Motorists driving between White Colne,
Pebmarsh and Bures Hamlet, hardly give a thought to why these idyllic
country roads have such large lay-bys, broken concrete bases in the
grass verges and missing hedgerows.
|In one particular case,
there is a small wooden garden gate standing alone in a hedge that
serves no useful purpose and leads into an open field.
In reality, this once led to a Nissen Hut probably used for administration
Locally this all started back in 1942
when the Americans arrived and started to survey the surrounding countryside.
One farmer, just outside Bures still recalls how the American "top
brass" arrived in a large staff car, parked outside and proceeded
wander around his land and the local area.
Were we destined for another airfield? With Wormingford airfield already
up the road, this seemed unlikely.
Subsequently, the local community learnt
that certain stretches of road were to be commandeered by the military
for use as storage depots. Nobody was sure what this really meant or
During the Second World War, large quantities of munitions were produced
and imported and needed to be stored prior to use. In order to prevent
large ammunition dumps on airfields being destroyed by Luftwaffe bombing,
they needed to be stored well away from these targeted areas.
The rural area between Bures, Pebmarsh,
White Colne and Earls Colne could well have been the largest dispersal
site in the country that utilised normal public roads.
There were two other sites like this in East Anglia but on a much smaller
scale, Brandon and Earsham (Bungay)
The area west of the Bures, fulfilled the requirements of the military
(a)it was a location sufficiently remote from the airfields at Earls
Colne and Wormingford, which were prime targets for bombing;
(b)it was a location sufficiently close to the railway lines and airfields
to reduce transport time and cost;
(c)it was close to a railway line, with links to the main lines
(d) easy access for building materials, Ferriers Farm sand and &
gravel pit on site.
(e)the remoteness of the area meant that security could easily be maintained,
with little chance of strangers going unnoticed or unchallenged.
The network of roads was constructed by a large number of black-American
US Army servicemen. Local residents can still recall how they were made
to work outside under atrocious conditions, with little consideration
given to their welfare.
Large numbers of USAAF servicemen carried
out road construction; ditches were filled in with rubble and concreted
over to produce small areas of hard standing. These formed the storage
bays, which were spaced approximately 50-100 yards apart for safety
Existing public roads were widened and those
incapable of carrying any substantial weight, were reinforced with a layer
of concrete. A typical example is the road between Daws Cross and Countess
Cross, before the war was just a narrow dirt track but it was widened
and a skim of concrete poured over the top, it has no base material whatsoever
Hardcore for the roads was obtained from the brick rubble cleared from
the bomb-damaged houses in London. A large number of lorries constantly
travelled between London and the surrounding countryside supplying the
insatiable demand for the road base material.
Evidence of this can still be found today with broken bricks and tiles
ploughed up in the fields.
Hardcore/rubble was also transported by train to White Colne railway
station, via Cambridge. The majority of this was used for runway building
at Wormingford & Earls Colne airfields.
Vast concrete mixers provided the top surface layer. The amount of aggregate,
hardcore and cement must have been on a gigantic scale when you appreciate
the amount of additional road and dispersal sites that were constructed.
The sand and aggregate was obtained locally from local pits at Ferriers
Farm and Alphamstone.
One local resident recalls it was near impossible to use the local roads
after seven in the morning because of the number of sand & gravel
lorries. Lorries rumbled thro` the villages from early morning until
In other cases, a hastily constructed "by-pass" circumvented
roads with sharp 90deg corners. The large American lorries which
were to be used, couldn`t accommodate these tight corners. One of
these short by-passes which runs across farmland is known locally
as "Yankee Road" -
The right picture shows an example of this road together with a
war time Romney hut.
At Bakers Hall Bures, a complete road
system was built across farmland by the US Army to facilitate the movement
of trucks, the erection of nissen huts and guard posts.
|Evidence of these dispersal
bays are still known locally as the "bomb dumps" and can
still be seen today some 60 years later (picture). Broken concrete
slabs, wide verges and in many cases gaps in hedges are all evidence
of the work carried out by the USAAF.
Bombs of all sizes were then transported
along the roads and stacked on the areas of hard standing.
Picture taken on the Bures to Earls Colne Raod.
The stacks were then covered in camouflage netting. Hawthorn and other
trees along the roadside were left and acted as further camouflage to
prevent detection from the air.
Guard posts were erected at strategic
points around the area to form an impenetrable barrier to unwanted visitors.
Travellers were stopped and questioned as to the nature and reason for
their journey. Local villagers were issued with "passes" in
order to traverse the area.
All footpaths were closed to the public by the Secretary of State for
Air on 2nd March 1943
The HQ for the entire dispersal area was located at "Wakes Hall",
on the main A604 (now owned by the charity SCOPE). This was the main
administration building and used for the issuing of passes, telephone
|Woods were very much
in demand as they were the ideal location to camouflage staff accommodation
and in one case the storage of "incendiary devices" It
would be difficult for the Luftwaffe to see these buildings hidden
amongst the trees.
|One very large wood
between Bures and Pebmarsh even had its own internal concreted road
system and housed something like 14 nissen huts used by American
Not all nissen huts were used for staff
accommodation, others were used to house boxes of machine gun bullets
used by the bomber and fighter aircraft. These bullets were stored in
wooden boxes, which were often discarded by the Americans after they
were emptied or even smashed as they were thrown around.
Guards took little notice of local children playing, but if they only
realised what was hidden in that broken down pram they seem to constantly
wheel around - firewood from broken boxes of course.
The logistics for this work must have
been on a monumental scale as it was a 24 an hour operation. Ammunition
was being transported to the roads for storage whils`t in reverse other
material was being loaded up for onward transportation to the local
airfields. The roads were so congested a simple one way system was devised
to keep the traffic moving efficiently.
