Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Word War 2 - Summer 1939

During the summer months of 1939 there was much to be done on the Home Front.  Men and Women  who volunteered to serve as wardens, firemen, rescue, ambulance and first aid personnel had to give of their available time for lectures and practical training Instruction. This training was generally taken after a day’s work or at the weekend. Wardens and firemen were then called upon to instruct citizens in the correct way to use stirrup pumps, how to deal with incendiary bombs, the use of the gas mask and how to take shelter safely in the event of an air raid. Air Raid Wardens were also  responsible for the fitting of gas masks and enforcing the blackout.  Parades and reviews of the military services and civil defence organizations were held during the war years. During July 1939  Harry Chantler in his capacity as ARP Warden represented Eton at the national review of ARP personnel held in Hyde Park, London where the salute was taken by Queen Elizabeth.

Although negotiations had been taking place for a considerable time regarding the installation of an electricity supply to the village, no agreement had been reached before the outbreak of hostilities, therefore no air raid siren was installed in the village.   Eton Wick relied on the sirens located at Eton, Slough and Datchet to give warning of enemy aircraft in the vicinity. Safeguards put in place to combat dislocation resulting from air raids included the establishment of emergency food supplies.  Large and small stores of dry goods were set up by the  Ministry of Food during 1940/41 at sites considered safe from bombing.  A small quantity of essential foodstuffs was deposited in Eton Wick village hall  also an emergency meat supply was lodged with the village butcher, George Mumford.  Local memories indicate that a refrigerator was installed, probably gas operated, but hearsay has it that a  temporary  electric power line  was rigged from a near point;  if this was so, the nearest supply would have been from  Cippenham or Dorney.

Civilian Gas Mask - image courtesy of Object Lessons website. 
Before an issue of gas masks could begin, the separate component parts supplied  in bulk to the local ARP units required assembly.  For the Eton district this involved the assembly of more than three thousand units,  the work being carried out during one evening by Eton College staff and helpers.  Initially there was a shortage but before September,  ARP Wardens had fitted each resident of Eton and Eton Wick with their mask complete with its cardboard carrying case.  During the summer of 1940 smoke filters were fitted to the masks. This may have been a selective procedure to combat the effects of the smoke screen lamps installed during 1940 to protect the Slough trading estate.  Damage to one’s gas mask incurred the following charges,  complete mask adult 2/6d, face piece 1/6d, container 1/0d and the cardboard box 2d.  To ensure residents knew how to use their gas masks, Wardens visited homes to checked that the fit was correct. This  sometimes presented difficulties and Warden Harry Chantler remembered the tantrums of children who would not co-operate, whilst others found the smell of the rubber face piece nauseous.  Also to be fitted were the special designed gas mask for babies and invalids.   One case  requiring patience and tact involved a resident who mentally could not  come to terms with wearing a gas mask.  After several visits and attempts at persuasion that always met with point blank refusal even to try on the gas mask, Harry with his cool and Christian approach to such matters, decided that, rather than upset the person, it would be better to leave the situation and nip around quickly if a gas attack was likely and then see what could be done!!.

The Eton U.D.C., being responsible for the provision of private and public air raid shelters. asked for tenders from local ironmongers and engineering firms. The Council Surveyor recommended a 'Fortress' type shelter from Metal Agencies of Slough at a quoted price of £4-10 shillings with the suggestion that tenants of council properties erect their own shelters.  It was pointed out that many people in Eton living in Brocas Street, Kings Stable and other streets in that area had no space for a shelter, suggesting that permission be sought from Eton College to erect shelters on the Brocas but this scheme for various reasons was thought not to be practicable and did not proceed. Shelters had been completed at the College Arms and the archway to the Eton College boathouses with other sites already selected including the tunnels under Barnes Pool and the railway arches. The provision of air raid shelters became the subject of heated debate in the Eton Council Chamber during the following year (1940). Assurance from the Surveyor and Council Chairman that Eton was deemed a safe area, therefore having no priority for shelters, did nothing to allay the fears of the residents.

The approaching war was not the sole interest in the village. Ten new dwellings, the first council development in Eton Wick, had been erected on Bells field and were ready for letting. The new houses were of one bedroom, three bedroom and four bedroom type with corresponding rents of three shillings and sixpence, eight shillings, and ten shillings and sixpence per week.  These dwellings were named after the village benefactor ‘Toddy’ Vaughan,  and called ‘Vaughan Gardens’.

This is an extract from Round and About Eton Wick: 1939 - 1945. The book was researched, written and published in 2001 by John Denham. 

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