Articles tagged with: WW2

Happy Memories of the Royal School at Longleat

on Friday, 19 June 2020. Posted in Schools, Wiltshire Places

Since 1994 I have organised an annual village reunion in Horningsham, attended by residents past and present. Each year has a theme and an accompanying display, using material lent to me by the people who attend. In 2008 I was lucky enough to be given a photograph taken in 1947 showing all the pupils, teachers and those employed to look after the school. I was also fortunate enough to be put in touch with a lady living in Warminster who was a pupil there. Along with seven friends, she was able to give me a lot of help and they all came to the reunion. Here are some memories of Elizabeth Fosbroke-Hobbes and Vivienne Bateman-Champain (maiden names).

The Royal School for daughters of officers of the army was founded in 1864 at Lansdown on the outskirts of Bath. The school's mission was to provide practical and religious education for the daughters of army officers who might otherwise be unable to afford it. In 1939 the school was warned that it might be requisitioned, and in early September the Admiralty's Hydrographic Department took over the Lansdown premises. Fortunately, Lord Bath had heard that the school was looking for a temporary home and offered them Longleat. On 29th September, the pupils boarded a train to Frome, not knowing that it would be eight years before they returned to Bath.

Royal School pupils at Longleat

Elizabeth takes up the story: “The new girls arrived at Frome station. Those of us who were aged 14 or over had to walk to Longleat. I remember it was a very wet night and we were faced with a five-mile walk! The younger girls and the ‘first night’ suitcases went to Longleat in a bus.”

Many of the girls in the bus did not know what Longleat looked like. As they passed through the stone archway and between the double avenue of trees they fell silent for a moment. There before them stood Longleat, rectangular, symmetrical and immensely dignified, looming up in the dusk. When they trooped into the hall and up the front stairs they were abashed by the imposing portraits; they found themselves whispering. They followed large cardboard arrows painted in House colours and sorted themselves out into dormitories. Every available room upstairs was filled with beds, from the thirty ranged under the painted ceiling of the Salon to the six or seven in the smaller bedrooms. 1

Elizabeth’s bed was underneath the enormous Adam fireplace in the Salon, overshadowed by a very large statue of Hercules in marble. It was very scary in the moonlight! She remembers that in the beginning, Longleat was not on the main electricity grid, and had its own generator. The supply became weak in the afternoons and evenings. When the girls had lessons and prep the candles were lit down the dining room table. They sat round the table and the teachers read from text books as the pupils tried to write in semi-darkness.

Elizabeth was one of a team of girls who were fire fighters. “Sixteen girls were chosen for this task (I was one of them), who it was considered were not likely to become hysterical. When the ‘Green Alert’ went up in Bath, the two ARP wardens on the roof of the House rang a bell. The school all went down to the cellars except us, who had to stand at our fire stations in the various corridors in the House. We were in pairs and had a water cart and a stirrup pump, waiting for the bombs and the incendiary bombs! Although we had several ‘dog fights’ over the House and grounds fortunately there were no bombs.

“We had training sessions with the stirrup pumps and one day I hit the PE mistress (who was in charge of the firefighting gang) with the hose water. She was not amused and allocated me the spookiest area as my station. This was the south corridor at the top of the House, which was supposedly haunted. This was my punishment!”

Food was of course very important to growing girls and Vivienne vividly remembers what they were given! “Our main cooked meal was at lunch time and was eaten in one of the three dining rooms. I still remember the menu, which never changed! Sunday was a roast, Monday grated vegetables. On Tuesday we had shepherd’s pie and Wednesday was stew. I don’t remember Thursday, but Friday was fish and Saturday cold meat.

“Every day we had a pudding, usually treacle or currant. Each dining room also had an extra rice pudding. Unfortunately, there was only enough for one table, so your turn didn’t come around very often! Saturday tea was eaten in the cellars and we were served by the senior girls. We had bread and margarine with pilchards, followed by bread and treacle – all on the same plate!”

