Saturday 25 May 2024

Eton Wick History Group Talk - A Stroll in the Park presented by Mr Peter Holman - 29th May 2024


A message from Ruth Maher:

Hi all, I just wanted to let you know that the History Group have arranged a series of talks for 2024. Because of the reduced availability of the Village Hall we will be holding our meetings during the school holidays. The talks schedule can be found by clicking on this link.

Please join us and learn more about our local area. Refreshments will be provided. 

We look forward to seeing you there.

Friday 24 May 2024

Photographic History of Eton Wick and Eton - Empire Day, possibly.


This interesting old photograph is a mystery, leaving much to be guessed at. It is possibly an Empire Day gathering, some time between 1906 and 1910. The location, with the railway viaduct in the background is certainly at, or near to the south side of Eton Recreation Ground. The new Recreation Ground at that time would probably not have had the benefit of hedges, as it was all formerly Lammas land. 

The assembly of presumably Eton Porny school children and absence of uniformed boy scouts suggests it predates the Scout movement of 1908 (or 1910, if the formation of the Eton troop is allowed for). The flags, adults and speaker leads one to believe it was an Empire Day Assembly, a national celebration day inaugurated in 1902, May 24th to commemorate the birthday of the late Queen Victoria. 

This article was first published in A Pictorial History of Eton Wick & Eton.

Monday 13 May 2024

R. H. HOOD - 2nd Battalion Somerset Light Infantry

Richard Henry Hood (Private No. 5385945) - 2nd Battalion Somerset Light Infantry (Formally in Oxford & Bucks L.I.) - 28th Brigade. 

Dick, as he was more generally known, was born on August 31st, 1914, the second son of Albert and Florence May Hood. His older brother was also named Albert, and he was 20 months Dick's senior. Father Albert was popularly known as "Scottie" Hood and was the village coal merchant. He and May went on to have a family of five sons and two daughters at their home in the heart of the old Eton Wick Village at 3, Albert Place. Unfortunately, the elder girl, Rosie, died of tuberculosis as a teenager. 

Dick attended the village Infant School until April 4th, 1922, when he registered at Eton Porny. He left school, nearly a month before his 14th birthday, on August 2nd, 1928. Three years later he joined the regular peacetime army, serving in the Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry. Presumably this was not exactly to his liking, for in 1933 he persuaded his father to buy him out of his army engagement. Father had been delivering coal in the village by horse and cart for many years until early one evening, in the spring of 1931, a tragic fire destroyed his stable in Sheepcote Road, and killed the poor horse trapped inside. Scottie then had motor truck, but he never really mastered its temperamental mechanics in a way which compensated for his love of the old horse. 

By the mid 1930s his two elder sons, Albert and Dick, were running the business. At this time Dick was well known and a popular villager. In his leisure time he played right back for the Eton Wick F.C. and Saturday evenings, after the matches, he often played his accordion in The Grapes public house, for the landlord, Mr Dick Whittington. 

War came in 1939 and Dick had left the business to do military service. He was duly transferred from the Oxford and Bucks L.I. to the 2nd Battalion Somerset Light Infantry. He was now 25. Without his help, Albert probably became unsettled, causing him to volunteer for service in the Royal Air Force. When he arrived at this decision, his brother-in-law, Walter Farmer, moved from Sapperton in Gloucestershire to work in the village coal business before himself joining the R.A.F. in 1941. The business was subsequently sold to R. Bond & Sons for £100. 

In April 1941 the 2nd Battalion Somerset Light Infantry became a unit of the 2nd (Gibraltar) Brigade which was formed for the defence of Gibraltar, and in consequence they served there until December 1943. On December 1st 1943 the Brigade was re-organised as the 28th Brigade and two weeks later, on the 15th, they left The Rock en route for Egypt. Other battalions effected included the 4th Devons, the 7th Kings Own, the 1st Herts, the 2nd Kings, 1st Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders and the 2/4th Hampshires. They were nine days in transit and arrived in Egypt on Christmas Eve 1943, where they served until March 10th 1944. 

Dick and Albert Hood together for the last time. 

At some time during the 10 week stay in North Africa, Dick managed to meet brother Albert. This rendezvous was very probably in Cairo and was certainly the last occasion he would see any member of his family.

The battalion sailed north to Italy, arriving there on the 15th. American and British forces had landed in the south of Italy on September 3rd 1943 and had steadily advanced up through the country. Particularly fierce opposition had been encountered at Cassino, south of Rome. On January 22nd landing barges poured more troops into Anzio. The stubborn defenders of Cassino still held on. 

On March 16th Dick was among fresh reinforcements landed at Anzio and the Battalion's first battle in Italy of note was recorded as Cassino II fought between May 11th and 18th 1944. Dick was reported as missing on May 13th and later recorded as died on that date. The Battalion took part in four more Italian battles in 1944. Cassino fell to British and Polish forces on May 18th. As with so many families whose kin were reported as missing, the hopes remained that one day their loved one would return. Most soldiers reported as "Missing" were in fact those whose bodies had no means of identification, many would be buried in graves with the headstone inscription "Known Unto God". The Commonwealth War Graves Commission says: 

Private Hood, Richard Henry, 5385945, 2nd Bn. The Somerset Light Infantry. Died 13th May 1944. Commemorated on the Cassino Memorial, Italy, Panel 5. 

