Bully Beef and Bullseyes
From the mid 1930s Europe’s attention was drawn to Germany and the actions of its Chancellor, Adolf Hitler. The German Nazi party had been elected to power in 1932. The German population had yearned for a strong leader who would stand up for the nation in light of the harsh reparations imposed after the Great War of 1914-1918. In January 1933 Hitler became Chancellor of a coalition government and soon assumed dictatorial powers. Within a few years it became clear that he wanted more than just control of Germany.
Seventy years ago, on 30th September, 1938 Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich Agreement with Adolf Hitler. The agreement was signed in response to Germany’s annexation of Czechoslovakia, and was heralded as giving “peace in our time”. However, it soon became clear that Hitler did not intend to abide by the agreement restricting further Germany expansion.
The Great War had been called ‘The War to End All Wars’, but long before September 1939, Europe was poised on the brink of another conflict. Although all the signs indicated that war would be inevitable, in late August 1939, only a few days before war was declared, only one in five Britons admitted that they were really expecting it to happen.
On 1st September, 1939 German troops moved in to Poland, and two days later Britain and France declared war. Immediately the British Government announced the conscription of all men aged 18 to 40, starting with those aged 20 to 30. Even before they were called up, many men volunteered to join the armed forces. Despite the enormous number of volunteers willing to fight for King and Country, and early preparations in case invasion, the early months of the war saw no action. When for seven months the expected bombs did not fall, the press began to write about “the Phoney War”. However, as Nazi troops took control of Denmark, Norway, the Low Countries and then France in 1940, the British people readied themselves for an attempted invasion.
The Government issued identity cards to all citizens, with strict instructions that they had to be carried at all times. Local authorities started to stock-pile provisions ready to distribute to their residents. Thousands of respirators or gas masks had been ordered by both Chertsey and Egham Urban District Councils in 1938, and now the time had come to ensure everyone was prepared.
Unlike previous wars, the Second World War affected civilians in a way never seen before. During the first three years of conflict more civilians died than soldiers.
Even in the 1930s Britain imported much of its food from abroad, and when war broke out the shipping lanes across the Atlantic and English Channel were targets for enemy action in an attempt to starve Britain of much needed supplies. To conserve the resources of the nation the Government introduced rationing of butter, bacon and sugar in January 1940. Two months later tea, margarine and cooking fats were restricted, followed by cheese in 1941. Later on most food items were rationed as German U-boats successfully prevented supply ships arriving in Britain. Even items that were not officially rationed, such as alcohol and cigarettes, where in short supply.
Prices were fixed by the Government so that food cost the same wherever you bought it, and each person had a daily entitlement of rations. To make sure that everyone received their fair share ration books were issued with weekly coupons which could be exchanged for food. To supplement their diets Britons were encouraged to grow their own vegetables, and many city lawns, flower beds and parks were dug up for planting. The Dig for Victory campaign was very successful and enabled everyone to do their bit towards the war effort, but people had to be more creative with their cooking, finding ways to make the little they had go a long way.
Many people grouped together to rear livestock as a way of increasing their weekly food allowance. In Addlestone, as in other towns, there was a “pig club” based at the police station in which members helped to rear pigs, feeding them on kitchen waste. Everyone who supplied waste food for the pigs and assisted with their care would take a share of the bacon produced when the pigs were slaughtered.
However, it was not just food that was rationed. On 1st June, 1941, clothing was also rationed as it became difficult to import material and British manufacturers were busy making uniforms, parachutes and other war essentials. Each man, woman and child (over the age of 4) was issued with a clothing ration book containing 66 coupons. As with the food rationing, these were given to the store when purchasing items to ensure that everyone had equal access to clothing. 66 coupons was the equivalent to one new outfit per year. A man’s jacket, for example, required 13 coupons whilst it was only 12 for a woman’s and 8 for a child’s.
Make Do & Mend was a Government campaign launched to encourage everyone to repair clothes instead of buying new ones. Old jumpers were unravelled and the wool used to knit new ones. Parachutes, if you were lucky enough to find one, were fashioned in to underwear, and women dyed their legs brown with tea when stockings were in short supply. Fashion styles altered to take in to account the lack of material and embellishments, and the Government introduced Utility Mark clothes which were manufactured to strict regulations. Gent’s jackets could have a maximum of 3 pockets, no turn-ups on trousers and only 3 buttons, whereas women’s clothes were not to have any unnecessary pleats or tucks, and shoes had a maximum height of 5 cm.
