The New Year’s Day issue of the Herts & Essex Observer headlined its editorial ‘Resolution for 1944′. This war, it said, is the war of everyone, a war to preserve everything that makes our own life worthwhile, a war in which everyone’s individual contribution is vital. We are not called upon to suffer dangers or be heroic, but we all have a soldier’s duties in the greatest army the world has known.
Face 1944 with such spirit of resolution and determination that we can make it the decisive year in our history. Make it a year in which Nazi Germany, the embodiment of perjury, cruelty and boundless ambition in Europe, is destroyed, and in which the armies of civilization are freed from that great advance in the East in which the corruption and bestiality of Japan will be driven from the continent of Asia back into the islands from which they came. When that is accomplished we shall have earned Peace. Then, and only then, will be the time to rest a while and renew our energies for the building of that world for which we have now.
The start of the New Year also saw the opening of a new hostel and canteen *(PX) for the American Services at the Causeway. Built by the American Red Cross and described as having the facilities of a first-rate hotel, it included accommodation for 300 ‘residents’, two large public lounges, reading room, dining room, barber’s shop, tailors shop, shower rooms and first aid room. It was also well staffed, centrally heated throughout, nicely decorated and had a chef named Rusty, renowned for his famous hot dogs.
*This hostel may have been good but home comforts such as these for US servicemen were by no means unique to this part of the world. Of the thousands of US airmen stationed in Britain at this time, most were in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex where dozens of airfields were sited, on average, only 8 miles apart from one another. Each bomber base would cover as much as 500 acres and be home for two or three thousand Forces personnel. They were self contained islands of little America, off limits to outsiders with everything laid on including their own newspaper, their own movies, their own food, and every amenity they could wish for in their subsidised PX – the equivilent of the British NAAFI.
The following week the H&E Observer reported how during 4 years of war, more than four and a half million tons of salvage had been collected from the homes and shops of Britain, most of which had been converted into equipment to help fight the war. Also revealed was the following government statistic: the average monthly collection of kitchen waste was sufficient to maintain 200,000 pigs and to provide the essential part of the food of 700,000 hens, which together were able to maintain a constant supply of 3,000,000 weekly bacon rations and an equal number of eggs. Wow!
16 January: Eisenhower becomes Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Forces
With Christmas and New Year festivities now over, the obligatory ‘Thank You’ letters were written and posted. Commanding officers of various American Units stationed in Essex sent theirs to the Lord-Lieutenant of Essex, Sir Francis Whitmore, thanking him for the hospitality and kindness shown by the people of Essex at Christmas time. And Lieutenant TE Fanshawe RNR, Commanding Officer of HMS Clover, wrote to the town council thanking the people of Stortford for the gifts sent to the crew. The cigarettes and tobacco received he described as an absolute godsend. ‘.. our job, with its lengthy spells at sea and periods of monotonous waiting, causes the average Corvette-er [sic] to smoke considerably more than he would normally.’
At that time, of course, smoking was not considered harmful to those fighting a war (or for the public at large) but entertainments for the Forces on a Sunday was a different matter. Commanding officers of Forces stationed locally had long called for the Sunday entertainments ban to be lifted so that serving men and women could enjoy entertainment to suit their own taste. Most town councillors agreed, but support for a resolution calling for legislation to curtail the activities of the Lord’s Day Observance Society was lost by a single vote. One councillor thought the matter outside the province of the council’s business, while another said ‘once the ban is removed we shall have a Continental Sunday’.
At the end of January the local Cemetery Committee reported 128 interments during 1943, compared with 138 during 1942. In stark contrast to these mostly natural deaths, government figures released in late February revealed the grim tally of ‘premature’ deaths caused by the war: British civilian casualties now totaled 50,324 dead, with military deaths at 50,103.
At Stansted the air base was now completed and the first operational USAAF combat group to arrive was the 344th (Medium) Bomb Group, known as ‘The Silver Streaks’. The name is thought to have derived from their badge depicting four silver arrows or ‘streaks’ complimented by the motto ‘We Win or Die’.
On 6 March their very first operation, consisting of 37 crews, left Stansted to bomb targets in Normandy. That same day Allied bombers carried out the first daylight raid on Berlin.
High on the town council’s agenda this month was the forthcoming summer entertainments programme, though having proved a bit of a disaster the previous year through bad weather, poor attendance and low profit, this year’s programme was to be on a far smaller scale. There was to be no separate Entertainments Committee, just council members; no engagement of outside concert parties; and with the exception of visiting bands, entertainment would be provided from local sources.
A draft programme for June, July and August was organised and expenditure of £50 authorised. An amusement caterer was granted permission to use the recreation ground adjoining Castle Gardens at Easter, Whitsun and August Bank Holiday at a charge of £50 on each occasion, and as in previous years the tennis courts were to be used for entertainment purposes and not tennis. Swings and roundabouts were permitted for children but amplifying equipment was to be in a more modified form than last year. No fair was to operate on Good Friday.
On a more serious note, councilors were upset to learn that county council had turned down a scheme whereby the town would be divided into wards for local election purposes. Despite the refusal councillors decided to ask them to reconsider, convinced that the ward system of representation would have advantages as soon as elections were resumed.
