D-Day Anniversary: Battle of Arnhem could be heard in Harold Wood
11:24 06 June 2014
People knew the invasion had started when they heard unusually heavy air activity from around dawn on D-Day.
Essex was dotted with air bases, and bombers flew much lower than modern planes. Large formations of aircraft passed very close over people’s houses, with a constant rumbling noise in the sky. People said: “The invasion has begun.”
A week after D-Day, the Nazis retaliated by launching V1 pilotless jet planes (in effect cruise missiles but without a guidance system) in an attempt to break morale in London and the south-east.
V1 Flying Bombs were propelled by a flame of jet fuel. At first people on the ground thought they had been shot down. Two local men actually stood on a front step on the Southend Arterial Road and cheered as they watched the first “Doodlebug” pass overhead towards Gallows Corner!
British troops in Normandy were targeted by German propaganda which alleged that London was in ruins.
My mother recalled writing to her brother in the forces, who was worried by these stories. She told him the attacks were bad but that the propaganda was exaggerated and the civilian population could take it.
Havering was hit many times both by V1s and later by V2 rockets. It became local folklore that Collier Row was a target area, as so many missiles fell in that part of the borough.
Many people (including the government) feared that even if Allied troops could get safely ashore on D-Day, a 1914-18-style war of attrition would follow.
Harold Wood was one of many hospitals that had been readied for possible mass casualties.
I was told as a child that Harold Wood Hospital did not receive major casualties until November 1944, when Canadian and British troops were sent to clear the Nazis out of Walcheren Island in the southern Netherlands.
The fighting was desperate, and many soldiers suffered from exposure as well as wounds when dykes were breached and Walcheren was flooded.
It was necessary to free Walcheren as it forms the approach to Antwerp, and the Allied advance into Germany needed this major port for reinforcements.
As in the First War, heavy artillery barrages were often heard locally. My parents recalled the surreal experience of gardening in Harold Wood, weeding and clearing up on a fine autumn day, with the distant sounds of the battle for Arnhem in the background.