|Abstract||Recent publicity regarding remains of V2 rockets
found near Thurslet, revives memories not only of World War II but
the Great War of 1914-18 when Tollesbury was selected as a
training area for infantry. On the 12th December 1914 the
Essex Territorial Cyclist Battalion carried out a "sham fight"
on the marshes, but this was only a preliminary exercise,
within a matter of weeks, units of the Royal Warwickshire and
also Hampshire Yeomanry were billeted in the village, and
manning sandbag enclosures at The Hard, on the sea walls
and at the Pier, relieving to a certain extent the duties of the
local Coastguards, Coastguard Auxiliaries (yachtsmen and
fishermen) and the local Sea Scouts.
Early in 1915 advance units of the Sherwood Foresters
Notts and Derby Regiments arrived by train and began preparing
The Mount as a military camp.
Mr. Jack Gallant, the local station master, had more to concern him
than the despatch of 120,000 oysters firsts and seconds in
one day, but had to cope with truckloads of military equipment mules
and horses, naturally his station staff was augmented. Up to this time
we had fondly imagined that Tollesbury would not attract the enemy,
for had not Tollesbury men crewed in the German Kaiser's yacht Meteor,
but contrary to their undertaking were now serving in the Royal Navy.
Possibly the most shattering thing so far as we children were concerned,
was the fact that our sand-pit and toboggan runs on The Mount
indulgently allowed us by Mr. George Wombwell of Tollesbury Hall
had now been confiscated for military purposes.
No more would we see the outline of Bostock and Wombwell's
circus ring or the traces of Messrs. Dolman's "Hippodrome",
as concrete platforms for ablutions (soldiers for the use of),
latrines and gantries from which bags of straw were suspended
for bayonet practices, were quickly constructed.
Tollesbury was just benefiting from a piped water supply,
most houses still used their wells and the village pumps,
but running water at the turn of a tap was startling and was
quickly brought into use by the military. The Mount was
covered by large canvas marquees and bell tents.
Shortly after 4 p.m. on 20th April 1915 a Naval balloon
descended at Carrington's Farm, one joker said "They've
dropped in for tea at Guisnes", but the Naval bearded
commander was not amused, as he had been heading in the
direction of Tollesbury Fleets. The balloon was quickly
deflated and bundled unceremoniously in a farm wggon and
By May 1915 some 250 young men of the village had been called
to the forces, and Mr J. Phillips had prepared a large glazed
board sited at Brand's Corner (The Square) with the names of
each man beautifully executed in gold leaf paint. However, this
did not deter an Army Recruiting Campaign one evening on The Square.
Harangued by a rosetted sergeant major two young' men stepped
forward from the assembled civilians, and were quickly fallen
in the ranks of the soldiers. Surprisingly although in
civilian clothes they marched off with the soldiers
with equable military precision. It was obvious that the
two young men were already soldiers.
At first the tentage was not camouflaged, but with air
raids increasing, this was rectified, but presented an
incongruous appearance, with the brown, green and buff
squiggles like so many snakes. Woodrope however presented
a more peace-time look with all the large yachts in their
mud berths, and smacks laid up in South Dock and Rotten
Row for want of crews. Several of the older yachts were
hauled up onto the Hard and divested of their copper
sheathing and lead ballast, commodities in short supply.
There was a minor French invasion when a crew arrived to
take away the beautiful sleek steam yacht "Winifred",
the pride and joy of Capt. Isaac Rice, Senior, having been
sold to France as a hospital ship. The French crew
brought a little colour into the village, the officers in
their boat cloaks and the sailors in their "pom-pom" hats
and blue striped vests. Some of us children helped to
trundle handcarts laden with provisions down to the Rickus
path, but found that the carts were too wide to go through
the wicket gate. The prospect of carrying the items by
hand was too much, but with one gigantic heave the Frenchmen
rammed the entrance and the gate disappeared in pieces.
Up in the village it was fairly quiet, very few men around.
Mr. Bert Redhouse, the bootmaker, had lost his daily visitors,
but was receiving postcards from "Somewhere in France".
He staged an exhibition of trophies of war, German spiked
helmets, bayonets, etc., in his shop's front window.
Mr. Joe Stace, the meticulous barber, had few customers,
as the soldiers had their own barbers in the ranks, but
nevertheless kept his slate with "Please wipe your feet"
close by his door.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and although
we children did not forsake our tops, hoops, "buttons or
"conkers" at the appropriate times, we were able to model
ourselves on the soldiers in our midst, and regularly played
war-like games, forming little gangs or teams as we called
them named after the particular localities, e.g., "High
Streeters" - "New Roaders" - "Mell Roaders" etc.
Even the little girls took part acting as nurses to soothe
our cuts and bruises. Our school masters were called to
the colours early in the War, and our school mistresses
had a difficult and harassing time depriving us of our
implements of war before classes commenced.
