So as I sit here leading up to ‘The Lights Out’ campaign, it got me thinking about how our lovely Southend played its part during those horrendous 4 years that our great grandparents lived through and what has been described as the most destructive war that had ever been fought.

Now I do have a slight obsession with the 2nd world war, mainly the social aspects of the war and how it affected the general population but I know very little about the Great War, and with all the activities surrounding the centenary of the beginning of the 1st World War, I think it’s time I gave myself a little history lesson.

1914 – 1st World War starts. Within months our beautifully famous pier was set to work, mooring 3 prison ships at the pier head: ‘Royal Edward, ‘Invernia’ and ‘Saxonia’. These ships housed German prisoners of war up until 1915.

Prisoner of War - Southend Seafront

(Prisoners of war marching along Southend Seafront)

1915 – Southend Hotels become war hospitals, they included at the time probably the most up-to-date equipment needed. This was also the year that Southend was hit by Zeppelin attacks and poor Mrs Agnes Whitwell became the first victim of what would be a common occurrence throughout both world wars: air raids.

Zeppelin air raid Southend 1916

1916 – The King comes to visit.

1917 – Sees the worst bout of air attacks and kills 30 people and injuring 42. I found a brilliant website which is where I found my little bit of information but also shows the newspaper article following the attacks which is typically English and of that time. For instance, ‘a dog and horse were killed in Leigh but there was no human loss’ and, my favourite, ‘potatoes grown on an allotment where thrown through smashed windows’.

1918 – The Old Garrison begins to expand. Ironic that it has, over the past few years, expanded again to be turned into delightful new homes and we mark the end of the war.

So there’s a little timeline for you, showing what Southend did as a town and how it suffered due to the 1st war which involved both soldiers and civilians to some extent, and which many believed would be over for Christmas.

Let’s not forget those poor souls that left at the onset of the War full of hope and belief in their country, and who sadly never set foot back on our shores, and for those who have lost their lives in conflicts since.

For those of you who are interested in a more comprehensive discussion on The Great War then look up The Forum Southend as it’s hosting various talks and activities throughout the year. There’s one discussing Women and the War. May even see you there, or just pop down and rummage through the history section.

Lest We Forget

Lest We Forget - Southend