The arrival of the School also brought change for the village of Horningsham, as there were opportunities for employment, particularly women. Lionel Marsh and his mother both found work at the school. “I can remember singing in the church choir when the Royal School girls used to attend the church morning service in Horningsham. The church always seemed to be full of them. From what I can remember, they used to walk to and from church along the footpath from just above the Longleat Lodge gates, past the front of Mill Farm, and joined the main road above the almshouses.

“My mother used to work for the School. Most of the time she rode her bicycle, but sometimes she would walk there and back, along White St and across the Park. Sometimes she would carry home a fire wood limb on her head.

“I also worked at the School in the evenings. My job was to load the dirty crockery on to a four-wheeled trolley and to take it in the lift down to the washing up room. Here the women from the village used to load the crockery into metal containers which were then passed through a washing machine. Six school girls did the drying up. I then took the crockery back upstairs to the maids, who returned it to the dining rooms. I was paid 2s 6d for around two hours work each evening. I did this job until I was called up for National Service in August 1946.”

Lord Bath enjoyed sharing his home. Only a couple of months after the School’s arrival he wrote to the headmistress: “I am quite honest that I am enjoying every moment. It is twenty-five years since I had children running about the house. I have enjoyed my life even when alone, but I never realised how lonely I have been, and I love hearing the children all over the place – in fact I keep my door open on purpose.”  When a girl celebrated her birthday, a slice of cake was always given to Lord Bath. It was therefore a huge shock when he died suddenly on 9th June 1946. For two days he lay in state in the Great Hall. The day of his funeral the girls in their blue capes with red-lined hoods formed a guard of honour on the steps while men from the Estate carried the cedar coffin down between their ranks.2

The Royal School remained at Longleat for another year, finally leaving on 30th July 1947. It was time to return home to Bath, leaving the 6th Marquess of Bath able to take full possession of his home.

Helen Taylor, Senior Community History Advisor

1 and 2. H Osborne,  A History of the Royal School for Daughters of Officers of the Army 1864-1965.

Christmas Behind the Wire

on Saturday, 16 December 2017. Posted in Archives, Military

George Sweetman’s Diaries, 1942-1945 (3560/10/22/2)

When we think of the Second World War, we often think of the Home Front or the front lines, Dunkirk and D-Day. It’s much less often that we think of those who spent their time behind enemy lines as prisoners of war. As I was looking through the archive catalogue recently I came across an entry for Trooper George Sweetman, of the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry, whose diary recounts his time as a PoW. As we get close to Christmas and begin to think of spending time with our family and friends, I thought about what life must have been like for men like George at this time of year as prisoners of a hostile nation so far from home. George’s diary gives us a fascinating insight into the lives and emotions of captured British soldiers, how their morale ebbed and flowed with the course of the war, and how important Christmas was to their wellbeing.

On 2 November 1942 George’s unit went into action in North Africa, as part of Operation Supercharge, part of the Second Battle of El Alamein. The Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry, operating within the 9th Armoured Brigade, lost a large number of tanks during the action, partly as a result of a counterattack led by the 21st Panzer Division. In his diary, George recorded the action: “Went into action at dawn. B Sqd. first in, one shot up A.T.G [anti-tank guns], lorries & tanks, & then Jerries’ main armoured force came & a big fight started”, and his unit took heavy casualties.“We lost B Sqd., lost all our tanks, we got wiped out.” George was taken Prisoner of War (PoW) during this action, and was to spend the rest of the war in a PoW camp.
 
From El Alamein George was taken through Egypt to Libya and from there he and other PoWs were shipped to Greece and onwards to Italy, arriving in southern Italy on 22 November 1942. The prisoners’ journey was far from easy. The day after his capture George’s convoy was attacked by the RAF: “coming up the Mersa road from Darla we got bombed and machine gunned to hell with our own planes. Several of our mates got wounded & one got blown to bits. A hell of a day that was”. Relative to what was to come in the last years of the war conditions in the Italian camps were fairly good, though life there was apparently rather boring. The prisoners’ main complaint was about the quantity and quality of the food, which came to a head in George’s first Christmas behind the wire.