Discontent was also voiced by the town council’s Vice Chairman Miss EM Barrett, on the need for bus shelters in the town. Shelters, she said, should be erected on pavements at stopping places in the same way they were in other towns. Male councillors, seemingly unaware that such a problem existed, agreed that consultation should take place with local bus companies.
Another proposal was for the raising of rents for market stalls, which were thought to be too low and unfair to shopkeepers. More important, perhaps, was that the expense of the market to the council was about £300 per year and they made nothing out of it.
Complaints by the public that the air raid siren wasn’t always audible in certain parts of the district was answered by the County ARP authority, who said they could not authorise an additional siren for the district. To remedy the problem the Controller was asked to add a baffle plate on the town side of one of the existing sirens, thereby increasing the volume of sound heard in the easterly and north easterly parts of the town.
Also revealed was a letter from the local British Legion, strongly disagreeing with the town council that the time was not right to discuss a future War Memorial, and that there was no reason not to start a fund for one before the war’s end. Despite this the council again decided no further action be taken at that time.
One fund the council had no quarrel with however, and some might say perhaps getting ther priorities wrong, was that organised by the local Anglo-Russian Friendship Committee to raise money for the Bishop’s Stortford and District ward in the new Stalingrad hospital. The total raised through various activities since December 1942 now stood at £2,400 – almost £1,000 above the target figure.
19 March: Germans occupy Hungary
On 25 March the H&E Observer reported on the departure from the town of two outstanding people: Mr F Goacher and Miss BK Whicker. Mr Goacher, headmaster of Northgate school for 19 years and a pioneer of school dinners in the town, was leaving to become District Education Officer for the St Albans District; and Miss Whicker, who had spent four-and-a-half-years running Bishop’s Stortford Schools Canteen and, later, the British Restaurant was returning to teaching in London.
She had arrived in the town attached to an evacuated London school during the first two weeks of war. With the help of others she opened a communal kitchen for about 180 children on 18 September 1939, and in September 1940 provided midday meals for the many bombed-out Londoners who also began to arrive here. The following year, child evacuees from Eastbourne took her catering numbers up to a daily average of 350, and in April 1942 she not only supplied daily meals for local children but also meals that were sent to outlying schools. By March 1943 Miss Whicker was overseeing and helping prepare an average of over 700 meals per day, and since September 1939 it was estimated that under her management more than 650,000 meals had been served. Herts County Council made every effort to keep her but the Board of Education, through the London County Council by whom she was first sent to Stortford, insisted she should teach again in London.
Brought before the Petty Sessions this month were proprietors of the Hollywood Restaurant in Bridge Street, Kyriakos Kyprianon and Haridereos Joannidies and a waiter, Michael Theodor. Their crime was supplying for a single meal more than one main dish and one subsidary dish, and for charging an amount exceeding 5 shillings (25p) for a meal, excluding beverages. The victim was a Sergeant in the US Army and fines imposed totaled £62.
By now, Stansted airport had become an important maintenance base for aircraft of the 8th and 9th US Air Forces operating from bases throughout East Anglia.
During four years of war the local general rates had risen and fallen depending on council expenditure. In 1943 it went down by fourpence in the Pound but this year it rose by sixpence (2 1/2p) in the Pound, making the annual charge 11s 6d (57 1/2p) in the Pound. Added to council’s coffers in April was the sum of £10, the fee charged for permitting a circus to operate at the Town Meads in May. The proprietor of the circus did ask for the fee to be lowered to £5 but was politely refused.
Also refused was an earlier proposal by the Vice Chairman of the council that bus shelters should be provided at bus stops throughout the town – the decision reached by the Highways Committee after hearing from the Surveyor the results of his meeting with local bus companies. The verdict, however, wasn’t taken lightly by the Vice Chairman and when she asked male councilllors if they had ever experienced carrying heavy shopping bags, holding an umbrella and looking after children while waiting for a bus, they wisely dodged her bullets and elected to refer the matter to a sub-committee.
This month the government launched Salute The Soldier Week, another campaign to help fund the war through public investment in National Savings. Timed to coincide with the Second Front – an assault on Europe that would involve all Services but put the Army at the forefront of the fighting – Bishop’s Stortford’s week for saving began on 22 April.
Organisers set a target of £100,000, though it was hoped to exceed this amount and allow sufficient investments to equip and clothe a battalion of the *Beds and Herts Regiment at a cost of about £125,000. The actually amount raised by Stortford was £144,630, added to which was £85,000 given by the East Herts Co-ordinating Committee making a grand total of £229,630.
*In June 1944 the Herts & Essex Observer reported that after bitter fighting in Italy, the Beds & Herts Regiment had been given the honour of capturing Casino on 17 May.
News of the Second Front created much public fear of German reprisals and prompted many requests to the council for Morrison table shelters. Unfortunately they were no longer available.
