Sunday 28 June 2020

World War 2 Eighty Years On - June 1940

June 1940

Councils together with other public administrations, were given the responsibility of organizing civilian labour to aid the military in preparing local defence works to meet a possible airborne invasion.  Local signposts were taken away, business and shop names that gave the location were painted out and place names that may be of help to invading forces were removed. Church bells were silenced only to be rung to signifying that enemy forces had landed. Motorists were ordered to immobilize their vehicles when not in use. In the event of invasion, the civilian population was told to stay put less they inhibited the manoeuvrability of the defending armed forces.
Large open spaces such as the village common lands and Eton College playing fields were deeply trenched at strategic points to frustrate landings by German troop-carrying planes and gliders. The urgency with which the defences were needed necessitated the help of farmers, volunteers, Eton College boys, local contractors and military personnel.

Military 1940

Anderson Shelter
The occupation of northern France gave the German Luftwaffe bases stretching from Norway to Cherbourg. From these newly acquired bases they launched their first full bombing attack with seventy aircraft raiding eastern England during the night of June 18th-19th.  RAF fighter command, who were also responsible for operating barrage balloons together with the army Anti-aircraft Command, shared the defence of major cities and other strategic targets. During 1939 Dorney common had been selected as a possible anti-aircraft gun site for the defence of Slough Trading Estate, Windsor Castle and possible enemy approach to attack London. The site, code number SM7, had provision for a troop of four guns. Earlier some work had been done on the gun pits and the underground command post. Troop accommodation was tented but these were replaced by Nissen huts and other more permanent buildings by 1941 The house known as Fruiterers Gate, Boveney and adjacent to the site was requisitioned for Officer quarters. 

June 22nd.

German troops occupy the entire French Channel and Atlantic coastline. Imminent danger of invasion to Britain.

Courtesy of WW2 Today.
Friday June 28th

A fine summer’s day saw 262 Battery of 84th (LondonTransport) HAA Regiment R.A.T.A., moved from its two London locations at Wormwood Scrubs and Richmond Park to site SM7 Dorney camp, and Lent Rise, Burnham.  Battery Head Quarters and two sections arrived at Dorney Common with 4 x 3-inch 20cwt. guns firing 198 powder burning fuses. with Vickers predictor of 1920 vintage and searchlight, no Radar. One section of 2 x 3-inch 20 cwt guns went to Lent Rise, Slough, and one section of 2 x 3-inch guns to Wexham, Slough; these two latter sites had even older equipment. The Dorney site was already in being when the Battery HQ arrived with all accommodation being tented. The gun emplacements were already sandbagged and had obviously been in existence since 1939 or even 1938. The Command Post consisted of the standard A.A. command post with its small, below ground, concrete dug out which at that time housed the telephone line to the Gun Operations room and the plotting equipment that went with it. It also included one of the fixed Azimuth read out devices and a teleprinter type machine, but these were already out of use by the time we got there. I do not think the guns had ever been fired. (P.J.Barkham Lt.Col. RA)

On arrival we found the Dorney site in its infancy, so much so that Eton College boys came to help fill sandbags, a job they seemed to enjoy doing. To make the gun pits, sandbags were filled from materials dug on site, the soil being very stony.   If there had been an attack on the site, the consequences would have been unthinkable. It did not help at this time that a captured Focker Wolfe Condor huge reconnaissance plane was on test from White Waltham airfield. Our prime task was to guard against possible attack on Slough Trading Estate on which there was a huge R.A.S.C. Vehicle depot. The aiming point for lining up the guns to instruments, was the flagpole on the Round Tower at Windsor Castle. The standby bearing was over the Slough Trading Estate. These guns had a lot of brass including the firing handle and I remember an energetic artificer, forgetting the safety catch was off, putting a round of shrapnel over Slough with his duster. The guns were manned from daybreak, this being 3 a.m. until full daylight and again from early evening until dark. There was a compulsory rest period of two hours every afternoon. I do not think the German Luftwaffe was aware of this, as the guns were also manned on alarms during the day. The stream (Roundmoor Ditch) I remember, stored a stock of Molotov Cocktail bombs for safety, it is hoped they were all found!  At this time the camp lacked many amenities so the invitation from nearby local residents to use their bathroom facilities was much appreciated by many of the gunners. The large white gate across the road at the village boundary to Dorney common became a military check point during the days after Dunkirk when invasion seemed imminent. For security the gate was closed at night and often in the day during an alert. Having done guard duty at the gate many times, Gunner Dixon recalled that some local residents were indignant at being inconvenienced whilst going about their business.  Following the collapse of France and Dunkirk all privilege leaves for armed forces personnel had been cancelled, This order remained until the invasion stand down when 272 gunners were allowed occasional day leave from 6 a.m. until midnight.    (Mr. D.A.Dixon, Gnr. 262 Bty)

