Lest we forget
Essex Life|November 2020
Remembrance Sunday will have a special poignance this month as 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. Stephen Roberts profiles how much the county of Essex contributed to the war effort and how much it cost
Stephen Roberts

‘I’m all right.’

These poignant words came from a ten-year-old lass plucked from ruined buildings in Romford. They were her last.

It was the most destructive war in human history, lasting for six years and costing a conservative estimate of 60 million lives, the majority non-combatants. As we mark another Remembrance Sunday this month, there will be a special note of reflection on World War II, which ended 75 years ago this year.

While the men of the Essex Regiment and Yeomanry served overseas, the people of Essex did their bit on the Home Front. No-one was spared in this ‘total war’. The 1st Battalion of the Essex Regiment served in North Africa and in the Far East. The 2nd Battalion meanwhile had moved to France in 1939, so participated in the evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940.

It returned to France in June 1944, landing on D-Day, and fighting on until Germany’s final surrender in May 1945. Further battalions were raised during the war, also serving in north-west Europe after D-Day. There were also Territorial battalions that served overseas. Lt Col Augustus Charles Newman (1904–72) was a Chigwell-born recipient of the Victoria Cross, and member of the Essex Regiment, who gained the award during the attack on St Nazaire in March 1942. The Essex Yeomanry also played its part. The 104th Regiment served in North Africa, while the 147th Regiment landed on D-Day.

Essex itself was in the front line too. Chelmsford, a key centre of light engineering and home to the vital work at Marconi, was heavily bombed. A raid of May 13, 1943, left more than 50 dead and nearly 1,000 homeless, while a V-2 just missed the Marconi factory and Hoffmans ball bearing factory on December 19. 1944, but still killed 39 more, with close-on 150 injured.

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