A further reminder that the war was still ongoing was the number of fines imposed at the Petty Sessions on persons not complying fully with blackout procedures. James Bell was fined £3 for failing to screen a light at the North Street premises of the London Central Meat Co; Harriet Stevens was fined £1 for allowing a light from a gas stove to show from the Eastern Counties Cleaning Company’s premises in Market Square; Miss Katherine Heaps, owner of the Perfumery Stores in South Street was fined 30s; and Mrs Marion Bowman, school-mistress, was fined £1 for allowing light from an electric fire to show at 5 North Terrace. Also to appear was a father from Zambesi Road, who was fined £1 for not sending his daughter to school; and two women from Enfield were remanded for stealing a bicycle from a shed at the rear of Hockerill Radio Stores in London Road.
The council received many complaints this month about the ‘exorbitant’ charges made by an amusement fair held on the Recreation ground. The cost of riding on dodgem cars increased from one shilling (5p) to two shillings and even to three and four shillings, while one shilling and sixpence was charged for swing-boats and one shilling for four shots on the rifle range. It was said the fair was taking advantage of American soldiers not yet familiar with our currency.
Taken more seriously by the council were complaints of the fair using amplified gramophone music instead of the usual steam organ. The fair’s owner was told to stop the practice but the council now worried that if amplified music was too loud during the summer entertainment programme, it would break a county by-law concerning use of amplified music and possibly involve them in litigation.
With regard to the future, the Housing Sub-Committee reported that two possible sites had now been earmarked for development after the war. These sites were not divulged to the public but it was revealed they comprised 22 acres with room for 200 houses. One councillor said 200 houses would not be enough, adding that a new junior school would also be needed.
May was a relatively quiet month for local news but worthy of mention here was the reported death of the only son of the late Rev FS Young – former headmaster of Bishop’s Stortford College. Lieut Russell Selwyn Samuel Young was killed in action in Burma in April, aged 26.
Not reported at the time because publishing weather forecasts was strictly forbidden, was that glorious weather had prevailed through most of May. Friday the 29th, Whitsun Bank Holiday, proved to be the hottest day of the year, with the temperature over most of Britain reaching 94(F) degrees in the sun and 74(F) in the shade.
There was yet another victory for the Army this month, this time in a cricket match played against Stortford Civil Defence. Score: Army XI – 186 for 5 (declared), Civil Defence XI – 86 (all out).
In another cricket match, this time at Lord’s cricket ground on Saturday 30 May, 30,000 watched Australia beat the ‘Rest of the World’ – a team that included two New Zealanders, one West Indian, and eight English men including Len Hutton.
On a more serious note the H&E Observer reported how the Allies now stood poised for an assault on Germany, adding that ‘it would be the climax of the European war and the climax of everyone’s efforts in four years of war.’
At that time an invasion force of 1.5m U.S. combat and service troops, including air and ground forces, plus all their equipment was stationed in Britain.
Obviously the invasion date wasn’t made public but the following advert in the H&E Observer did show preparations for the event were already in hand – whatever the outcome: On the Day of Invasion there will be a Service in Holy Trinity Church at 7.30pm.
At RAF Sawbridgeworth airfield on Sunday 4 June, a plane crash-landed with a full bomb load and blew up.
The date designated for the invasion of Europe (D-Day) was Monday 5 June, but when severe weather in the Channel jeopardised the mission it was postponed until the following day when the forecast was better. That morning, Tuesday 6 June, at 8am, the BBC announced that paratroopers had been landed in Northern France. At 9.30am newsreader John Snagg read the first Invasion report, informing of the landings and the massive organisation involved.
A great many people in this district had been aware of the invasion since 04.12 hours when the first USAAF B-26 bombers took off from Stansted airbase. This was the 344th (Medium) Bomb Group, given the honour of leading the entire 9th AAF – an airborne armada comprising more than 600 aircraft – on the first assault of Normandy. Their mission was to wipe out coastal batteries at Utah beach.
By 12 June, news that all of the Normandy landing sites had now been linked up fired public expectation that the war would soon be over. But on 13 June Hitler’s reprisal was to unleash on Britain his secret weapon: the *V-1 flying bomb. Within the next three days, 647 flying bombs had killed 499 people and injured more than 2,000. In the next few months more than 1,400 of these pilot-less monoplanes, each carrying a one-ton warhead, hit London and south east England.
*The name V-1 was an abbreviation of Vergeltungswaffe Eins or ‘Revenge Weapon Number One’
*Frank Warboys from Thorley, a child at the time, recorded the following in his diary: Monday June 19: Now that the second front has started, the Germans are sending over a new weapon which they have invented – a pilotless plane. It is believed that they are jet propelled. They are sent mainly over London. We had a 10 hour siren alert the other night because of these things about. I felt quite bad when I first heard them.
This extract taken from The Book of Thorley: Chronicles of a Century by Sylvia McDonald & Liz Eldred
In the panic that ensued it is estimated that by mid July some 15,000 people were leaving the capital daily by train, and that the total number to evacuate London during this period was between 1.5 and 2 million. The estimated number killed by V-1s was 6,000.
27 June: American forces take Cherbourg
During the early years of the war Dr Henrietta Treithick, owner of the rather large house at Parsonage Lane named *Plaw Hatch, helped out at Haymeads Hospital. But as the war progressed and demands on ward space for *military casualties increased, there was also a need for more nurses and additional accommodation. To help, in 1942/3 the Doctor donated her house to the war effort so that nurses could be accommodated there. They were joined in 1944 by a contingent of Canadian nurses from St John’s Ambulance Brigade. The large cellars of the house were converted for use as an air-raid shelter.
