ID: WIG_WW2 / Elaine Barker

TitleThe Wigboroughs in WW2
AbstractOn 14th January 1939 the neighbourhood news in the Essex County Standard reported the first of a series of six Air Raid Precautions (A.R.P.) lectures to volunteers from Peldon and Wigborough in Peldon School. About 40 were present and first aid demonstrations were given by the St John's Ambulance. Following the lectures exams were held in April and certificates gained by 4 women and 7 men.

In the same month, lectures on Gas [it was feared the Germans would subject the British population to gas attacks] were given to 20 workers representing Peldon and Wigborough. More successful candidates passed the A.R.P exams in July that year

ARP - In connection with ARP a gas examination was held in the School on Tuesday, and the examiner, Mr Morgan, expressed himself well satisfied with the results. ... Among the [successful] four candidates from Wigborough was Mrs Wenlock, whose marks were 100%, the other successful three being Mrs Aldred, Mrs Clark and Miss D Clark. Essex County Standard 8th July 1939

Along with the ARP wardens, preparations for the war included a Home Guard, a Parish Invasion Committee, fund-raising and growing food crops. Families were issued with ration books, blackouts were observed, and the women's Land Army was drafted in to work on the land.


Being an area where farming had been in the doldrums, the Wigboroughs attracted the attention of the War Agricultural Committee. Land which had hitherto ceased to be ploughed and had been allowed to at best revert to pasture, at worst to become overgrown was taken over and brought back into arable cultivation. It is thanks to this fact that we have written diary entries from E.J. Rudsdale who worked for the War Ag Committee with a responsibility for the Winstree Hundred. His edited diary has been published but there is also an on-line blog which includes passages that do not appear in the printed book.

He talks of the intractable clay and of the opposition by the displaced farmers.

December 9 Wednesday 1942

This afternoon I went to Wigborough with Capt Folkard. Everything very wet. The most tenacious mud I ever saw. I was told that when the Hutleys had this farm many years ago, it was ploughed up at once, 104 horses being used - 52 pairs. What a sight that must have been. A lovely misty day, like autumn. The great barn at Abbots Hall is now being repaired, the broken end being built up. Old Mortimer [the farmer] was tramping around with his vicious dog, jeering at the Committee's workmen and being as unpleasant as he can. He has done everything he can to obstruct the work.

December 10 Thursday ... went down to Little Wigborough ... and went off down to Copt Hall. As we went down the lane from the Wigborough Road, I saw two boarded cottages and suddenly realised that this was the very place where the zeppelin came down in 1916. I came there with my Mother to see it.

We went right down to the buildings, grouped round the little church, and met Cutting the new foreman. He seems a very able sort of man. Then we walked across the fields to the Lower Barn. The desolation was superb - a vast sky, filled with racing clouds, gulls wheeling, peewits crying, skeleton trees standing up on the far horizon, ship masts off Mersea and Bradwell shore in the far distance. Not a human being in sight but ourselves.

Below Lower Barn are four fields on a sort of island, which can only be reached by crossing a very wet marsh. They were all ploughed in olden times as can be seen from the ancient stetch* marks and now they are to be ploughed again.

Nott mentioned the last war and if the War Agricultural Committee had done any work at Wigborough then? Charlie said 'There wasn't much for'em to do, 'cos most everybody was a-farming then.' What a contrast with the present time. E.J. Rudsdale: Journals of a War-time Colchester

[* The word stetch is East Anglian meaning the ridges formed by ploughing. It now appears in a dictionary of archaic terms but many of the local farmers still use the word].

To assist with the farming, Land Girls were drafted in. The hostel in Peldon (which still stands hidden amongst the undergrowth alongside the North side of the Wigborough Road) offered accommodation. Rudsdale writes of meeting a group down at Copt Hall in Little Wigborough.

July 12 Wednesday 1944 I went on to Copt Hall found some Land Girls and took them down to the lower marshes to bring up all the bullocks. These girls are all from Durham and have only been here a week. None of them had ever seen cattle except out of a train window, yet they made no bones about driving them. I asked one how she liked them and she said 'They're alright, but they're bigger than I thought.' Two of the girls said they would like to be trained to look after the stock but I did not tell them they have little chance here of being trained to do anything.

