ID DJG_WWX Article from Mersea Museum

TitleThe day the war ended
AbstractDuring the past month (September 1979) we have been subjected to a great deal of news items by press, radio and television, regarding the "day war broke out", but the most happiest and thankful time was when it ended. I arrived home on 30th April 1945 from Europe where I had been serving in "Amgot" a term coined by the U.S. Army for "Allied Military Government Occupied Territories", which had hastily been altered to "Civil Affairs" as the abbreviation was a Turkish word meaning "horse manure". I had not been home for nearly five years, and what vast changes I found. Tank traps, pill-boxes, conical and cylindrical concrete objects scattered throughout the countryside, and sand-bagged enclosures at strategic positions in the villages. This locality was a prohibited zone, only authorised or persons with residential qualifications allowed in, but it gave rise to some amusing incidents more especially because all place naneplates and signposts had been removed. On one occasion a staff car with red tabbed officers drew alongside a farmworker at the cross-roads and one officer enquired the name of the locality. The farm-worker remembering that "careless talk costs lives" gave a noncommittal answer, whereupon the officer said "For a local man you don't know much", whereupon the farm-worker replied, "No, but oi aint lorst."

There were still units of the Royal Artillery in the area, and local exercises had been arranged with the Home Guard units, the R.A.s being the invading forces. On one such occasion an exhausted and mud be-spattered soldier was heard to remark, "If anyone thinks Hitler would attempt to land here they must be crazy." Apparently members of the Home Guard instead of defending had to rescue the soldiers from the treacherous mud of the creeks.

Strict food rationing was in force, as was motor fuel. This did not affect me as being posted on leave I was attached to Colchester Garrison for rations, but one thing which affected all workers and gardeners who were "digging for Victory" was the fact that there was an extremely acute shortage of beer. Soft drinks were strictly reserved for the children, and the lorry loads of U.S.A.A.F personnel who descended periodically on the villages for evening entertainment found that they too were denied their favourite drink of "Coke". Early each evening cycle patrols would be sent out to the surrounding villages to ascertain the position regarding the supply of beer. Back would come the reports "There is beer, but the natives are decidedly hostile", but not so in the case of Salcott-cum-Virley, which had lost the "White Hart" during the war now temporarily replaced at that time by a wooden structure, and of course the "Sun" which had figured in the book "Mistress of Broadmarsh" as the "Rising Star", and a rising star it was at that most stringent time, inasmuch that there would be a welcome. Not to spoil the concession the information was kept as secret as possible, and gradually a trickle of men on cycles, horse-drawn carts and the baker's van would descend on the "Sun" to slake their thirst. I well remember the first time I entered the "Sun" to find some of the locals already seated on a form in the passageway facing the bar hatchway, and eyeing us "furriners" somewhat sceptically. However, Mr. Back the then proprietor, indicated that we could use the tap-room or the saloon. I was ushered into the saloon, which apparently was infrequently used, but what a revelation ! It was like stepping back into the turn of the century. A scrupulously clean room, but what a collector's gem. Furnished with antique furniture, the mantlepieces draped, and anti-macassars on the backs of the Victorian armchairs. What immediately caught one's attention were the various tobacco and cigarette advertisements, "A.1." and "Franklyn's Shag", "B.D.V." and "Black Cat" cigarettes, long since superseded by other brands, the whole dominated by a large gilt framed print depicting "The Relief of Mafeking." One could, well imagine members of the "CIV" using that room in 1902, as there were a number of Boer War veterans living in this locality at that time.

The war in Europe was rapidly drawing to a close. Come 8th May 1945 this terrible conflict ended, and quickly plans were formulated to hold open-air Thanksgiving Services which embraced all denominations, and were very well attended. Incredibly, war work still went on, bevies of beautiful young local women were still engaged on making hammocks, tow-lines for gliders, and elderly men were busy making scrambling nets and rope ladders in all manner? of empty barns, sheds and yacht stores, but then the war in the Pacific had still to be won.

By the 20th July 1945 I did not relish the thought of going into the "Control Commission Germany" which had replaced "Civil Affairs" or "C.4 Branch", I had seen quite enough of how the civilian populations had been treated by officialdom in Europe. I was demobilised and allowed to return to my former employment. However, this was not before I had the very great pleasure of attending the weddings of a number of local folk who had been serving in the forces.

AuthorDouglas J. Gurton
Published29 September 1979
SourceMersea Museum / Cedric Gurton
Related Images:
 The Street, Salcott. The Sun Inn on the right. 1920s ?  JMO_SAL_009
ImageID:   JMO_SAL_009
Title: The Street, Salcott. The Sun Inn on the right. 1920s ?
Source:Mersea Museum / John Moore Collection

This item is part of the Mersea Island Museum Collection. The contents must not be published without the permission of the Museum. The information is accurate as far as is known, but the Museum does not accept responsibility for errors.

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