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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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by BBC Radio Norfolk Action Desk

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
BBC Radio Norfolk Action Desk
People in story: 
Douglas Gibbs
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
16 September 2005

This contribution to WW2 People's War was received by the Action Desk at BBC Radio Norfolk, with the permission and on behalf of Douglas Gibbs.

I lived in Yateley from 1925 to 1950. My father was headmaster of Yateley School so I lived in the school house with him, my mother and two brothers Ken and Gordon. There were three other teachers, my mother taught the infants. The school was heated by Tortoise stoves but we only had cold water to the wash basins and toilets were earth closets. There were play sheds with long seats, one side for boys and the other for the girls. My father was the air raid warden for the school and local area.

During the war we became used to moving about in the dark. Getting off the Reading train was hazardous, you had to make sure your carriage had stopped at the platform and not on the bridge parapet! The Nuns from Yateley Hall were scary to meet in the dark, also in Farnborough the monks in black or white habits. We could see the searchlights scanning the sky and thought we could always tell which were 'our' aircraft. We could also see the 'flaming onions' falling London way.

I was in the Home Guard, at the age of 81 I believe I am the last one alive from the platoon photograph. This was taken outside Dr Turner's house opposite the drill hall.

Dr Turner was the village doctor with a wide practice area. He was also the Home Guard doctor. His surgery had large flagons in its windows with red, green and yellow liquid in them. He did his own dispensing and before the war, after school, I used to deliver his medicines to his patients. The charge was 2d for pills and 3d for bottles. I think his surgery charge was 5 shillings.

The Home Guard uniform I was offered was either size 8 (too small) or size 11 (too big). We had a forage cap, leather ankle gaiters, boots, tin hat, an overcoat, gas mask pack and an Enfield rifle with 5 bullets. Also a thunderflash (banger firework), one string of Chinese crackers (jumping jack fireworks) and a spike bayonet. Sergeants were issued with Sten guns. Everything had to be accountd for and given back when the Home Guard was stood down in 1944.

We had parades twice a week and instruction was given in the use of rifle, grenades and Lewis gun. We did guard duties at all the village bridges and had battle exercises against Hawley and Hartley Witney Home Guard platoons. I was once given the dubious honour to blow the Hartley Witney Post Office door with a clay bomb - luckily it made no impression on the door! All the Home Guard platoons gathered at times for a full parade at Bramshill House, Hartley Witney. Some weekends we were at Arborfield Army Depot. Shooting practise was done at the Sandhurst Royal Military range - we were known as the second line of defence! How my Thunderflash and Chinese Crackers would have frightened a German soldier I shudder to think! Dads Army TV episodes bring back many similar memories.

The village dances were often held in the drill hall. I cannot remember who organised them but they were always well attended. The Macrae Scout Hut, near the school, was used as an emergency food store and was full of tinned food. With rationing one can understand why not many folks knew about it.

Officially Yateley cricket, football and tennis ceased at the start of the war but I kept the cricket and football clubs going. I knew where all the lads in reserved occupations like myself lived in the area. Contacting them meant cycling round as I was the only one with a phone. I always managed to raise a team! I used to contact local military units in the area, every Saturday there was a game. Once we had one of the Arsenal boy teams play us. On the green I remember playing against Mountford, Kirchen and Busby, all professional players stationed locally - we lost! In the summer I managed to wangle a gallon of petrol from the military to mow the cricket pitch and outfield in return for putting on a game. We sometimes went back to the Naafi for a meal. Yateley was the only village in the area to have Saturday cricket and football matches throughout the year.

In September 1939 the Militia were billeted in houses round Yateley, the village school was full of troops and the school yard full of army vehicles. Billeting was not repeated, possibly because the village was not on mains drainage.

RAF men, WAAF's and Free French airmen were stationed in huts in Yateley, ATS at Minley Manor with Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders. One morning we woke to find the whole area covered in strips of aluminium foil. We learned later it was the RAF testing a foil system to be used over Germany to disrupt their radio systems. All the seven lakes from Frensham, Surrey to Crondhall, Hants were drained as it was thought that in the moonlight German aircraft would follow the lakes as msrkers. The last, the eighth, was at Royal Military College, Sandhurst.

Surprisingly there was no military misbehaviour in the area. Not so in other places. I happened to be in Aldershot at the end of the war on the day the Canadian troops rioted. They were annoyed at the delay over being sent back home. Shop windows were smashed, all around the Empire Cinema was chaos. No Military Police about, I was glad to leave the area quickly.

Each day I cycled up Dungells Lane, around Blackbushe, then known as Hartford Bridge Flats Aerodrome. Then through the Canadian lines at Minley Manor and Cove, past the Tank Corps depot at Pinehurst to get to the Royal Aircraft estate where I worked as an apprentice. I recall working a 60 hour week, seven days on and then the eighth day off. We were allowed one weeks holiday. As a government employee I was entitled to an all expences paid break with hostel accommodation on a farm in Cornwall. I went two years running.

Blackbushe Aerodrome, originally called Hartford Bridge Flats Aerodrome was a fighter drome. A new house called Four Winds, at the top of Dungells Lane, was knocked down as was Silver Fox Farm at the top of Monteagle Lane to make way for the drome. On foggy nights the aerodrome runways were illuminated by Fido. This was the name given to oil flares placed at intervals in a parallel line to disperse the fog. Spitfires, Huricans, Baltimores and Maryland planes were flown from the drome.

On D-Day June 4th 1944 when I crossed the drome early in the morning all was quiet and again at night returning home. All the planes were there, they had white bands painted on them. The morning of the 6th June at 7am the drome was empty of planes - they had all flown into action. That night at about 7pm when I was at home in the school house with my parents we saw the sky full of Dakotas, towing Horsa Gliders. They flew so low one could see the piolts in the gliders. The numbers seemed endless, plus the noise of the aircraft engines.

The closest I came to being injured during the war was when the Royal Aircraft Establishment was bombed in daylight by a lone bomber. I was in no. 13, a partially submerged shelter near the engine department. A 1000kg delayed bomb fell between the department and the shelter - giving it a right good shaking. The blockhouse near the main gate collapsed killing three Home Guard inside. The fourth Home Guard man who walked out alive was apprentice Mark Freemantle.

VE Day, nothing startling happened except a sigh of relief. Bob Boswell, Mark Freemantle and myself (we were all RAE employees) met up for a drink in the Dog and Partridge. My father joined us for one and then being young we went on to other pubs.

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