Haslemere in World War 2 - 1939 - 1945
Transcript of notes by William Austen Sillick
(c1877-1955), chief journalist on Haslemere Herald for fifty years.
The Local Defence Volunteers
A War Hospital Depot
War Savings Weeks
The First Air Raid Warning
Rex Cinema Damaged in Aeroplane Crash
Sunday, 3rd September 1939 was the day of the declaration of war against Germany and the occasion found Haslemere ready with comprehensive plans for civil defence thoughtfully prepared and perfected over a long period of time. Surgeon Vice admiral Sir Basil Hall was chairman of the A.R.P. Committee with Mr P.G. Best as A.R.P. Officer and the various services were well staffed and in a high state of efficiency. The congregations in the churches were somewhat smaller than usual for many people had remained at home to hear the Prime Minister's announcement of a declaration of war and the news was communicated to the congregation by the Rector (Canon S Martin Jones). In the streets one saw serious faces and generally there was an atmosphere of calm and even cheerfulness, fortified by the knowledge that this country had never entered a war in a more just cause.
The auxiliary Fire Brigade was under the command of Captain A.N. Stratton and the first aid service was staffed by the St John Ambulance Brigade supplemented by auxiliary volunteers. Eleven air raid wardens posts had been established in the district and there were two mobile first aid posts - one at Haslemere and one at Hindhead - as well as six first aid points. The ARP telephones were manned day and night and the rescue and road repair parties were in a state of constant readiness. With the suspension of public lighting the town rapidly reached a point when there was a complete blackout every evening and trains were passing through the station and disembarking their passengers in darkened surroundings.
During the first weekend of September, 1939, nearly 8000 children and helpers were received at Haslemere Station under the evacuation scheme. About 20 special trains were used in connection with the evacuation to this district. The total number dealt with at the station was 7908 and of these 5671 were sent to various centres in the Midhurst and Petworth Rural Districts. Over 2000 were billeted in the Haslemere Urban District and several empty houses were used for the purposes of billeting. The evacuated children included those from Fulham, Chelsea, Brixton and Wimbledon and their bearing was described as "simply magnificent".
School Children making a shelter on Lion Green
In The News Chronicle of September 1st, 1939, was a picture showing a horse at a stable window looking out on a party of women preparing mattresses filled with straw in the yard of well known Haslemere Hotel. The mattresses were for the use of children when they arrived from the evacuation areas.
In 1939 ten schools were evacuated to Haslemere, mostly from London and Portsmouth. Marchants Hill Camp (Beacon Hill, Hindhead) had lately been completed by the National Camps Corporation to give city children some experience of country life, where large numbers of children from East Ham were soon established under the headmastership of Mr W. Skipsey. This school took an active part in the social activities of the district and one of their elaborate and attractive pageants secured the interest of the BBC which included a description in one of its broadcasts. In Haslemere schools from Fulham and Chelsea were settled at "Wycombe", and about 40 of them were housed in a hostel at "Scotlands" where they were visited by the Mayor of Chelsea and Dr Edith Summerskill, M.P. for West Fulham. A number of large houses were requisitioned for billeting purposes.
About 150 children from Portsmouth were settled in Haslemere in the early part of the war and they were visited by the Lord Mayor of that city at Christmas, 1940. The largest party of these children received their education at "Sadlers", a charming house in its own grounds of five acres which at one time was the Haslemere Rectory. A former owner was Miss Edith Newton and after the death of another owner, Mrs Miles Moss, the property was purchased by Mr and Mrs Cookson who went to live in the chauffeur's cottage so that their home could be made available as a school. They took much interest in the children's welfare and the headmaster was Mr T. Lindley.
Another Portsmouth School was housed in the Weaving House, Kings Road, Paragon School, Walworth, was established at Camelsdale with Mr O. C. Foden as headmaster, and Christ Church School, Clapham, was at Fernhurst, first in the Scout Hut and afterwards in the Council School. The parish Room, Hindhead, was another educational centre for Portsmouth and London children.
By the end of 1939 a number of relief and social services had been effectively organised. Eccleesia Hostel was providing accommodation for boys who could not be found billets elsewhere, and at Holly Ridge there was a residential nursery for babies under five left there by mothers who had to return home. Cases of non-notifiable illnesses were received at Quedley where they were treated and clinics were held daily.