L to r.   Gnr. Dixon.  Gnr. Robinson.   Gnr. Tavener.
262 Bty HAA RA. TA. 
The arrival of 272 battery aroused great interest amongst the teenage boys but older people had their fears that the guns would attract the enemy bombs. John Powell, recounting his teenage memory of those days recalled that he would wait in the ditch for hours, always dark, always alone. In the stillness of the evening I could hear the air raid sirens in the direction of London being sounded, then closer as the local alerts were sounded until I was surrounded by the warning wail of many sirens. Then searchlights from various locations would be searching for the enemy. With blazing effect, the searchlight from the ‘ack-ack’ battery was put into action, lighting up the whole area. I have only to close my eyes and I can still hear the sound of the diesel driven generator and the officer in charge shouting out the orders....suddenly the light was doused, now there was a moment I had been waiting for. I heard the orders....Range....Height....and direction... then with blinding effect....FIRE....Never will I forget the recoil of the huge anti-aircraft gun, not the small Bofors, but the huge single shot  gun, being able to see the crew, searchlight, generator all illuminated in the blinding flash from the firing.... no more than three shots. The barrel had to cool off I believe. Myself as a young man being left in a state of bewildered satisfaction.
Dorney (SM7) site with other gun sites around the Slough-Windsor area were under the command of 38 Brigade forming part of the 1st. A.A. Division based on Langley. Independent batteries armed with 40mm Bofor guns were also included as a defence against low flying enemy aircraft. Slough Trading Estate, Windsor Castle and local military installations being possible targets vulnerable to air attack from enemy aircraft approaching London along the Thames valley. 

Saturday June 29th.

RAF fighter stations and aircraft factories were priority targets whose defence included barrage balloons. Under the command of 956 Squadron R.A.F, 24 Barrage Balloons were placed around Slough and Langley mainly for protection of the Trading Estate and the Hawker Hurricane Factory at Langley. The sight of Balloons and the number of heavy gun sites around Slough and Windsor brought apprehension and caused people to speculate whether this was a safe place to be.  Two weeks later another defence was added in the form of smoke screen lamps that were placed South of Slough on a line reaching from the Myrke in the Datchet road across Fishers fields, through the Kinross Farm (Datchet) to Chalvey and the Trading Estate, part of this line of lamps ran along the line of the Eton Wick Road. The smoke lamps were an adaptation of commercial orchard heaters used for protection from frost or forty-gallon fuel drums suitably modified. Smoke, usually dark brown, was produced by incomplete combustion of Diesel or heavy fuel oil and gave off a smoke containing oil and soot particles. Residents in the vicinity were warned by leaflet a few days before the big test to sleep with their windows closed. The resultant smoke gave a good fog but was dependent upon the wind direction for its effectiveness as a defence for the Trading Estate. The smell described as evil, was quite upsetting to many people.  If caught in the open when the smoke pots were operating faces became blackened and clothes smeared in the black oily substance of the smog. Initially the smoke pots were operated by the army but later it became the duty of the Home Guard. Italian POW’s were also used for this duty if the need arose. 