*Many of the soldiers brought to Haymeads by train stopped at Hockeril Halt *Plaw Hatch was renamed Pearse House in 1946 (See Guide 10).
In early July the government revealed that since the start of war almost 14,000 churches, monasteries, convents and other ecclesiastical buildings had suffered some degree of damage in enemy raids on Britain. Fortunately, no local churches were ever damaged.
Not made public knowledge at that time was the crash, locally, on 1 July of a De Haviland Mosquito XIII that stalled in mid air and killed both crew on impact.
Read Trevor White’s memory of this event on the War Memories page
News of cutbacks in the summer entertainments programme now led to the American Services offering to help out. But as the law stood this was not permitted unless the net proceeds of the events were passed on to the British War Charity. As a consequence, the council agreed to rescind their previous decision with regard to the disposable income from entertainments and give it to war charities of their choice. They also agreed to the American Services making use of Castle Gardens on 4 July in connection with their Independence Day celebrations.
9 July: Allies take Caen.
July was also when the town council revealed its acquisition of land for houses in Parsonage Lane and Apton Road after the war, though approval was yet to be asked of the Ministry of Health to negotiate for the purchases. The owner of 29 acres in Parsonage Lane was prepared to sell for £250 per acre, but the landowner in Apton Road was unwilling to negotiate. This made little difference, though. If the council failed to get the land by negotiation then steps would be taken to acquire it by compulsory purchase.
Planning permission of a different kind asked for by Bishop’s Stortford’s Youth Committee, was turned down flat by county council, who refused their request to build a temporary Youth Centre on a site in the Causeway because they were not prepared to grant financial assistance towards the erection of temporary buildings.
20 July: Yet another assassination attempt on Hitler was foiled
Infant mortality numbers in the district for 1943 showed that Bishop’s Stortford was well below the National average. Just seven infants died in that year and though the number was already much higher this year, quite a number of these were of children whose parents were only temporary residents in the district.
By contrast, the chairman of the town council revealed that the local birth rate was up considerably, stating ‘There were 21 births at Haymeads last weekend [of June] and such a thing has never been known before.’
Ferrying so many expectant mothers to Haymeads hospital that weekend may well have exhausted the town’s ambulance and been the reason why it was temporarily out of service in July. The fact that it was the town’s only civilian emergency vehicle prompted councillors of the need for its own ambulance and that it should be paid for by public subscription. In the meantime it was suggested that the Harlow ambulance be made available for urgent cases.
There was also concern that the town’s fire station [in South Street] was not now suitable, and official sanction was to be asked to borrow money to build a new fire station on a site that had recently come on the market. In August, the council’s Vice Chairman Miss EM Barrett, finally won her battle to have bus shelters erected in the town: one at the bus stop near to the post office in [Upper] South Street and a second in Dane Street. The latter was dependent on the agreement of Messrs Hick Bros, whose business it would stand outside of.
Attacks from flying bombs on London and the South-East continued on a daily basis. None had so far landed in or near Bishop’s Stortford but the air-raid siren was sounded whenever they were detected heading this way. The most number of alerts recorded in Stortford in any one day was nine on 17 August.
Neutralising all V-1 launch sites was not proving an easy task for the Allies but as their advance through France now gathered pace so too did the German retreat and on 25 August, Paris was liberated.
28 August: Allies take Marseilles and Toulon
This month the inquest opened in Bishop’s Stortford into the tragic death of Miss Hilda Cole, a 20 year-old girl from Clapton Park, London, who died from a .22 gunshot wound while watching a passing train at Thorley Wash Farm on Sunday 13 August. The court heard how the dead girl and her friend, having decided on a cycle ride from London to Bishop’s Stortford, had stopped in a field at Thorley Wash to rest then crossed the road to a gateway. At the same time a train travelling quite fast towards London came along full of men dressed in Khaki and waving from the carriages. As the girls waved back a shot coming from the direction of the train was heard by her friend, and Hilda Cole standing next to her fell backwards. After getting help from a nearby house the girl was rushed to Haymeads hospital but later died from a bullet wound to the head. The case was adjourned until 6 September but the following week a fifteen-and-a-half-year-old Army cadet appeared before a special juvenile court at Bishop’s Stortford on a charge of Manslaughter.
A cadet who witnessed the incident said he was one of a number of cadets returning by train to London from a camp in Cambridge. In the same carriage, one boy had already fired a round from the carriage window, after which the accused picked up his rifle, put in two rounds, and fired one out of the window.
Somebody said to him ‘did you see that girl drop down?’, to which the accused replied ‘Yes, don’t say anything about it.’ When told by another cadet that he had hit the girl, he said ‘It could not have hurt her much, it must have hit her low down’.
Interviewed by police at Liverpool Street Station that same evening, the boy said he hadn’t told his officer what had happened, hoping it wouldn’t be found out. He had no intention of hitting anyone. Magistrates charged the boy with Manslaughter, committing him for trial at Hertford Assizes in December. Bail was allowed on his own surety of £10 and a further surety of £10 from his father.