Trooper George Sweetman (3560/10/22/2)

As you might expect for men held prisoner in a foreign, enemy, country there wasn’t much in the way of a build up to Christmas in the camp. In fact even Christmas cards were a luxury: there weren’t enough available for each man to send one home, and the prisoners had to draw lots to see who would be given a card. Luckily for George he won one, and sent it home on the 8th of December. Post to and from the camps during the war was slow, and George would not receive his first letter from home until March 1943. Apart from this there do not seem to have been any Christmas activities in the camp until Christmas Eve which was, for George and the others, a disappointment: after sports in the morning and afternoon, “we had a meat meal in evening. We had a concert in our hut in the evening it was very good, finished with a blind boxing match so that ended Xmas eve, of course we missed the beer and food. Just went to bed”.

If anything, Christmas Day was an even greater disappointment. Throughout the war the Red Cross distributed parcels to PoWs containing food, tobacco and hygiene items. The parcels were meant to supplement the rations that PoWs received in the camps which were usually insufficient in terms of both calories and nutrients. The parcels often came infrequently due to the circumstances of the war, but when they did arrive they were the highlight of the men’s week. Even more than these deliveries, though, the men hoped for one particular parcel. Every year at Christmas the Red Cross delivered Christmas dinner in a parcel to the PoWs, including everything from Christmas pudding to chocolate and sweets. Unfortunately for George and the other prisoners, in December 1942 their Christmas parcel never arrived.

On Christmas Day the men woke early and made a cup of tea, allowing themselves a ration of 2 or 3 biscuits from their remaining ordinary Red Cross parcel. After finishing this the day continued much as any other, with a parade and count of the prisoners, followed by a church service at 9 o’clock and the standard lunch ration “just the same as any other day”. In his usual understated style George simply recorded in his diary “The Red Cross Xmas parcel which we expected never turned up, a great disappointment”. In the afternoon the men received a small Christmas gift from their Italian captors: one orange for each prisoner. Later, it started to rain. At 4pm the men had their ordinary hot meal, with no Christmas extras. After a “sing song” in the evening their Christmas ended. George’s diary reveals his bitter disappointment: “and so to bed hungry & that was how we spent Christmas Day 1942 in our P.O.W. camp. I thought of home, all the good food. That’s all we think about hear [sic] is food”. Morale in the camps was often low, a consequence of having little to do but sit and think, and the missing Christmas parcel crushed the men’s spirits. This continued into Boxing Day – it rained constantly, and the men were forced to sit in their huts all day, with the same standard food ration that they had on any other day. George simply recorded in his diary “and so to bed, that was Boxing Day and Christmas once again over. Wonder where we shall be next Christmas”.

Over the next week life went on as normal until, in the New Year, a rumour ran round the camp that the Christmas parcels had arrived. On Monday 3 January George recorded in his diary “the tale was true – some Xmas parcels had come in but not enough for one each, so we are keeping them till Wednesday in case some more come in … Roll on Wednesday”. By Wednesday the missing parcels had still not come in, so the men had to share one between two. George copied the contents of his parcel into his diary:

Contents of George’s Christmas 1942 Red Cross parcel (3560/10/22/3)

Quite a feast for men used to one hot meal a day, which was often a ‘soup’ of a small amount of vegetables in water; by April 1945, when George was imprisoned in Germany, it was a distant luxury. In 1943, though, the men made sure to savour their good fortune. “We had our Xmas pudding hot”, George wrote in his diary, with “jam & Nestlé’s milk after it”, with an apple given to them by the Italians to mark Epiphany. Compared to his mood on Christmas Day, George was ecstatic: “this is my happiest day since P.O.W. the best food I had … a good day”. The next day the men finished off the remainder of their Christmas parcel, eating their cake, marmalade, butter, and beef & tomato pudding.

In The Line Of Fire – Wiltshire’s Role During German Air Raids

on Tuesday, 11 July 2017. Posted in Archives, Military

One of the documents in the Wiltshire Constabulary archives held here at the History Centre includes the Wartime Police Control Room Log (F5/270/2) which was used during 1944 and 1945. The Wiltshire Police Control Room was based at Devizes Headquarters and was and still is the central hub of communications for the force. At that time, the Devizes police station was in Bath Road. The new police HQ was built in 1964 and was a considerably larger building.

