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Clacton VCH Group (Clacton at War)
In 2002 VCH Essex helped set up a new project with the purpose of encouraging and enabling local people in Clacton to compile their own history of the town during WWII, using valuable local knowledge and contacts. Some of the initial volunteers were drawn from the Clacton and District Local History Society, and major financial support to start the work came from the VCH Essex Appeal Fund and the VCH Trust.
The group has been enormously successful, producing a best-selling history of the town, an archive of documents, photographs and artifacts, and an educational website. It has also run a number of popular events and is currently engaged in a detailed survey of the WWII defences along this stretch of the Essex coast. The importance of its work has been recognized by two large Lottery grants to fund equipment and professional assistance
We thank all these organizations for their help and encouragement. From the start the project's work has depended upon its volunteers. The regular meetings, which are held in Clacton, function as a kind of workshop, where members report back on what they have done and discuss together the problems that arise, benefiting from the guidance and training in basic historical research skills provided by VCH staff.
An important aspect of the developing project has been the formulation by the group itself of a specific set of objectives:
•To create a collection of resources on Clacton in the Second World War including notes, photographs, tapes, and artefacts. These are stored in the Clacton Society's room in Clacton Library, where it will be catalogued and available to the public.
•To write a soundly based and fully referenced typescript account of Clacton in WW2, copies of which will be deposited at Clacton Library and Essex Record Office.
•To produce a small, popular, publication, that will be available to the public and will be a resource for schools, being well-illustrated on good quality A5-size paper.
•To create a resource of oral history recordings from WWII veterans including contemporary service people and school children.
•To use all these materials to create on-line and printed resources for local schools to help with the teaching of history, especially “what it was like for children in WWII”, funded by a £17,000 grant from the Lottery’s Home Front Recall Programme.
•To survey the WWII defences of Clacton and take a photographic record of all remaining sites, in collaboration with military archaeologist Fred Nash of Essex County Council, funded by a £25,000 grant from the Lottery’s Local Heritage Initiative.
From the start the group has set itself a number of key research questions which they seek to answer. Some examples are set out below:
•How was wartime in Clacton, a seaside town, different from the pre-war period?
•What was particular to Clacton during the Second World War?
•How far did military requirements and the large-scale evacuation of the civilians affect the normal life of a seaside town?
•How much harm was inflicted by the enemy?
•What happened to Butlin's? Could the tourist trade continue?
•How did the war affect schoolchidren and their education?
•How well was Clacton defended from enemy attack?
In each case there has been an attempt to combine the story from documentary sources, such as council minutes, with the recollections of the people affected, and as far as possible to use primary (i.e. original) sources and artifacts
Publication - "Clacton at War, 1939-1945"
As intended the project has successfully produced a popular publication which will be enjoyed by the general public and local schoolchildren. This illustrated book combines the official story of Clacton-on-Sea during the Second World War, from documentary evidence, with the story of ordinary people living through an extraordinary period in history.
In peacetime Clacton was a town whose economy was largely based on providing seaside holidays to thousands of people, but in wartime the holiday trade had to be suspended. Instead, the people who remained in the town came to feel that Clacton, because of its coastal situation, represented part of the “front line” in the struggle to defend their country against the enemy. The transitory population was no longer holidaymakers, but members of the armed services.
For details on how to order this book please go to Recent Publications.
Online Resources for Schools
The Group ran a very successful project for schools as part of the Lottery’s “Home Front Recall” programme in 2005. Several events were held to bring together veterans of the period from Clacton and its neighbourhood with schoolchildren from Cann Hall Primary School, Clacton. This also encouraged the Group to conduct a large-scale programme of oral history recording which is providing much new material.
A major objective of the project was to create an on-line resource for local primary schools, providing teachers and pupils with information, images, and exercises to assist the teaching of WWII in the classroom. This has led to the creation of a separate website which has proved extremely valuable to schoolchildren in the Clacton area, and has also stimulated interest from schools and education providers in other parts of Essex and England. A hard-copy pack for schools is also now under development.
The website can be viewed at: www.essexpast.net/clacton/clactonhome.html
The group is continuing with its projects. More volunteers and offers of help would be welcomed. Please contact: Christopher.Thornton@sas.ac.uk for more details.