Lt. Col. Horace Percy Fielder
Published in ‘The Bulletin’ 1979
The word pioneer conjures up a picture of covered wagon trains, with bearded men wearing Colt 45 revolvers and hopefully fighting off Indian attacks. Canvey has had its share of people who, while not quite fulfilling this image have, however, built up the Island.
Lt. Col. Horace Percy Fielder, T. D. Councillor, builder, soldier, civil engineer and, in the pre- and post war years a developer who always had a great faith in the area – in the good times and in the bad ones, in the seed time and in the harvest times. The Fielder story goes back nearly six decades of Canvey’ s history. He was born on July 28, 1906, and joined his late mother, Mrs. S. Fielder in their building and developing business. Later he took full control of this side of the business and the many other companies and trusts which were formed.
A keen horse-rider and huntsman Col. Fielder became most active in the promotion of a pre- war Territorial unit of the Royal Artillery on Canvey when he formed a section of a Heavy Battery, Royal Artillery, from employees of Fielder Estates Ltd. Its title was the 192 (Essex) Heavy Battery. Royal Artillery Commissioned in January, 1937 as a second lieutenant he earned accelerated promotion to lieutenant in July, 1938. At the time of the pre-war Munich Crisis, (September 1938) he was called for military service. Nearly a year later, in August, 1939, he was mobilised for military service as World War II (September 3, 1939) was anticipated.
But it must not be thought that his activities were solely military. Far from it! At his second attempt he had secured election to Canvey Urban District Council, at a by-election in 1932. During the pre-war years he was chairman and vice chairman for three years, chairman of the finance committee for three years, chairman of the public health and town planning committee for years and took an active part in so many local organisations that it is impossible to list them.
Col. Fielder found time for holidays, he visited Europe regularly for twenty years, including France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Southern Spain and Southern Portugal, Norway, Sweden, Holland, Austria, Northern Spain, and the Spanish International Zone (North Africa). His knowledge of other languages included French and German.
But back to war Col. Fielder was posted to Canvey’ s Fort (it is interesting to note that he later acquired his “barracks” after the war and transformed them into part of his holiday camp). In May, 1940 he was sent overseas to North West European Forces and took Canvey troops to Norway. The Islanders were among the first to engage the then triumphant German forces.
He was in action at Harstaad (Northern Norway) and went to Lodingen on West Fjord, which is on the approaches to Narvik. He dealt with refugees and met the mayor of Lodingen.
Although Canvey and British troops were winning in Norway, conditions in France had become acute, through the German breakthrough there. Allied troops were withdrawn from Norway to meet the menace in the Low Countries. Col. Fielder was evacuated by the Royal Navy in June, 1940, but, before he could go into action in France they had surrendered and he returned to the United Kingdom – but not for long. The same month he went to Iceland as part of “Alabaster” force, as officer commanding the advance party. There he dealt with the Icelandic Government for the supplying of materials for the installation of heavy guns and getting land for gun and camp sites. The next month (July, 1940) he was promoted captain and battery commander.
In April, 1941 he was in command of 1,000 men building an airport. In October, 1941 he was officer commanding troops to Engey Island, SW, where he installed guns and hutting for coast defence. In January, 1942 Col. Fielder became deputy fire commander, Rykjavick Fire Command. After going to the School for Chemical Warfare he returned to Iceland. He became a battery commander on the Forth, and later officer commanding troops, Grammond Island. In December, 1942, he was promoted major and a fire commander. In April, 1944, he went to the Clyde.
In December, 1944, he became a General Staff Officer in the Allied Control Commission and Joined Military Goverment, 21 Army Group, Britain Liberation Army (which later became the British Army of the Rhine). In August, 1945, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and in September, 1945, he was posted to the headquarters of 1st Corps District.
Col. Fielder’s last appointment was when he was attached to Military Government North Rhine Region. There he formed the Ruhr Housing Office and was appointed chief housing officer, Military Government, North Rhine and Westphalia Ruhr District. Here he achieved national recognition and fame for his work.
During the war he was blown up by a mine in an Army jeep and has suffered from war wounds since. Much to his regret this prevented him riding again on horseback. As a huntsman this was a bitter blow, but he continued to maintain his interest in the chase.