While town councillors enjoyed their August summer recess they left in charge a Recess Emergency Committee – their main task being to purchase at public auction on 10 August, 20 acres on the south side of Parsonage Lane that the council considered suitable for housing. This the Emergency Committee failed to do, because although authorised to bid up to £75 per acre the land was sold for just over that price. This was considered no great loss by some councilors, who had already opposed the land purchase for the building of council houses because they thought it unfair to owners of existing private properties. One councillor however was a little more realistic, commenting that none wanted council houses near them but they had to go somewhere.
3rd– 4th September: Allies liberate Antwerp and Brussels
8 September: Hitler unleashed his second secret weapon on London: the V-2 rocket. Successor to the V-1 flying bomb, this was a liquid-fueled rocket that travelled at supersonic speeds as high as 50 miles, then hurtled down toward its target at a speed of over 3,000 mph, smashing its one-ton warhead into the ground almost without warning. V-2 rockets had a range of about 225 miles but unlike V-1s could not be intercepted once they left their launch sites in Holland, taking just 4 minutes to impact. North-east London took the brunt of the initial attacks, 36 landing in September.
Since the start of war, conventional bombing of Britain had killed 51,509. Between June 1944 and March 1945, approximately 2,419 V-1s and over 500 V-2s killed almost 9,000. Virtually all fell on London, the suburbs, Hertfordshire, Kent, Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. Tens of thousands were injured and over a million buildings were wrecked or destroyed.
12 September: US Army enters Germany 14 September: Russian Army enters Warsaw
Despite devastating attacks by V-2s, people still believed the war would soon be over. Sharing this optimism the H&E Observer’s editorial on 16 September paid tribute to the fighting Forces under the headline ‘A Toast To Tommy Atkins’. To paraphrase the rather lengthy text – ‘Like the democracy he has defended the British fighting man has no superiors. Today his feats are echoing and re-echoing around the free world and striking fear into tyrants’ breasts. Salute the British soldier, who has fought and trained for so long and to such good purpose. Praise him for the qualities he has displayed and the brave victories won. Let us thank God and the British soldier for our victory over the powers of darkness.’
The following morning, Sunday 17 September, 17 Dakota transport planes tugging gliders left Stansted airbase and headed east. Local residents who witnessed the planes pass overhead probably thought they were headed for Germany, but they were in fact just a small part of a huge armada of aircraft taking off from many airfields in England, all headed for Holland.
This was part of Field Marshal Montgomery’s audacious plan, named Operation Market Garden, to continue the Allied advance and drive deep into the heart of industrial Germany. By dropping thousands of British and American paratroops behind enemy lines to secure vital bridges over Dutch canals and the Rhine, he hoped to use his army to drive a narrow path through the *Siegfried Line to join up with the airborne forces. Had all gone to plan then the war might have been over by Christmas but the key to the whole operation, to secure the bridge at Arnhem, soon proved a bridge too far. After 10 days of bitter fighting the 1st British Airborne Division had to evacuate from Arnhem, leaving almost 1,500 of their number dead and more than 6,000 captured by the Germans.
*The Siegfried Line comprised of a string of fortified positions stretching from the Swiss Alps all the way to Holland.
17 September was also the day the blackout was replaced by a partial ‘dim-out’
At the end of September the local Housing Committee submitted to the Ministry of Health a draft plan to build 34 prefabs on land adjacent to Dimsdale Crescent housing estate. No objection was likely to be raised regarding temporary accommodation, but getting planning permission for long-term developments was proving far more difficult. This was due to a delay in the post-war plan and report being prepared by Professor Abercrombie for the Greater London area.
In a letter to the Ministry of Town and Country planning, Hertfordshire County Council said delay in publication of his report was delaying post-war development and redevelopment by planning authorities in the Home Counties and demanded immediate solutions or Abercrombie’s report was in danger of being wasted. Without the report county council said they would have to make their own plans.
Also up in arms was the Ratepayers’ Association, having learned through the H&E Observer that the town council had purchased certain land and intimated their intention of buying further land for the building of houses at Parsonage Lane. Ratepayers’ spokesman Mr KT Boardman, said the amount of £250 per acre mentioned was a ridiculous amount because the council had special powers to acquire land at its fair value. It was also felt the ultimate cost of houses would result in rents too high for intended residents [council tenants] or a heavy surcharge being met by ratepayers of the town. The Association was also perturbed to learn that the council’s pre-war plan of 6 houses per acre was now thought to be 12 per acre, and that it had delegated its powers to a vacation committee to acquire land at a public auction, again even though the council had special powers to obtain the land at a fair value. In reply the council denied they had purchased any land at auction, or that they had committed themselves to 12 houses per acre. They also had no intention of paying £250 per acre and that any cost incurred was in the hands of the District Valuer.
Published in the H&E Observer at the end of September was the following letter received by the parents of Warrant Officer RR Henderson, RAF, held in a German prison camp: ‘I played a game of cricket this week, for England against Australia, in the ‘Test’ match; had a good game, but the Aussies won. Warrant Officer Henderson, a former member of Hockerill Athletic Club, had been a prisoner of war for two years.
