“Letspretendia” was the name coined by Edgar Wallace, the British writer that at the time was war correspondent, for the combined manoeuvres at Clacton and Little Holland in 1904, and they could well have prompted Gilbert and Sullivan to produce a new comic opera had they still been in business.
Six years previously, in 1898, HRH the Duke of Connaught, accompanied by a handful of staff officers, had descended on the Royal Hotel in Clacton, and then proceeded by train to Colchester in the wake of an imaginary invasion. During the succeeding interval British troops had been otherwise occupied in South Africa; Erskine Childers had written a novel describing a German landing in Essex – ‘The Riddle of the Sands’; and the Entente Cordiale was the latest in the series of diplomatic moves to precede the war.
On a sunny day in September 1904, with the sea as a backcloth and the horizon lined with troopships and escorting cruisers, a typical holiday crowd were scattered on the beaches, Edwardian families with numerous offspring, with an accompaniment of seaside vendors and minstrels strumming appropriate music.
Suddenly the harmony was disturbed by an armada of landing craft, extending in a great wave all along the coast to Little Holland, which crunched on the shingle and disgorged hundreds of soldiers staggering under their equipment and in some discomfort after their ordeal at sea. With them were guns and transport wagons, and such horses as had not stamped into the New Forest rather than embark from Southampton.
The story of the manoeuvres that followed was fully told in the newspapers and journals of the time and has often been repeated since. It was a serious business but there were Gilbertian incidents. HRH The Duke of Connaught was back again, on this occasion as umpire, but he had his family with him and they preferred the more select atmosphere of Frinton; however The Duchess and family would attend Holland Gap to watch the activities. General Sir John French, Colonel Edmund Allenby, General Robert Baden-Powell, and other distinguished generals were on the scene, and foreign attachés proceeding hither and thither in primitive motor cars, among them von der Schulenberg the eye of the German High Command.
The invaders thought they were successful but officially they were close to annihilation! The exercise finished in bad weather, a stormy re-embarkation, and wrecked transport strewn along the beach.
Among the many spectators was David Cripps Preston, hopeful of developing his seaside estate at Little Holland. Priding himself on his associations with royalty, he erected an obelisk the following year, on the clifftop, recording the presence there of the Connaught family; much to the amusement of the satirical magazine ‘Punch’. Having later disappeared, the memorial was replaced in 1971, during the Clacton centenary, to remind posterity of “Letspretendia”.
The write Edgar Wallace, who coined the name “Letspretendia” had, in his earlier days, stayed in Clacton, at the Grove, the road just behind the Town Hall, when he gained temporary work in the building trade.