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Personal Glimpses of Normandy Past

Some Childhood Memories of WW2
in Bailes Lane and Willey Green
C.M. Gaines. (Mike)

Rose Cottage
Rose Cottage was one of a pair of small semi-detached, almost medieval cottages situated along a footpath near the bottom of Bailes Lane. Inside the cottage was tiny, just a scullery and front room downstairs and two small bedrooms upstairs. There was no electricity, just coal gas for cooking and lighting, paid for by putting pennies into a gas meter. If Mum ran out of pennies, which happened quite often, she used an old oil lamp and candles for lighting. There was no main drainage, a bucket was used to collect the sink waste water, and a small coal shed next to the outside earth toilet completed the building. We had quite a large garden though which Dad kept well-stocked with seasonal vegetables, and for me it was home where I felt safe and secure.

We moved into Rose Cottage in the summer of 1938 when I was just three years old and Mum was expecting my sister Mavis. Our next door neighbours in Lavender Cottage were Mr and Mrs Boyd with their two children, Mick and his elder sister Sheila. Mick and I were about the same age and we became good mates and our friendship has lasted to this day, even though Mick now lives in Cumbria.

Further down the path towards the lane lived Mr and Mrs Greenwood. Mr Greenwood suffered the misfortune of breaking his leg at his work which resulted in complications and it had to be amputated. He amazed everybody by making himself an artificial leg from a branch of his apple tree because he couldn't get on with the one provided by the hospital. His home-made leg was shaped like a very large catapult prong which he somehow fitted to his "stump" and he claimed he could run for a bus with it.

A little further up the lane lived Mr. Pudduck[1] who ran a small delivery business dealing in dry groceries, fish and sometimes fruit. Being situated near to us I was often sent to his house to get the odd jar of paste or tin of something if it was available.

Every Sunday morning I had to go to Sunday school at the Congregational Chapel next to The Homestead on Willey Green corner. It was run by Mr Coleman who lived near the Anchor pub, and Dorothy Appleby who played the harmonium. There were regular prizes for attendance which of course attracted membership as did the occasional parties with the promise of extra sweets, which during wartime was a real treat. I can still recall the words of All Things Bright and Beautiful that I used to sing solo most weeks even though loud remarks like "Oh! Not again" were designed to stop me.

Mike and sister Mavis with Mum
Mike and sister Mavis with Mum in the garden of Rose Cottage 1940
Mike and sister Mavis with Mum's sister Barbara
Mike and sister Mavis with Mum's sister Barbara outside the front of Rose Cottage 1940
Congregational Chapel

Normandy Congregational Chapel
at Willey Green c 1940

Sunday School Attendance Certificate - Click for an enlargement
Sunday School Attendance Certificate

Empire Day Certificate - Click for an enlargementIn the late summer of 1940 the war was a fearful worry for my Mum and Dad, indeed for every mother and father in the land. The battle of Britain had been raging for several months and the omens at the time made an invasion by the Germans a very real probability. There were continuous air raid warnings and invasion scares which haunted the lives of people every day as the dreadful thought of invasion was contemplated. My Dad was in the Home Guard along with a number of other men from the village, and while everyone knew the RAF was doing a magnificent job, and even with Winston Churchill's stirring speeches, the invasion threat was always at the forefront of their minds. Our last hope for ultimate salvation lay with the Royal Navy home fleet massed at Scapa Flow in Scotland, ready to plunge south like the blade of a guillotine and decisively chop off any invasion attempt by the Germans to cross the channel. It would have been bloody, costly in lives and ruthless but it was probably the one thing that ultimately deterred Hitler.

Second World War Poster c1941School and Saucy Sing Songs
I started school in about September 1940 at Wyke Church of England School which dated back to Victorian times. There were six classes, two of which, class six and class five, were for infants and the rest for juniors and seniors. Later in the morning of my first day Mr Smith, the headmaster, came into the classroom to see how everyone was settling in. Mr Smith was a middle aged stern looking man with an air of authority that had, "Don't cross me," written all over it, and he always carried a whippy bamboo cane to reinforce it, which he called his "Dose of Medicine." In later years he reminded me of Mr Quelch from the Billy Bunter stories I had read and his disciplinary manner was just as legendary, his skilful use of the cane vouched for by many errant boys nursing sore fingertips. He was however much respected by his staff and pupils and was not unaware of his somewhat affectionate nickname of "Smudge."

Mr Smith had not long left the classroom when the now familiar wail of the air raid siren sounded its warning again to the local population and my teacher ushered her class into one of the specially constructed brick shelters at the back of the school. I had never been in a real air raid shelter before and I entered it with a sense of foreboding curiosity. Once inside the eerie, dimly lit air raid shelter I could see long rows of wooden benches against the walls where we were told to sit while we waited for some of the older pupils to come in, many of whom were grinning broadly at yet another opportunity to escape lessons. We had been told that there would probably be a singsong organised by Miss Robinson or another member of staff, depending upon who was available. We soon found ourselves joining in some popular songs of the day, or applauding the somewhat more vulgar solo renderings proffered by some of the older pupils such as Olive, with her daring ditty:-

I'm Popeye the sailor man,
I live in a pot of jam,
The jam was so sticky,
It stuck to my dickey,
I'm Popeye the sailor man.

