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