Two further defence measures for the Trading Estate were the building of two decoy sites. One to represent the industrial estate constructed on the bend of the river at Datchet, the other to the west of Boveney Road.  This was a ‘QF’ decoy fire site, manned by RAF personnel to be activated if the Slough Trading Estate was attacked in the hope that the bombing would be diverted. Visits to the site by Eton Fire Brigade officers supported the view that this was a Boiler Fire type with water flush that would cause explosive burst of flame when mixed with the burning oil.  Fortunately, it was never required for this, but it did ignite once by accident. RAF personnel under the command of Warrant Officer John Williams, constructed and maintained the site. There being no camp accommodation, the airmen were billeted with families in Eton Wick and Dorney. Having no calls to action the airmen other than guard duties and the military requirements of the site they turned their hand to keeping pigs, growing potatoes and keeping chickens which was also a good source of income. The only remembered contact with the enemy was to retrieve the body of a German fighter pilot from Thames field whose parachute had failed to open. 

Posters displayed warnings that German spies and Fifth Column agents could be active in the country and warned everyone to be on their guard against careless talk. Police and Home Guard patrols carried out Identity Card checks, especially at night. Any loitering by persons on or near to Windsor Bridge was challenged and questioned as to their business. Reports show that the patrols’ customers were mainly those who had something to celebrate or were under the influence of too much liquid refreshment.

Munitions works, aircraft factories and other important wartime installations had strict security. This was also the procedure at military camps. Reporting the lack of recreational facilities on gun sites and camps the Windsor and Eton Express begged its readers who had books, spare radios, gramophones and records to give them to the troops.

Responding to the appeal, Joan Ballhatchet and her friend on taking a gift of gramophone records to Dorney camp, encountered first-hand military security. Arriving at the camp entrance the sentry challenged them, ordering them to advance and state their business. At the same time the sentry sounded the alarm on a gong to summon the guard. To their consternation the girls were immediately surrounded by two soldiers who came running with rifles and fixed bayonets.

Recalled memories are told of an incident observed by A.R.P. Warden, the Reverend Morris and the village constable, P.C. Raynor, demonstrate the uncertainty felt at the time. A car approaching the common in the late evening was signalled by the sentry on guard at the white gate nearby the camp entrance to stop. This was for a routine identity card check, but the driver had other ideas and just drove past. A shot was heard as the sentry fired a round at the fleeing car either from fear or reaction, at the time the fear of German spies and infiltrating fifth columnist was very real. Two RAF men were also fired upon when making their way at midnight along the river tow path for duty at the Boveney QF decoy site. Neither the army nor the Home Guard admitted to the episode, but bullet damage was found to the trunk of a tree the next morning.

Numerous camps and gun sites were established in the Slough / Windsor area, Lent Rise, Burnham; the Polo Ground, Datchet; the Great Park, Windsor; Slough Trading Estate and at Twinches Lane, Cippenham. This camp overlooked the Slough Girls High School playing field. Senior girls doing physical training became an attraction for the watching young soldiers who, with ‘Wolf Whistles’ delighted the girls if not the teachers. 

With so many industrial and military targets and the close proximity of an anti-aircraft battery to the village, public air raid shelters were urgently requested. Raising the matter in Council Councillor Mr H. Bunce inquired how Eton Wick would go on in the event of an air raid pointing out that there was no shelter for the children or anyone else..... moreover, there were more children at school in Eton Wick than at Eton where there were facilities. Upon further inquiries, the Surveyor said that the nearest shelters were the railway arches along the Eton Wick Road. Mr Bunce thought half a mile was rather a long way for small children to run and if this was the best that could be done, why send the children there to school. In reply the Council Surveyor stated that consideration had been given to shelters but had been turned down by the Home Office for Eton Wick, also no application for a shelter had been received when the notice was sent around. Plans for air raid shelters put to the authorities by the council received a flat refusal as Eton Wick was considered a safe area. The Council considered the situation and applied many times before permission was obtained for the building of public shelters.

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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