The log book not only registered downed aircraft, but firing practices, air raid warnings, evacuee arrivals and other war related incidences.

F5/270/2

I have looked at two individual incidents which were logged in March and April 1944. Both incidents involved crashed German aircraft, I’ve added extra detail which I have found archived elsewhere. The first incident happened on March 14th 1944.

14/3/1944 2345 hours; initial reports of a plane crash about halfway between Alton Barnes and Devizes reported to Marlborough Police by an Orderly Sergeant at RAF Alton Barnes.

2355 Inspector Shears is dispatched to All Cannings as crash believed to be in vicinity.

15/03/1944 0100 confirmed that a plane, believed to be a German aircraft had crashed in a field adjacent to the canal at All Cannings. The plane had burnt out and bombs were in the field. They were unable to say if occupants were trapped. The RAF was guarding the scene and an Ambulance was en route from Devizes.

0120 Confirmation received that the aircraft was a German one with twin engines, model unknown at this stage. There was no trace of any crew ‘but feared from odour and fierceness of conflagration they have been trapped inside.’

0420 aircraft was identified by flight Lieutenant Rickitto as a J.U.88. (This aircraft a Junkers 88 no. 141152 was part of the Luftwaffe which had blitzed London that night. The crew had had specific orders to bomb Buckingham Palace and Whitehall. The plane had been pursued westerly out of London and experienced engine failure as it reached Wiltshire.)

Junkers 88 (Used with kind permission of The Battle of Britain Historical Society)

0710 Major Hailey US forces at Tidworth reported that he had a German airman in custody. The prisoner had supplied descriptions of three other crewmen who had bailed out at the same time. RAF Lieutenant Ricketts (Interrogation Officer) requested that the prisoner be brought to Devizes Police Station for interrogation.

Two other German crew members were detained; one in Patney and the other in Bulford. Both were taken into custody in Devizes.

16/3/1944 1745 the body of the missing airman, the last of the crew, was found in a field in Patney, about 1 and a half miles from the crash scene. A parachute was attached to the body. (German Officer Unteroffizier Hans Schonleitner was buried at Haycombe Cemetery in Bath- local schoolchildren had found his body with a partially opened parachute).

There is a full narrative of that fateful flight on http://indianamilitary.org/ by the surviving tailgunner on board, Gerhard Grunewald (he was subsequently interred as a POW in America).

History's 'Hidden Wealth'

on Wednesday, 08 March 2017. Posted in Archives, Wiltshire People

Since joining the team at Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre as a ‘Transforming Archives Trainee’ with The National Archives, life has certainly been full! Over the last 5 months I’ve been involved in several HLF funded projects, completed a university module on Education and Outreach, have undertaken various in-house training sessions on traditional archive skills, as well as attending training conferences in London, Bristol, Manchester, Warwickshire, Gloucester and Dorset. In a few weeks I’ll be off to Edinburgh for another ‘basecamp’ week, training with The National Archives and Scottish Council on Archives. How time has flown!

Something that has struck me deeply over the course of my traineeship so far, which I’d like to share here, is a realisation about the vast importance of learning from our history - particularly the individual lives and stories of people who have gone before us.

Working on the ‘Wiltshire at War: Community Stories’ project, which focuses on the lives and culture of Wiltshire and its residents during WW1, has brought this home to me most of all. Traditionally, when remembering the World Wars, historians tend to concentrate on military or political strategy, and we subsequently have a multitude of movies, books and magazines concerned with the armed forces and the battles they fought. Whilst this is all fascinating information, the Wiltshire at War project seeks to collect and share the stories and memories of the individual people across Wiltshire, who lived through the troubled times of 1914 -1918. We feel it’s equally important to understand how the Wiltshire community adapted during this time, how life continued, and what individual sacrifices were made. What support did Wiltshire provide to the war effort? How did people across the county ‘pick up’ their lives again, once peace was declared? How did they cope with so much change? The project seeks to bring all this community history back into the community, and to share those stories through our fantastic website and ongoing exhibitions.