News that Victory Funds were already quite substantial in parts of the country urged Bishop’s Stortford’s British Legion to ask the council, once again, if it had formulated any plans for welcoming home to the town men and women of the Forces after the war. They hadn’t, but the Chairman suggested the council now set up a committee in conjunction with the Legion and representatives of all sections of the town to see what could be done. An appeal asking the public to list men and women serving in the Forces, or who had served, revealed 859 names. More names were to come and all householders were asked to complete the forms distributed by the Civil Defence Service.
1 October: Russian Forces enter Yugoslavia
Starting 2 October, cinema goers in Stortford had the choice of three films to watch: at the Regent cinema, Betty Grable starred in the Technicolour musical Pin-up Girl, and at the Phoenix cinema could be seen South of the Border, a musical western with Gene Autry, and 3 Days Uncertain Glory, starring Errol Flynn, Paul Lukas and Jean Sullivan.
Further evidence that the war in Europe was going well for the Allies was the announcement by the American Red Cross that their work in Stortford would probably end on 1 January 1945. In light of this the town council now considered acquiring the American club premises at Bridge Street for use as a meeting place for returning Forces and other social gatherings.
Good news, too, for travellers. The 9pm bus curfew imposed in November 1942 was to be relaxed, allowing buses to now leave the town terminus at 10pm – subject to available staff.
Also in October the Hertfordshire Education Committee met to discuss post-war problems and review the whole of the county before submitting plans of new schools to the Ministry of Education for approval. It was made clear, however, that any schemes put forward would not materialise in the short term. Many things would affect this, especially the availability of labour and materials.
The following is an abbreviated version of the Committee’s report Development of Bishop’s Stortford after the war was not easy to predict but information obtained from the local council revealed the following: 1) Development of light industry was not estimated to be substantial 2) The existing market town character of Stortford was likely to be maintained, though it may in the future assume something of a dormitory character by reason of good train services to London and the northern suburbs 3) A future population estimated as high as 40,000 was indicated 4) Future housing development would probably be in the south-west of the town between Thorley and the Hadham roads. The population of the Urban District at that time was 11,849.
The Committee confirmed that reorganisation of schools in Bishop’s Stortford was well in hand at the outbreak of war. The County Council had purchased an 8-acre site on the Thorley Road [London Road] and plans of the new school were already drawn to allow for the raising of the school leaving age to 15.
This aside, it was judged that the condition of elementary school in Stortford was poor – all needing substantial overhaul and, in places, complete rebuilding to put the educational needs for the town’s children in line with requirements of the day. In view of this, the short-term policy was completion of reorganisation by the division of local schools into Primary and Secondary; improvement of the premises of Primary schools, and the raising of the school leaving age to 15, and then 16.
In the immediate and near future it was judged that accommodation should be available for the following: Infants 270 places, Juniors 540 places and Seniors (Secondary Modern) 440 places.
The number of children on the rolls of existing schools as of October 1944 was as follows:
Northgate (Mixed & Infants): Age range 5–14; Number on roll 300; accommodation 230; classrooms 6
Hockerill (Boys): Age range 7–14; Number on roll 86; accommodation 202; classrooms 3
Hockerill Practising (Girls & Infants): Age range 5–14; Number on roll 148; accommodation 276; classrooms 4
St Joseph’s RC (Mixed & Infants): Age range 5–14; Number on roll 96; accommodation 105; classrooms 2
St Michael’s CE (Boys): Age range 7–14; Number on roll 197; accommodation 205; classrooms 3
St Michael’s CE (Girls): Age range 7–14; Number on roll 155; accommodation 205; classrooms 3
St Michael’s CE (Infants): Age range 5–7; Number on roll 118; accommodation 100; classrooms 1 Thorley CC (Mixed & Infants): Age range 5–14; Number on roll 31; accommodation 116; classrooms 2
The key to reorganisation and raising the school leaving age was the building of a Secondary Modern at London Road as soon as possible, providing a two-form entry on a four-year course. Initially the school would accommodate 240 boys and 240 girls, which would be extended to 300 of each when school-leaving age was raised to 16. To provide adequate development in Bishop’s Stortford, the County Council also needed to contemplate the provision of a senior school at Sawbridgeworth.
Present Hockerill schools should be closed, since they were incapable of remodelling and not of the standard to ensure educational efficiency, and be replaced by a new JM & I school for 240–300 places on the east or Hockerill side of town. The present St Michael’s boys and girls school was to continue in the short-term with some improvement, but managers would be asked to draw up plans for conversion of the buildings to a JM school for 200–240 places that included a school hall. St Michael’s Infants school was in good condition, needing little attention.
Discussions were to open with the appropriate authorities with regard to the future of the Roman Catholic St Mary’s school, which pre-war had expressed the desire to retain their senior children and build a new wing to accommodate them. A proposal to convert Northgate school to a JM & I school upon reorganisation had to be affirmed. The buildings were described as not ideal but the school did serve a definite part of the town and would not easily be dispensed with.
