Brightlingsea is probably best known today for its brilliant floral displays which over the past 20 years has seen the Colneside town win 43 major national and regional awards.

From entering the outskirts, at the top of the hill from Thorrington, by the historic All Saints’ Church, all the way into Victoria Place in the town centre there is a kaleidoscope of flowers with further displays in other locations.

It is worth visiting Brightlingsea just to see the colourful extravaganza.

Amongst other reasons is the museum which chronicles life over the centuries from when it was a Roman settlement at a time when Brightlingsea was an island, the arrival of the railway 150 years ago in 1866, boat and ship-building, oyster fisheries, its wide-ranging maritime history, and the town’s role in two world wars.

Sadly, the oyster fisheries are not what they were in their Victorian heyday, the railway closed in 1964, and not many boats are now built in the town.

My visit to Brightlingsea Museum was prompted by the announcement it has just opened a special exhibition to commemorate the 100th anniversary of when hundreds of Australian and New Zealand soldiers were based in the town (population then 4,500) at any one time during the First World War.

In total, around 10,000 trained locally for periods of two to three months between 1916 and 1918.

The attraction of Brightlingsea for the ANZACs – Australian and New Zealand Army Corps – was that its terrain, with soft mud and tidal creeks, was an ideal training area for engineers in bridge building and trench digging for when they were deployed to the Western Front in Belgium and France.

During the summer months the soldiers camped on the recreation ground, but in the winter they were billeted in people’s homes. Troop movements in and out of Brightlingsea were by train, the single track hugging the bank of the River Colne to Wivenhoe.

The volunteers who run the museum have put on an impressive display of artefacts of the “friendly invasion” from the Southern Hemisphere which led to more than 30 local girls marrying Australians and New Zealanders, most of whom emigrated although a few soldiers remained here with their brides.

I hope this display becomes a permanent feature, making Brightlingsea a place for Australian and New Zealand tourists to visit.

In addition to the exhibition, the town will pay further tribute to its ANZAC heritage starting on Thursday June 16 with a talk by Julian Foynes who is author of The Australians at Brightlingsea. This is at 7.30pm in the Parish Room. Tickets at £2 are available from the museum by calling 01206 303286.

There are other events on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday, including a carnival with an Australian/New Zealand theme and a service at the war memorial. Details at

Brightlingsea Museum, which opened in 1989, is located at 1 Duke Street in the former Reading Room of the James Aldous Charity. It is open three days each week until the last weekend in September – Saturdays 10am to 4pm, Sundays and Mondays 2pm to 5pm. Admission is free. There are exciting plans to move next year to the former Police Station.

The ANZAC story is not the only surprise I have come across.

The museum has photographs which confirm that in 1952 a young actress spent her (first) honeymoon in Brightlingsea.

She was the future internationally famous film star Joan Collins who, aged 19, had recently married film actor Maxwell Reed aged 34. They arrived on his yacht Seawitch.

Local memories are that the couple stayed at the Royal Hotel, now converted into flats, in New Street. They divorced in 1956.