The entire area was officially known as the "Bures Ordnance Ammunition
Depot AAF526" or alternatively a "Forward Ammunition Depot"(FAD)
However, Essex County
Council records show the area around Bakers Hall farm as "Wakes
Colne RAF Station"
The Dispersal Site area extended south into White Colne. Not to be confused
with Wakes Colne which was given the name "Wakes Colne HHB, 19th
AAA" (Headquarters & Headquarters Battery and Anti Aircraft
Airfields as far away as North Weald
to the South and Rattlesden to the North were supplied with ammunition
from this depot.
The munitions arrived by train at Earls Colne or White Colne railway
stations, where they were offloaded and transported to the dispersal
Bombs would have been transported unarmed. There would have been a metal
plug installed in the nose fuse insert, to prevent damage to the internal
threads and to keep out moisture. Many of these plugs have been found
on local farmland.
Both Earls Colne and White Colne stations were located on the Colne
Valley Line which traversed the countryside from Haverhill to Chapel
& Wakes Colne Station, where it linked up with the Stour Valley
line running from Bury to Marks Tey.
Both of these stations rapidly became the bomb and ammunition supply
depots for the majority of airfields in Essex and South Suffolk.
The obvious question seems to be, "Why
didn`t they off-load the ammunition trains at Bures as it was on the
main Bury line ?".
There could have been more than one reason such as
(a) The risk was too high with the bomb storage site within such close
proximity. It was essential to keep the Luftwaffe away from Bures area
and not attract too much attention.
(b) The station was to close to the village centre.
(c) Lack of suitable sidings.
The munitions arrived from such places
as Liverpool and Immingham docks pulled by powerful main line (Gresley
2-8-0)engines, these could pull 60-70 trucks of weighing in at some
1000 tons. These would normally arrive at Whitemoor marshaling yard
near March in Cambridgeshire. Here they were then reduced in length
too no more that 50 trucks. This enabled the train to continue on its
route via Bury and shunt into passing sidings to enable faster passenger
trains to pass.
Surprisingly, ammunition trains were classed as "Specials"
and had no priority over the normal day to day traffic.
The top speed would have only been in the region of 30mph and so it
took a full 8-hour shift to convey the train from Whitemoor to Chappel
or Marks Tey.
The two routes taken would have been Bury via Sudbury to Marks Tey or
Bury via Ipswich, Colchester to Marks Tey.
One train driver reported that his train was often stopped outside Colchester.
The Americans would walk along the line of trucks and mark on the side
of the tarpaulin a large chalk cross. These wagons would receive priority
attention when they arrived at Marks Tey or Chappel with their cargo
offloaded for immediate use.
The main line Gresley would then turn around at Marks Tey ready for
its empty journey back to Whitemoor. Away from Colchester, Marks Tey
was the only small station capable of turning around an engine of this
The wagons were placed into sidings at
Chappel and Marks Tey, ready for onward transmission to either Earls
or White Colne stations. Some wagons contained the bomb whilst other
carried just the tail fins.
Here they were split yet again in order for the smaller branch
line (J15`s) locomotives to take them along the Colne Valley line.
The line could only take about 20 trucks or 300/400 tons due to
the limitations of the track bed and bridges; this invariably
meant three local trips per main line delivery.
Photo right - Earls Colne yard
It was not unusual to find Chappel and
Marks Tey yards choked to capacity with bombs. On rare occasions when
both yards were full to overflowing, Colchester had to be used, although
this was frowned upon, owing to the possible danger to the town.
Also when Earls Colne, White Colne and other local yards were full,
other wagon dropping off points were used such as:- Halstead, Hedingham,
Felstead, Stansted, Bishops Stortford, Clare and Rayne
In the second quarter of 1943 the two
stations handled something like 100,000 ton of bombs.
The Station Master at Earls Colne recalls one morning thirty to forty
USAAF trucks waiting to be loaded, the queue stretched right up to the
High St in Earls Colne
Amazingly there appears to have been no serious accidents or explosions
whilst transporting these munitions. It`s quite frightening to think
bombs were loaded perhaps 3 or 4 at a time hanging by a hook and chain
from a small crane. Bombs often banged together with a resounding "clang"
but the Americans were unflustered.
They were loaded into the rear of large 6 wheel trucks packed with straw.
The straw seemed to be more hazardous than the bombs:-
A White Colne resident recalls one incident, where the straw caught
fire on one of the lorries. With a lot of shouting and gesticulating,
the truck was stopped and the bombs hastily offloaded with for once,
a reasonable degree of panic!
With all of these vehicles, maintenance
was a key feature. On the perimeter of the area near to Countess Cross,
an entire camp lived under canvas in an open field. This was the home
of the USAAF Quartermaster Truck Company, their role was to maintain
and service the vehicles, machinery and supply drivers
The vast majority of staff were black-Americans who had little or no
comfort living in tents throughout the year. Their white counterparts
in comparison, lived in nissen huts, tucked away in the woods in reasonable
Even after the war ended, bombs were
still in place some three years later.
As late as 1947/48 the USAAF were still located at Wakes Hall and sent
out regular jeep patrols to check the remaining bombs along the roadside.
Eventually the USAAF departed and handed the building over to the War
The remaining bombs were finally loaded
back into wagons and transported to docks such as Harwich for disposal
at sea. Others were loaded onto lorries and taken over to Ridgewell
Airfield for temporary storage. Later they were taken to Gt Yeldham
railway station for shipment to the local docks. Ridgewell was not finally
cleared of munitions until early in the 1950`s
Eric Doe, Gordon Webber, Trevor Riches, Arthur Kemp, Ida McMaster &
Paul Roberts for their assistance.
Ravensfield Farm, Peyton Hall, Bramble Farm and many others too numerous