The Reverend Swinnerton, Vicar of Tolleshunt Major,
endeavoured to channel the older boys' enthusiasm into
forming a Tollesbury Boy Scouts Troop, but unfortunately
it was short lived due to the over zealousness of a patrol
who pulled a young lady off her cycle who had failed to
obey, their challenge. A severe lecture followed next day
from one of the School Governors, Countess de la Chapelle.
Rev. Swinnerton was a courageous man, and suffered a great
handicap. He was practically blind and wore dark blue glasses.
However, this did not deter him riding a motor cycle combination.
Invariably one of the boys sat on the saddle and steered whilst
the Rev. Swinnerton operated the controls from the wicker basket
Possibly one of the greatest handicaps of those days, were the
"black-out" regulations. All householders had to provide
their homes with black or dark green blinds, and there being
no street lighting the mellow glow from the oil lamps in the
houses shining out into-the streets was very much missed by
On Saturday 29th May 1915, two alleged spies, man and woman,
masquerading as artists were arrested on the marshes,
but were found to be both men and were taken away under
armed escort, We children inquistive like went to view the
scene of arrest, and were quickly rounded up by soldiers
and threatened with the sergeant's belt if found in the vicinity again.
As military training progressed, trenches were dug on the old
brickfield and Little Marsh, and signalling exercises were
carried cut between soldiers on the Church tower and the newly
constructed Water Tower near the railway station.
On Sunday 4th July 1915 a spectacular Church Parade was held
for the units of the Sherwood Foresters and Notts and Derby
soldiers. Headed by a military band they marched to St. Mary's
accompanied by a large gathering of older members of the
Ancient Order of Foresters in their regalia. A local hero,
Major William Charles Maskell, D.S.C., M.C., was home on a brief
leave at the time, and at the conclusion of the Church Service
was asked by the Officer Commanding to take the salute as the
troops marched back to camp. This was a gesture noticed and
much appreciated by the villagers. However, on one occasion,
two young Tollesbury men in hospital blue were standing on the
corner of the Square when the O/C went past on his charger,
and presumably failed to salute him. They were taken to the
Guardroom by "Red Caps" which was formerly the old Co-op and
Post Office on the Square, and later taken to Battn Hdqrs
at Albany Villa where they were released. This was not an isolated
incident, as on one occasion one of the original Tollesbury
volunteers home on leave from the front in war stained uniform
was detained as an "Absentee Without Leave".
Fortunately he was able to give a good account of himself,
and told the sergeant where he should be.
The great influx of troops presented problems in the village,
but the local churches played their part nobly,
and regular entertainment and dances were organised at
The Institute and Parish Room. Furthermore, many of the
soldiers were talented artistes and the village benefited
a great deal.
Many of the older men and women, young and old,, were employed
on making kitbags and "nettles" for hammock lashings.
At this period there were five public houses situated within the
village, "Plough and Sail", "Hope", "King's Head", "Victoria" and
"Ship Ahoy". Len lee a local sailmaker at Gowen's, Woodrolfe,
compiled an apt jingle "We plough and sail, and we hope the King
will be Victorious - Ship Ahoy". The soldiers held many a concert
in the local hostelries, and usually on a Saturday evening a
portion of the military band played on the Square and accompanied
Church services on Sundays.
For the benefit of the soldiers a canteen under the title "Home
Defence Comforts Welfare Fund" was established at the corner
shop Enterprise Buildings and staffed and organised by the
Countess de la Chapelle and her Red Cross nurses.
The canteen was officially opened although somewhat secretly,
as only a handful of sightseers adults and children were present,
when this act was graciously performed by H.R.H. Princess Alice
(Countess of Athlone). The first occasion the village had been
honoured by a visit from a member of the Royal family.
As the war progressed other specialised training was established
in the locality. Two aeroplane hangars were erected at
Gardner's Farm, Goldhanger (the guardroom is now a bungalow,
and one hangar can be seen at Sadd's Depot near the Great
Eastern, Maldon). On occasions the Sopwith Pup bi-planes
force landed at Tollesbury and caused some excitement.
An M.T.B. base was also established at Osea Island and
named H.M.S. "Osea", the ship's badge unofficially was a
"chick in an eggshell using a paddle". The drone of the
motor torpedo boat engines on the River at night mingled
with that of the Taubes and Gothas proceeding overhead
for targets in London, but not so much as that of Zeppelin
L33 returning from a raid on London, began to lose height over
the Estuary, jettisoned portable equipment over Wick Marsh,
and grounded at Copt Hall Little Wigborough at 2.a.m. on
Sunday 24th September 1916. The two officers and nineteen men
disembarked, set fire to the Zeppelin and surrendered to a
special constable. The glare from the fire lit up the countryside,
and it is said that one-could have read a newspaper in
Tollesbury Square. Tollesbury coastguards mounted guard over the
remains of the airship, which were visited by the Prime Minister
(Lloyd George), other notables, and thousands of villagers
from the countryside within the next few days.
