- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Pamela Hoath
- Location of story:
- Tunbridge Wells
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 25 November 2003
When the Army came to stay in World War Two
This is a true story of events that took place during the Second World War years.
September 1939. War had just been declared between Great Britain and Germany. All over the country people were listening to the radio for the latest news. The first country to be invaded by Germany was Poland. Here in Britain for the first few months of the war life was about the same, peaceful, quiet as it was before.
Living in Kent, near Tunbridge Wells, father worked for a tobacco manufacturer, Sir Godfrey Phillips as his chauffeur. Our flat was situated over the workshop and garages, which housed amongst other cars, a black Rolls Royce and a green Bentley. The grounds of the estate swept down a hillside to green fields at the bottom, where there was a small farm of chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits and pigs. In the grounds itself stood an ornate fountain where goldfish swam around. There were two tennis courts and a blue and white tiled swimming pool.
Growing all their own fruit and vegetables in the gardens, large greenhouses were filled with peaches, pineapples and grapes. In the orchid house exotic flowers bloomed. Vast green lawns surrounded by trees were in the Summer archery and croquet was played there. Wide flower borders lined every walkway. From spring to autumn flowers and shrubs blossomed, the scent from 10feet high azaleas filling the air. Four gardeners maintained this.
An avenue of leafy-green lime trees filled the mile long road outside. Its nickname was ‘Millions Row’ because the houses were luxury built. The real name was Broadwater Down. We looked out at Broadwater Forest from our end of the road, but this was about to change.
Early in 1940 mother’s sister came to live with us. She had joined the Fire Service and would be working day and night shifts while her husband was away in the forces. German bomber planes had started their blitz on London. The blackout had begun here and we had to keep all curtains drawn at dusk as they flew over nightly. Trying on our gas masks we had just received, we found they smelt strongly of rubber which made our eyes water, but from now on, wherever we went, we had to take them at all times. At night they hung on the bedpost for when the air raid siren went and we scrambled out of bed, dressed, took food and hot drinks down to the shelter. The shelter had been built for the staff in the garden at one end of a tennis court by a brick wall. I was a 9-year-old schoolgirl at the time. During the daylight air raids at school all the girls would take knitting to do in the shelter to assist the war effort. Later we all received a certificate for the garments we had knitted for the armed forces in 1940 and 1941.
One evening my father came in and announced, as we sat down for dinner, that he had joined the Home Guard, as Sir Winston Churchill’s government thought that Hitler’s army could invade Southern England at any time. Going out on night patrol father wore his helmet and carried his gas mask. He was armed with a whistle, flashlight, dustbin-lid and a stick. His instructions were, if you see anything suspicious to raise the alarm by blowing the whistle and beating the dustbin lid for help!
A week later an army jeep pulled up on the forecourt of the garages. Out stepped an officer and a soldier. They had come to see what accommodation we had. Father’s answer was ‘none’. However the officer asked if he could see the flat anyway. Upstairs he explained that he had to billet out some troops in this area. So I moved in with my aunt to make room for the two soldiers that Father agreed to take in. They were due to arrive the following Saturday.
On the morning of their arrival we heard the rumble of lorries outside and screech of motorbikes. Father went out to investigate. He came back and said ‘ It’s alright it’s an army convoy going by. Since joining the Home Guard he could check out everything but later in the day our two soldier boys arrived with a different tale. The convoy of army vehicles was, in fact, moving in. They had taken over nearly all the houses in the road, or like us, had billeted out troops to them. Father made them laugh by saying, “We knew you where coming today but not the whole army”! Looking out of the lounge window we could see the lorries were now parking outside. Jeeps were roaring up and down the road. The place was alive with army personnel. We found out at dinner that our two boys were both in the Royal Engineers; they also cooked for the Army and would be out most of the day working shifts.
Setting off for school on Monday morning, my Aunt came with me to catch the bus at the end of the road. The road was full of soldiers, some being drilled others in vest and shorts were exercising, others checking their vehicles parked alongside. Our quiet road had been turned into an Army Camp over night; it was completely transformed.
A few nights later we were waiting for father to come in for dinner. He arrived late as he had been talking to a chauffeur friend who lived at No. 10, the other end of the road from us, when he appeared he said, “I have just heard some news.”
“What news?” Mother asked.
“Our friends are moving out of their gate house because the Army want to take over the entire estate.”
“Why” Mother asked.
