History Blog

Advent Day 5 - Leigh on Sea

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The town of Leigh on Sea in Essex has become a regular visiting spot of mine over the past year, as my fiancee's parents live there. While walking around the town with my fiancee we had a wander up to the local parish church. A building has stood here since the 13th century, but the current church was built in the 1500's, with additional works carried out in the 19th and 20th centuries. The position of the church means that it virtually looms over the area known as "Old Leigh", but the proximity to the Thames Estuary makes this quite an apt place for a type of memorial that I've never seen before - a Dunkirk memorial.Leigh on Sea Dunkirk Memorial

Leigh on Sea, as you can probably tell from the name, has a long fishing history. The old town primarily consists of old shipping sheds, there's a huge array of new and old boats, and a lot of the restaurants are seafood based. Along with fishing, smuggling was common in the area, and Leigh was reportedly considered to be a prime area for navy pressgangs as the men were used to work on ships (one of the tombs in the churchyard was reportedly worn away by the pressgangs using it to sharpen their swords, while they waited for the men of Leigh to leave the church after Sunday service).

It's no surprise that when the British army was cut off from the French in May 1940 at Dunkirk, the little town of Leigh on Sea was one of many coastal towns that responded to Winston Churchill's call for assistance, sending boats out to help the stranded soldiers. In total six little boats sailed out from Leigh on Sea and travelled to France, where they helped ferry soldiers from Dunkirk out to the larger ships waiting in the deeper waters of the Channel. Sadly on their return to Leigh one of the ships, called the "Renown", hit a mine and blew up, killing the entire crew. The other five ships returned home safely.

I found the memorial quite touching. It features a bronze statue of a little boat, struggling in the sea and about to be subsumed by a large wave, sitting atop a carved stone plinth. The carved letters on the front of the plinth read;

"In tribute to the fishermen of Leigh on Sea who went to Dunkirk 1st June 1940 and in memory of those who gave their lives

Frank Osborne

Leslie Osborne

Harry Noakes

Harold Graham Porter

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends"

The Osborne family were the owners of the Renown, Frank and Leslie were cousins and the family still runs a seafood supply company in Leigh on Sea to this day, if you go for a walk in "Old Town" you'll spot Osborne's quite easily. I've never seen a Dunkirk memorial before, but I found it's design and position, in the churchyard overlooking the harbour that the ships would have left from, to be a beautiful tribute. If you're ever in Leigh on Sea, I recommend popping up to the churchyard to see it for yourself.

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