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Thames in the front line of war

PUBLISHED: 17:34 08 December 2008 | UPDATED: 09:10 11 August 2010

FROM the Roman Empire to the horrors of the Blitz, the River Thames has never been a stranger to conflict. Its position as the main route into the heart of London has always attracted the attentions of attacking and defending armies alike. No surprise t

FROM the Roman Empire to the horrors of the Blitz, the River Thames has never been a stranger to conflict.

Its position as the main route into the heart of London has always attracted the attentions of attacking and defending armies alike.

No surprise then that Barking and Dagenham author, Michael Foley has chosen this subject for his 6th published book.

Front Line Thames takes a close look at the river's military heritage, from its source in the rolling fields near Cirencester to its mouth in the murky waters off Southend.

Mr Foley, 53, of Gorseway, Rush Green, said: "I've done Front Line Essex and Front Line Kent, and they both took in things along the Thames. The more I found out about it the more interested I became.

"I was especially drawn to the history of the forts at this end of London, but a lot of things happened that I didn't know about.

"There were a lot of battles next to the Thames during the Civil War for example."

There is more than enough local interest in the book to keep the Barking and Dagenham reader entertained.

An early occasion when the Thames didn't do any favours for Barking came in AD 870 when Viking invaders sailed up the river and attacked Barking Abbey.

They massacred all the inhabitants and burnt the buildings to the ground, leaving them in ruins for a century until they were rebuilt.

Further back the River Roding was used by armies, including the Romans, to travel to the ancient hill fort at Uphall.

It was also used to transport English Oak timber from Hainault Forest to be turned into warships at Deptford and Woolwich Royal Docks.

Dagenham might not have a pedigree as a ship building town, but it got a taste of it in 1911.

The giant warship HMS Thunderer was built at Thames Ironworks in Canning Town, but was moved to Dagenham to be fitted out because there was nowhere else big enough for it to berth.

Thunderer's career was not a happy one - it was sunk at the Battle of Jutland, and Thames Ironworks went bankrupt after building her.

Nevertheless, Dagenham's Thunderer Jetty and Thunderer Road still bear her name.

During the Second World War Dagenham Dock played a crucial role in the war effort when it was used for the evacuation of thousands of children.

And three tugs from the docks, the Prince, the Princess and the Duke went to Dunkirk to evacuate the British army. Only the Duke made it to France and back again.

One of the first dogfights of the Second World War took place in the skies above Barking.

The notorious Battle of Barking Creek featured an early example of what would today be called friendly fire.

Spitfire pilots from Hornchurch mistakenly attacked Hurricanes from North Weald, and two were shot down.

Pilot Officer M.L. Hutton-Harrop became the first British airman to be killed in the conflict.

Mr Foley and his wife Anne-Marie gave up their teaching careers six years ago to care for their disabled twin grandchildren.

It is since then that his writing career has really taken off. On top of the six published works already under his belt two more are due to follow before the new year.

More Front Line Essex is the follow-up to his popular Front Line Essex, and is due out very soon. Another book about prisoners of war should follow around Christmas time.

Mr Foley, a season ticket holder at Dagenham and Redbridge FC, has also written a novel, numerous short stories, and a book about his experiences caring for disabled children.

* Front Line Thames is published by The History Press and is available now at £12.99.


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