A five-year-olds clash with war.
I decided to start a blog for our website and it seemed like a good idea to start with my first memories which was when I was nearly five years old, in late 1945. It was early morning and my dad Frank, mum Edna and myself were in the living room of our Pitsea, Essex home. My brother Peter, only ten months old, was in his cot on the far side of the house. Without any warning the house suddenly shuddered with a terrific roar as the ceiling collapsed and dust filled the room. My Dad shouted to my mother who was in shock. “Take John outside and I’ll get Peter”. Mum was crying as she grabbed me and rushed towards the back door. As she ran onto the lawn I rolled over in her arms and looked back towards a towering plume of black smoke, some 300 yards away. Mum put me down as she rushed towards Dad who had Peter in his arms….. something was wrong?
Peter’s cot was near the window facing the direction from which the explosion had come and all the windows had been shattered. Although his body had been covered his face was open to flying splinters of glass, with many burying into his face. As Dad laid him onto the lawn, Mum knelt beside him and as she gathered her composure she used her fingers to remove splinters of glass from his bleeding face. Luckily none had gone into his eyes.
I was not so young that I didn’t realise what was happening. I knew roughly where the massive plume of black smoke was coming from, and the smoke and flames from nearby homes. Something terrible was happening.
Our part of Pitsea was a rural area with no sealed roads for many miles around. All the homes were joined by concrete or gravel paths along unsealed grass roads. The paths were the only means of access in the rainy weather, although many had beautiful gardens. We lived on several acres of orchards with every fruit you could think of. I never did find out how my parents had managed to buy such an interesting property, even allowing for its remoteness
During that first day of my war with Mr Hitler I noticed the most damaged house was Mrs Stanlake’s, who was always very kind to me. The area around us was a mass of damaged trees and burning foliage. As that first day passed our house creaked and groaned as part of the roof fell in, it was obvious we would not be able to live in the house for some time. When my Dad returned after trying to help our neighbours he told Mum that it wasn’t a “doodlebug”? (V1 flying bomb) as they had thought, and that with the evidence of some of the wreckage, it had to be a V2 rocket which was far deadlier. The police advised all those affected by the explosion to report to the local school and make out a report, including if we needed somewhere to sleep. To this day I still remember searching the school for Mrs Stanlake, but never found her. My parents never told me that she had died that first day. In fact, as far as I can remember we never talked about the rocket, ever again.
As you walked down our gravely path along the edge of the grassy road you passed part of the round rocket superstructure jutting out of the ground with its burnt surrounds. It was there for many years as a symbol of wars destruction and as the years passed undergrowth hid it. When I was about 12, I decided to dig it up but part of it was so deeply buried I gave up, and when we left the house, I was 20. This small part of Mr Hitler’s war was still there.
During the last months of the war the Germans launched 3000, V2 rockets and 1500 were aimed at the UK, mainly southern England. When I was young I always wondered why the Germans would bomb rural Pitsea. I later realised it was a matter of technology. Inventing the rocket was one thing, the guidance system was another. Even to this day we still use the same rocket technology to go to the moon and outer space.
Five years ago, I located an aerial photographic company in the UK that had records of photographic maps filmed in 1947 using retired wartime bombers maybe (Lancaster’s or Wellingtons). I was able to purchase a small section of Pitsea online that was photographed when I was only seven years old. I was able to have it blown up to 3ft x 3ft and glued to a board. It hangs on my office wall in Sydney to this day. I still dream about my boyhood in Pitsea and my mind takes me to every path, field and house in the area that I roamed. I can always go to the map on my wall and confirm that my dreamtime mind is not letting me down. During my few returns to Essex I have tried to locate my old home, without luck. It has gone forever. That whole rural area is now part of Basildon New Town.
The rubble from Mrs Stanlakes house and her neighbours stayed around for many years. As kids we would wander into her overgrown garden and followed the track which led to a large pond where we regularly caught Newts to keep as pets. It was our rocket’s crater. Several years later they built a new home on the site, but nobody ever moved in and finely the new house was demolished. She had had a beautiful orchard, like ours.
Over the years I have travelled the world but never again have I seen a place as unique as the rural backwoods of Pitsea.