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First World War centenary: Winston Churchill’s nightmare vision of the battle of Romford

Winston Churchill give his 'victory' sign as he made a general election polling day tour of his constituency - Woodford, Essex. Picture: PA Winston Churchill give his 'victory' sign as he made a general election polling day tour of his constituency - Woodford, Essex. Picture: PA

Saturday, April 5, 2014
6:00 PM

What would have happened if Britain did not send troops to Europe to fight the Germans in 1914? Would battle have broken out in Romford? Winston Churchill feared so.

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Prof Ged MartinProf Ged Martin

In 1913 he was Britain’s navy minister questioning the nation’s policy for war.

Britain had pledged to send a small army to France if war broke out but, Churchill asked, what if the Germans struck without warning?

In his paper Time Table of a Nightmare the leader explained why he thought there was no choice but to cross the channel.

The Recorder spoke to Harold Wood-born historian Prof Ged Martin to hear about it.

Ged said: “The paper was never published, he just sent it around to the top brass.”

Churchill’s concern, he said, was a “domino effect”.

“If we don’t get involved in war in Belgium, then we will be getting involved in a war in Romford,” Ged, 68, said.

“It’s not unlike dealing with Putin. We don’t know if Putin’s being defensive or whether in six months down the line he will take all the rest of it [Ukraine]. It’s the same scenario.”

Churchill’s imagination created the following story:

It’s April 1, 1913, and certainly no fooling matter – Germany without warning attacks France and Britain plans to dispatch its army to Europe.

But that afternoon, without hesitation, German ships capture Harwich while the Royal Navy is training off the coast of Ireland.

With Britain’s naval defence elsewhere the German fleet have no problem seizing the town and mounting an invasion.

Bombs begin to fall overhead as zeppelins raid Chatham, Kent, and prevent the nearest naval fleet coming to help.

The Germans, with such a vast army, have no problem sparing 50,000 troops.

“The Germans had full conscription,” said Ged, who now lives in County Waterford, Ireland.

On April 4 the attacking forces head inland and capture Colchester while most of Britain’s professional soldiers are midway to France.

This leaves just 6,000 regular and 65,000 territorial troops to defend Chelmsford on April 6.

Riots break out in London as civilians attack trains to prevent soldiers leaving for France.

On April 8 German troops make a break from Ongar to Billericay and a day later the government resigns with a new prime minister taking over with a promise to “save London”.

However, all remaining British forces are concentrated on defending Paris and the French refuse to send the troops back.

It is now Romford’s time to enter the battle and face vicious street fighting.

On April 9 the Germans march into the town on their way to Woolwhich Arsenal. Ged quips that Churchill must have forgotten the Thames.

The British Army counter-attacks in the rear of Romford and a bloody battle ensues.

On April 19, after intense fighting in the town, the German commander offers to surrender on the condition that he and his troops are allowed free passage out of England.

Threatening to shoot 10,000 prisoners if his demand is rejected, the British government has no option but to grant it.

Churchill’s fantasy was dismissed as sensational and alarmist but Ged said: “If the Kaiser had decided to gamble 50,000 men from his vast army, the war may have begun with the Battle of Romford.”

Did a member of your family serve in the First World War?

Do you have stories or memories from the period that you would like to share?

Have you uncovered little-known facts or researched a particular subject to do with the war?

We would love to hear from our readers to shape our coverage of the centenary year.

Get in touch through Twitter or Facebook, email Beth Wyatt at bethany.wyatt@archant.co.uk, call 020 8477 3988 or write to Beth Wyatt, Romford Recorder, 539 High Road, Ilford, IG1 1UD, to take part .

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