ID: ML2020_004_014 / Ron Green

TitleMemory Lane - Another War
AbstractIt seems we are at War. With the present Coronavirus pandemic some firms are being asked to diversify and to produce ventilators for our hospitals. Looking back to World War 2, some local firms were contracted to do something similar. Builders Clifford White & Co were making wooden oars and paddles, they were also casting concrete slabs for use on army camps.
Gowens sailmakers were turning out liferafts made of green canvas filled with kapok and tarred. The rafts were made at their Coast Road loft but the tarring was done in Clifford White's Kingsland Road yard which Gowens hired for the purpose. 4th April 1944, as I walked home from school, I could see smoke starting to drift out from under the eaves of the large wooden garage on the site. I stayed to watch as it soon developed into a spectacular fire. Even a Mosquito aircraft from Bradwell Bay came and circled round to see what was happening. Fire engines came from Colchester and it burned well into the evening. The cause was never found - maybe an accident with the tar pot? The garage was rebuilt with concrete blocks and asbestos roof and survived until it was demolished to make way for the present doctor's surgery and Co-op car park.

Gowen's workers at the Kingsland Road yard - the school can be seen in the background.
L-R are Jack Gurton, a man from the Ministry, Ken Gowen, Peck Hewes, Don Procter, Geoff Mole, Ru Pullen.

Clifford White's sawmill, Barfield Road
L-R 1. Frank Eley, 2., 3., 4. Reg Jay, 5. Algy Pullen, 6., 7. Sid Stoker, 8. Hector Farthing, 9.

Gowens also had a yard at Tollesbury, making rope ladders, scramble nets etc. at the time.

Several local carpenters and shipwrights went to work at the Brightlingsea and Wivenhoe shipyards during the War. The yards were very busy, building and repairing small warships. Later, parts for the Mulberry Harbours were built at Wivenhoe.

80 years ago, in 1940, the country had been at War for some time and by the end of May, things were looking bleak. We are lucky that there are diaries from Mary French and Harold Rudlin to paint a picture of day-to-day life. Bombs falling on the island, armed guards (and explosives) at the Strood, over 1,000 soldiers on the island plus some evacuees still here, no street lights, rationing. By July the beach was lined with barbed wire and mined, the beach huts all removed. But the sun still shone and people still went to the beach sunbathing and swimming, even if the only beach available was at the Hard.

Published in Mersea Life, but because of coronavirus, this version was only available online.
You can view the full edition at

AuthorRon Green
SourceMersea Museum