Under Attack

Abbot's Hall Farm, Wigborough, was at this time claimed by Mr J Mortimer to be 'the most bombed farm in Essex' Many bombs had fallen on it in 1940 and in 1941 it was attacked on January 5th when 16 bombs hit it, damaging buildings and live-stock, and again on February 14th. In all 40 high explosive bombs and many incendiaries fell on this farm Essex At War: Essex County Standard Hervey Benham

Situated on the east coast, local villages didn't escape the bombing.

1941: Haphazard attacks - mostly caused by bombers 'unloading' on their way back from London, pursued by fighters - were continuous Essex At War: Essex County Standard Hervey Benham

A visitor to the village for a war-time wedding in 1941 recounted how the rector of St Stephens, Great Wigborough, and his family had taken to sleeping in the cellar of the rectory

Richard Aldred, a teenager at the start of the war, and living with his family nearby at Moulshams, later wrote

... a Jerry bomber dropped his load on a cowshed, missed house, killed some sheep. Lucky do. Richard Aldred unpublished letter

and E J Rudsdale in his Journal of The War wrote

At the office heard that two bombs fell at Copt Hall one within 10 feet of the stable ... but it failed to explode. The other made a huge crater two fields away. Thursday March 16th 1944 E J Rudsdale: Journals of War-time Colchester

By 1944 a new danger had presented itself in the form of the 'robot' bombs known as doodle-bugs which were unmanned flying bombs.

Nearby at Salcot

the 'robot' aircraft known as the V1 or doodle-bug made its first appearance locally at Salcot in June 1944 - no damage was caused Essex At War: Essex County Standard Hervey Benham

In June 1944 Rudsdale writes of a doodlebug and a string of bombs again down at Copt Hall.

24th June 1944 Saturday Brilliant day, mild and sunny, but felt it overshadowed by the coming night.  This morning Charlie Baldwin came in with a story about the murder at Abberton.  A Home Guard officer named Capt. Grundy has been shot by a regular soldier, whom he came across when rabbiting.
Charlie said: "Did you hear about these goings on at Abberton?  That was like this: Thursday night we had a 'robert' bomb [V1 robot bomb] at Copt Hall, and then later on the same night there was an owd Jerry came over and he dropped a string o'bombs on the next marsh to where that was.  Well, of course all this here upset our cattle, and we had about 100 head o'stock out by the morning, so I went up to Copt Hall Chase to find Cutting, and he says to me "I suppose you know all these here cattle are out all over the parish?  You might let Webb know when you're up the village, and you might tell him there's an unexploded bomb on the bottom marsh."

Well, I thought if I went to Ponder's place, him being Head Warden, I could tell him, and he could 'phone Webb, 'cause that'd be cheaper, like, but when I get to Ponder's his missus said "He's out, but that ain't a might o'good getting on to Webb, 'cause he's got a murder on his hands, and he's busy."  So I says "Oh, has he.  But what about this here unexploded bomb?  Webb can't do no good to the poor chap what's dead, but if this bomb go off that might kill somebody else."

14th August 1944 Monday Heard by 'phone that we had a bad fire at Copt Hall on Saturday - the engine of the combine harvester back-fired and destroyed 20 acres of standing wheat in fields below the lower buildings.  

25th August 1944 Friday This evening went down to Copt Hall with Harry Day in his car, when he was taking back a load of repaired harness.  Quite a lot of corn not yet cut.  Saw Burrill at Copt Hall, and was most amused when he, the great exponent of mechanisation, asked me if I knew where he could buy a pair of good horses, saying that he had realised that horses were absolutely essential on that land.

We walked down to the lower buildings, and across the marsh.  When walking across the great bare redhill near the barn, I picked up an interesting sherd... near a rabbit hole.  It was stained with the bright red soil and seemed to have been brought up from a good Nothing else to be seen but the usual briquetage [from salt-making works], and in spite of all that Culley [the Pests Officer] has done, the hill (as others down there) is a mass of rabbits.

In October, Salcot was attacked again.

Early on the morning of October 13th [1944] when a flying bomb fell in a field at Salcot, blast damaged a cottage. The only casualty was Henry Cullum, who was admitted to hospital. Essex At War: Essex County Standard Hervey Benham

War-time wedding

In November 1941 the rector's daughter married at St Stephens Church. We have two accounts, that of the groom's aunt, who attended the wedding and memories of the bride herself, Joan Hopkyns née Yates. It seems most of the flowers were grown in the rectory greenhouse and gardens, and friends and family had laid on the refreshments what a spread they were. [ Mary Hopkyns' Diary ]

People had spared us their food coupons. Eggs were unrationed so they were well-used

This included twenty two eggs in the four tier wedding cake!