Petrol had been rationed as soon as war had been declared in 1939, and motorists were limited to 200 miles of travel per month. In December 1939 the bus routes in Chertsey and Egham were altered due to petrol rationing, and some routes were suspended altogether. In 1942 private motorists in Britain were not permitted any petrol at all as a result of oil supplies being disrupted by the Japanese occupation of Malaysia.
As soon as Nazi troops invaded Poland the British Government put their war plans in to action and announced the launch of Operation Pied Piper, the official evacuation of mothers, children and disabled people from larger cities. Heavy bombing was expected especially in cities and towns with target industries such as docks, railways, and munitions plants. Evacuation was necessary to prevent panic and massive numbers of civilian casualties. Plans had been drawn up which divided the country in to zones - Evacuation, Reception and Neutral. It was estimated that 13 million people lived in the evacuation zones, which were mainly the large industrialised cities, so it was an enormous logistical undertaking. Altogether 827,000 school children, 524,000 mothers and young children, 13,000 expectant mothers, 7,000 blind and disabled people, and 103,000 teachers and helpers were evacuated across Britain. A further two million others made their own arrangements to leave, whilst many more left for the United States, Canada or Australia in a bid to avoid the war. In September 1939 one third of all Britons changed their address.
The Borough of Runnymede was considered a safe enough area to be designated a reception zone, and so local residents prepared to welcome evacuees from London and the south coast. On 1st September, 1939 the Surrey Herald announced the imminent arrival of children. The evacuees were to be billeted, or lodged, with private households, and local volunteers had already begun to survey the Borough’s residents to establish how many evacuees each home could accommodate. Starting on 2nd September, and for two days after that, the children started to arrive by train at Chertsey and Egham. The trains arrived at 10.00, 12.10 and 16.10, each full of evacuees. It is estimated that by the end of the third day the Chertsey Urban District area had 2,846 billeted evacuees and the Egham Urban District area had 1,800 evacuee children. Each evacuee was issued with “iron rations” consisting of a packet of biscuits, a packet of chocolate, two tins of milk, two tins of corned beef and a paper bag to carry them in. These emergency rations were supposed to last for the first 48 hours, after which they would be fed by the family they were lodging with.
Evacuation was not compulsory, and many chose to remain in London. Those who decided to evacuate were given very little notification of the move. Mothers were told to pack a change of underclothes, sandwiches and a gas mask; with so many people in transit it was not possible to take many possessions with them. A label had to be attached to the child’s school coat with their name and address written on it, and they were to make their way to their school, from where they would be taken to the train station. They were also allowed to take a favourite toy and a stamped postcard to send back to their parents once they were moved, to give details of their new address.
When the predicted bombing did not happen, the evacuees were keen to return home to their families. By January 1940 40% of the children evacuated to the country and 90% of mothers had returned home. It was not until September 1940, when London was heavily bombed in the “Blitz”, that the evacuees returned to Runnymede. In July 1940 Chertsey welcomed 1,200 unaccompanied children, who were taken from the station to The Playhouse cinema and then bussed to distribution depots at Stepgates School, Chertsey, St. Paul’s School, Addlestone, New Haw School, and Ottershaw and Lyne. From there they were allocated to families for billeting. The Borough also welcomed a number of London schools who moved to the area with all their pupils. The Constitutional Hall at Chertsey was used as a school and local schools across the Borough had to accommodate the new arrivals.
The billeting of evacuees was not always welcome, and in March 1941 the Surrey Herald reports that one Borough resident was heavily fined for not accommodating an evacuated child. It was a difficult time for all involved. It was very upsetting for the children who were taken away from their parents and did not know when they would see them again. Whist every effort was made to keep families together, often this was not possible and so children were separated from their brothers and sisters. Many of the children evacuated had never left the city in which they lived, and were frightened about moving to more rural areas. Those who took in the evacuees had to learn to live with complete strangers, often in overcrowded conditions.
Fighting a war in the air was not a new thing. Indeed, there had been bombing raids on Britain during the First World War, but with rapid technological advances in the inter-war years, the aircrafts of the Second Word War were more reliable, faster and deadlier.
In 1935 Hitler announced the formation of the German air force, the Luftwaffe, and two years later unveiled a new bomber which was capable of travelling at 220 mph and could carry a bomb load of 750 kg. This was far superior to anything the Royal Air Force had, and so the British Government rushed to create new bombers of their own.