Dick is commemorated on the Eton Wick Memorial and on the Village Hall Memorial Plaque. He was unmarried and 29 years old. 

This is an extract from Their Names Shall Be Carved in Stone  
and published here with grateful thanks to the author Frank Bond.

Friday 10 May 2024

W.W. FARMER - Royal Air Force

William Walter Farmer (Sergeant Air Gunner) - Royal Air Force

Generally called by his second name, Walter, on account of his first name being the same as his father, he was born in the picturesque Gloucestershire village of Sapperton in 1922 or 1923. Sapperton is a small village with stone cottages and is about three to five miles west of Cirencester. He had two brothers and one sister, but unfortunately one of his brothers died at the age of ten. The older brother made a career m the Royal Navy, and his sister Edna married an Eton Wick man, Albert Hood, and they made their home in a newly built semi-detached house in Tilstone Avenue in 1937.

Walter attended the Sapperton School until he passed the entrance exam for Cirencester Grammar School. He was both popular and good at sports and represented his school at football and cricket. The school considered him to be the outstanding cricketer at the close of one season, and awarded Walter the much coveted "Wally Hammond" bat. He was also an accomplished snooker player. When he was 16 years old he left school and took up employment as a footman to Lord Bathurst at Park House in Cirencester. At this time his brother-in-law was running the family's coal business in and around Eton Wick. Originally the business had been operated by Albert's father, "Scottie" Hood, with a horse and cart, but since the mid 1930's it was run by his two sons, Albert and Dick.

When the 1939-45 war started, Dick was called up to serve with the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and Albert decided to join the Royal Air Force. Because of this, Walter left his native Sapperton to live with his sister in Tilstone Avenue, discarding his footman's clothes for those of a coal merchant. He probably arrived in Eton Wick in mid or late 1940 and Albert was able to explain the business and introduce him to the customers before himself entering the R.A.F. in early 1941. 
When the time came for going abroad, Albert sold the business to R. Bond & Sons, the village road contractors, for £100. Walter decided to join the Royal Air Force also, and left the village for preliminary training in April 1942, having been Eton Wick's coalman for about one and a half years. He was a driver attached to the Motor Transport section, R.A.F. until he decided to volunteer for aircrew duties as an Air Gunner. By this time his sister Edna had a year old son, and his parents, Mr & Mrs Farmer, had moved from Sapperton to keep her company in Eton Wick.

Walter completed the gunnery course and was awarded a trophy for obtaining 85% marks: the highest entrant at that time. Before taking up flying duties with an operational squadron, it was customary for crews to be adjusted to the hazards they would encounter when they took part in raids against the enemy. They obtained this experience from one of many operational training units (O.T.U.s). During the last week of this further training Walter was one of the crew of a Lancaster bomber which crashed into the Brecon Hills in Wales. The entire crew were killed. Had he lived he would have been posted for operations the following week.

Albert Hood returned from the middle east after the war and Dick Hood was killed in the Anzio Landings in Italy on August Bank Holiday 1944. Walter was killed on the Easter Bank Holiday of that year in April just two years after he entered the R.A.F. He was 21 years old and his grave is in the beautiful Haycombe Cemetery that overlooks Bath. He is commemorated in Gloucester Cathedral, in the Sapperton Village Church, on the Eton Wick Memorial and on the Eton Wick Village Hall tablet.

William Farmer's page on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.

This is an extract from Their Names Shall Be Carved in Stone  
and published here with grateful thanks to the author Frank Bond.

Monday 6 May 2024

World War 2 - May. 1944 - Shortage of House

The acute shortage of housing in the district had the Council considering what could be done to refurbish any derelict houses.  One such premise available was No.2 Bell Cottage in Eton Wick which had been taken over as a salvage depot in 1940 and was in poor condition having been vandalized by children. The council accepted a quote from Burfoots of Eton Wick of £163 for refurbishment including connection to the sewer but the acute shortage of material delayed the work for a year.

D-Day Preparations

As the assault on Normandy as drawing closer preparations increased across the South of England. Men, equipment and other war supplies needed to be in the correct order to reach the invasion forces at the right time. Eton Wick was one of the stop over points as remembered by resident Joan Neighbour.

“During one night, towards the end of May, a convoy of Army trucks arrived in Alma Road  and into Bell Lane. Daylight showed that sentries had been posted and the soldiers confined to the trucks. A dispatch rider took any orders from the men wanting cigarettes etc. and the women from the road made tea for the boys who seemed to be just waiting. I think it must have been part of the dispersal of troops and equipment in the build up to ‘D-Day’.  After a few days the convoy moved out with a farewell comment from the boys of "If we get through we'll be back to see you".  

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