The 8 May 2020 marks 75 years since VE Day, the end of the Second World War in Europe. Over the years Epping Forest District Museum has marked many anniversaries connected with WW2 through special exhibitions. These have explored the impact of the war on the district and the role local people played. From airfields and the defence of London, through bombing raids, evacuees, GIs, Land Girls and POWS, the war left an amazing legacy in our district. Over the years many people have shared their stories of the war with us, and donated objects to the museum. These form an legacy that helps us tell the story of this important part of the district’s history today.
Sadly, the exhibition we had planned for the 75th anniversary year, The Boys: Holocaust Survivors in the Epping Forest District has had to be postponed until next year. We thought we’d take this opportunity to look back at some of the other exhibitions from previous years.
In 1995 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of VE Day, the museum hosted the Victory exhibition, alongside Time for Tea.
In 2005 the museum received funding to record the memories of people who had lived through the war, and these featured in the special exhibition ‘Keep Smiling Through’. These memories now form an important part of the museum’s oral history collections. The late Ray Sears, well known for his historical photograph collection of Waltham Abbey, recalled how he spent his time at school during the war sitting in the headmaster’s office, taking phone calls,
‘if the air raid warning ‘red’ comes through … you just used to say thank you and put the phone down … you then dashed out to the playground and you had a whistle and you blew that whistle at the top of your voice … you had to make sure you had orderly lines of [children] running down there so they went into the shelters …we did that for, well I was there for what, near enough two years doing that. You just sat in the shelter.’
Another fascinating story was that of Josef Kox, a German Prisoner of War who was transferred to England just before the war ended. He was sent to a farm in Theydon Bois to work, then on to Hayes Hill Farm in Waltham Abbey where he met, and eventually married the farmer’s daughter, making his future life and home here. You can still read about his experiences on the BBC People’s War website
Josef recalls, ‘At this late stage I would like to pay a tribute to the people of Waltham Abbey. Considering the war, six years of it… and people here suffered and everyone suffered. Everybody suffered in that war, didn’t matter where you were, or who you were, you suffered to some degree. So I was really surprised to find that people took to us, they were very tolerant and friendly and I will never forget that.’
In 2008 the special exhibition ‘Onwards and Upwards’ told the story of the Royal Naval submarine, HMS Sickle, that was sponsored by the people of Epping during WW2. The commander, Lieut. J R Drummond, became known as the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo when one of the torpedoes fired from the submarine exploded under the casino. Tragically, the submarine was itself lost with all hands on board on 18 June 1944. A commemorative plaque for HMS Sickle and those who lost their lives has now been placed on the wall of St John’s Church in Epping.
In 2009 the museum’s collections were the inspiration for ‘Make Do and Mend’ a special exhibition in partnership with the Epping Forest District Council’s Arts Team, who worked with care home residents and young people on a project combining reminiscence and creativity. Inspiration was taken from the Make Do and Mend campaign of WW2 to recreate new clothing from old materials.
The exhibitions themselves are now wonderful memories to share of the role the museum plays in bringing the district together to commemorate significant events and our part in them. We very much look forward to welcoming you here again one day.