 

Young Freddie Butler. Shared with permission from Sarah Reay ©

Recently I was publishing a story which came to us via our Wiltshire at War Twitter feed. It’s the story of a young farmer’s son called Freddie Butler, who grew up on Rookhaye farm in Bowerchalke, and tragically died in a flying accident whilst serving with the Royal Flying Corps. I was looking at a photo of Freddie as a child feeding hay to one of the horses, happy as can be. I wondered about that child – his hopes, dreams, memories... In that one moment captured through a camera lens, he, like all the people around him, had absolutely no idea what was to come. I wondered too about Freddie’s mother, shown in a separate photo – how did life continue for her, after the loss of her beloved son?

Looking at some of the family photos that have come in with other recent stories - some dating back as far as 1905 - I find myself peering at each individual face, pondering the complex network of unique memories, life experiences, struggles, choices and relationships that each, single person represented. Was it even possible for those individuals to comprehend that, in the not so distant future, these photos and associated stories may be all that’s left to prove that they even existed? Questions then arise in me that are fundamentally about the human condition: What lessons can we learn from these people and their experience - fellow human beings who lived 100 years before us, in circumstances even more challenging than our own? If I consider that in another 100 years, researchers might be sitting at a desk and pondering photos of me and my family, reflecting on the lives we perhaps lived – might I now choose to live mine differently? What legacy would you choose to leave?

Wiltshire's Enemy Aliens (Part Three): 'Roulette'

on Monday, 06 February 2017. Posted in Archives, Wiltshire People

As the Second World War drew on numerous other nations entered the conflict, both with and against Britain: Britain formally declared war on Finland, Hungary and Romania on 7 December 1941, the same day as Japan entered the war with the attack on Pearl Harbour; more countries joined the war as time went by. These new entries into the conflict made enemy aliens out of thousands of foreign nationals living in Britain, enemy aliens whom the government believed needed to be controlled. The way these people were dealt with by the government can tell us much about how the final stages of the internment process unfolded in Britain, particularly Wiltshire, and about everyday life for foreigners during the war.

In Wiltshire after the summer of 1940 the aliens who most concerned the police were Romanians. On 8 November 1940 the Home Office issued a letter to all British police forces outlining that in the event of war with Romania, any Romanians in Britain would automatically become enemy aliens, at which point the government planned intern those who were male and between the ages of 16 and 65. We don’t know exactly how many Romanians were living in Wiltshire at this time, but it wasn’t many. According to a census undertaken by the police in March 1942, out of a total of 624 aliens living in Wiltshire there were only six Romanians, two men and four women.

1 List of Male Romanians in Wiltshire, 8 November 1940 (ref F5/530/7)

 On 12 November the police in Wiltshire drew up a list of names of male Romanians in the county who were to be interned under these orders. They were a 31-year old living in Swindon, and a 16-year old living in West Lavington. In a note at the end of the report the police recorded that “both are physically fit”, meaning that they were not exempt from internment due to poor health. The Home Office had asked the police to keep this list continually updated, and on 13 February 1941 the older man’s name was removed and replaced by another 18-year old living in Hullavington, also described as ‘physically fit’.

2 List of Male Romanians living in Wiltshire, 13 February 1941 (ref F5/530/7)

These lists present us with something of a puzzle: the Arandora Star was sunk in July 1940, resulting in a public outcry against mass internment and supposedly the government’s abandonment of the policy. Yet here we have evidence that police in Wiltshire, on the orders of the Home Office, were actively maintaining a list of people eligible for mass internment as late as February 1941. The reality is that the government’s change of internment policy was only a very gradual process, one that was set in motion by the sinking of the Arandora Star but not one that was completed quickly.

Malmesbury and the Evacuees of World War II

on Monday, 16 January 2017. Posted in Archives, History Centre, Schools

Two visitors to the History Centre, a grandfather and his grandson were very interested by what they discovered in the school log books of two Malmesbury schools during WWII. We were so impressed by Ben’s research on the topic, we thought you would be too, and he kindly agreed to let us publish it as a WSHC blog. Many thanks to Ben Tate, age 11.

