World War Two Decoys

Circles of Light

Site of Circle of Light, North Benfleet
From the collection of Peter Watts
Newspaper cutting, January 15th 2002
Essex Weekly News
Remains of a Circle of Light, North Fambridge 28th January 2009
From the collection of Peter Watts
Remains of a Circle of Light, North Fambridge 28th January 2009
From the collection of Peter Watts
Remains of a Circle of Light, North Fambridge 28th January 2009
From the collection of Peter Watts
Mr Hoad of Pound Lane, North Benfleet with a Circle of Light in the background c. 1939-40
From the collection of John Wernham

An enormous floodlight

I have read and listened with great interest to Mr Bertie Bardell’s stories in the ‘People’ section of the ’Benfleet Community Archive’  (Bertie Bardell’s Memories of Benfleet) and was particularly interested in his recorded account of what he describes as a form of searchlight being constructed in the South Benfleet area “Top of Birches Road” very early during WW2.  To this day Mr Bardell still wonders about the real purpose of the unusual looking ‘Searchlight’.  He describes it as “Being like a huge green circular greenhouse and an enormous flood light!” (Bertie is of the opinion that the huge floodlight was possibly a device to illuminate German parachutists descending at night).

A flood of responses

This subject is of particular interest to me, as on the 15th January 2002 and in the Essex Weekly News a Mr Charles Stock of 74 Longstomps Avenue put in a plea in the Chelmsford Weekly News to find out more about the mysterious WW2 “Circles of Light!”   His appeal resulted in a flood of responses with most people replying that they thought the “Circles of Light” were designed to “Dazzle enemy Pilots”, were “Death Ray” devices, “Searchlights to highlight German parachutists” etc.  It seems, to date, neither the Defence Department or anyone has been able to say precisely what these “Circles of Light” were.

A renewed interest

It so happens that years later (2009) a Mr John Archer wrote a follow-up story to the Echo newspaper and told of his own experiences of what he also described as “Circle of Lights”.
Mr Archer sent the ‘Echo’ photos of a relic of one of the subject devices situated in the Kitts Hill, North Fambridge area showing what was left of one of them.  In response to a letter I wrote to Mr Archer at that time he said he had received seventy-five letters but not one of the respondents had any idea of the true function of these “Circles of Light”.

In the past three years I have twice been in contact with Mr Archer since he wrote to the ‘Echo’, (I live in Queensland, Australia) and we have shared correspondence about this most interesting subject.  We have both discovered that in spite of intensive enquiries neither of us has been able to discover the true reason for these devices.

My thoughts on the mystery

My own story and considered opinion is as follows:

During 1939 until 1944 I lived at 4 Hall Cottages at the intersection of Hall Road/Pound Lane North Benfleet.  I attended the North Benfleet Primary School.
In late 1939-40 on my way home from school I observed numerous lorries depositing  large amounts of corrugated iron into a field opposite our Pound Lane home where shortly afterwards the corrugated iron sheets were erected forming a large circle approximately 150 feet diameter and nine feet high.  The sides of the structure were vertical but the mirrored centre was concaved similar to the inside of a basin.  A few days later I saw more lorries delivering hundreds of boxes of extremely large ‘OSRAM’ light globes such as are used today in warehouses. A sentry was on duty the whole time and I was promptly told to “Clear off”.

At that time North Benfleet could best be described as a ‘Hamlet’ and with very few people living in close proximity.  Shortly afterwards I saw other such structures being built, two of them in an unmade road called ‘The Wick’ near Wickford.  Rumours as to what these structures represented were exactly the same as those cited by both Mr Charles Stock and John Archer.

Sufficient light to read a newspaper

I cannot give a precise date, but after the ‘Circle of Light’ was completed in the large paddock opposite our home it was switched on very late one night and bathed the whole district with sufficient light as to permit one to easily read a newspaper.  It remained on for about half an hour and was then switched off.  A short time afterwards the area was subjected to quite heavy bombing.

This happened on at least four times over a period of weeks until suddenly the lorries returned, dismantled all of the ‘Circles of Light’ in the area and took them away!

I have made exhaustive enquiries regarding these devices especially by use of the internet but can find no information other than that numerous forms of ‘Decoys’ were used during the early part of WW2.

Enemy aircraft overhead

My own conclusions are that these devices were simply another form of ‘Decoy’ whereby approaching enemy aircraft would, through normally low cloud cover, (and with poor navigational devices in use those days), perceive the region below them to be briefly illuminated, then, because of those below becoming aware of enemy aircraft overhead, the area was suddenly ‘Blacked out!’ causing the navigators to think they were over London itself.

They therefore dropped their bombs and returned home.

Undoubtedly, German intelligence would later realize that ‘Decoys’ were being used hence the subsequent removal of the ‘Circles of Light’.

A piece of history

The old chap in the monochrome photo was our neighbour Mr Hoad.  He lived in a tiny house, called ‘Dulce Doman’, next door to us in Pound Lane.  This is the only photo I know of that shows a ‘Circle of Light’ quite clearly in the background.  To me this photo is quite important, especially as I have yet to see an actual photo of one of the devices ‘in-situ’ and it therefore becomes a real piece of history.

I should also say that the small brick building you see in the photo is NOT a house, it is a very small building which was the first automatic telephone exchange in the North Benfleet district.  Prior to that a manual exchange was to be found in a tiny general store cum Post Office situated in Burnt Mills Road about a hundred yards from the intersection with Pound Lane. The store was owned by a Mrs Crick who operated the switchboard and would literally plug-in when callers wished to be connected.

Comments about this page

Add your own comment

  • Unfortunately it seems you contributers have supplied information wich is incorrect, I have studied WW2 decoys and the circles of light in great detail, although there is no official statement on what their purpose was, from the limited information I have gleaned. I can say with certainty they were not any type of decoy.

    By David jackson (31/12/2016)
  • Whilst researching in Little Waltham Essex 1940 I have come in contact with a villager who was there at the time.
    In conversation he asked if I was familiar with The Circle of Light to which I professed my ignorance.
    He went on to describe mirrors 40 Feet in diameter formed in 12 segments with a light at each junction around the perimeter.
    He thought they were manufactured by local Chelmsford firms Crompton’s and Christies.
    He named seven locations and said there were others spread over a large area, they were set up to be used simultaneously.
    The idea was that they would light up the whole sky, lighting up German Bombers and blind their downward vision, they would be observed by British fighters flying at a higher altitude who would then attack.
    What had not been taken into consideration was the cloud cover, so in effect the light was reflected downwards lighting up the countryside and helping the Germans find their targets.
    They were only used on two occasions, my contact can remember running out of his house and the whole village turning out as Little Waltham was lit up like daylight.
    The trials proved unsuccessful and the mirrors were scrapped. 

    By Bryan Burnikell (17/11/2016)

Add a comment about this page

Your email address will not be published.