Though Herts Education Committee could not be specific about requirements of the district in the long-term, they said particular reference should be made to the following points:
1) Land should be acquired adjacent to the present site for the modern school [London Road] for erectiion of a further JM & I school in readiness for development of land at Thorley.
2) Parents in Stortford who want their children to have a secondary education currently obtain it at the Herts and Essex High School for Girls or at Bishop’s Stortford College – the latter only offering a limited number of special places annually. This emphasised that there was no alternative secondary schools in the Bishop’s Stortford area.
3) The Herts and Essex school, maintained under a joint scheme with the Essex Education Authority, had substantially more pupils coming from Essex than East Herts. This put severe pressure on existing accommodation and County council had, prior to the war, agreed on a scheme of extensions estimated to cost approximately £10,000. An additional 15 acres of land for playing fields had also been purchased.
4) Future position of Bishops Stortford College to the county scheme cannot be determined at this time but it was possible that an additional number of special places in the future be made available for local children.
5) Provision for a Grammar school was somewhat complex and far-reaching discussions would be necessary if the size of town was to increase in the future.
The meeting concluded by stating two lines of action for the future: to contemplate the provision of a new County Council mixed Secondary Grammar school, and to run the Secondary school to be built at London Road as a multilateral school. No decision was to be taken until a much clearer picture of the situation, other than the present one, was available.
14 October: Allies liberate Athens and Rommel commits suicide
23 October: Charles De Gaulle becomes leader of France
In November the town council invited suggestions for Stortford’s ‘Welcome Home to the Services’. The sum of £10,000 to be collected by a public fund was mentioned, though one councilor thought celebrations should not cost more than £1,500 – approximately £1 per head of those serving. Any surplus from the fund, he said, should be held by trustees to supplement widows and children’s needs.
After yet another discussion on post-war housing, where it was said it had been a year since the committee started looking for land and ‘not a single inch had yet been acquired’, the council generally agreed that acquisition of land was now a matter of urgency and that sites should be obtained without delay. Any sites involving compulsory purchase should be reserved for later schemes, so that work could begin immediately on available sites.
Of little help to the housing situation, however, was the revelation that of the 48,000 Portal houses being made available by the Government, the town council had not yet been allocated any.
Red tape was also hampering the ‘grave menace’ of rats and mice in the town. County council wanted Sanitary Inspectors of district councils to report to Hertford any cases of infestation so that county officials could then take action. One town councillor said that such a procedure seemed to be prolonging the life of rats, while another commented ‘It seems that we have a good deal of responsibility placed on our shoulders, but no authority in our hand’.
24 November: First B-29 Super Fortress bombing of Tokyo
30 November: Polish Government formed in London
With Christmas on the horizon and 459 evacuees still billeted in the district, an appeal was made for the purpose of entertaining them and others at Christmas time if enough money could be raised.
Earlier in the year the Housing Committee had commissioned architect SE Dykes-Bower (see Guide 10) to submit a plan and detailed report for the post-war development of the Town Meads, Castle Gardens and Causeway area of Bishop’s Stortford, and to include provision of a site for Municipal Offices, a Public Hall and Library.
Why this plan was thought necessary when the immediate priority was housing development, is hard to comprehend. Such schemes were understandable for the regeneration of cities and towns devastated by bombing, but Bishop’s Stortford had suffered no such damage. Nevertheless, at the end of November, Dykes Bower’s plan and recommendations was put before the council.
The site he had earmarked for municipal buildings was to the north of Bridge Street, which at that time housed the American Red Cross hostel and is currently the site of Charrington House and Causeway car park. Here was to be built a town hall; a range of single-storey buildings housing a library; and provision made for a future public hall. Access to the complex would mean demolition of Causeway cottages at the bottom of Bridge Street, road widening and construction of a central approach with flowering trees on either side. This approach road would also include a new bridge to traverse an ornamental canal that would replace the natural watercourse currently running from east to west in front of the proposed municipal buildings.
Also to be demolished was the existing council offices [based in Sir George Jackson's former house on the opposite side of the Causeway], the site then converted into a car park, screened from the Causeway by a line of trees. Behind this the former Navigation terminus basin would become an ornamental water feature incorporated with a public garden. An alternative scheme was to make the basin and the straight length of water leading to it (Hockerill Cut) a large open-air swimming pool. Land between the new car park and Hockerill Cut was also envisaged as a public garden.
At Northgate End, provided a better site could be found for the cattle market, a new entrance to the park was to be be created and a walkway constructed on both sides of the river between this point and Bridge Street. [The river here was filled in during town redevelopment in the late 1960s, its route replaced by Old River Lane, which currently leads to Waitrose's car park.)
In the Causeway, Dykes-Bower envisaged the entrance to Castle Gardens would be through fine wrought iron gates, approached via a well designed bridge over the stream [moat]. Lawns around the War Memorial were to be reshaped in a way that better showed the tennis courts and bowling green. Castle Gardens itself would be lawned, with a central path across them framed by trees and flowering shrubs. Dykes-Bower thought these lawns would form an ideal auditorium for music so long as the old bandstand was replaced with a new one.