For evacuated mothers a club was held on five afternoons a week in the Congregational Lecture Hall, various womens organisations arranging the programmes for each day. Also at the Congregational Church there was a nursery for babies where they could play. A Boys Club in Kings Road (Hall of St George) was used by both local and evacuee boys. Lectures were given daily at the Museum and at other Halls in the district for the evacuated schools, often illustrated with lantern slides. During November there was an attendance of nearly 4000 at these lectures.
Communal dinners were provided at the Infants School daily and the Canteen in the Women's Club was open on Sundays for the convenience of visiting parents and evacuees.
A Wants and Exchange depot in Lower Street received gifts of perambulators, cutlery, furniture, linen, clothes and many other articles which were distributed to householders and empty houses were taken over for various purposes. Those who could afford it paid a small sum for clothes and the proceeds were used for buying materials, knitting wool, books and mackintoshes. The Depot had a list of voluntary menders of books, shoes and clothes. There was also a library where books could be exchanged.
The first Christmas of the war was a memorable time for evacuees, their parents and friends. On Sunday, Christmas Eve, dinners were provided at the Women's Club Canteen and about 180 sat down at tables which had been decorated with holly and crackers. On Boxing Day a large number of children and their parents were invited to a high tea and entertainment in the Drill Hall. The Company of about 600 included 450 evacuees and 150 local children drawn from the homes where the evacuated children are staying. For the children under seven there was a Christmas Tree in St Christophers Hall before they joined the others for tea in the Drill Hall and afterwards there was a programme of games and community singing and a conjuring entertainment.
On the following day nearly one thousand evacuee and local children were present at a film entertainment in the Rex Cinema. Schools represented the Fulham Central, St Johns, Fulham, St Marks, Paragon (Walworth), Park Walk and Fortescue School from Mitcham. Arrangements were made by the Head Teachers of the London schools and Mr A.S. Compton (St Johns, Fulham) said the local children had been invited to the entertainment as some slight return for the great kindness the London children had received in the Haslemere district.
The Local Defence Volunteers
(Afterwards the Home Guard) was formed as the result of a broadcast by Mr Eden and the first volunteer arrived at Haslemere Police Station before he had finished his broadcast. The Civil Defence services were organised on a wide basis and many exercises were carried out in the district. The Observer Corps went on duty at Fernhurst soon after war was declared and in 1941 both the Army Cadet Force and the Air Training Corps [A.T.S] were started in the district.
During the war two vessels of the Royal Navy were "adopted" by Haslemere and people of the town took a practical interest in both the ship's companys. HMS Haslemere, the first ship to bear the name of the town, was first to be "adopted" and the British Legion was especially concerned with it. Miss Sellwod, on behalf of the Women's Section, was diligent in sending parcels of books, comforts, musical instruments, etc. to cheer up the men's lives. Sheila Moss (then aged 7) was "adopted" by the ship's company and her photograph was hung in the mess room. For months she regularly collected gifts of books, toys and puzzles for the men. Mr Rogerson and Mr Whitfield also interested themselves in the ship in a variety of ways. The Commanding Officer, Commander Fletcher, lost his life while trying to save the life of Amy Johnson, the airwoman and the first woman to make a solo flight from England to Australia.
In 1944 Haslemere also "adopted" HMS Torpedo Boat No.46 and many parcels of comforts were sent to the men. In September, 1939, the British Legion opened a comforts shop and many thousands of garments made or presented by local ladies were sent to the headquarter depots of the three services.
A War Hospital Depot was opened at Hindhead under the general direction of Mrs Da Costa who gave up two rooms in her charming house (Beacon House) for the purposes. There 40 ladies worked in making a large number of hospital dressings as well as garments of various kinds for hospital patients. Their work for evacuee clinics, hospitals and various units of the army and merchant service gained for the workers the thanks of all concerned. The Depot also undertook work for the Red Cross, WVS and Civil Defence workers. In the first two years £850 was received and over 92,000 surgical and field dressings were provided.
War Savings Weeks were organised in Haslemere during the war and by the end of 1941 the million mark in savings was passed, nearly a quarter of a million ahead of Godalming with which there had been a friendly race. A spitfire fund was organised and was afterwards merged in the war savings. There were various salvage drives and in 1944 a book recovery drive with a target of 25,000 schoolchildren alone collected 30,000 books and counting those from other agencies the final figure was 42,000.