Once war was declared it was always feared that the Nazis would try to invade Britain, and the RAF would be needed to bomb any vessels trying to enter British waters. Therefore, in July 1940 the German Luftwaffe launched a bombing assault on Britain, concentrating on attacking airfields, aircraft and radar stations. Despite the Government’s best efforts the RAF had insufficient planes to fight the Luftwaffe who had four times the number of bomber and fighter planes. The Battle of Britain was the war fought in the air above London and the south coast, and although many British pilots and their crew were gunned down, the RAF managed to retain control of the skies and inflict heavy losses on the Luftwaffe. So great were the German casualties that the planned invasion of Britain was postponed, and instead their bombers targeted docks, factories and railways in an attempt to force Britain to surrender. The campaign, known as the Blitz, lasted from September 1940 to May 1941 and over 41,000 British civilians were killed with a further 137,000 people reported injured.
The Borough of Runnymede was also targeted during the Blitz campaign and high explosive and incendiary bombs fell on the Borough between August 1940 and March 1944. In total over 8,000 bombs were dropped on the Borough towns, including five “doodlebug” V1 rockets and two V2 rockets. Local Auxiliary Fire Service volunteers attended bombing scenes all over the Borough, putting out fires caused by the incendiaries, but they were also called to assist with bombings in other areas including Weybridge, Woking, London, Birmingham, Southampton, Portsmouth and Bristol.
In response to these attacks local residents were given instructions on how to react during an air raid. Air raid shelters were designed and constructed to withstand all but a direct hit from a bomb, although some were more suited for the task than others. Anderson shelters were named after David Anderson one of the civil engineers who designed them, and not, as it is often thought, named after Sir John Anderson the then Home Secretary. Anderson shelters were issued free to anyone who earned less than £250 per year or at a cost of £7 to those who earned more. These shelters were constructed in people’s gardens where a pit was dug and then covered with the corrugated steel sheets to form a shelter. By far the most popular type of shelter, over 2.3 million Anderson shelters had been distributed country wide by September 1940.
The Morrison shelter, named after the Minister for Home Security, Mr. Herbert Morrison, offered alternative protection for people who did not have a garden in which to build an Anderson shelter. Its design resembled a reinforced kitchen table and users would hide underneath it during an air raid. They were not very popular as they took up too much space in the home, and there were fears that if the house collapsed the residents would be trapped under the “table” and would burn to death in a fire. Instead many people opted to hide in cupboards underneath the stairs along with the gas meter and other such flammable items. If people did not have space for either an Anderson or a Morrison shelter, public shelters were available, but these were often cramped, noisy and unpleasant. In Chertsey the municipal shelters were in Barker Road, Sir William Perkins School and the grounds of Salesians College.
As early as September 1935 the British Government began issuing civil defence notices and planning how to defend the home front. By 1937 the Air Raid Warden Service or ARP had been created to co-ordinate and oversee these plans. By 1939 1.5 million people were already involved in civil defence, and this figure rose to nearly 2 million at the end of 1943.
ARPs were a vital part of the civil defence plan. Men over the age of 30 who were registering for the forces were allowed to put their names down for certain branches of the ARP and Auxiliary Fire Service, but only 1 in every 600 men volunteered.
In October 1939 a meeting of Chertsey Urban District Council agreed to employ a team of ARPs. There were to be 30 men, each paid £3 per week; 5 women, paid £2 per week; and 2 full time workers who were to be based at the Fordwater Road Report Centre. A similar number of ARPs were recruited by Egham Urban District Council, but when the predicted bombing raids did not materialise they were sacked and there were only volunteer ARPs across the Borough.
The Borough was divided in to Wards, each with their own group of wardens under the command of a Head Warden. They were responsible for ensuring that Blackout protocol was followed. In September 1939 all street lights across the country were put out to make it more difficult for enemy bombers to find their targets. Heavy blackout material was used to cover up the windows, and when this ran out, and rationing made it impossible to buy any more, windows were painted black instead. There were heavy fines for people who did not obey the blackout rules. Not having street lights made travelling by night very dangerous. In mid September 1939 the Surrey Herald reported the Borough’s first blackout fatality when a Thorpe resident was knocked over and killed at Fort Belvedere. Vehicles travelling by night had to have shades fitted to their headlights and as a result many people were killed or injured on the roads. In fact, by the end of 1939 a total of 8,272 people had been killed across Britain due to the blackout.
ARPs were also responsible for reporting all incidents of enemy action in their Ward. Having attended the incidents and assisted with rescuing people from bomb wrecked buildings, the ARPs would submit detailed reports on how many bombs had fallen, and the extent of the damage caused.
