Monday 4 December 2023

World War 2 Eighty Years On - 'Spit and Polish' and two crashed Flying Fortresses

The proximity of Windsor Castle with the Royal family and others of military rank brought a certain amount of ‘Spit and Polish’ to the local Ack-Ack camps, including Dorney camp due to the possible visits by "Red Tab " Officers from the War Office King George VI once visited the Dorney Ack-Ack camp having passed through the village un-noticed. By 1943 the camps had acquired a look of permanence with the inclusion of a fairly large NAAFI hut where Troop entertainment, such as Bingo, Film Shows and Dances were held. As this was a mixed battery, there was never a shortage of partners for camp dances where two musicians from the village, Andy Skeels on piano and George White on drums, often supplied the music. Both had been evacuated to Eton Wick to escape the bombing of London. 

It was not all war and no play for the gunners, for in June 1943 the first sports meeting was held by the local H.A.A. Regiment at the old Polo Ground Datchet. A Bathing Belles competition, in which a number of the locally stationed A.T.S. girls took part, was judged by a committee of R.A. Officers. Various field events were also arranged in which both Gunners and A.T.S. took part. After the prizes had been distributed by the Brigade Commander, an enjoyable day was rounded off with a dance and cabaret. 

B Troop’ 564 Heavy (M) AA Battery R.A.  183 Regiment R.A.  38 Division.   SM7 Camp  Dorney Common.  1944

Officer Commanding.  Major Haines (seated centre).   Reverend Wingate, Vicar of St John the Baptist, Eton Wick.


The intensified Allied air offensive was seen and heard as Flying Fortress (B17) heavy bombers of the United States Air Force frequently flew over the village on their way to bomb targets in France and Germany. It was taken for granted that the aircraft overhead were friendly, but there was always the danger of a bomber crashing in the locality from having been damaged in an attack over enemy territory. Such an incident occurred to a U.S.A.F.(B17) bomber returning damaged from a daylight raid on Schweinfurt. The drone of the plane circling was heard in the evening at dusk as it continued to circle over the Windsor area for some time. After a while the increased roar of the engines was heard to be followed by the noise of the crash as the damaged Flying Fortress (B17) did a wheels up landing onto Beaumont College rugby pitch at Runnymede. but luckily, no injuries were sustained by the crew in the crash other than being rather shaken. The bomber had received damage to the hydraulic system during the raid over enemy occupied territory. A shaken but relieved crew made their way to the Bells of Ouesley public house where they were entertained by the landlord,  Mr. Barnett. Hundreds of sightseers visited the site during the weekend.

A second Boeing B17 of 91st Bomber Group crashed at Old Windsor
on December 30th, 1943.

Strict fuel rationing curtailed the service provided by the Blue Bus from Dorney - Eton Wick - Windsor, also it limited the availability of Taxis. An order, issued by the Ministry of Fuel and Power, stated that from the end of May 1942 no petrol would be available to Hackney Carriages licensed after April of that year. The only taxi in the village at this time was owned by Mr. Phillips who had got his taxi license in the December of 1942 before the report came out. 

Mr. Chew taking up the plea for a petrol ration, made the point to the Surveyor, that Mr. Phillips was fulfilling a very necessary need in the village as Eton Wick had already lost one taxi. A decision was taken to apply for a supply of petrol which resulted in a successful application. Motor fuel was available for private cars for essential war service, generally in the community. One case of misuse of fuel which resulted in a summons was the result of the watchful eye of P.C. Rainer the village constable. On four occasions within the month, he had noticed that the organist to Eton Wick chapel was collected after service by car. On questioning the lady driver, he established that the petrol was for church work, but he did not consider fetching the organist after the service lawful church work. Three and a half gallons of motor fuel was the ration that had been allowed for three and half months. On coming to court the Magistrate thought the case too trifling and dismissed the charge with cost. 

From 1940 until late 1945 the Blue Bus Service operated by  Mr. Cole was also subject to strict fuel rationing curtailing the Windsor to Eton Wick service, the last bus of the day being 9pm.

Travel difficulties experienced by the village were not helped by the influx of wartime inhabitants. The inadequate bus service made it difficult to get to work or to other activities. Often the bus coming from Dorney to Windsor was full on reaching Eton Wick which brought forth angry complaints from the village residents Eventually letters were sent to the Traffic Commissioners about the inadequacy of service by the Eton U.D.C. but no improvements resulted from these complaints and stronger action would follow by the village community in 1944.

Is your journey really necessary?

This reminder appeared on posters at many railway stations. Non-essential travel was discouraged because of military requirements. In 1943 some seaside beaches that had been closed as an anti-invasion measure were again opened to the public, there was no rush as travel on overcrowded trains and very limited seaside accommodation made holidays difficult. The innovation of "Holidays at Home", an organized week of activities by the local councils and voluntary organizations, helped munitions and other workers to enjoy their annual weeks’ summer holiday. Military displays, sport meetings, fun fairs, concerts and displays showing some of the local war production were held on Agars Plough during the week. Large gatherings were attracted to these entertainments.

Army Gymnastic team  giving a display during a ‘Holiday at Home Week’.

Displays of all types by the armed services were put on to recruit Men and women 

for wartime services and also supporting special National savings weeks 

On the declaration of war, the Government had commandeered the railways and some motor transport for the movement of military personnel and other essential war supplies. Whereas the proportion of passenger traffic to goods pre-war had been in the ratio of 80% to 20%, the ratio was now became reversed. A poster campaign constantly reminded civilian passengers that munitions and troop movement together with food and fuel had priority. The reduced number of passenger trains gave rise to longer journey times than normal. Blackout regulations, air raids, and the huge number of passengers traveling, often with as many standing as sitting. Service personnel often travelled with their full military kit which took up as much room as a normal passenger which made for uncomfortable travelling. During air raids, trains stopped at the first station they arrived at, allowing passengers to alight if they wished. Servicemen and women returning to their units from leave had to make an early start back in case they arrived at their camps late and were charged with being absent. 

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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