Rayleigh Wartime Relics

Recollections of Wartime Relics in Rayleigh in the early post war period.

By Sid Barker

Just after WW2 there were still many reminders of the recently ended conflict in Rayleigh, several of which I recall, although I don't doubt that there were many more of which I, as a small child, was not aware of or cannot remember.

The most obvious ones that come to mind were the two brick built air raid shelters on London Hill, where the rose beds are now. The entrances were blocked off with steel reinforcing mat. Proceeding down the hill on the same side, in what is now the front garden of no 34 was some type of spigot base made of tubular metal. This was located below the level of the pavement and presumably had some type of light gun mounted on it.

At the railway bridge there were several large concrete blocks on the grass verge opposite The Approach, which could be lifted by crane into special holes in the road surface under the bridge to block the road to tanks and other vehicles in the event of an enemy invasion. As I remember these holes were formed of concrete but had been filled with tarmac, presumably for safety reasons.

We always used to play on these blocks on the way home from school. I cannot remember when they were finally removed (some similar blocks are still in evidence at the junction of Crowe Lane and Whalebone Lane South, Romford).

Also on this same grass verge was the remains of a slit trench, which I imagine was part of a further defensive measure.

In Down Hall Road, from where the first of the WW1 wooden bungalows are up to the junction with the London Road (where Birch Close and Harper Way are now) were a pair of semi-detatched houses whose gardens ran adjacent to the road. One was occupied by, I believe, a Mr Redbond and the end one by a Mr Thompson. At the end of Mr Thompson's garden was the remains of a sandbagged emplacement, which I was told was a checkpoint and that anyone proceeding past had to show their identity card to the soldiers who manned it before going on to Rayleigh.

Today the pavement is very wide here where Down Hall Road joins the London Road, but at one time there was an area of grass in the middle with a couple of small trees in metal cages and I was told that when the Government appealed for aluminium saucepans to help the War Effort, this was the place where they had to be left for later collection.

Another memory I have, probably from 1946 or 1947, is sitting on my grandparents' garden wall in Down Hall Road and saying "Hello" to the German POWs who were allowed out from Rawreth Camp (now Rawreth Industrial Estate). They wore dark brown uniforms with battledress type jackets which I think had either pink or light green diamonds or circles sewn on the back, and  dark brown German style ski caps. Obviously they must have been considered harmless by that time or I wouldn't have been allowed to sit out there on my own!

Moving on, it was said that there was a wartime film processing facility in Rawreth Lane, as I recall just past Six Acre Cottages on an empty plot of land. There were no buildings there but lots of off cuts of film negative, which we found that if you set light to them they produced copious amounts of white smoke.

In the early 1950s there was still an abundance of civilian gas masks and tin helmets to be had. Indeed I believe that there was still a room full of gas masks in the wooden building in the playground at Love Lane School. Another favourite pastime was to light a very smokey bonfire, put on a gas mask and stand in the smoke. They certainly did seem to work OK. Another more dangerous pastime was to put on tin helmets and then hit each other on the head with either a hammer or a brick, which would dent the helmet but never caused us any injury other than a jarred neck.The leather linings were obviously very well designed.

Other reminders of the war years were the bombed out houses in Daws Heath Road, where the Rayleigh Motorist Centre is now situated, the remains of the mysterious "Mirror Light" on the Hambro Hill sand pit and I have been told that there was a small hut-like building situated down the footpath that leads from the High Road to Spring Gardens, that was part of a network of listening posts to pick up enemy radio transmissions.

I am sure that much more can be added to this by other contributors as I have only covered a relatively small area of Rayleigh.

This page was added by Sid Barker on 31/08/2014.
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