Second World War 1939 -1945

During the Second World War Eastern Essex found itself on the front line with the coastline being heavily defended.

Many people with members of their family in the armed services may find that their relative spent part of the war years in our quiet part of the country.


The Army

In 1939 Burnham was a base for a Company of  the 4th Battalion of the Territorial Regiment although they were moved to a more central Essex deployment  later that year.

From July 1940 the entire Dengie 100 became an Army base with passes required to get in an out as it was felt that the Dengie would be a likely invasion point.

A Local Defence Force was formed which later became the Home Guard .

The local headquarters of the LDF was sited in Devonshire Road in the shop which is currently Busy Bees.

Reinforced pill boxes were sited at intervals with barbed wire, land mines and anti landing posted sited all the way along the coast.

A command post was built at Holiwell Point, Burnham with accommodation for over 20 men.

A floating defence boom was sited across the entrance to the Crouch to deter German craft.


The Navy

The Maritime traditions were put to good use with Motor Torpedo bases established in the River Blackwater at Osea Island and in the River Crouch at Burnham. 

Across the bay from Bradwell the centre of mine sweeping operations for the coastline was established at Brightlingsea.

In 1940 Burnham boats Ma Joie , Seasalter  and Vanguard were amongst those who crossed to Dunkirk to take off the army of the BEF. Vanguard and Seasalter were oyster dredgers owned by the Burnham Oyster Company both survived but the ketch Ma Joie ran aground and was lost. Vanguard was crewed by Les Grimwade and Joe Clough.

For details of the Thames Barges participation in Dunkirk and the war effort click the following link

Cardnell Brothers at Maylandsea built motor torpedo boats.

HMS St Matthew

On 8 November 1943 the Navy commissioned the riverside at Burnham as HMS St Matthew ostensibly as a mine depot but in reality it was used for training army and marine personal in use of Landing Craft. The best known commander was Captain Danes and the his men included ten RNVR Officers with 80 ratings making up two flotillas. The main Naval base was the Royal Burnham Yacht Club which was divided internally with additional accommodation provided by nissan huts in the car park area.

Other Commanders were Captain Eric Youd from May 1944 to July 1945 and Major Frank Eustace from April to May 1945.

HMS St Matthew closed on 7 December 1945 although in practice is was no longer operation from October 1945.


The area played an important part in the Invasion of France with 32 landing craft based in the Crouch.

Special Forces were based at Creekesa for a short while to use the River Crouch as training for their part in a daring mission to Capture German General Rommel.

Despite the tough training of swimming in the Crouch in full kit the mission proved a failure.

A naval base was established at Creeksea Place, Burnham where 700 men were trained to use the landing craft

A Concrete slipway was constructed at Creeksea which was used by RAF fast Pilot Rescue Launches which patrolled in the north sea to rescue shot down aircraft and motor torpedo boats that were based in the Crouch.

Coastal Trade

Coastal trade was very important to the war effort.

The waters off the Essex coast were amongst the most mined in the UK as they lay within easy reach of German aircraft from mainland Europe.

53 vessels were wrecked off the Essex Coast during the war. 

Although the most dangerous area was off Harwich, 12 vessels were lost off the coast of the Dengie Peninsula to sandbanks, mines and aircraft action.

Some of the vessels were sailing barges like the Ailsa which struck a mine in the Whitaker Channel in January 1943 while travelling from Burnham on Crouch to London.

Some like the SS Norhauk were larger vessels carrying war  supplies and food travelling from Canada to London who struck a mine on Sunk Sand and broke up with 9 crew members drowned.


In 1930 a small airfield was established to service aircraft using the offshore sandbanks for target practice.

In 1941 Bradwell Bay was enlarged into a full airfield and was used as a fighter base and HQ for air defence for the remainder of the war.



This web site has a page on Bradwell Bay Airfield - Please click the below button to visit the page

Enemy Air Attacks

As the war progressed enemy aircraft overhead became a familiar sound with bombers using the Rivers as navigation aids before turning to other locations inland.

In 1940 alone air raid warning sirens sounded on 326 occasions.

Sometimes  land mines or bombs, left unused at the main target, were dropped by German aircraft over Dengie. Most of these exploded harmlessly in the fields although a few damaged houses as was the case with a land mine that exploded in North Street, Southminster killing 3 people and another that destroyed 20 houses in Princes Road, Burnham.

In 1941 a Heinkel was badly damaged but the rear gunner manages to parachute from the plane . His luck changed when his parachute only partly opened and he was injured on landing at Althorne. Although badly injured he staggered to the door of a nearby cottage and knocked on the door. The occupier, Mrs Margaret Windridge opened the door to be confronted by a blood stained German waving a pistol in the air. Fortunately she realised that he was surrendering his pistol and dresses his wounds before he was collected by a local military escort.

Fatal casualties included 63 year old merchant seaman, Albert Amos of Silver Road, Burnham on Crouch who was killed in the River Crouch on 10 July 1941 and Robin Chandler( 9 years) David Harold Clark ( 5 years) and Walter Stanley Hillier(47 years) who were killed when a land mine hit their respective houses at 11-13 North Street, Southminster on 25 September 1940. Further casualties were Mrs Gladys Constance Cundy (33 years), Emma Constance Cross(59 yrs), Mrs Nellie Evelyn Bigmore(Aged 31) and Miss Sheila Ethel Bigmore(aged 5 years) who were killed when a landmine landed in Princes Road, Burnham on Crouch in 1942.

Given the coastal location this area saw many aircraft crashing .

Records show 59 Allied , 12 German and 4 Unknown aircraft crash landing during the war.

Of the 12 German aircraft crashing  7 were shot down by allied aircraft, 2 were brought down by anti-aircraft fire and the cause for 3 was unknown; probably inflicted a long way away.

