TitleThe 1884 Earthquake and 1943 Bomber Crash - Centenary Chronicles 11
AbstractThe 1884 Earthquake, and
1943 Bomber Crash

Birch, Layer Breton & Layer Marney Local History

Centenary Chronicles - No. 11.

Published in Parish News - May 1998

For this month's Chronicle we thank Mr and Mrs Billington, Stamp's and Crow's, Layer Breton and those who recorded their experience of what has been described, by Peter Haining in his aptly titled book as "The Great English Earthquake".

Starting with the latter Birch School Log Books contain many interesting records, none more so than that for 22nd April 1884:

"At 9.20 this morning, having just commenced the school work, experienced very severe shock of earthquake. The room heaved and swayed bodily, the children being exceedingly alarmed - but beyond cracked wall and ceilings no damage was done to the buildings. The tops of three out of four chimneys of the opposite cottages were however shattered and fell upon the roof which was also damaged."

Mr Haining quotes extensively from contemporary accounts noting that Layer Marney and Layer Breton were among the areas to suffer badly whereas in Birch it went almost unnoticed - apart that is from the school Log Book! In Layer Breton every house was affected, the most severe damage being to the Rectory and the Church - the latter had to be closed and, eventually, demolished. Layer Marney Towers suffered a long crack over the gateway between the two towers.

The Essex Chronicle reported that at Layer Breton "Miss Gripper's residence (White House) had ceilings cracked and spoiled". Another shock was said to have occurred early the following morning and it was said that, in Peldon, that had been an earlier earthquake just two months before and the paper contained reference to one which shook Colchester in 1692.

Fortunately there was no loss of life and repairs were soon in hand although Layer Breton Church was not replaced until the 1920s. Langenhoe and Little Wigborough Church suffered very extensive damage and required much re-building.

Tales of that day have been handed down in families and, similarly, we have heard about the following incident from a number of men who, as boys, recall another April day in 1943.

Reference to the aircraft crash at Stamp's and Crow's have been made before but now we have been fortunate enough to receive more details.

On the 15th April 1943 a German Dornier 217, possibly a J.1. Intruder version, had been carrying out a raid on London or Chelmsford, when a Mosquito night fighter was "scrambled" from 157 Squadron based at Bradwell on Sea just after midnight.

After an abortive chase of a Dornier which they lost, the crew of the Mosquito spotted another aircraft in their area which they identified as a Dornier 217. They closed to within 200 yards and opened fire with their four cannons but saw no results. They tried again with a longer burst and saw the port engine catch fire with the fire spreading quickly along the fuselage.

The 'plane went into a shallow dive and crashed at 00.45 hours.

The account which appears in the book "Night Flyer" by Lewis Brandon DSO,DFC, who was the Mosquito navigator makes very interesting reading and although it all sounds very easy the account goes on to show how difficult it was to fly using instruments and Ground Controllers to find an aircraft in the dark. Not only that but one reads that by firing their cannons the intercom system on the aircraft was disconnected and they had to rely on shouting to each other in order to return to base!

The next day the Mosquito crew came to Layer Breton to see the result of their night's work and found that the Dornier had slithered along after hitting the ground and had come to rest only fifty yards short of the house said to be the only house for miles! One wheel had bounced over the house and finished up in the fork of a large tree but the farmer was very irate as some saplings in the orchard had been damaged! There is a photograph (not in the book) of the pilot then Flight Lieutenant, James Benson, in front of the wreck but, unfortunately, it is not clear enough to print in the Newsletter.

Since the war various groups have visited the area to investigate further but on reading the reports one wonders just where they looked as the map reference given is clearly incorrect! Three members of the crew of the Dornier baled out and were taken prisoner but the wireless operator was killed in the crash. So came to an end one of many such incidents during the war and it is good to know that the two British aircrew involved survived the war.

For more details of this event and the problems of night fighter crews the book "Night Flyer" by Squadron Leader Lewis Brandon, DSO, DFC who as a navigator formed with his pilot Wing Commander James G Benson DSO, DFC and Bar, became one of the most successful of the RAF night fighter crews. Copies of the book are held in the Colchester Library.

Even though this page is about the history of the area it may be of interest to show how the latest technology can help in compiling such articles! The latest version of Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia has an item on John Haynes, an American colonial leader born about 1594, who was governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635 and later settled in Connecticut where he helped write the first written constitution in North America. Haynes was said, by some authorities, to have been born in Birch although Encarta quotes Essex as his birthplace. A recent publication by the Essex Record Office (also on the Internet!) states that "manorial docs.; deeds and family papers of the Haynes and Harrison families of Copford and Stanway from 1499-1957" have been deposited - perhaps further research might reveal a definite connection with Connecticut?

PublishedMay 1998
SourceMersea Museum / Breton Heath