Twenty one years after the Great War had ended the Nazis were bringing violence back to Europe. Britain could not stand by and watch such terror unfold. The Government knew Britain was also at great risk from Hitler. War was declared on 1st September 1939 following the German invasion of Poland.
Immediately the National Service Act was passed enabling conscription of men between 18 and 41 into the armed forces. The Defence of the Realm Act was also passed giving the Ministry of Agriculture powers to control how farms were operating and what they were growing.
The German U-boats were attacking shipping and reducing the amount we could import so Britain had to rely more and more on home food production. The local farmers rose to the challenge and dramatically increased production and grew foods with more carbo-hydrate such as potatoes.
The Dig for Victory campaign encouraged everyone to grow food in their gardens, allotments or spare land and the villagers of St Osyth took this to heart. This provided much needed extra food to add to their rations.
January 1940 rationing had been brought in and families had to register with a local shop. Everyone was issued with a ration book which contained their food coupons. Rationing continued well after the end of the war.
Once again women, people too old to be conscripted and those in reserved occupations had to take on many extra roles to fill the voids left by the departing men. The Special Constabulary, Home Guard, the Coast Guard, St Johns Nursing Division, the factories and the ARP all needed people.
The Land Army was restarted and in the course of the war 80,000 women volunteered or were conscripted into the service. They worked long hours in all weathers and all conditions. They could be sent anywhere in the Country, two women from St Osyth were sent to Herefordshire to work. Locally Italian and German prisoners of war were also be put to work on the farms. By the end of the war there were nearly 58,000 prisoners of war working on farms in England and Wales.
The St Osyth WVS met for the first time just before the outbreak of war and took on numerous tasks to fill the gaps in the official systems. Their first major task was organising the accommodation for evacuated children and mothers who were arriving from bomb threatened London.
Because the St Osyth area was low lying it was a potential invasion landing site, so troops arrived in St Osyth to defend the coast and build defences. The Royal Engineers were billeted at various locations in St Osyth, the 9th Cameronians set up HQ in the Priory and The Middlesex regiment at Overdam.
St Osyth and Clacton became a restricted area with check points to monitor all movements.
The coast was protected with tank traps, wire and mines. Observation posts were set up and gun emplacements constructed. Bridges were fitted with pipes full of explosives which could hinder an invading army’s progress.
Around St Osyth there were targets for German bombers. There was a small naval base ‘Nemo’ at nearby Brightlingsea for patrol and mine clearing boats. In January 1943 Point Clear was commissioned as HMS Helder a landing craft training base preparing for the D Day landings in France. The base was commissioned on 5/4/42 and paid off on 30/9/44. Later, as RN Camp St Osyth, it was used as accommodation for Naval raiding parties. About 60 landing craft were based here. Blockhouse Wick and all the houses beyond were taken over for the base as well as Martello Towers A and B. Martello Tower A was used as a Signal Station and a Minefield Control Point.
St Osyth was more vulnerable to air attack than some other places because it was on the route between the German bomber air bases and their main target - London. Our coastal guns were a threat to the success of the German bombing missions and so they were targeted.
There was also decoy installations of low level lighting and fire placements on the on the marshes and sandbanks on the west bank of Ray Creek. These were designed to fool enemy aircraft into thinking they were over Felixstowe and thus confuse the night time navigators. It was also hoped it would encourage the bombers to drop their bombs harmlessly on the marsh.
Many buildings were damaged by bombs and incendiary devices including Lodge Farm, Lamb Farm, The Priory, Beacon Hill Martello Tower, the Tide Mill, the Cemetery Chapels, and Wellwick Wharf. Clacton Road and Colchester Road were also hit as was an ammunition store in Colchester Road.
But in the midst of this the ordinary tasks had to be done, raising the children, looking after the home, repairing the damage, caring for the evacuees, looking after the elderly.
The D Day Landings plus the battles that followed have been well documented and the incredible sacrifices made by Allied Forces to liberate Europe will never be forgotten. But we must not forget the absolutely vital roles played by those back in St Osyth and elsewhere who contributed so much to achieve Victory in Europe.