HMS Leigh Project Background
The summer of 1939 was described as 'smashing' by local boy Roland Hayward. Tourists came in their thousands to do all of the things tourists did in the 1930s in sunny Southend-on-Sea. The Pier, the ice cream, the beaches, it was all part of the Southend experience.
That all changed on the 3rd of September 1939 when Britain declared war on Nazi Germany. The tourists were called up, the Pier was taken over by the Royal Navy, and the beaches were protected by concrete and barbed wire. There might still have been an ice cream or 2 though.
Over the following months, many of the large houses were taken over by the Government for military use, and servicemen and women were billeted with the local families that remained.
The convoys started when the Pier was still open to the public and continued throughout the war.
The HMS Leigh Project has worked with veterans, local historians and families of those who served on HMS Leigh to preserve this history that has been largely untold.
Apart from being the longest pleasure pier in the world, Southend Pier as HMS Leigh, protected England in its darkest hour and right through to victory.
Civilians, servicemen and servicewomen like Irene (top), the Haywards, Christopher, Joan, Charlie and Win regularly worked 16 hours a day and at night, they rarely slept thanks to the aerial bombardments.
Due to the pandemic, this project’s database has grown hugely, enriched by those who have shared memories and archive, but we are very aware that there is still so much more of this legacy to find and save.
The HMS Leigh Team would like to thank those who have made this project happen, especially any National Lottery Players. Southend Borough Council Tourism and Foreshore departments. The Arts Council and donators for funding to keep the project afloat throughout the Pandemic.
All of you who have contributed stories and images to the HMS Leigh Archive. All the wonderful voluntary organisations, such as the Leigh-on-Sea Royal Branch of the British Legion, the Southend Branch of the Essex Society for Family History, the Shoeburyness Royal Artillery Association and the Southend Royal National Lifeboat Institute.
Many thanks to our volunteers who have made the HMS Leigh Bravest Pier in the World Cultural Event possible, and to all of our guests, schools, and the HMS Leith Team who have put in so much effort to bring the heritage of Southend and HMS Leigh to the whole community. #Lest we Forget