These are the notes made by Nicholas Butler who interviewed Mr & Mrs P L J Le Poer Power in the mid 1980s as part of the research for his book “The Story of Wivenhoe”. These notes have been re-typed by Ann Jones from Nicholas Butler’s original notes and posted here by Frances Belsham.
About Mr and Mrs Le Poer Power
Mr and Mrs lived at Cross Farm, Colchester Road, Wivenhoe.
What Mr & Mrs Le Poer Power told Nick Butler.
The first regiment we had at Wivenhoe Park was a tank regiment.
Churchill came down with Mrs Churchill (Mr Butler was loaned a photograph of this visit)
Before the last World War a fellow turned up selling mineral waters when my family used to live here and I was about 24 or 25 years old. Tonic waters, etc. He said “My family used to live here” this was about 1934.
I (Mr P) was there (at Wivenhoe Park during the war) for about a year. I came back from Italy in 1943. After the Second front. The last year of the war. I reckon (Mrs P) you were there at least two years. About a year I think. The regiment was there when the war finished, we were the last regiment there.
It was very complicated, it kept on changing every five minutes (the number of SAS there) We were the Second SAS, the first SAS was at Hylands Chelmsford. There were 4 squadrons at Wivenhoe and a training squadron. It was not like an Infantry regiment. You went on an operation and when you came back everything was different. There were about 300 men. The officer’s mess was the big house and the officers lived in various rooms in the house. The men slept in huts round the park. The Squadron Headquarters were scattered around the Park. My headquarters were in that row of Pines which has just blown down and the hard standing for my jeeps is part of the car park (for the University now)
My regiment was called SAS to put the Germans off, it was like a private army. There were all sorts of other people who joined us. As far as Wivenhoe was concerned there was just a second SAS nothing else. There were huts from above those awful towers, round on to the other road (ie the Colchester to Wivenhoe Road) I think the remaining Nissen hut was a storehouse.
Soldiers were at Arlesford Park. Soldiers at Arlesford Grange. Others at Brightlingsea Manor. People stationed at Ardleigh. They varied a lot, the tank regiment was there for quite a long time. I think they were there during the phoney war, up to 1941. They put the huts up in 1939. The family moved to Allen’s Farm, just off the main Colchester to Clacton Road.
We (the officers) ate in the dining room, the men had their mess huts.
We went there because we operated from a base. Training in the area including Fingringhoe Marsh. Soldiers went into Wivenhoe, the men went into pubs. Major Tom Burt (retired here) Our regiment filled all the accommodation, there were more officers than men in our regiment there was an officer to every 10 men. As well as that there was Squadron Second in Command then the CO and the Adjutant. You had a lot of people who had influence. The regiment was founded by Dick Stirling in about 1940, first operations were in November 1941.
Old Lewis, lives at that cottage at Home Farm on the main road, he is retired.
Charles Gooch was farming all through the war and he was in the Home Guard. He was in a reserved occupation, age about 38, too old for a fighting regiment then and the reserved occupation clinched it. You would not get into a fighting regiment aged over 30. Married Charles in 1932, left him in 1946.
Life in our regiment was never very basic. One of the greatest Balls in Wivenhoe Park was given during the war. We used to get parachutes in different colours, for the dance we got the parachute packing people to make them into curtains, these were draped all over the drawing room and dining room. The Farewell Dance was after the war, but the one where I met you was during the war. We all did flowers and decorations, the food was wonderful, lobsters and oysters and things from Mersea that weren’t on ration. We had a lot of people like Basil Bennett. Many of the officers had accounts with big wine merchants in the pre-war days and managed to get drink out of them. Nobody ever heard of us during the war. A lot of officers in the regiment were fairly influential. I came back with six barrels of wine from Italy, it was marked G10 98. The SAS people were the only people who threw parties, everybody came to our parties, from miles around from Suffolk, etc. Some drink brought back from Norway confiscated from the Germans. We had a marvellous band there, can’t remember where it was from. There were at least 200 there the house was absolutely packed