Memories of World War 2 by M.J. Gethen

In 1995 Dr Alison Bush talked to Mary 'Joy' Gethen, mainly about Mersea during WW2, and wrote this article for Mersea Island Society Mistral Magazine. Mary was 93 at the time.

Mary Gethen was born in Canada, but came to Colchester when she was three years old , on a visit with her parents. Her father became ill with measles and they never went back. After her mother died, her father and sister retired and had a home in Fairhaven Avenue. Mary trained as a clerk in a solicitor's office .

Mary said," In 1938 West Mersea had an Urban District Council, and was not part of Colchester. It had a Chairman, and Alan Stockdale was Clerk, and Eric Stockdale was the Surveyor. William Carrington became the Clerk when Alan Stockdale moved to Witham. They were not called up because of age or ill health; Bill Chatters was the Billetting Officer.

Germany began to threaten and the War Office began to prepare... sending instructions to local councils. The Clerk at Mersea asked for help with the paper work, which was granted. He asked the Chairman of the local Women's Institute, and as I was Treasurer, it was suggested that I should do the job. I worked one day a week.

In 1939 the war was on, and I was employed as a Clerical Assistant full - time. My first task was to send to all those who rented beach hut sites, because the Army had said, "Clear the Beach". By the end of the week it was cleared, and work began on forts and gun emplacements.

In time, we had A.R.P. posts in St. Peter's Road, and the Red Cross and Rescue Party at The Lawns in Mill Road. I soon joined the A.R.P. evening and night duty rota at Headquarters.

Being in the front of the Council Office, I saw all the comings and goings. I did various clerical jobs, and used the Gestetner. Sometimes it was very noisy. There were more than 30 flying bombs, and many mines, and much damage was done. The Army Headquarters was in what is now the Nursing Home, and was guarded by pairs of soldiers up and down Seaview Avenue. This meant I had to get past them, waiting in the middle of the road to identify myself.

It went on for six years, but we worked together as a team; some were recommended for the Defence Medal. I travelled by bike, day and night... Red Alert or no Red Alert!

Towards the end of the war we had a Morrison Table Shelter. One night it was noisy, and I persuaded my father to crawl in. I also got in with the cat, and its baby... that was the only occasion it was used.

During the "back to normal," the residents were invited to go to Victoria Esplanade to see what our big guns could do. A wreck was towed into the estuary , and a Pilot boat moved away. The big guns fired... the wreck vanished... we had been well protected." Alison Bush adds; Mary got the Defence medal after the war. The Superintendent of the Red Cross, Miss Brooks, also got the medal, with the citation as follows....

"The Home Secretary presents his compliments and has the honour to transmit the enclosed Defence Medal which has been awarded in recognition of service during the war of 1939 -1945."

After the war, Mary was Treasurer of the Mersea Arts Society, and she continued to work in the Council Offices for three years, followed by 10 years in the library, she adds; "One thing pleased me very much. I had collected the rents, and paid and looked after the Council employees for ten years... they ganged up and bought me an electric iron!! Bill Carrington, as the clerk, was a wonderful man, and really good."

From Mistral Magazine 1995, pages 27 and 28.

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Joy Gethen - Mersea Memories

Author: Alison Bush
ID: MIS_1995_A29
Source: Mersea Museum