The British Invasion of Essex - 1904

Wivenhoe Quay

John Stewart

Irish Guards on Wivenhoe Quay practising for a potential invasion up the River Colne watched by crowds of Wivenhoe's townspeople. Note the chimney on the south side of St Mary's Church. This was used to take the smoke away from the boiler used to heat the Church. Whilst the chimney has long gone, the flue which remains is still in use today.

General French’s troops at Wivenhoe where the Irish guards were left as a rear guard and a company was sent to ford the Colne to prevent the passage of red force which was on the other side of the river. A general report is listed here:

During 1898 Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany was a threat to the peace of the East Coast, and to Great Britain causing the need for an invasion exercise.  Between Clacton and Holland-on-Sea in the September of 1904 six cruisers were involved in the landing of two Divisions who marched inland to Witham (about 25 miles). Troops defending the town of Witham held their position and the invading Divisions retreated back to the coast to return to their respective ships.

The coastal manoeuvres took place in the presence of the Inspector-General to the forces, non-other than Prince Arthur, the third son and seventh child born to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. It is said that near to this spot Prince Arthur and Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia, the Duke and the Duchess of Connaught, with their three children: Princess Margaret Victoria Charlotte Augusta Norah (born 15 January 1882), Prince Arthur Frederick Patrick Albert (born 13 January 1883), and Princess Victoria Patricia Helena Elizabeth (born 17 March 1886), witnessed the landing of HM Troops in the attack of the County of Essex.

12,000 men took part, along with 3,000 horses and 60 guns.  Major-General A.S. Wynne led the defending force and General Sir John French led the attacking force. General Sir John French had become well-known during the Boer War and was to lead the British Expeditionary Force at  the start of the First World War. On 7th September, the attackers suddenly landed east of Clacton and made their way across Essex.

This page was added on 02/12/2016.

Comments about this page

  • This false invasion exercise could have been a response to the dramatic adventure at the turn of that century of an English yachtsman’s adventure into the Friesian Islands off the German west coast exposing the building of a German invasion force in barges that were to be towed across The North Sea by steam tugs to invade the fenlands of The Wash or Essex. It is written about in the Epic Book ‘The Riddle of the Sands’ (P85127 Sedgwick @ Jackson WC1A2SG published by William & Collins and Sons of Glasgow) that was written by a seemingly patriotic Irishman Erskine Childers, his son Erskine Hamilton Childers being the Deputy Prime Minister of Ireland 1971. Erskine Senior who wanted an independent Ireland also was against an invasion of England by Germany. I believe was eventually was himself executed by a British firing squad for gun running into Ireland. An excellent, seemingly accurate, and beautiful film of the same name was created, I believe, in the 1980’s that is itself a classic. It is a truly fascinating story. It was shown on English TV during March 2019.

    By Peter Williams (08/04/2020)

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