The trench like strips dug out by Brent council to sew the seeds for its wildflower bee corridor jogged my memory to an actual trench that was dug in the playing field opposite where I grew up.
Thurrock council got round to filling it in during the early 1960s. Until them it had been a set of undulations at the top of the slope that we used to run up and down and in and out of. Quite fun. It was a little way away from a terrifying piece of play equipment that was like a battering ran slung with chains onto a framework like an enormous swing that bigger kids would shove wildly backwards and forwards and tell dark tales of getting enough momentum to make it loop the loop. Luckily, no one was killed.
The trench had been there since 1938. During the Munich crisis everyone was expecting war to be imminent. The Luftwaffe bombing of Guernica the previous year during the Spanish Civil War was newly scorched into people’s anxieties through newsreels at the cinema. People would often go to the pictures several times a week and there were several cinemas – including the mighty “State” on George Street, with seating for 2 200 people a time. There was room for another 800 at the Empire just round the corner in the High Street and another 1 500 at the Regent on New Road. People experienced the shock of this news together, socially – not just in family groups in front of the telly as they might have done later, or individually through their mobile phone as they would now. Word got around. Directly. Everyone believed that “the bomber will always get through”.
In the absence of the plans or capacity to issue air raid shelters that were in place by the following year, the local council dug trenches in parks for people to shelter in. Local World War 1 veterans like my grandfather – who knew how to dig a trench from bitter experience – went with their garden spades to help out.
On first hearing about this – and not knowing that it was an air raid precaution – I had assumed that the trench had been dug as a military gesture. It was at the top of a slope up to our estate’s western horizon on Wallace Road – which was sufficiently close to keep sunsets cosily domestic enough not to be a place you’d want to ride off into – and therefore perfect for the Home Guard to put flanking fire into the side of any Wehrmacht division foolish enough to venture up Hathaway Road in search of Fish and Chips at the Modern.