carry me!” No mention of a plane!
Dear Charlie hope you remember me, I am Mick Geary’s daughter . I married John Buckmaster’s eldest son Stephen in 1990 and we have a daughter called Connie. I have enjoyed reading your stories and have shown them them to mum and dad. It is a shame that you say you are a slow typer as I am sure you have many more that you could share. I remember your last visit to us on Canvey, one of my favourite stories is when your mum showed you the joint of meat she had prepared for your dinner and you took it and took a bite out of it and she hit you! As Teresa says it is a shame that you live so far away, all the family send their regards to you and your family and we hope you are happy and well. If you get your grandchildren to set you up on facebook , look me up and we will be able to keep in touch and you will be able to see photo’s of the family. I will be able to tell you all about Lucy, she has not been too well the beginning of this year, but is doing ok now. Well all the best Charlie , hope you get in touch. Love Sally xx
I was born on Canvey Leigh Beck Arcadia Road house name HAZELBOND. We moved to N07 Marine Approach in late 1928. On or about the 7th or 8th June1940 we had a violent thunderstorm which is very relevant to my story. It was about 11pm that night and it was a particularly bad night. You must remember that Canvey being on the Thames estuary was the main navigation route to London for the German bombers and also their return.
A German plane which was apparently damaged unloaded 4 x500Kg bombs. The 1st fell in the field at the top of Marine Approach leading to the Bay, the 2nd fell on a cesspool in Howards Place (which backed onto Marine approach and as you can imagine the smell which it left. A large piece of the concrete from the cesspool fell through the roof of No11 Marine approach and landed on the bed where David MacMillan was sleeping a few minutes before having been aroused by my father who took it upon himself to wake or escort people to their shelters. The third bomb made a direct hit on the air raid shelter in Howard Place which was but less than 8/10 yards from where myself, Mother, Father and Eldest Sister with her newly born baby were in our shelter which almost backed on the demolished one. Nobody was inside because the 2 people were waiting for a lull in the raid. They were very lucky because normally they were called first by my father but for some reason he called the others first.
Our shelter with myself and family suffered little damage except being tilted to one side. It was said that that the reason for little damage was that it was due to the thunderstorm which as you know can have a very softening affect on the clay soil. The last bomb fell in Meynell Road and demolished the house. Nobody was inside at the time. The Southend Standard printed a picture of this and it looks like the demolished houses seen in some of your photos. As I understand, the damaged German plane crashed near Southend Pier.
Just a quick note on a couple of your other entries. I remember the doodlebug dropping in Deepwater Road. I understood that a young girl who worked in the newsagents at the village was killed.
Concerning the fire caused by incendiaries I recall that the stable was owned by a Mr Kirby (an Australian who taught me how to use a stock whip) He was the proud owner of a big white horse (I was told that the horse was in retirement from the Met Police and was famous for his stand at Wembley Stadium). Mr Kirby once lifted 5 of us on to the horse’s back and pronounced..look, 3 fleas on an elephant. I can go on forever about those years but not now
thanks for reading
I found this page very interesting and would really like to contact Charlie Ford as our stories are similar and age difference only 7 years
Hi Henry – I have passed your email address onto Charlie – would love to hear more of your memories
Hi Charlie I know Lou Kneller, I am a carer and I used to care for her in her old age. She died some years ago, also I cared for her sister, Alice. Both lived into their eighties and nineties, at Sweetbriar Lodge on Canvey, also I met Derick, a lovely family. She was a character and used to make me laugh, a right old cockney sparrow. Lovely to see her as a young woman.
Thanks for contacting me with Charlie and have started a nice interesting chat up. Charlie is 7years younger than me but we were both born in Shorditch London and both lived in Canvey during ww2. I was 9 years old and lived in one of Cooks houses on Wintergardens. My family just loved it and living on Wintergardens was a happy bonus. My wonderful Mum Rosie Hunwick did housework for the kindly desposed Mrs Cook who was a gem. Young Lennie Cook used do the milk deliveries in a two/wheeled horse driven cart. The white horse was Nobby, and brown horse was Billy. The people would take their billys and jugs to Lennie who would fill from the milk urn on the cart. Lennie joined the Merchant Navy as did i many, many, years later. My family moved to another Cooks houses just before the outbreak of ww2. The name of the house was /Heaton Lodge/ and i believe at one time it was a school house. It was there close to our air raid shelter that a bomb landed one night, it was a frightening experience and we were so very lucky as it was so near.
My Mother, Aunt and my sister and I lived in Deepwater Road when the ‘Doodlebug ‘ landed on the bungalow owned by Mr Ped Scott. My mother at the time was working in the Admiral Jellicoe and my Aunt was doing war work in London on that fateful Saturday the 24th June 1944. My sister (she now lives in Australia) who was 8½ years of age and myself 11 years of age left home at midday to go to the Admiral Jellicoe to get our picture money for the Rio cinema. As we were standing by the bus stop in the village we saw the V1 being chased by one of our aeroplanes.
