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HMS Leigh – The Bravest Pier in the World
This Victory in Europe Day in 2021, Blade Education will be launching The Bravest Pier in the World, an interactive experience that will reveal how Southend Pier was key to the success of the evacuation of Dunkirk, the protection of London, the saving of the convoys and the massive role it played in preparations for D-Day.
Southend Pier is an icon with a past, a true survivor with an incredible history that makes it the perfect backdrop to bring all ages together to revel in the crucial part it played in WW2 where it became the Guardian of the Thames. Southend Pier has always been a wonderful community space and in September 1939 it became the Naval Control Centre for the Thames Estuary and was renamed HMS Leigh with surrounding areas becoming HMS Westcliff. It was a crucial mustering point for convoys and over the course of the war 3,367 convoys, comprising 84,297 vessels departed from HMS Leigh.
The original event, planned in May 2020 was for the 75th Anniversary of VE Day to bring all ages together to celebrate this amazing piece of history, as well as bringing to life through veterans, researchers, actors and exhibitions the exhilaration and sadness that came with the declaration of peace.
We are very excited to be able to announce that thanks to National Lottery players, through funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and help from project partners Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, the HMS Leigh project has been able to secure an exciting extension to the project so that we can bring a live event to the whole community in September 2021.
Planned for the weekend of 24th September 2021, we are calling our event HMS Leigh – The Bravest Pier in the world – in recognition of the amazing story of how the 1.3mile Southend Pier was transformed into a Naval Shore Base that gathered and dispatched men, munitions, fuel, food and everything that kept a besieged London and the war effort of the armed forces fed, watered and supplied for the 6 long years of WW2.
The story of HMS Leigh is the story of the people and events around Southend Pier from 1939 to 1945. This was a time of everyday heroes and heroines who worked tirelessly to protect the community they were proud to be a part of and the families they loved. HMS Leigh was the departure point for thousands of convoys during WW2 and played a truly remarkable role in the defence of Britain.
For VE76 we have actors and actresses portraying some of the brilliant characters from WW2 Southend, and ©Blade Education 2020 Blade Education (Ltd) is a company limited by guarantee and registered in England and Wales. Registered address: 43, SS9 3DT. VAT registered in England. the HMS Leigh Team have been working to gather the stories and make short films of some of the momentous events in which HMS Leigh was integral.
The HMS Leigh Team has been working hard to gather the histories of those that served on HMS Leigh to bring you a VE76 experience – The Bravest Pier in the World - that is individual to each viewer who takes part. Also available on May 8th will be all the films and archive the HMS Leigh Project has been able to gather and been kindly donated by community members.
HMS Leigh will also be able to support those who are recovering from lockdown to find a way to reconnect, while having fun remembering those who made it through another terrible crisis in 1939-1945.
The Project Officer for HMS Leigh, Alastair Deacon is very proud of what HMS Leigh has achieved so far. “The HMS Leigh Team has worked through the pandemic where many others have given up, we have adapted our plans to fit the circumstances and achieved an event reach of over 120,000 at VE75. We are online again for VE76 and are bringing to life the people of WW2 Southend, but the highlight of our year will be September 2021 where, fate willing, HMS Leigh – The Bravest Pier in the world – will bring together the whole community to share with us the amazing heritage that HMS Leigh aka Southend Pier represents.”
Gemma Cartwright Fundraising Chair of Southend RNLI said: Southend RNLI are delighted and excited to be part of the HMS Leigh activities. The Southend RNLI have two stations, one at each end of the pier, making it critical for our operations. There has been a lifeboat station in Southend longer than there has been a pier and we are incredibly proud of all our volunteer crew both past and present. The WW2 lifeboat, ‘The Greater London’, was one of the 19 lifeboats of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution that went to Dunkirk at the end of May 1945, to help to bring off the British Expeditionary Force. We are grateful to the HMS Leigh team for their support to our station and look forward to being part of plans later in the year. If you would like to find out more about our station and its history visit https://rnli.org/find-my-nearest/lifeboat-stations/southend-on-sea-lifeboat-station/station- history-southend-on-sea.
Scott Dolling, Direct of Culture, Tourism and Property: “We are delighted to see the continuing benefits of this project for Southend. We are proud to host the world’s longest pleasure pier in our borough and now also to be able to celebrate this history that shows it as the world’s bravest pier.”