History of Mountnessing
Every year the Parish Council lays a wreath on the War Memorial at St Giles on Remembrance Sunday and I have often wondered about the stories of the names of those who died in service to the country. Strangely I had a letter sent to me from a former resident, Bert Anderson, who told me the story of Sergeant Ronald Sitch RAF which led me into finding out more. Bert had been in correspondence with a resident in a village near Antwerp called Retie where Ronald Sitch is buried in a war grave. Every year the village lays a wreath on his grave on All Saints Day, the 1st November, to acknowledge his memory.
Ronald Sitch was born onJanuary 31, 1922The closest known relative is/wasa cousin, EdwardManning(his mother and Ronald’s mother were sisters).Ofthe other family members a brother died in a traffic accident (before the war), his mentally disabled sister died in an institution, his father (a plumber in Mountnessing) died well before the war,and his mother and another sister are both long deceased. Ronald lived in White Cottage, Padhams Green and was known to have played cricket for Mountnessing. He joined the RAF on July 4, 1941 and volunteered for aircrew.
Ronald Sitch was the wireless operator on a 51 Squadron, Handley Page Halifax bomber based at Snaith in Yorkshire. His aircraft, JN920, was part of a large 569 bomber force that took off on the 22nd October 1943 on a mission to attack Kassel in mid Germany which had the Fieseler aircraft plant and the Hendchel motor works that made Tiger tanks.
The Halifax bomber, introduced in 1941, had a crew of seven and carried a maximum bomb load of 14,500lb. The flight took off at around 6pm and by the time all aircraft were in flight and assembled darkness would be closing in. The German defence systems were getting better by this time and they had radar detecting the incoming bombers and were able to direct Flak gunfire and guide night fighters to their targets. A top secret counter measure was deployed for the first time called Corona and this had German speaking RAF radio operators who were sending counter commands to German night fighters to cause confusion and divert them from their targets.
It appears that JN920 did not make it as at 360 miles into the 470 miles to the target the aircraft was hit by either Flak or a night fighter and was on fire circling between Retie and Kasterlee near Antwerp. It is unclear why they did not bail out but with their bomber in flames and carrying a mixture of high explosive bombs, incendiary stick bombs and fuel. Witnesses state that the stricken aircraft was appearing to try to clear the inhabited areas. We can only assume that Sgt Hall, the pilot, accepted his and his crew’s fate and was trying to find an unpopulated area to crash. Locals recall the crash being a huge explosion and the next day German troops sealed the area and collected the human remains which were initially buried at Fort 3 Borsbeek, near Antwerp. In post war years four graves have been identified and moved to Schoonselhof Cemetery, Antwerp. For some reason Sgt Sitch lies at Retie Communal Cemetery.
In 1998, the crash site was excavated by the East Surrey Aviation Group (from Reigate, Surrey), which was the first time they had carried out an excavation project on the Continent. The group has a lot of experience with this type of operation and working in collaboration with Retie and Kasterlee historic groups they dug out a number of aircraft pieces from the crash site. A permanent memorial to the crew has been erected on the reinstated dig. The artefacts and research can be seen at the Wings Museum, Unit 1, Bucklands Farm, Brantridge Lane, Near Balcombe, West Sussex. RH17 6JT.
This in many ways is a sad story of a young local lad going to war but I feel it is fitting tribute to remember him in these pages and it is a wonderful gesture by the people of Retie that ensure Ronald Sitch is remembered each year.
Memories of Mountnessing School
I was born in WrittlePark in September 1942, according to my mother I was born in the Ballroom, as WrittlePark had been turned into a MaternityHospital during the war. My father was based in Kidderminster in the Royal Army Pay Corp. The family home was a bungalow 215 Chelmsford Road Shenfield Essex, but I went to school in Mountnessing.
I was a pupil at the old Victorian Mountnessing C of E School from Easter 1947 when I entered the infants. A small village school with under 100 pupils divided into three Sections: Infants led by Miss Jones, juniors by Mr. Davis and seniors by Miss Harris. The school was one building divided into three sections by wooden doors which could be opened out when something affected the whole school. In the hall across the playground (now Upson Mobility) we had our School dinners, when I was a senior I was in charge of dishing out the potatoes, the dinners arrived cooked in large metal containers.
The hall was utilised for school plays like The Nativity, the highlight of the year, and events like spelling bees and beetle drives for the juniors and seniors. The hall was the meeting venue when the whole school went on the Sunday school outing. A Eastern National Double Decker bus was hired, children assembled in the hall, counted and used the toilets before boarding the bus; heavily laden with packed lunches, bottles of Tizer or Lemonade and bucket and spades etc. A hoard of excited restless children were chaperoned on the bus by Sunday school teachers and dinner ladies and a few mothers helped out. The one I remember most was going to Burnham on Crouch and going on the ghost train and I also managed to get locked in hall before leaving as I was the last one to use the girl’s toilet. Miss Ruggles the dinner lady realised I was not on the bus and opened the hall door again and found me. I nearly missed the outing all together.