  Treasure hunting from crashes aircraft become a hobby although it could end up in course as was the case on March 27th 1943 when two men appeared before Southminster Petty Sessions and were fined £ 10shillings each. Robert Edward Lee of 38 Silver Road, Burnham on Crouch and Albert Victor Cooch of Little Westwick were found with a pistol,ammuniation, part of a machine gun and a gold ring taken from the wreckage of an enemy aircraft.


Bomb Decoys

Some of the bombs were deliberately invited from 1942 by the Nore Naval Command after the construction of a bombing decoy site at Mayland on the extreme northern promontory of open grassland overlooking Lawlinge Creek.

The site was used in 1944 to imitate the night time lights of D day invasion yards.

By 1946 the site had returned to open grassland.

V1 and V2 Rockets

16th June 1944 saw an new threat when Bradwell-on-Sea saw the first V1 doodlebug to be launched at Britain. Residents head a loud buzzing sound and saw a cigar shaped object with a tail of pink flame flying overhead. Fortunately for Bradwell although many more doodlebugs passed overhead only one fell on the village and that fell on the seawall. Other parts of the district were also to become accustomed to see doodlebugs and their successors the V2 rocket two of which fell close to Creeksea Place Camp.

V1 rocket photo courtesy of



The doodlebugs provide sport for the Tempests from Bradwell Bay who shot down  many doodlebugs during July and August 1944.                                                                        


Observer Corps

During the War many vantage points were used to watch out for enemy aircraft and an invasion fleet.

Following the war the work continued with the Royal Observer Corps establishing a network of underground Posts which would be used in the event of the cold war with Russia becoming a real war. These posts consisted of an underground chamber with sleeping and working areas and a small building on the surface.

These posts are still to be found at East Ends Road, Bradwell on Sea , Latchingdon Road, Latchingdon and Goldsands Road, Southminster.

These sites are privately owned and can be dangerous - Do not visit without approval of the owner

. to see pictures of the Bradwell on sea Site

to see pictures of the Latchingdon Site

to see pictures of the Southminster site

Total number of bombs

The suffering of the area during World War 2 is illustrated by the following bomb count which was recorded for an area now covered by Maldon District Council although most of the bombs fell in the Dengie 100.

 26,778 explosive or incendiary bombs

83 parachute mines

83 V1 flying bombs

54 V2 rockets

25 people killed

191 people injured


Wing Commander Vaclav Bergman

 Wing Commander Vaclav Bergman was a real hero.

He was based at Duxford with 310 Czechoslovak fighter squadron in 1940 flying Hurricanes.

On 26 August 1940 he was wounded during a dogfight over Clacton. He attacked one Dornier but during the attack he was jumped by four fighters.

During the dogfight his Hurricane was badly damaged and caught fire .

He managed to bale out, landing at Goldsands, Southminster and was treated at Rochford Hospital.

Wing Commander Bergman continued to fly fighters with great distinction during the war leading to promotion to Wing Commander in 1944 and the award of a DFC.

After the war he returned to Czechoslovakia but emigrated to England in 1948 to escape the communist takeover.

He rejoined the RAF to serve in the Korean war as a pilot being mentioned in dispatches and then obtaining a bar to his DFC.

Vaclav retired from the RAF in 1970 after an illustrious career. Sadly he died at Dumbarton, Scotland on 31 December 2002.

for the official biography of Vaclav Bergman

Prisoners of War

There were about 3,000 German/Italian prisoners of the war in the Eastern Essex area all of which were working on farms.

Most were held in camps and then released to work on the farms. They were allowed a certain amount of freedom and often seen walking in the area.


In 1939 the police station at Southminster became the nerve centre of local operations protected by an ack-ack post sited at Pump Mead Close, Southminster.



Burnham Police Station has been in several sites including Albert Road where the below photograph was taken. The Police station is now a private house.

1944 - Victory Photograph of Burnham Police

The Regular Officers are led by Inspector Rose

The Specials include Tubby Barker and the far left and Albie Rice 2nd from right at rear.


The Police took on a co-ordinating role in World War 2 .

By World War 2 Southminster was no longer a Division but part of the Maldon area.

A Sergeant was now in charge of the Southminster area with an Inspector at Maldon.

Police Stations were located at Bradwell on Sea, Burnham on Crouch, Latchingdon, Purleigh and Southminster.

During the war the Police Strength  of Maldon/ Southminster area was  14 regular Constables, 44 Special Constables and 4 vehicles were allocated for Police use.

 In response to concern about bombing the Home Office offered the following guidance to the rural parishes:-   Each parish should depend upon 

1/ A Police Constable with protective clothing    2/ Two or three volunteer Special Constables

3/ Three air raid wardens for each 500 people of the population    4/ A first aid post

5/ Voluntary help from the men of the village      6/ The trained sense of the village

Crime actually rose during the war with people taking advantage of air raids and the balckout for crime.

Many criminal had been conscripted into the army which provides some problems as was the case of Charles Heeney who in February 1942 broke into the Army Offices at Southminster and stole �70 in cash and  secret papers before absconding in a stolen army truck which he abandoned at London. 

The Guardian Newspaper reported his trial and sentence of 3 years penal servitude for  theft and taking the lorry without consent.


The Crouch Valley Railway Line was an important resource bringing in equipment for Bradwell Bay or the other units and of course evacuees escaping the blitz in London.

Attacks on training and stations became a common occurrence with the lady booking clerk at Southminster Station being shot in the arm and a floating mine narrowly missing Southminster Station exploding behind nearly houses at Station Road, Southminster.





Looking for ancestors who were in the armed services ? If so visit forces reunited by clicking the link below