|Roll of Honour|
The Battlefields That Might have Been
|A pillbox on the Chelmsford Road, near Appletrees Farm, Ford End, overlooking Hartford End Brewery in the Chelmer River Valley.|
On 4th June 1940, as the last remnants of the British Expeditionary Force were evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk, Prime-minster Winston Churchill stood in the House of Commons for one of his most famous speeches in which he resolutely declared:
“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
But the situation was truly dire! The army had lost huge amounts of weapons and armour during the Battle for France, as well as many thousands of men. Battered and bruised the country needed to prepare for a possible invasion. The Royal Air Force was preparing to fend off aerial attacks, to allow the army to re-equip and prepare. Plans were quickly put in place to defend the country, and whilst weapons and armour were in short supply the country did have a surplus of concrete. Churchill’s brave words were translated in ways which would leave a long lasting mark on the nation. The country was divided into areas whose boundaries were identified as ‘stop lines’ which the Army planned to halt the advance of an invading German army.
Running down the centre of Essex was the ‘GHQ stop line’. In our small part of the county the River Chelmer had been identified as a natural anti-tank defence and the GHQ line followed it along the western edge of our parishes. Concrete pillboxes were built in the fields of Ford End, Barnston and Great Dunmow, all facing the parishes of Felsted and Little Dunmow, to which the Army could retreat. In the event of invasion the army would endeavour to hold the enemy at the East coast but if met with overwhelming force they would retreat to the river valley, blow the bridges and prepare to make battle in the fields.
Had the Battle of Britain not been won by the Royal Air Force then an invasion would have happened and it is possible that Felsted and Little Dunmow could have been the scene of a fierce battle. The army even rehearsed these battles. Laura Gladstone who lived in Felsted during the war has recorded on the BBC people’s archive. “I was about 11. One day a number of lorries and tanks with yellow crosses on them came through the village. There was hand to hand fighting, jumping over hedges and all of the things that you see in films. Eventually we realised that these people weren't Germans, and that this was all actually a mock invasion that had started from one of the coastal towns at least about 30 to 40 miles away. We weren't told who was staging it, but it was all taken very seriously, with the Felsted School being a military building.”
Next time you see the silent concrete sentinels in the fields of our neighbouring parishes perhaps you could offer a little prayer of thanksgiving that they were never needed.