Monday 17 January 2022

Tough Assignment - The Second World War and the 1940's


Scholars Scripture Certificate 
presented to Dorothy Banham in 1938

The war years undoubtedly brought change and strain to the chapel as it did to the rest of the village and the country as a whole. But nothing of this is apparent from the minutes of the trustees' and class leaders' meetings, which merely continues to record with monotonous regularity the election of officials and committee secretaries, the annual payments of contributions to circuit and national funds, and the acceptance of reports. Yet the chapel did play a vital, if minor, part in the war effort. The people of Eton Wick, like those of many another village, accepted numerous evacuee children into their homes during the 1940s. Mr and Mrs Chew were the billetting officers. Many of those sent to Eton Wick were Jewish children from London's East End, yet one of the most enduring memories of those days is of the chapel and school room crowded to bursting point with Sunday School scholars - Jews and Christians. There were still only about ten classes, but over a hundred children, and when they all joined together in hymn singing, the sound could be heard at the far end of Alma Road. When they all poured out at the end of Sunday School it was more reminiscent of the closing time at the cinema. In spite of the large numbers, a Summer Outing was still contemplated though all plans to take the scholars to the seaside had to be abandoned. Instead in 1940 the coach took the children to Burnham Beeches, but there were no more outings until after the end of the war. Scripture exams were still held but new arrangements had to be made for prize giving. Attendance prizes were given only to those who came to Sunday School more then ninety times a year, and the value of the prizes was reduced for 'those whose conduct was not good'. A New Year, rather than Christmas, Party was held - but not until February since there were several parties being given in the village and by that date it was thought 'the days would be longer and the air raid alerts later'.

The chapel account book reveals a little more of life during the war. The insistence by the authorities that no chink of light be allowed to alert the enemy can be seen in the purchase of three lots of blackout material whilst fear of danger from bombs and flying glass and masonry prompted the construction of a 'blast wall' in front of the door in 1941.

A Windsorian coach was hired at the cost of £1 to take chapel members and friends to Slough during 'Wings for Victory Week'. Soldiers were billeted for two nights in the Tough Memorial Hall during November 1943 at a profit of 18s (90p) to the chapel. Inevitably, however, the war brought losses. Christian Endeavour petered out soon after 1939 as members, such as Joyce and Clifford Chew and Harry Cook, joined the forces and other members were caught up in other war time activities. In 1943 Archibald Chew died, not as a result of the war but of an illness, and the chapel lost a very able leader. Two years later, and only a few months before hostilities ceased, Clifford Chew died, shot down by enemy action as he flew on a mission to Germany.

In many ways the war was a watershed separating two very different decades. It had widened the horizons of many village families and the construction of new houses and roads soon after the war in both Eton Wick and Boveney New Town altered the whole balance of the village community. Just before the war in 1934, the parish councils of Boveney and Eton Wick were abolished and both Boveney New Town and Eton Wick were brought within the boundary of the Eton Urban District. There was little space for house building in Eton town, and so the energies of the Council were now directed towards land of the old Boveney Parish. The first houses built were the prefabs on Bells Field, but soon the pink fletton bricks and yellow rendering of council houses transformed the face of the Eton Wick Road and Moores Lane. By the early fifties council houses had spread over much of the Tilston Fields and the name, Boveney New Town, was relegated to that of one of the new roads. The chapel now stood much nearer the centre of the enlarged village, the whole of which was now thought of as Eton Wick.

In 1946, however, the chapel was not in very good shape. Membership had not yet risen appreciably and the Sunday School, with only thirty two scholars, was smaller than it had been for many years. The building itself needed a general overhaul and work started on this in 1947. It wasn't completed until 1950, but by this time electricity had also been installed in memory of Archibald and Clifford Chew. The interior of the chapel was repainted and the old combustion stove replaced by gas heating. These in turn were to be replaced in the 60s by the more even warmth produced by portable electric fires.

The chapel officers also took a straight look at the problems of decreased numbers in the Sunday School. Since the war years (if not before) there had been a Circuit Youth Committee with Sylvia Chew its Eton Wick representative, and now in 1948 Sylvia and Marjorie Morris started a youth club at the chapel. It was a very lively club catering for teenagers. It met weekly and sometimes twice weekly and its varied programme included country dancing, debates, hiking, swimming and dramatics. Even now the success of some of its productions are remembered with pride, but perhaps the most treasured memories of its one-time members are the summer holidays at Llangollen, the Isle of Anglesey and the Lake District.

A Cradle Roll Rose

As yet there was nothing special offered to the junior age children, but in 1949 a Cradle Roll was begun with the names of sixteen babies and toddlers recorded the first year. It was an encouraging beginning and ten more names were added the year after. These were not only the names of the young children of chapel members, but included those of any young child in the village whose parents would allow their names to be entered. The parents were visited and welcomed to the chapel services. A rose bud (blue for a boy and pink for a girl) was placed on the cradle roll tree for each child and contact was maintained until the child could be encouraged to enter the Sunday School, and receive its flower. This simple, but effective, idea was the brainwave of Lily Bye.

The Eton Wick History Group is most grateful for the kind permission given by the Eton Wick Methodist Chapel to republish this history, Tough Assignment on this website.

The Methodist Chapel held it final meeting on 9th January 2022 more than 135 years after its first service in October 1886. 

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