I was 4 ½ when I started school; the thing I remember most about being an infant was the bottles of milk to drink at break and laying on a mat in the afternoon for a sleep. I was never a good sleeper but the infants had a rest in the afternoon for the two years I was there. I then progressed into the Juniors here learning began in earnest, Mr. Davis was fearsome and although bright I was a chatterbox, he never hit anyone, but had a habit of banging a very large ruler on your desk if you began to chatter instead of working. I used to jump a mile, but it was an effective way to maintain order. When I was nine I then went into the seniors under Miss Harris, she was a Scot and used to enthral me with tales of her journey to Scotland for her holidays.She described a train with two steam engines, one at the front and one at the back to ensure the train got up all the hills. I always imagined the great steaming monster engines pushing and puffing the train along taking her to her destination. The other job I had was making her a cup of tea in the morning and afternoon when I was older, I was always terrified I would break the delicate china cup and saucer when I washed up afterwards.
The major event in the latter years was the death of King George VI, on that cold February day in 1952 The doors were open between the classes, and the whole school was bought together sat down and we listened to the 1 o’clock news on the school wireless, which for some reason was kept in a cupboard. We listened to Big Ben, then the announcer spoke the words telling the whole nation the king had died in his sleep at Sandringham. In the small school in rural Essex, everything was silent as this sad event was told. After the broadcast ended, the wireless was switched off and we all bowed our heads as Miss Harris asked us to pray for the Queen and the family. 1953 soon came; England was to have a new Queen Elizabeth, to be crowned in June and my father acquired a television for the event. It was to be my last year at Mountnessing. To celebrate the Coronation my friends and I made a small garden on spare land beside the girl’s school toilets, a block of four individual toilets with wooden seats and the old pull handle cisterns. It was very patriotic, we cut turf and made a big triangle dug the ground and filled it with red, white and blue bedding plants. Where I got the plants from I do not know, perhaps Miss Harris bought them, and I remember we had a party in the school hall and all the children received a Coronation Mug.
My last sports day at Mountnessing C of E School was a beautiful sunny day in July, the Juniors and Seniors took part in the school sports, infants only came to watch. The local farmer had mown the field which was used for sports day. In the school hall we changed into kit, girls navy blue knickers and white vests, boys white vests and navy shorts. There were four houses, Romans (Red) Grecians (Yellow) Saxons (Blue) Normans(Green). Each child had a band to put on, I was a Grecian so mine was yellow. We all filed out of the hall and accompanied by Mr. Davis and Miss Harris we crossed the playground and walked up the path leading up to the field. The hedges that lined the path were honeysuckle, dog roses and fruiting currant bushes and many types of wild flowers growing along the footpath.
Before lunch that day a few of the older pupils had been allowed to go up to the freshly mown field and pick flowers and cut the honeysuckle and dog roses and make our squares for each house to sit in. The squares were edged with fragrant bell shaped honeysuckle, soft pink dog roses, the deep red of fruiting currant branches and all manner of wild flowers. I remember the heady aromatic flower scents and smell of freshly mown grass as we all sat chatting waiting for the races to begin. The sun shone on the efforts of everyone, the teachers and caretaker controlling the races and the excited children, the dinner ladies providing orange squash for the children after the races. There were shouts from the boys as a winner passed the line of the sack race or the egg and spoon, laughing at the unfortunates who dropped their egg or fell over in the sack. Then I had my moments of glory, I could run fast, I managed to win three races and then I was in the winning girls relay team. Soon the end of the afternoon was in sight and now was the time for the prize giving. The vicar and his wife had come to give out the prizes, not cups, but real money 1st prize 3d 2nd prize 2d 3rd prize 1d. Each of the lucky children came up to the trestle table covered by a sparkling white cloth to receive the prizes and thank the vicar. I went up four times for my bronze 3d piece. I had won a whole shilling I was rich in monetary terms. The last sports day ended in triumph for me and Iwas so proud when I went home with my shilling and told my mother and father. I left school in the July 1953 and moved on to a new school in Brentwood in September 1953.
I know now, looking back, that what I took away from that sports day was not only my shilling but memories of kinder way of life, a small church school where you were taught caring; there was an epileptic child, itinerant workers children who were a little rougher than the village children, but still attended the school living in a cottages beside the school during harvest time, discipline and respect for the adults, responsibility for the younger children and for your own actions, and to use your talents to help others and develop yourself as well as Reading Writing and Arithmetic. Looking back I realise how lucky I was to attend the school, I know the Mountnessing C of E school still stands because when I was sixty I went back to the village, I hoped the values had survived all the years since 1953.
I remember that during the period I was at school, the village policeman was called PC Snow and the other authority figure was the school Inspector Mr. Frost, when he paid a visit the whole school was on its best behaviour. The Vicar used to call once a week and took prayers and junior and seniors had to learn the weekly collect, my father always made sure I was word perfect in case I was asked to say the collect. I used to hate having to stand up in front of the school if I was chosen. I also joined the Brownies while attending school and that was good fun. I was in the Pixies and we met in the school hall.
The other fearsome person was the Nit nurse, I used to have pig tails at school and because the nurse advised my mother she felt long hair would be a problem I had my hair cut shorter. A couple more items I remember was the Conservative Fete in the field in front of the Windmill and they had a fancy dress competition and I won a prize because I was dressed as the Queen of Hearts, my mother had help me make a dress and a crown and I had a tray of jam tarts she had baked.
I hope you enjoyed reading my memories of Mountnessing School.
Olwen O’Dowd (Olwen Edwards a pupil from 1947-1953)