“They are awaiting the arrival of Field Marshall Montgomery who will have it as his headquarters.” We could not believe our ears.
“That the head of the Army is coming here, fancy that!” Mother uttered.
Now we knew why the Army had taken over the whole road; they were getting ready for ‘Monty’. Another surprise the boys told us was that the Army was digging in. They were, in fact, building an underground bunker in the forest opposite us. Now 60 years on this bunker is open to public viewing today.
Living with the Army soon became a normal routine with jeeps whizzing up and down and the troops training every day. Having the Army around you felt a little safer in those dark days of the war.
General Field Marshall Montgomery was seen several times in the back of his staff car as it swept out of the driveway of No. 10. Two or three times our Boys brought Mother home a joint of beef for Sunday lunch. That was a real treat in wartime. As food was rationed, Father and I would have blackcurrant puree on bread to save butter. It was really quite tasty.
1941. Petrol was in short supply. Father’s boss, Sir Godfrey went out and bought a pony and trap for him to drive instead. To help in the war effort the gardeners on the estate were now growing more fruit and vegetables to sell to the local shops. I would go with Father in the pony and trap to deliver goods. Growing all these extra crops, meant the fields now grew wheat whereas before we used to harvest hay for the farm animals. The boss took on two Land Army girls to help and bought two tractors for the harvest and potato picking. In fact we all joined in to help when the harvest was ready.
One day when I was at home Father called out, “Can you come and give me a hand in the garage?” In the back of a car was a dozen petrol cans and drums of petrol. “Will you hold the cans steady while I pour the petrol in?” he asked.
“OK, yes” I replied.
After filling up six cans Father said, “That will do for now, lets take these down the garden.” When we reached a laurel bush he stopped, pushing through the branches, and started digging.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Well if the Germans are going to invade us they are not going to get all my petrol!” he said as he buried the cans under the bush.
The air raids continued nightly as German bombers flew over on their way to London; there was no let up. Coming home one evening from Home Guard Patrol, father called upstairs, “Come down and look at this.” Outside we could see this orange red glow in the sky over Tunbridge Wells.
“What’s that?” Mother asked.
“Could be the blaze from a bomb.” Father said. We all rushed back indoors. That was the closest to us if it was a bomb that had fallen. “I will find out tomorrow when I go into town” Father replied.
Next morning we were having our breakfast when the doorbell started ringing loudly. Father went to answer it and see who was calling this early in the day. He came back followed by an Army Officer who had come to inform us that during the air raid last night, a bomb had fallen in the fields at the bottom of the estate. Someone had reported seeing it come down but it had not exploded and we should be prepared to evacuate at short notice as they were awaiting the bomb disposal squad to arrive.
For a moment there was silence, no one said a word, “An unexploded bomb?” said Father.
“Yes” the officer repeated. “My men will keep you informed and move you to a safe house if necessary. I will talk to you later,” he said as he left.
Panic set in; everyone was rushing about, packing a bag. Mother put the kettle on to make tea and fill flasks while my Aunt and I made sandwiches to take, as we had no idea where they would take us or for how long. Trying to keep calm was difficult not knowing what was going on. At last the officer returned some three hours later. “Good news” he said. “The Bomb Squad had been working on the bomb and will be able to defuse it safely without blowing it up so we don’t need to evacuate you now.” What a relief to be safe again.
Mother said, “Will you stop and have a cup of tea with us?” as she put the kettle on again.
“I would love a cup of tea,” the officer said and sat down. “It’s been a busy old morning for us all.” We all tucked into the sandwiches we had made earlier. Mother got the brandy bottle out and topped up our tea to revive us. The officer said that it was a bomb that had fallen last night on the bandstand in Calverly Grounds in Tunbridge Wells, which had caused such a blaze.
Next day at school I was told by the teacher that our school playing fields had been bombed the same night leaving a crater big enough to fit two double-decker buses. We were very lucky that night that all three bombs had fallen on open spaces and not on our houses.
The summer of 1942 was a long hot summer, as we had daylight until 11 o’clock at night, owing to the government retaining GMT Summer hours, giving double summer time. In my school holidays I helped with fruit picking and potato picking in the fields. When the wheat was ready for harvesting, Father told me that we were getting extra help this year. When we arrived at the fields already working there were 6 Italian Prisoners of War with 2 guards. Some could speak English. They told us they were willing to help because they had not wanted to go to war in the first place.
