VICTORY in Europe Day will see The Bravest Pier in the World launched as an interactive experience to show Southend’s key role in the Second World War.

Southend’s iconic pier played a huge role in the evacuation of Dunkirk, the protection of London and preparation for D-Day.

Now, a new interactive experience will reveal the story behind Southend Pier’s monumental role as “The Bravest Pier in the World”.

The event, HMS Leigh – The Bravest Pier in the World, is planned for the weekend of September 24 and will bring all ages together to celebrate the pier’s history.

The original event for the 75 Anniversary of VE Day was planned for May last year.

The interactive experience has been extended through to this year thanks to funding by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and help from Southend Council.

Visitors to the experience will be greeted by actors and actresses who will portray some of the characters from the Second World War in Southend.

The HMS Leigh team have gathered stories and made short films of some of the momentous events the pier was part of – which will be available from May 8.

They’ve also collected the histories of some of those who served on HMS Leigh, as the pier was called during the war.

Alastair Deacon, project officer for HMS Leigh, said: “The HMS Leigh Team has worked through the pandemic where many others have given up, we have adapted our plans to fit the circumstances.

“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, also known as Southend Pier, represents.

Throughout the war, the pier played a key role in the successful evacuation of Dunkirk, protecting London and preparing for D-Day.

The pier became a crucial mustering point for convoys and, over the course of the war, 3,367 convoys, comprising 84.297 vessels departed from HMS Leigh.

HMS Leigh also played a remarkable role in the defence of Britain as the 1.3 mile long pier was transformed into a naval shore base.

In 1939, the pier had its moment of glory when it became the Naval Control Centre for the Thames Estuary and was renamed HMS Leigh, with the surrounding shore named HMS Westcliff.

During the war, the pier gathered and dispatched food, fuel, munitions and men as it stood to supply London throughout the six year long battle.

The story told during the event is that of the people around Southend Pier from 1939 to 1945 and the tireless work they did to protect their community.

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 Second World War 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.”

Scott Dolling, director of culture, tourism and property at Southend Council, said: “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.”

Leigh councillor Beth Hooper has been working on the project.

She said: “It’s been an honour to do this project.

“My family were both impacted by the war.

“One of the characters we arelooking at is my grandmother.

“After wars, people stop talking about these things but the damage remains forever.

“Southend’s part in the war was huge. We were in the middle of the convoys and bombs.

“We were the entry to London and local people stepped up.

“I’ve been in tears several times because we’ve got the gift of understanding them and hearing their stories.”