Finest Hour

1974, Essex (County)

The first civilian casualties of World War II air raids in north east Essex.

The film opens with the voice of Sir Winston Churchill over stills of the `Daily Sketch' and archive film of wartime Britain. The film tells various stories of north east Essex and its people at the beginning of World War Two. The first sequence tells the story of the first wartime civilian casualties in Britain. Combining archive film, modern film, stills and interviews the film tells how a Heinkel bomber crashed into the home of Mr and Mrs Gill of Victoria Road, Clacton. From this crash and the resulting fire 6 people were killed, Mr and Mrs Gill and the bomber crew of 4 and 160 people were injured. The site is marked by a seat and a plaque; fire-fighter Reg Lawes recalls the fire whilst archive film shows the damage and the bodies being removed from the wreckage. Mr Lawes shows a German buckle that he found in the wreckage. The Germans were given a funeral with full military honours. Local people sent posies of flowers. Their graves are contrasted with those of Mr and Mrs Gill who do not have as much as a head stone. A school was damaged in the accident. The second sequence covers memories of evacuation, brought forward because of the accident. Children are seen walking to the station, wearing gas masks. Reminiscences about evacuation are mixed. One lady recalls being removed from a flat above a bakers at Holland-on-Sea to a Country house near Tiverton. Another recalls that having been evacuated to a supposedly safe place, the school in his new home was within 200 yards of a direct hit. Another lady recalls being sent to a poor family in Tonypandy. She was very poorly fed and undernourished. When her mother tried to send her food parcels, they were re-directed to the woman's daughter in Birmingham. A radio broadcast by Princess Elizabeth to evacuees is repeated. A doctor's wife from Great Bentley recalls her work during the war. Colonel Stuart Macrae, who worked in Bedford, recalls the problems in developing a dissolving mine detonator. This problem was solved using aniseed balls. There remained the problem of finding a suitably waterproof covering, until they realised that suitable commodities were available at the local chemists. However, there was a lady assistant at the chemists and they finished the war with a lot of aspirin. At Wivenhoe, two men talk of building dummy submarines as a decoy. This obviously worked, as Germany Calling reported that there had been a successful raid on a submarine base at Holland-on-Sea. Local historian, Derek Johnson, recounts his belief that there were spies in the area.The final sequence tells the story of a private guerrilla group organised by Colonel Colin Gubbins. Roger Weeley, a member of this force, recalls their work. They operated outside the Geneva Convention and would have had no safeguards had they been captured. They were known as Section D. As the movement spread, there were 70 units from Southend to Cromer, they became known as auxiliaries. Paddy O'Mara, a newspaper seller, explains how messages were passed.

Featured Events

The accident that caused the first civilian casualties of World War Two.

Keywords

Air raids; Casualties; Military intelligence; World War II

Other Places

Clacton-on-Sea Colchester; Great Bentley; Holland-on-Sea; Tonypandy; Wivenhoe

Background Information

Derek Johnson was an antique dealer. He ran 'Pennyfarthing Antiques' in Clacton-on-Sea.The film tells how Clacton was evacuated early because the accident damaged a school. Douglas Salmon himself was one of those evacuees. He spent seven weeks at a farmhouse in Worcestershire before his father came to collect him, having found a house in London. They arrived in London on a Friday night - the Blitz began on a Saturday. He recalls that it was all very exciting.

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