1939 – 1945 During WW2 Coppice Camp is requisitioned to house six evacuated families from the East End of London.
1946 Christmas Karl Carter aged five visits Coppice for the first time with his family – Dad John (Mick) and Mum Miriam (Marie) (nee Morganstein – Morning Star in Yiddish). Karl’s parents are CPGB members from Dagenham Essex who met at the Battle of Cable Street.
They were visiting Coppice to attend a big gathering, advertised in the Daily Worker, to celebrate the re-opening of the camp after being requisitioned for six evacuated families in the war. A huge party was arranged for the children.
At this time there was no tent camping. The family stayed in huts for a four or five day event. Attendees pooled their ration coupons to buy food for the event.
Toilets were split trenches dug for the occasion.
1949 Karl aged eight went from Dagenham to Coppice on the back of his dad’s pushbike. Other trips would see the whole family going by bus and changing at Romford – in those days with a cattle and general market in the High Street. Ann Westbury (Now Ann Frost) remembers Romford market in her childhood with cattle being driven down the High Street.
Karl’s memories of the arrangements are understandably vague.
Miss Crisp lived in one of the bungalows in front of the hut. She may have held the keys.
Percy – a man from the village – had a pony and trap and Karl remembers the small children being taken on rides round village. Percy also carried out odd jobs at the Camp. He battled constantly with the smoking chimney of the hut. That chimney would give trouble till the camp closed
Karl also remembers in the early days an Austrian or Germany blonde young lady who would strip naked and wash outside in cold water much to the delight of male comrades who were momentarily distracted from the both the class struggle and building the toilets. Who she was or why she was there isn’t clear.
On at least one occasion a group from the camp walked to a flooded gravel pit on the Ongar Road just a short distance from Coppice. The young Karl unable to swim slipped from a floating platform and was rescued by two comrades Eddie Sells and Pete Tuffin.
Less than five years later that flooded gravel pit had become the location of Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker.
1952 -53 Kelvedon Hatch Top Secret Nuclear Bunker is built less than two miles from Coppice Camp. It is part of a chain of Regional Seats of Government although later it became the Secret location for the Cabinet. Today you can visit the bunker and learn a great deal about its history as an important part of Britain’s Cold War preparations.
Over the years from the early 1950’s around the Coppice camp fire one or two crazy individuals start to talk about a secret underground installation just up the road. More sensible comrades know they are talking complete bollocks. And they say so.
Those discussions will go on for decades as more and more the Ban-the-Bomb movement became more important in Camper’s Lives. Communist led or influenced CND, YCND and other peace groups were seen at Coppice.
1955 Karl Carter joins the YCL aged 14 in Dagenham. South Essex YCL and individual branches organise education classes at Coppice over many weekends. Comrades slept in the hut on straw stuffed palliasses.
Women and children slept on the stage behind the curtains. Toilets were Elsan bucket and chuck-it in two post war corrugated iron sheds.
Some comrades left early to avoid toilet emptying duties Karl remembered.
1958 Eddie Adams first attended Coppice Camp with a socialist theatre group called the Hackney Progressive Players. They were at the camp preparing for their visit to the 1959 7th World Festival of Youth and Students in Vienna.
The leader of the group was Sylvia Young who went on to run the well known theatre schools with students like Amy Winehouse, Emma Bunton, and Billy Piper. Eddie met his first wife Vivienne in the group.
1959 Ken Keable’s (below) own memories of Coppice started when he joined the YCL.
He attended a course of political education at Coppice. Subsequently he attended a number of YCL events there over a period of years. Ken remembers a lot of singing – folk songs and protest or political songs. “Sometimes we slept in tents and sometimes on the floor of the hut. The hut had a stage at one end and a kitchen at the other, and many meetings and social events were held in the hut. I think there was a lot of bedding and other equipment stored beneath the stage. There were other, smaller huts, used for sleeping and or storage. These huts had bunks.”
1962 Prior to 1962 Doc Cullen allowed various left and progressive organisations to use the camp and hut for recreational and educational purposes.
Doc Cullen himself had his own smaller hut on site in which stayed but apart from this he seems to have had little to do with the running of the camp.
Karl Carter believes bookings and simple administration might have been handled by the South East Essex District of the CPGB from their office in Ley Street, Ilford.
At various times full timers there included Dave Kelly, Kevin Halpin, Charlie Brewster, John Williamson and Bob Shannon. Williamson was an American imprisoned in his home country in the McCarthy witch-hunts.
It may be that the camp was run by, but not owned by, the Coppice Camping Club. Bob Shannon became Secretary of the Coppice Camping Club which managed the site and tried to improve the facilities including a project to build proper toilets.