Many of the bombs dropped on Britain were incendiary devices, designed to cause devastating fires. To assist with fighting these fires the Auxiliary Fire Service, or AFS, was established. Again, these people were all volunteers; often working during the day and then at night responding to calls outs. Many local people assisted with the “fire watch” to ensure that any fire was put out quickly and not left to burn and attract the attention of enemy bombers.
On 14th May, 1940 the Government appealed to all men aged 17 to 65 to join a part time force known as the Local Defence Volunteers. By December 1941 any male civilian could be ordered to join the Home Guard, as they became known. At its peak the Home Guard had nearly 2 million men who kept watch over Britain’s coastline, factories, aerodromes and other targets, freeing up the Army for other important tasks.
The Home Guard became the local army, constructing defence lines, pill boxes and road blocks. They removed signposts to confuse any invading troops, and placed obstacles in fields to prevent enemy aircrafts from landing. The men were trained on how to use weapons, and would practice shooting at the rifle range at Bisley, on St. Ann’s Hill and even in a sandpit in Ottershaw. They were permitted to keep up to ten pounds of ammunition at home so they were ready to fight at a moment’s notice. However, as it was impossible to arm and issue uniforms for so many men at such short notice, they were often under equipped.
The Chertsey Home Guard had a bicycle patrol which toured through the town, setting off from the Drill Hall and cycling down London Street, Windsor Street, Staines Lane, in to Thorpe, round Lyne, in to Ottershaw and back along Guildford Road and Eastworth Road before returning to the Drill Hall. A similar patrol was established in Egham.
The War affected everyone and everything in Britain. All attention was turned to the campaign oversees and on how Britain could manufacture the much needed supplies and munitions. Factories and businesses were taken over for the war effort, and this had a huge impact on the working lives of the population. Many of those who went to work in the factories were women, some of whom had never been to work before. With the men called up to serve in the armed forces their places on the production lines and assembly plants of the nation were occupied by the women.
In Runnymede many businesses converted from their peacetime occupation to manufacture more military supplies. The largest employer in the area was Vickers-Armstrong Ltd, based at Brooklands, Weybridge, who manufactured aircrafts. Between 1936 and the end of 1945 Vickers had built 2,515 Wellington bombers at the Weybridge plant. The factory had made cars prior to the First World War, but the site was taken over by The War Office and Vickers started making aeroplanes there in 1915. During the Second World War many of the tasks were subcontracted to smaller companies in the area as garages and commercial premises were devoted to war work. Production took place throughout the night, and two Wellington bomber planes were built every 24 hours. Work was also undertaken on a top secret project, the importance of which only became known in 1943. It was only then that some of the Vickers worker realised that they had worked on the design and development of Dr. Barnes Wallis’s ‘Bouncing Bomb’, used to such effect in the 'Dambuster Raids' by 617 Squadron. It is said that at the height of the war there were 15,000 Vickers employees. Such a massive production site attracted unwanted attention from enemy planes, and Vickers was hit by bombs on 4th September 1940, signalling the start of the German bombing campaign over Britain.
The Weymann’s bus and coach works in Addlestone was adapted to manufacture vehicle bodies for ambulances, lorries, cabs and prison vans, and troop carriers. The Addlestone based Airscrew Company (formerly the Lang Propeller Company) manufacturing propellers for fighter planes during the Second World War and also manufactured the Walrus seaplane which was based at Chertsey Meads. The world’s only factory manufacturing darts for the troops at this time was also based in Addlestone. In Egham, Lagonda (Staines) Ltd ceased manufacturing cars with the out-break of war in 1939 and instead made shells, flame throwers, and aircraft fuel tanks. The Chertsey and Longcross “Tank Factory” was built in 1939 and tanks were tested on Chobham Common
Botleys, Chertsey (now part of the St. Peter’s Hospital site) had been bought in 1930 as a by Surrey County Council as a mental health hospital. However, in September 1939 most of the patients were moved to Murray House, Ottershaw so that Botleys could receive wounded soldiers from the Front. ‘Botleys Park War Hospital’ consisted of 20 huts, grouped around a central ramped corridor, with outlying buildings used for nurse’s homes and stores, and Botleys Park Mansion was used to accommodated doctors and nursing staff. It was staffed by nurses from St. Thomas’ Hospital, London and many of the patients from evacuated London hospitals were sent there, as were victims of the London Blitz, and the wounded from Dunkirk and the D-Day landings. At this time there were 1,400 war hospital beds and 1,050 beds for other patients. On the 28th May 1940 Her Majesty the Queen (later the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother) visited the War Hospital to see the wounded soldiers evacuated from Dunkirk.