|Abstract||I am often asked what it was like on Mersea Island during the Second World War. Well, the answer is a lot different to what it is now. I lived throughout the war in Suffolk Avenue in a new bungalow my dad had built while working for local builder Clifford White & Co. We moved in August 1939 from 6 Council Houses, Barfield Road where I was born, just as the war started. Victoria Esplanade had not long been completed and it's hard to realise that the only buildings along it's entire length were the two toilet blocks and Fairhaven Cafe with the four little holiday chalets Mersea, Osea, Creeksea and Wallasea at the Seaview Avenue end. The section between Willoughby Avenue and Alexandra was closed off by the army because of their presence manning the guns so it was not possible to travel the whole length. All the huts were removed from the beach prior to it becoming a mine field and it was fenced off with barbed wire. The only places we could swim was off the Causeway, where we stood the risk of being mown down by one of the Army's harbour launches, or in the bomb hole down at The Strood.
I attended West Mersea Council School in Barfield Road from 1937 to 1946, when at the age of 14 I left and started work for the next 70 years. Before the War, preparations had been made for enemy attacks. We had all been issued with gas masks and when the air raid sirens sounded we had to leave our lessons and hurry across the road to the air raid shelters behind the British Legion.
Many of the houses down the avenues were empty during the War as the owners had moved away from the coast to somewhere safer so we had the run of the orchards. We couldn't call it scrumping as the fruit would have just rotted on the ground anyway. The army occupied the empty houses from time to time, Royal Scots, Yorks & Lancs and Somerset Light Infantry were regiments remembered.
Christmas was not the lavish affair that it is today. As soon as it got dark the blackouts went up and there was no street lighting so we stayed indoors. We didn't see an orange or banana for years but somehow some would appear at Christmas. We had lean times through the 1930s so we were not used to much. My dad made me a garage out of plywood and painted it with red oxide paint, a metal paint. Whenever I smell that paint I think of that garage. My dad's side of the family lived in East Mersea so it was a matter of choosing a moonlight night to cycle 'Down East' to exchange presents. Their present to us was always a fattened Cockerill all ready for the oven.
Even in 1960, there are not many houses in this view of the Esplanade. It is taken near the bottom of Alexandra Avenue. Prominent is Fairhaven Cafe at the end of Fairhaven Avenue, with the toilet block this side of it, but otherwise the Esplanade is lined with grass and bushes. On the left is the modern-looking Whitehaven Guest House which was on Seaview Avenue.
Article for Mersea Life January 2021