Finally, land to the north of the Castle Mound was to be drained and levelled to accommodate five tennis courts, croquet lawn and bowling green, while land to the east between the castle mound and the railway might be utilised as a hockey or football ground. He also thought the Town Meads, comprising approximately 14 3/4 acres and owned by the council, should be held in reserve for future extension. Although marshy, ‘if drained and well planted this land could in time become pleasant parkland, with adequate space for cricket, football and other sports.’
An additional note stated it would be preferable to concentrate industry in a defined industrial zone rather than a central position on land with potentially high amenity value.
The whole scheme would have provided Bishop’s Stortford with appoximately 40 acres of land, comprising garden approaches, gardens etc round new council offices, the Castle Gardens or swimming park opposite, and a car park. Importantly, the recreation grounds in the valley between the town and Hockerill were central for all parts of the town. In conclusion, Dykes-Bower thought his scheme would ‘confer on Bishop’s Stortford not merely additional amenity, but a new beauty that would rebound to the happiness of the inhabitants’.
Most councilors, perhaps eager to have a shiny new town hall, were in favour of adopting the plan but others were more realistic. Their main concern was the sighting of municipal buildings at Bridge Street so close to the river. Flooding was a danger, the library would be affected by dampness, and as a site for a public hall ‘it was the foggiest spot to be found in the whole of the town.’ One councillor commented it would be at least ten years before the scheme could be launched, while another said the whole scheme was impracticable and thought the council’s attention would be better directed at the housing problem.
On the reconsideration being put to the meeting, eight members voted in favour of adopting the plan, one voted against and other members refrained from voting. A majority vote confirmed the plan and report be adopted – though as we now know, it never materialised.
At the end of November, Bishop’s Stortford was presented with a plaque from the War Office in recognition of its campaign during ‘Salute the Soldier’ week. And in recognition of Winston Churchill’s 70th birthday on 30 November, the town council agreed to send him a telegram of congratulation. It was a nice thought, but perhaps greater congratulation was due for his wartime leadership since 1940.
On Sunday 3 December, Britain’s *Home Guard, the civilian force assigned to the defence of Britain in the event of German invasion, was formally stood down. In a message thanking the men for their service over the past five years, King George VI declared ‘You have fulfilled your charge’.
In Stortford that Sunday morning the Stand Down Parade comprised of the 11th Battalion Hertforshire Home Guard A, B and D Companies, and the Bishop’s Stortford Platoon of the Post Office Home Guard (13th Essex). The Companies fell in at different points in the town and then marched separately to the Regent cinema where they were addressed by their commanding officer, Lieut-Col JC Grant. Thanking all those who had ‘pulled their weight’ since the start of the war, he then read the King’s message and other expressions of appreciation and congratulation from high-ranking officers. Afterwards the parade formed up and marched via Station Road and Hockerill to the saluting base in the Causeway where Lieut-Col Grant took the salute.
*The Home Guard was finally disbanded on 31 December 1945
16th–25th December: Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes, Belgium, the name (later) given to a major German offensive in which they hoped to split the British and American line in half, then proceed to encircle the allied armies and destroy them. Thankfully these objectives were not realised but the offensive cost the lives of more than 19,000 soldiers on both sides.
At the December annual meeting of Bishop’s Stortford British Legion Branch it was learned they had taken an option to rent premises in Apton Road for possible use as a headquarters. Branch membership at this time totalled 383, and discussion resolved that members of the Home Guard should not be admitted into the Legion.
Revealed in the H&E Observer was yet another committee formed to help the war effort: Bishop’s Stortford Comforts Committee. Their task was to send Christmas gifts of 200 cigarettes to each of the 518 local men and women serving overseas, and see to it that each of the 420 Forces members serving at home received a small money gift.
Of the 426,000 US airmen in Britain at this time, the vast majority were stationed in Norfolk and Suffolk and Essex
Adding to the Christmas goodwill the American Red Cross continued to provide free cinema and entertainment for Allied Forces (men & women) in uniform at the Regent cinema, though it seems by this time they were running short of ‘blockbuster’ films. Their offering on Sunday 31 December was advertised thus; Two Senoritas From Chicago, starring Joan Davis and others.
The weather had turned bitterly cold towards the end of the month, Christmas Eve proving to be the coldest for more than fifty years. For Bishop’s Stortford’s residents ensconced in their relatively warm and secure homes hitherto untouched by war, these conditions were sufferable. But for the thousands in British cities now living in temporary accommodation or draughty, partly repaired bomb blasted houses there was little Christmas cheer. Nor was there any goodwill from the now desperate Nazis. In the early hours of Christmas Eve a V-1 attack was launched on a part of Britain that had previously been untouched by flying bombs. Outflanking Britain’s defences in the south-east, a convoy of German planes capable of carrying flying bombs, flew across the North Sea to release them along the Lincolnshire coast, as well as on the outskirts of Manchester and on the city of Oldham where many more people were killed and injured.
The New Year’s Day issue of the Herts & Essex Observer headlined its editorial ‘Resolution for 1944′. This war, it said, is the war of everyone, a war to preserve everything that makes our own life worthwhile, a war in which everyone’s individual contribution is vital. We are not called upon to suffer dangers or be heroic, but we all have a soldier’s duties in the greatest army the world has known.