Monday 19 December 2022

World War 2 Eighty Years On - July to December 1942

The periodic change of troops brought a section of 331 Bty. 106 Regt.  to take over the guns at Dorney camp, the battery being under the command of Major Shearer for the months of December '42. and January '43.

The No2 Conscription Act had allowed women to be called up for the Armed Forces to relieve men engaged on home defence for overseas duty.  A.A. Command was asked to supply men and guns, often as complete batteries and to replace these batteries the first mixed A.A. Unit commenced its training in 1940 and a gradual buildup of mixed units continued. The eventual number of ATS on gun sites exceeding 50,000.   Except for manning the guns, the A.T.S. posted to AA Command trained and served in all battery assignments as operators on radar, predictors, plotters, telephones, teleprinters and other essential trades serving as drivers, cooks, and clerks.

When posted to a newly formed battery more training was to follow until troop and sections could work as a team. The first mixed Batteries to arrive in the Slough - Windsor area came from 183(M) Regiment H.A.A. having joined 38 Brigade in 1942 / '43.

The batteries comprising 183 Regiment were 564(M)HAA; 608(M)HAA; 591(M)HAA and 640(M)HAA. Bty. H.Q. was installed at Chandlers Hill, Uxbridge. It is thought that 608 H.Q. was at Shirley Lodge, Colnbrook, Nr. Slough. ‘E’ Troop of the battery were stationed at camp SM8 Chandlers Hill, Uxbridge which was a show site often inspected by the ‘Elite’ from the War Office and others from the establishment. This Battery (608) had been formed at Blackdown Camp (Aldershot) in 1942 and after Gun Training at Ty Croes, Isle of Anglesey had proceeded to join 38 Brigade. Corporal Rose Castle (now Mrs Richings) from 608 Battery H.Q. Uxbridge was the first A.T.S. to arrive at Dorney Camp with Captain Martin. Their assignment was to make arrangements for the camp to receive a troop from the mixed battery. The tents of the original camp were still on-site awaiting return to depot stores for which she arranged transport to Slough Station.  The Battery that was about to leave the camp and go overseas was all male and Corporal Castle recalled her first day at Dorney.

Corporal Castle

“Being the only A.T.S. and the first, no arrangements existed for feeding so I went to the men’s mess hut a surprise awaited me in the form of a mass scramble to the centre of the table for the food and I was supposed to have what was left. The tea (char) was served up in a bucket. Needless to say, I got out and took myself to the Officers’ mess for my lunch”. Corporal Castle at first cycled from Uxbridge to Dorney each day but later lodged in the Eton Wick Road with an elderly lady whom she remembers was very kind, also the enjoyable cups of cocoa - made when she returned at night.  608 Battery manned sites at Datchet, Windsor Great Park 

Mary Lake remembers the day she joined 608 Bty.

"On the 10th. December 1942, I arrived by train at Windsor and on leaving the station I asked a policeman if he knew where I could find 608 Battery, “no joy”, but he directed me to the Windsor Post Office another blank, but they directed me to the privately owned local bus service.   I had no idea where it was going but eventually, we came to a camp and the driver let me off and waited until I had been to the Guard Room.  I was lucky and on thanking the driver retrieved my kit bag from the bus. It was then a wait until a Sgt Hellier picked me up and took me to Uxbridge.  (Blue Bus service. Windsor to Dorney) Three impressions were of the mist, sometimes very dense and when running on a call out it was a nightmare. On fine nights the mosquitoes would eat you to death, and the baby frogs presented another hazard; it was a wise precaution never to go to the ablutions bare footed as they would squelch underfoot. Sleeping in the bottom bunks of one's billet could be a frightening experience as one would awake with small frogs tangled in one's hair or frogs hopping over the blanket”.

Vivid memories by telephonist M. Suddaby, describe the inadequate camp facilities at Dorney:

 “Having just completed two weeks firing practice at Ty-Croes on the Isle of Anglesey we were posted to Dorney. Billets were allocated, but unfortunately the Nissen hut that telephonists and spotters were expected to occupy was in an appalling condition having previously been a meat store; an odour I have never smelt before or since. There was a shortfall of beds, so we were given the usual biscuit paliasses on which to sleep on the flagged floor. We could not deter the assorted number of cats from hanging around this hut, but horrible though it all was we just had to make the best of it. Fortunately for me I was on all night duty but was horrified when the poor girls trying to sleep in that hut told me of a night of horrors as dozens of mice left their nest under the flagged floor and ran over the beds and pillows and anywhere else, they fancied. helped by the cats continuing their vigil and making many successful catches. Next morning the Junior Commander came to inspect the hut and ordered the floor to be taken up and it was found that there were literally hundreds of mice nests under the flag stones.  We were transferred to share other barrack rooms which became overcrowded, and the mice decided to move in with us as well.  The accommodation was not the only problem as orders had been given not to drink from the tap as all water had to be boiled before use at the cookhouse; not having water available on tap was to lead to a first-time experience. After a walk from Windsor one warm evening, our little group were all desperately thirsty. On arrival at the camp, we found the cookhouse closed and no drinking water available. For the first time in our lives, we were forced to take a half a pint of beer from the NAAFI which was all they could produce.  It was nectar but personally I did not develop the habit.  We used to walk to Windsor in our free time and often saw the boys from Eton looking quaint in their mostly shabby suits with outgrown sleeves and trousers. No doubt they were affected by clothes rationing as was everyone else.

Although we spent an eventful six months or so as far as action was concerned, no enemy aircraft having entered our zone, we were therefore required to go to firing camp to get real firing practice in the summer of '43.  At this time ‘E Troop’ of 608 Bty. having gone to the Whitby firing camp from Uxbridge in July 1943 returned to the Datchet Old Polo Ground gun site, SM3, in August 1943. German planes were still active with Fighter bomber attacks on London and other targets requiring continued alertness by the radar operators and spotters to watch for the Hit and Run raider that could still cause havoc.

From the last days of June until the end of the war in Europe air activity was seen and heard frequently over the village as large formations of American Air Force bombers passed over. Damage to the American planes that had been inflicted by the German defences was plainly visible when returning from these raids. Falling debris and signal flares fired by the stricken planes was often seen by those watching their return. The drone of aircraft engines continued into the night as heavy bombers of the R.A.F. passed over on their way to attack Germany.


U.S. Airforce Boeing B-17 Known as a Flying Fortress, heavily armed with thirteen half inch machine guns. Crew 10.  Bomb load 8000lb.


RAF Avro Lancaster. 
Used in bombing of 
Germany. Armament. 8 - 10 .303 machine guns.  Crew 7. Bomb Load 18,000lb


Hardships and inconveniences which the war had brought by Christmas 1942 of rationing, blackout, lack of fuel and the worry of families for husbands and sons serving overseas did not reduce the enthusiasm and support for functions that took place in the village.  Satisfactory blackout curtaining had been fixed to the Institute windows allowing Whist Drives, Dances and other entertainment to be held at night. As the hall was still in use by the L.C.C. school, rooms used by them always had to be made ready before and after any social use. At the end of 1942 many of the evacuated children had returned home to London which made it possible for those remaining to be absorbed into the Eton Wick and Porney  School, Eton. The London County Council (L.C.C.) school ceased to use the Institute at the end of the Summer Term.


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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