We learnt since he was firing at it to turn it towards the sea and then fire to explode it. This he did but on firing at it over the Thames it turned and headed for Deepwater Road where the engine of the V1 failed and landed on Mr Scotts wooden bungalow. The bungalow next door to Mr Scott was the home of your now great councilor Ray Howard. My sister and I were to be bridesmaids the following week to one of our Uncles and we were both concerned that our bridesmaids dresses had been ‘blown up’. Our mums bungalow being opposite where the bomb dropped. Being children we saw no fear as to what we might see in Deepwater Road we made our way there. Mr Scott owned a very large chicken and geese farm and to see the feathers lying thick on the ground it seemed as if loads of feather beds had been emptied. We reached the shell of our bungalow and made our way climbing over the remains of our Mothers front room and went to her bedroom. The wardrobe was on its side, but, our dresses were ok.
We then made our way back to the bus stop and got the next bus to the Jellicoe where we told our Mum what had happened. She promptly fainted in the arms of her friend Emmie Weston (Auntie Em). We were billeted at the Admiral Jellicoe for about 18 months to 2 years until our home in Deepwater Road was repaired for habitation.
Thanks for sharing these memories June
I read the comments by Henry Swift and have written to Len Cook to tell him. I was a bridesmaid when Len & Georgina married 57 years ago. I will be seeing them in a couple of weeks and hope to persuade Len to record some of his memories of Canvey as well as dig out a few photos.
I found this fascinating. I see you remember going to the co-op as well. My parents both worked there, mum in the butchers office, and dad was a baker. (Tom and Doris Attwood). I grew up on stories of war time Canvey. Interesting too, that you came to New Zealand as did I.(In 1952). I live in a small town – Waiuku, and since being here, I have met two other families who came from Canvey. The Salmons, and the Kings. Len King even lived in The Driveway like us, but many years later. Hector Barsby, a family friend from Canvey, lives in Christchurch NZ. Isn’t it a small world. Eunice Attwood
Re: Comment by Ian Newman 21/12/2008. Hi Ian: When you were living at #1 Marine Approach I was living at #118 The Parkway, not too far away. We were there through most of W.W.11 and a few years after my Dad came home from Italy we moved to #1 Marine approach.!! It must have been about 1949 or 1950 and it was a nice roomy house and we enjoyed living there until we left for Canada in 1953. My bedroom was in that attic that you mention. My dad’s 7 piece dance band used to practice in the living room and I remember a hole appearing in the linoleum where the double base player stood.!! Thanks, you brought back these brief memories.
Hi Sally [Geary] I knew the Ford family well,especially the musical chap who was good on the banjo,possibly Charlie? I knew them through their relatives the Geary family who I lived opposite in Urmond Road–Ben Kit Mick and Tony. The Co-op was mentioned. My mum’s divi number 954980. How sad am I? Regards Sparrow
My father was Frederick George Ford and was charlies dad`s brother (Wag) my dad always called him his baby brother to wind him up also like wag my dad was known as Maff no one used his given name.My dad Wag and jim were very musical each could play the piano banjo guitar harmonica dad also played the accordion violin and saxaphone .I loved going to canvey my sister was born there in a bungalow called driftwood i and my brother Bobby were also born at 1 grove walk as was charlie ford we used to play on the haystacks with Dave and charlie Pam was`nt born then.Bill and Lou Gower were our aunt and uncle i remember their daughter Peggy.My dad Maff once cut keys to the electric or gas meter and gave everyone on Canvey a key so they could borrow money and put it back before they were emptied lol i could go on and on with his tricks but it has taken an hour almost to do this.Wish i had read the story whilst Charlie was still with us.My parents Kit and Maff share the same grave as Wag David and Eileen.I lived on Canvey for my first 4 years 8 months before moving to London where i reside in Hackney.
Afternoon All Have been fascinated reading all the above reminiscences. I lived on Canvey until 1938, when we moved to Benfleet, but think we still owned our bungalow, Jenny Wren in Denham Road, until 1939. In August of that year, as a boy of 13, I was staying on a farm, guest of Colin Grant who had delivered milk for Bob Cook until he, with his brother Eric, started up on their own at Stansgate on the Blackwater. I had a letter from my Mother written from Jenny Wren in which she tells me of the installation of A.A. guns in the field at the back of Jenny Wren and how they were supplying he soldiers with tea. There is also a letter from my younger brother telling me that they were building an aerodrome at the Haystack. ‘There were no planes there yet but they were building the hangars’ This is something I cannot understand and am hoping that someone can throw some light on it; what he could have been referring to. I could think of nowhere near the Haystack spacious enough for an airfield let alone an aerodrome and have never seen any mention of it. My Mum’s divi number was 187068 Regards to all. Harold Norris
The Doodlebug fell on Mr Scott’s place Deepwater Rd in July 1944 we lived at number 3 (later re-numbered 5). My brother was born at home on June 19th 1944 and was a few weeks old when we were bombed out.
William Ford was my grandad he married Elizabeth died in his early years. I remember Bill Gower he Married my grandads sister.
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