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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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Contributed by 
Researcher 246980
People in story: 
William Alfred Wooster MA, PhD
Location of story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
22 September 2003

I was four-and-a-half when the war began and both my parents were scientists. My father taught in the University of Cambridge. My mother worked in a laboratory in our house. From the time we moved to the house we lived in (summer of 1939) until the government locked up all German refugees as 'Enemy Aliens' our house was full of German and Austrian refugees. I spent much of my time talking German. Consequently, when I met someone on the bus to school, who spoke German, I talked to him in German, for which we were both reported to the police as 'suspicious characters - probably German Spies'. No, really.

However, that is by the way and merely to give you a flavour of the sort of atmosphere there was in England at the time. Actually, at the end of the war, when the Nazi archives were captured, it turned out that there had been almost no German spies in Britain and even those there had been, at the beginning of the war had been caught quite early on.

Before the war, my parents had been very afraid that the British Government would form an alliance with the Nazi government in Germany against the USSR and were mightily relieved when Churchill became Prime Minister. They were active in a group called The Cambridge Scientists' Anti-War Group. Some time around 1937 they held a demonstration at the Duxford Air Show and all the leaflets they had had printed for the occasion were confiscated by the police. My Father and another scientist, Arthur Hughes sued the Chief Constable for 'wrongful detenue of property' and although the magistrate who heard the case was the chairman of the local conservative party, they won their case, and were awarded one farthing damages.

At the beginning of the war the Army came and built a gun emplacement on the road island where Cherry Hinton Road meets Perne Road and Mowbray Rd. Unfortunately, they put it in the wrong place and to get a clearer view of any German Tank that might advance up the road from Cherry Hinton towards Cambridge, they cut down the trees in the front gardens of our house and those of all our neighbours. Then to add injury to injury they refused to let us have the wood and burnt the trees in a great bonfire that lasted a week. Why, we could never find out.

My father decided to photograph the trees that remained in our garden but after the first shot he was arrested by a policeman, as a spy. What else?

This was where the court case came in useful, as he said to the policeman: "If you ring up the Chief Constable and ask him if he thinks I am a spy, I think he will tell you that I am not." The policeman then went to the police phone box and did as suggested and the Chief Constable said, as my father had thought he would, that "Dr Wooster is probably not a spy".

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