Malmesbury and the Evacuees of World War Two

Westport Church of England Boys’ School

Westport CofE Boys’ School was a primary school for boys which was running during the second world war. This historical article on it includes many real accounts from the school’s log book in the time of world war 2, which can be located at Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre.

1939 In 1939 alone, 32 evacuees (and also their teachers) attended Westport, 14 of which were from London.

Due to the breakout of war, the term began a week late on September 11th 1939, rather than September 4th 1939.  Within 2 weeks of the start of term, 2 evacuees had already gone back home and 2 more had just arrived. This shows the real instability for schools managing evacuees.

At Westport they had separate registers and separate classes for evacuees and local children (as order of the attendance officer).

Something I found fascinating was that at the start of the term (September 1939) they had 32 evacuee pupils but by October 1939 they only had 16 left as the rest had gone home. This again shows the instability of schools trying to manage evacuees.

1940 The headteacher of Westport wrote in the school’s log book on 18th January 1940 that 9 local boys and 5 evacuee boys from Westport had sat a public examination.

A few weeks later in February, the headmaster wrote that Mr. Ellis (one of the teachers who had come with the boys) had had to go back to his house in London as it had been burgled.

In May that year, the headteacher wrote of how 2 evacuee boys were up against the court for crimes like robbery and vandalism.

I worked out that by May 1940 the evacuees had been integrated into one class with the local children at Westport. (That was only the first record I could find in the log book. It may have been earlier, but I haven’t found evidence).

Later that year, in June, the headteacher wrote that there was a possibility of more evacuees going to Westport but the headmaster had said that unless the top floor was brought into use, the school was going to have a real problem finding accommodation for the extra pupils. I failed to find out whether they ever opened the top floor, but I did find out that later in June, 71 evacuees and 3 teachers arrived at Westport, all from east London.

A couple of weeks later, the headteacher wrote about two evacuees who had tried to escape their foster parents and run back to London by road. He went on to say about how they had robbed their foster parents and had only got as far as Swindon when they got caught.

A couple of days after that, the headteacher recounted that Mr Murray (a teacher) had been called up for war service.

On 8th November 1940 the headteacher of Westport wrote about how he had had to keep getting new teachers as they were being called up for service and teachers who had come with the evacuees kept going back home. I found an account of this in June 1940 when the headteacher of Westport wrote, 4 new teachers arrived at the start of June: “The month isn’t even out and 1 of them has already gone back to his home in Essex”.

Something I found interesting in the Westport School’s Log book was on November 15th 1940 the headteacher wrote that bombs had been dropped on Hullavington (obviously due to the air base). He went on to say that a couple of children had been frightened but it was ‘quickly forgotten’. I was personally surprised at that.

1941   In January 1941 the headteacher of Westport wrote in the log book that all evacuees at his school currently had spent Christmas with their foster parents.

The headteacher wrote in the log book on 4th April 1941, that before the holidays the school had 130 evacuees, yet after 2 weeks holiday, they only had 117. On the 25th April 1941 he wrote about how 2 boys had gone back to their homes in Tilbury. He went on to say exactly: “It’s turning into a slow and steady flow”.

1942             I could find no references to evacuees, though I am not saying there weren’t any. I believe there were references to evacuees that I read, it was just that the headmaster had not specifically said the boy is an evacuee. I think this because by now evacuees were not a new thing and they were more integrated and accepted in the local communities.

1943 The same thing happened for 1943 as it had done in 1942.

1944 In 1944 again I had trouble finding accounts saying the child was evacuee although I found a reference talking about how the older boys at the school – some of whom must have been evacuees – were being allowed afternoons of school to help with the potato harvest.

1945 On 8th May 1945 the headteacher of Westport wrote in large writing – very unlike his usual, neat style – ‘VICTORY DAY! WAR IN EUROPE ENDED TODAY.’

Shortly after that (25th June 1945), he wrote that since the war in Europe was over, many evacuees had gone home. Therefore he had had to shuffle around the classes, as many of the students had been evacuees.

The last account that I found in Westport Church of England Boys School Log Book I’m going to tell you about was written on 10th September 1945 which simply said – in large handwriting – ‘THE WAR IS OVER. THE JAPANESE WAR IS OVER!’

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