As for the bride's dress

Clothes were on coupons and our gardener Wenlock, had given me seven, and my parents had taken me to London. I bought my white dress which was lace and net which required no coupons, but the long gown underneath took my seven. Mary [the bridesmaid] rummaged through our clothes closets and found one of my evening gowns which was suitable and fitted her, thank goodness. [ Joan's Recollections ]

The End of The War

By the time the end of the war came, the Wigboroughs were ready to celebrate in style

VICTORY CELEBRATIONS These took place on Sept 22 in a barn lent by Mr Ham of Seaboroughs Farm. The party included adults and children of the village, service personnel home on leave and soldier-harvesters. The barn had been gaily decorated and a bountiful tea provided, the victory cake being cut by the oldest inhabitant, Mr Peavor. Sister Gilchrist entertained with customary charm on her piano accordion. A play by village children was also much appreciated. Thanks were voiced by the rector Rev F Gates and Mr Burrill of Copt Hall. Ladies responsible for the arrangements were Mesdames Calverley, Ham, Norrell, Pooley and H Ponder. Essex County Standard 5.10.1945

The late Bernie Ratcliffe who spent his much of his working life employed by the farmer at New Hall, Little Wigborough, Victor Gray, recalled Italian POWs were still working there on the land post-war, living at the Women's Land Army Hostel. He remembered them hand-digging a drain from the cowshed to Copt Wood. They helped with the harvest too and a binder would be borrowed from Mr Gray's brother, Allan, who lived at Mersea. There was just one tractor, a horse and the farmer used Mr Greenleaf's forge in Peldon.

Hervey Benham published his book Essex At War in 1945 before events should be lost beyond recall. Summing up what had happened in the Lexden and Winstree area he wrote

... there were 78 casualties, but only two fatal ones. Over 1,700 bombs fell on the various parishes including 970 incendiary and oil bombs. Several thousands of the latter bombs were, however, never counted. 1,965 houses in the district were damaged. Properties other than dwellings numbered 223, which made the total of damaged properties 2,188. Of that number 1,100 were damaged since June 1st 1944.

Elaine Barker

Sources - Read More
"Essex At War: Essex County Standard" by Hervey Benham
E.J. Rudsdale's Journals of Wartime Colchester - The History Press [for more of Rudsdale's diary entries]

AuthorElaine Barker
SourceMersea Museum
Related Images:
 £2 grant to meet £15 costs
 Farmers on 6,000 Essex Acres want Guaranteed Recompense
 Essex War Agricultural Committee have asked for supplementary grant.
 Capt. S.F. Folkard, Secretary of local branch of NFU.
 In area there are only 1,000 acres of arable against 7,000 of grassland.
</p><p>At Wigborough all the land was put down to grass in 1821. In the 'nineties many farms failed and were left derelict, includng Copt Hall, 700 acres; Seaborough, 136 acres; Moulsham, 130 acres; Hyde Farm, 136 acres; Hill Farm, 125 acres; and Peldon Hall, 220 acres.
</p><p>Photograph of Robert Hutley, Tolleshunt D'Arcy.
</p><p>Farmers Weekly</p>  FWK_1940_FEB09_099
ImageID:   FWK_1940_FEB09_099
Title: £2 grant to meet £15 costs
Farmers on 6,000 Essex Acres want "Guaranteed Recompense"
Essex War Agricultural Committee have asked for supplementary grant.
Capt. S.F. Folkard, Secretary of local branch of NFU.
In area there are only 1,000 acres of arable against 7,000 of grassland.

At Wigborough all the land was put down to grass in 1821. In the 'nineties many farms failed and were left derelict, includng Copt Hall, 700 acres; Seaborough, 136 acres; Moulsham, 130 acres; Hyde Farm, 136 acres; Hill Farm, 125 acres; and Peldon Hall, 220 acres.

Photograph of Robert Hutley, Tolleshunt D'Arcy.

Farmers Weekly

Date:9 February 1940
Source:Mersea Museum / Joyce Golding