A prominent feature of the first year of the war was the enormous increase in the population. Besides the 500 children evacuated from London and Portsmouth and the many evacuated mothers with children, refugees came from the south coast and those bombed out of their homes in London. At the peak the population went up to 15,000.
Hostels for expectant mothers were established at "Woodlands" (Bunch Lane), at Anthony Place and at Ridgecoombe (Hindhead) where in 1943 there was a disastrous fire with serious loss of life. Ridgecoombe had formerly been used as a hostel for small children and there was another at "Margaretta" (Haslemere). "Eccleslea" was used as a hostel for boys and "Quedley" as a hospital for minor ailments. The food supply was helped by a Pig Club, formed in 1941 with Mr E. Pollard as secretary. In 1940 a knitting centre was established at Grayswood Copse.
Many canteens and social centres were set up to serve the needs of troops and evacuated persons. Some of them were managed by the various churches and St Christopher Hall was occupied by the YMCA. One of the most successful of the canteens was that at the Womens Club managed by Mrs Swann, Mrs Hutchinson and Mrs
Hack. There were clubs for young people and the Youth Council, representative of all the youth
Mr A.G. Whitcher
Many war duties were undertaken by the Urban District Council in addition to Civil Defence. At one time the Emergency Committee were meeting almost daily to deal with matters of urgency
and there was an emergency information service. Food and fuel control offices were set up and
maintained throughout the war. Mr C.J. Welland, who had been Food Executive Officer during the 1914 - 18 War, was chairman of the Food Control Committee until 1942 when he became Milk
Officer. With many others he was a voluntary worker in the office throughout the war.
The first Food Executive Officer was Mr A.G. Whitcher (Clerk of the Council), and upon his
resignation in June, 1940, he was succeeded by Mr W. Hayward who held the office until some
months after the end of the war. Mr Haywood who had been chief assistant in the Food Office
since the beginning of the war, came to Haslemere in 1939 and before that resided for many years
at Yokohama where he was a prominent member of the British Community. Mr Whitcher, the first chief Billeting Officer, was succeeded by Mr J.J. Shirley, the Council's Sanitary Inspector. Mr F.D. Huntingford succeeded Mr Welland as chairman of the Food Control Committee.
Enemy Air Attacks
The First Air Raid Warning
Haslemere had its first air raid warning on the Wednesday morning after the declaration of war. It had been reported that enemy aeroplanes were approaching our sea coasts and the first warning was received at 7am. At 8.20am the sirens were sounded as well as the hooter at the Gas Works and the A.R.P. services were mobilised in a very short space of time. The A.T.S. were called out and men and women were seen hurrying to their posts where they remained until the all clear was given at 9.15.
The enemy made a number of air attacks on the Haslemere district during the war, and the most serious was on March 8th, when high explosive and incendiary bombs were dropped over a wide area. One private house (Heath Edge) in the High Street, which had a bomb dropped in its garden during a fugitive raid some two years before on this occasion, received a direct hit and considerable structural damage was done to the back part of the premises. This was the only direct hit reported. All the other high explosive bombs fell either in roads or in gardens and although a large number of incendiary bombs were dropped they did not go off or came down in open ground and no fires resulted.
One of the bombs, which fell in the garden of a house near the Ambulance Station in Pathfields,
caused the death of Miss Marion Clarke, a volunteer ambulance driver for the Council since 1939,
and seriously injured Mr Douglas Hunter, the ARP Transport officer, who were both on night
duty in the Ambulance Station. Three other persons were seriously injured - Mr Samuel Blair, a
despatch rider for the NFS, Mr C. V. Brine, a railwayman living in High Lane, and his
daughter, Mrs Mabel Coussie. Mr Brine was injured by shrapnel whilst he was on fire guard
duty in front of his house and his house was so extensively damaged that it had to be evacuated.
Damage was also caused to the Infants School and a large house near by. Other damage was mainly to doors, roofs and windows in various parts of the town. Plate glass windows in some
High Street shops were smashed.