Although the local doctors, Drs. Salter and Spink, possessed
motor cars, and Mr. George Fisher at The Garage owned several,
military did not use mechanised equipment, and on one odd occasion
when mobile anti-aircraft guns went down Wycke Lane they
Most operations were carried out on foot, bicycle or horse drawn
transport. Mr. James Frost who had relinquished his job as a
bargemaster was extremely busy breaking in horses and mules on
Beecham's meadow and Woodrope Green. It was a time of full
employment in the village, but the impact of war had already been
tragically felt by many. On odd occasions military funerals were
held accompanied by band with muffled drums and escort with reversed
arms. There was also a most impressive Fire Brigade funeral of a
local man killed in London.
In their leisure time, which was not too frequent, soldiers went
out fishing and oyster dredging with the local fishermen, also
gave a hand on the farms for German prisoners-of-war in their
brilliantly patched uniforms were being employed to replace those
called to the colours. The soldiers, mostly from the Midlands,
and miners by profession, reveled in the delights of rabbiting
with ferrets or guns. Local tradespeople and farmers had joined
the Local Defence Volunteers and regularly carried out drills under
a sergeant in the stackyard of Hunt's Farm, causing much merriment
amongst us children who delighted to watch their antics.
Some of the older yacht skippers had become Special Constables,
and so far as we children were concerned appeared to be more zealous
than P.C. Brown who kept us on the move constantly with a flip of
his gloves which were believed to have small pebbles in the finger tips.
With the introduction of food rationing, the trials and worries of
tradesman and housewife alike were increased.
"No meat without coupons" was Mr. Albert Brand's constant cry,
it was our first introduction to frozen meat. The quality
of food generally had not decreased, bread and flour were
grey in colour, but Mr. Ponder's sausages were still of
excellent quality, never to be surpassed. Stone Brothers
were still brewing in The Chase, but under the "Defence
of the Realm Act" (DOHA) all off-sales of 'beers, wines
and spirits had to be signed for by the recipient.
However, in spite of the enemy blockade, food ships were
still arriving. The American steamship "Piave" was torpedoed
in the Estuary, and hundreds of bags of flour, also large crates
of bacon, were floating in the sea and salvaged by our fishermen,
who in spite of restrictions were still going on their lawful
occasions. Alas, much of the food salvaged had been polluted
by fuel oil. Lifeboats and rafts from the wreck of the
"Piave" were brought up to Woodrope loaded with merchandise.
Under the cover of darkness some of the bags of flour found
their way into the village, and it was most unfortunate that some
of the bags split, and allowed a trickle of flour to fall on
the road disclosing the route followed. Naturally brooms
were soon brought out to disperse the traces of flour.
During the sojourn of the troops in our midst, a number of
romances flourished and in some cases enduring and happy
marriages followed. Others were rudely and tragically
shattered later by the misfortunes of war. By the end of
1917 most of the troops had departed, the last to go were
units of the Oxford and Bucks who had their band to play them
off at the Railway station. It was a sad day for Tollesbury
as the soldiers had entered
wholeheartedly into the life of the village and brought colour
and brightness into what could have been a very dull and uninspiring
Events were rapidly reaching a climax, successes were reported most
every other day. America had entered the war on the Allies side and
was giving most valuable support. Little was it known then
that a man, who had spent his boyhood at Tollesbury, was playing a
most important part in America's role of supplying the larders of Europe.
He was Mr. Frederick E. Hasler, who had wide interests in shipping,
banking and mining, and was an adviser and consultant of the American
government. He was later to become a great friend and benefactor
to this village of Tollesbury.
On St. George's Day, 23rd April 1918, some Tollesbury men serving in
the Dover Patrol were at the storming of the Mole at Zeebrugge and
later at the blockade of Ostende harbour with H.M.S. "Vindictive".
In the summer which followed there was greater activity in the pea
fields. The pea pickers went on "strike" demanding a rate of
1/- per large bag. In the autumn we were encouraged to pick
blackberries which were bought by Mr. Harrington at the Post Office.
On Monday, 11th November 1918, Mr. Harrington came down to the
school and told the school teachers that Armistice was being
declared at 11 a.m. Some children played truant in the afternoon
with painful results. The war was over, but another enemy
struck the village, a malady under the name of "Spanish Flu" many of
the villagers and children suffered.
Online sources say PIAVE was completed in December 1918 for the U.S. Navy. She was wrecked on Goodwin Sands 29 Jan 1919 en route from New York to Rotterdam and was a total loss.