Digging The Dump

One lasting but virtually invisible reminder of the American occupation at Birch is the ‘Dump’ or ‘Pit’. Prior to their departure, a huge hole was dug which was used for the disposal of all unwanted items from the airfield and living sites. It was easier to leave behind thousands of tons of food, supplies and equipment, rather than transport them overseas. Although not visible from the ground, the ‘dump’ can still be seen from the air today.

From The Air In The 90's
From The Air In The 90’s

“Some friends and I found several old aircraft fuel tanks dumped in a gravel pit which had been dug to supply the airfield during construction. On a hot summers day 1944, whilst using these as rafts on the water, we first noticed them digging. We heard the sound of machinery and then saw servicemen from the airfield were moving earth. This was the start of a huge hole, at least 100 feet long and 50 feet wide. We watched them secretly for several days and then one day a lorry pulled up tipping it’s load into the newly created dump. After they had gone, we walked over and looked at what had been thrown away. In there was everything you could imagine, tools and equipment, tons of bitumen felt and crates and crates of food. After examining our spoils, we started to take things. We dragged them home on a sledge we had made from a sheet of curved tin left over from the roof of a Nissen hut. We could have had the choice of everything and continued to do so if we hadn’t spread the news. Soon after, you can imagine people from villages all around were coming to pick stuff up. In no time at all, there was all sorts there, people with prams, horse and carts and tractor and trailers. Towards the end everyone was waiting for the lorry to arrive, and no sooner had it tipped it’s load people would jump in to get the best things. Some people even climbed on the back of the lorry to see what was on board. Having turned a blind eye until now, the soldiers realised it was getting too dangerous. The next time we went, there was an armed guard standing nearby. They told us a bomb had been found in the dump and we were not to come again. We later found out this story was made up to keep us away. Within days it was set on fire and then covered with a layer of earth. This still left it deep enough to use but now had a permanent guard to watch over it”

(Pat Adkins – Birch Schoolboy)

As each year passes, the sand and ballast pits at Stanway near Colchester creep westwards, ever closer to the dump on the old airfield. Perhaps in time, if the old pit meets new, it’s hidden secrets will be unearthed for all to see. Possibly discovering the things that were left behind after the day that ‘bomb’ was found.