Following the very successful HMS Leigh Make Do and Mend Online Event in May 2020, the HMS Leigh Team, with continued support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Arts Council and Southend Borough Council, will be working to bring the community together to celebrate the 76th anniversary of VE-Day in May 2021. This extension of the project will be used to reveal the hidden history of WW2 Southend by talking to people who were children at that time and are happy to share their valuable memories so that we can share and preserve them for future generations.
HMS Leigh Make Do and Mend has already uncovered some brilliant characters from HMS Leigh from the commander, Commodore JP Champion, through the stories of the service men and women, scouts and guides who ran messages from the HQ in Southend’s Royal Terrace to the command points on the Pier and along the seafront – all the way to the enigmatic Mona, who was said to be the stalwart of the HMS Leigh catering corps that fed and watered tens of thousands of ships and hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors and civilians – and all supplied by the ever present Southend Pier Railway that ran 24 hrs a day, 365 days a year delivering supplies and taking the wounded to the shore.
HMS Leigh Guardian of the Thames is working with local schools, lead by the schools of the Southend SEN Trust to engage children with their heritage in new and interesting ways, both online and as circumstances allow, in physical activities that everyone can try - inspired by some wonderful local artists across many disciplines. Throughout the year there will be online mini events to mark some of the most important dates in the history of HMS Leigh and WW2 Southend and our team is working to train volunteers to record the history of our older generation who were children in the 1940s and the HMS Leigh Make Do and Mend website, database, memory garden and learning resources will continue to grow throughout the year.
The project will culminate with an HMS Leigh Guardian of the Thames Event in May 6th - 9th 2021 which will bring wonderful community organisations together with our schools to learn, create and enjoy the heritage of HMS Leigh.
What was HMS Leigh?
Southend Pier was requisitioned by the British Royal Navy in September 1939 and used as the control point for the Thames and Medway and all shipping coming in and out of the Port of London. Between 1939 and 1945 the 1.3-mile structure played a vital role in the security of London and the whole country. If Southend-on-Sea had fallen, London would have been lost.
The command that covered Southend Pier and the requisitioned Royal Terrace was known as HMS Leigh, with many of the men and women stationed at HMS Leigh being billeted in the Royal Hotel.
Throughout WW2, the main responsibility of HMS Leigh was to keep the convoys afloat and supplied. The service personnel were responsible for supplying 3,367 convoys comprising 84,297 ships during the conflict.
HMS Leigh was run by the Royal Navy and was home to a contingent of Wrens, to 200 British Army Pathfinders, a Royal Air Force Barrage Balloon squadron, and many men and women from other services – and of course thousands of men from the Merchant Navy. HMS Leigh was a hub that made a huge difference to the war effort and was commended for its efforts during the Dunkirk and D-Day operations.
HMS Leigh was ‘paid off’ and handed back to Southend Council after the war came to an end in October 1945.