He was awarded the Territorial Defence decoration for his services to King and Country. In 1947 Col. Fielder returned home to Canvey. Post-war conditions were indeed difficult both for industry and for local government. He realised the urgent need for housing and for the restoration of the district and its improvements. He at once set about these tasks and for three years he never took a day’s holiday from these labours.
He was elected Council chairman for several years and last held office as chairman in 1956 – 1957. Among the many things he pioneered as a Councillor was the start of the access area scheme, which was eventually to be even more fully developed by later Councils and saw the steady build-up of roads on Canvey. It will be recalled that access area scheme was to enable residents to have some sort of road facility. It was based on a scheme of “arterial roads” linking areas, with subsidiary “feeder” roads and paths streaming off. So keen was Col. Fielder on this that he put in a stretch at his cost on an experimental basis.
Keenly interested in refuse collection he again pioneered this service and saw its eventual progress from open bins in roads to the stream-lined, weekly service of today. Col. Fielder was also interested in reviving interest in local government and he developed a new approach to bring in all shades of local political thought. He did this by holding at election time, special meetings. Based on the late President Roosevelt’s famous “fireside chats” they stimulated immense interest throughout the whole of South East Essex. Many were held at the “Cox’s Hall” and so popular did they become that special overflow meetings were staged to cope with the vast audiences. He also arranged similar meetings for post-war political gatherings and Mr. Bernard Braine, later Sir Bernard Braine, then seeking to become a Member of Parliament, spoke.
It was early 1950s that Col. Fielder launched the scheme which has made his name a household word in holiday circles throughout England. As this country recovered from the post-war years he become increasingly concerned that people of modest means were unable to get the holiday facilities that they deserved. Many camps had been taken over for war time use and some people thought that their rigid military lines had become part of them. Others could not afford to go, even if they wanted.
Col. Fielder launched Thorney Bay Beach Camp as a low priced camp but with attractions and amenities of more highly-priced camps. With tremendous enthusiasm he threw himself heart and soul in to providing a working man’s Riviera. Under his expert leadership the camp flourished and through the years tens of thousands of people have stayed there. At first it was limited to camping and chalets but with the vast growth of caravans and trailers. He was able to increase the already considerable area of the camp and now it is a miniature town whose lights, winter and summer, stream out. Ideally situated close to the seawall and beaches it is known to many throughout the world.
Col. Fielder was still a bachelor, ‘Canvey’s most eligible’ said some. It was on September 18, 1952, that married his secretary, 24-year-old Miss Barbara Fuller, daughter of the late Councillor Arthur Seaman Fuller, and Mrs. E. Fuller. He announced his engagement publicly in April 1952 when he was defeated at Canvey’s first own Essex County Council election. Previously Canvey had shared a County “seat” but as a result of Col. Fielder’s and other’s efforts Canvey got its seat. It was ironic that Col. Fielder should be defeated, but he was. Mr. Arthur Carrington Mason took the seat for Labour. At the counting of the votes Col. Fielder created a national sensation by saying “I have lost an election but gained a wife”.
With a Sword
Over 150 guests were invited to the wedding at St. Katherine’s (which was then the Parish Church) and Col. Fielder in military uniform was married. At a reception at the bride’s home they cut the cake with his sword. So many attended the event that it had to be held outside, and marquees were used. The honeymoon was a European tour.
Then, in 1953, came the East Coast flood disaster. Canvey was inundated by the sea. Col. Fielder rallied the whole of the Island behind him to restore the confidence of people in Canvey and to get it rebuilt. First priority was the reconstruction of the sea wall. Millions of pounds were spent on it and so much was done to it that it has been proof against even higher tides since, now a new scheme is underway.
Through his dynamic leadership the Island’s population was more then doubled in a few years and he was instrumental in attracting more industry, shops, and houses to the Island. He played a leading role in the development of the Dagenham – Walthamstow estate at Canvey, which has provided hundreds of homes for so many. But he still found time for other local work and maintained his firm links with so many Canvey organisations. Although pressure of work prevented him from taking posts other than president or vice-president, he was able to assume, with the loyal support of his wife, the post of treasurer of the local Conservative Association and to enable them to have their own Conservative Club. This has been named after him, in tribute.
Mrs. Fielder was presented to the Queen and Prince Phillip at Court, at Buckingham Palace in 1958. Col. Fielder had been presented to the then Royal Family at a pre-war level.