Listening to the news on the wireless we heard that ‘Monty’ was in North Africa. His 8th Army Division was retreating under heavy fire from Rommels Armoured Division until the battle of El Alamein on 23rd of October 1942. ‘Monty’ re-launched his attack with Allied Forces and went on to defeat Rommels Army. On November 4th 1942, they surrendered to British Forces. That was the turning point of the war.
Back home our troops were still training daily going out on manoeuvres with their lorries. My Aunt and I liked going for bike rides round the country lanes but when we met a convoy of lorries we often ended up in the hedgerows.
The Battle of Britain was fought over the skies of South East England. We watched many a daylight raid when our Spitfires would have dogfights with the enemy planes, shooting them down. Our Spitfires would do a ‘victory roll’ and we would cheer and wave from below as they flew on. After the Royal Air Force won the battle for the skies, Hitler changed his tactics when he lost the battle of Britain.
The first time we heard this strange noise in the sky which was Hitler’s ‘doodle bug’, we did not know it was a flying bomb that had a humming drone as it flew over, and as soon as the engine cut out, you knew it would drop somewhere near you! Again the Spitfires would chase the ‘doodle bugs’ and blow them up in mid air. Standing in the garden on one occasion the blast of the bomb blew us backwards into a gooseberry bush. After that we watched from a safe distance.
Walking to school one morning, it was a grey day and had been raining earlier, there was a streak of blue sky. There flew a large brown object (cigar shaped) heading for London. I reported what I had seen that morning to our boys. Straight away they said, “That is a ‘V’ rocket bomb Hitler is now sending over, which is bigger than a ‘doodle bug’ but makes no noise.”
The soldiers parked outside would chat to us. Mother would send out jugs of lemonade. We had no beer. If we went into town they would ask us to get ‘fish and chips’ for their supper when on duty.
In the spring of 1944 our road became a ‘No-Go’ area, for overnight the Army had put up wooden barriers at each end of the road with armed guards. The only people allowed in were residents and the Army. We had to show our Identity Cards each time we went in and out before we could pass. More jeeps and lorries arrived; they covered everything in green camouflage netting. Then they spent hours servicing each vehicle and checking each part. They were getting ready to ship out but at the time did not know.
A week went by before our boys came in one evening with the news they had been given 48 hours notice. They would be moving out on Saturday at 12 noon. Father asked, “Where are you going to then?”
“We have not been told yet, it’s ‘top secret’” they replied.
Mother prepared a special roast dinner with sherry trifle as pudding the next evening for the boys. They thanked Mother for looking after them so well. It was a change for them not to be cooking. Mother was a good cook and had filled them up with steak and kidney puddings and apple pies etc to keep us all going in wartime. We all knew that we would miss not having the boys around many evenings we had spent round the kitchen table playing card games or darts, so tonight was going to be the last game with the boys for a while. Saying goodbye and wishing them luck, they departed with their kitbags next morning to pick up their lorry. All the staff gathered outside the main gate and watched as the convoy moved slowly off. Jeeps, lorries and armoured cars drove by.
Then we saw the boys hanging out of the back of their lorry waving to us, calling out “see you soon”. We waved them off as the convoy gathered speed, escorted by motorbike outriders and disappeared out of sight. A few office staff remained to clean up.
We felt really sad to see them go. They had been part of our family for so long and now they had gone. The place was so quiet again without the Army around and would take a while to get back to normal.
June 6th 1944. We heard the news on the radio that British and Allied Forces had landed in Normandy. It was ‘D’ Day. At last we knew that our boys had landed in France. We just hoped they were OK. Every day now we listened to the news as our troops advanced across Europe.
Liberating towns and villages along the way they reached Paris. Belgium and Holland were freed. British and Allied troops reached Berlin taking over the City from the Germans.
It was VE day. Victory in Europe. The war was over. We all went out to celebrate our freedom at last and to raise a glass to all the forces that had made it possible. Receiving a letter that was stamped ‘Paris’ was even better. Our boys were safe and well and would be looking us up when they came home. That was wonderful news. Father wrote back thanking them for their letter and to get in touch with us as soon as possible.
Three months later they came to stay for a weekend. They were home on leave. It was like old times sitting around the kitchen table only this time, listening to the boys Army stories of how they helped win the war in Europe with the Allied Forces. We celebrated with plenty to eat and drink that evening to welcome our Army Boys home.
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