One of the earliest raids occurred shortly after 10 O'clock on Sunday night, August 25th, 1940, when the Museum in the High Street was extensively damaged. Bombs fell on two sides of the
building but there was no direct hit. One bomb fell on the lawn only a few yards from the
Curator's house and the Peasant Arts Galleries. All the windows and the roofs on that side of the house were badly damaged. The Curator and his wife (Mr and Mrs Swanton) had a narrow
escape for the windows of the room in which they were sleeping were blown upon them.
Repairs to the Peasant Arts Galleries included alterations in the windows. The Loss of exhibits in the galleries was surprisingly small. The collections were cleaned and re-arranged by the staff,
assisted by several ladies. In the raid of March, 1943, the Museum escaped with few scars.
In another raid on February 9th, 1943, considerable damage was done to cottages in Fernhurst
and eight persons were injured. The bomb fell on a roadside bank between the Post Office and the
Church. The road leads to the village school but happily no-one was there at the time. Several
trees were destroyed and large boughs torn away caused a temporary stoppage in the road. The
gate of the cemetery near by was blown out. Two cottages were so badly damaged that they were uninhabitable for some time.
The last raid in June, 1944, was by a flying bomb which approached from a south-easterly
direction and fell in the garden of Amerley, Three Gates Lane, almost on the spot where a
bomb had fallen in the early days of the war. Several people in the house suffered from shock but
no serious damage was done.
Rex Cinema Damaged in Aeroplane Crash
Several Haslemere and Shottermill people returning from work on an evening in September, 1942,
were eye-witnesses for a tragedy of the air. A British aircraft had come out of the clouds and
attention was drawn to it by the unusual noises the engines were making. "It was flying at a moderate height", said one witness, "and it was obviously in great difficulties. Suddenly there was an explosion and the machine seemed to break in pieces in mid-air. As I lost sight of it one
part came down in a spiral dive and this was followed by the noise of a crash."
Several people saw the machine break up in the air and come down in three parts. The starboard
engine crashed into the top part of the high wall of the Rex Cinema and finally landed in the space in front of the stage known as the orchestra pit. The port engine fell in the garden of Holy Cross
Sanatorium, nearly a quarter of a mile away, and the wings and fuselage came down in the public
thoroughfare between the Cinema and the Sanatorium and close to the junction of the two main
roads. On striking the road it immediately burst into flames. The crew of three in the aircraft were instantaneously killed, and it was almost a miracle that there were not many more civilian
casualties. There is usually a great deal of traffic round about the road junction and public service vehicles were timed to arrive nearby only a short time after the accident. But fortunately there
was no one very near at the time the crash occurred and the only persons injured were those in the Cinema.
At this Cinema there were continuous performances but at the time of the crash there were fewer
people there than at any other time of the day. The matinee was over and the audience had
dispersed and the bulk of the people had not yet arrived for the evening performance. The
starboard engine and the propeller went through the west wall of the tall building immediately
above one of the buttresses and at a point near the roof. A hole about 16ft deep and 8ft wide was
made in the wall but fortunately only two of the bricks fell inside. The propeller dropped in front
of the front row of seats and the engine, after rocketing from one place to another, finally came
to rest on the left side of the orchestra pit. Luckily there were no people in the front seats but
debris was thrown about all over the theatre causing damage to the seats and many parts of the
interior of the building. Large holes were burst in the screen and the engine fell upon, and
irretrievably damaged, a reserve screen kept under the stage for use in case of emergency.
Altogether 12 persons were injured, 11 of them were taken to local hospitals and detained, and
the other was taken to her home by a nurse. There were other cases of slight injury which did not require hospital treatment. Several ambulances were quickly on the scene and did good work. The
cinema had to be closed while repairs were carried out.
The only other building damaged was the lodge of the Sanatorium, tenanted by Mr and Mrs R.H.
Mudd. Many tiles were broken and displaced, the top of the chimney was smashed, the inside of
the north well was fractured, and the ceiling in the front bedroom collapsed. The wall separating
the Sanatorium property from the main road was considerably damaged and the top part of the
masonry over an area of 40ft was knocked down and fell into the roadway.
The accident caused much consternation in the district and a large crowd quickly assembled. For
about two hours the main road was blocked and traffic was diverted to Church (or Liphook)
Road. Three sections of the National Fire Service attended with their pumps and working with
much energy soon had the fire under control. Good work was also down by the Police, the ARP
services, and a number of troops in clearing the debris and regulating the traffic.
Photos reproduced courtesy of Haslemere Educational Museum