War on the High Street
Can you imagine how terrified you would be if you were walking along Southend High Street, heading to work or maybe embarking on some daily shopping, when you hear a very loud aircraft engine sound overhead. On looking up you see a dark menacing aircraft at low level banking just above the town centre buildings. Today, it might not be of concern, but in October 1942, in the middle of World War 2 it was. Building entrances had been sandbagged and windows taped up, most people walked around with cardboard boxes dangling around their shoulders holding their gas mask. Southend at this time had become a military town as it was ideally sited for the naval fleets in the estuary, its position on the Thames Estuary also made it easy pickings for enemy aircraft en-route to London or returning with some spare munitions on board. The locals that remained in the town were used to the nightly air raid sirens warning of impending attack from the 'Luftwaffe'. But this sunny morning was slightly out of the ordinary by the very fact it was daylight, and a brazen attack by a lone Messerschmitt, who seemed to have strayed from its squadron. Trying to imagine this scenario now for those who never lived through the war, it must sound like a scene from some fictional novel or the latest blockbuster film from Elstree. But this incident really did happen. The Germans were only too aware of the important role Southend had acquired as a Naval Headquarters with the many commandeered seafront buildings such as the Grand Pier Hotel on top of Pier Hill. The Pier itself became known as HMS Leigh; and one in 3 people seen walking the streets would invariably be wearing a military uniform of some kind. The sensitive predicament of the town would see mass closure of schools and evacuation taking place, and again many of the schools would be acquired by the military for billeting. No doubt the pilot of this Messerschmit might have thought he was achieving something special by catching the town unaware by bombing and strafing the High Street this sunny October day in 1942, obviously intent on causing as much death and destruction as he possibly could. Fortunately the High Street was unusually quiet, but the attack plane opened up still, with full cannon fire raking the High Street, also dropping bombs on shops and houses. The death count, considering the huge amount of damage reached only four; three businessmen and a soldier. Interestingly due to war time restrictions the local press could only relay the bare basics of the event, it was common for incidents to be merely reported as a 'Thames Estuary town', naturally locals viewing the images in newspapers would be able to pick the common sights of Southend. This attack proved to be the most destructive and shocking of the war to Southend. One of the key businesses that suffered considerable damage during this attack was the very prominent R. A. Jones, Jewellers, located on the High Street, noted not only for its famous clock, which hung outside the shop, but also the owner. Robert Jones who was a serious benefactor of the town having the foresight to provide open spaces such as Priory Park to the town's people. The shop suffered considerable damage as well as the nearby buildings.

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