These solo efforts generated much needed hilarity and morale-boosting but were brought to an end by the eventual "all clear" siren much to the relief of the staff.

There were quite a few other children at the school from Bailes Lane. They included my cousin John Gunner, Peter and Bernard Hobbs, Brian (Bones) Jones and his sister Maureen, Roy and Cyril Bentley, Brian (Whitewash) White, and Raymond and Patsy Crooke[2] (siblings of Ronald Crooke). From Willey Green there was Ken (Brum) and Doreen Burningham, Jean Brown, Les and Tony Bayliss plus a few others whose names I'm afraid escape me.

Starvation and God Bless America
I had joined class five in the September of 1941 and it was now mid December, just a few days before the school broke up for Christmas. I was looking forward to it immensely as I absorbed the magic of the season by making paper chains, drawing pictures of the nativity and many other yuletide activities.

Second World War Poster - Food WastedIt was a momentous time of the year for the country. Although the threat of invasion had receded for the time being, the War hadn't been going too well for Britain. With heavy convoy losses at sea by U-Boats the nation was in real danger of being starved into submission and food rationing increased all the time.

I had lots of uncles serving in the armed forces, five of whom were brothers of my mother. One of them - my Uncle Dick Lody - was wounded whilst serving with the 8th Army in North Africa, and another, Uncle Charlie Henman (married to my mother's sister Barbara), was on HMS Ark Royal when it was sunk in the Mediterranean, from which fortunately he survived. But in December 1941 the momentous news that Hitler had declared war on the U.S.A,[3] following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, presented Britain with an ally of colossal power that warmed the hearts of the whole nation, creating an enormous feeling of renewed confidence and security that seeped down from the parents to us the children. A few days later, school broke-up for the Christmas holidays. It was a very exciting time and I could hardly wait for Christmas Eve to arrive.

I was very much aware though of the effects of war even at my young age, and how many items of food were scarce and the luxury of extra sweets and chocolate were unknown to me. I knew from experience whilst shopping in Guildford with my Mum the tedium of queuing for almost everything, and the bitter disappointment when supplies of a few extra food items ran out, but she did her very best from very limited resources to keep a good table and both I and my small sister Mavis were rarely hungry.

Triumph and Tragedy
It was the autumn of 1942 and Mrs Parris and her seven year old daughter Ann were staying at Rose Cottage until they could find other accommodation. They had been bombed out of their home in Portsmouth, and because they were friends of my Mum's sister Aunty Barbara, who was staying with us, my parents had offered them a place to stay for the time being. It meant a very crowded house for a while, but Mum said the war meant everybody had to help each other.

"Have you heard the great news?" said Mrs Parris one morning. "Montgomery and the 8th Army have won a big victory over the Germans in North Africa. Apparently Rommel's army has been smashed and they are retreating everywhere." "Hooray, thank God for that, good old Monty, and some good news at last," said my Mum.

After school that day I and my friend Mick walked home with Mick's elder sister Sheila instead of catching the bus. This meant we had a spare penny that we could spend at Carpenters the bakers on the way. Sometimes there were little jam rock cakes left over from the day before and you could get three for a penny, but you had to brush off the mouse droppings before you could eat them. Some of the boys also said that Mr Carpenter dribbled in his cake mix when he was making them, but I was hungry and liked jam rock cakes, so I didn't care even if it were true. As we reached the little footpath by Tickners bridge that led up to our homes I saw my Mum waiting there, while several other people were standing at the end of their gardens looking towards the bus stop outside the Duke of Normandy pub. I could see that my Mum was crying and I ran up to her to find out what was wrong. She hugged me and said, "There's been an awful accident, Ronald Crooke has been run over by an army lorry and killed. He ran out from behind the school bus straight in front of the lorry; he didn't have a chance." Mum was sobbing as she hung on to me. Mick and I looked at each other sorrowfully; we had both been to Ronald's birthday party earlier in the year. He was a couple of years younger than us and had only just started school. Slowly and tearfully we all walked home, the world at that moment a dreadful place to be. The whole village grieved for Ronald. The utter devastation to his family was unimaginable and he was buried at the parish church of St Mary's, Worplesdon.

Prisoners, Potato's and Parachutes
Second World War Poster - Don't Waste FoodIt was late summer of 1943 towards the end of the school holidays, and in Turners field opposite the Duke of Normandy pub there were groups of men busy potato picking; but they weren't ordinary farm workers. They all wore the same brown coloured overall type clothing with large yellow patches sewn on the back, and there were others that looked like police with rifles who seemed to be guarding them. My Dad, who worked at the Vokes factory, mentioned that he had seen them working there the day before and thought they might be Italian prisoners of war. Mick Boyd and I went into the field to see what was going on and just at that moment the prisoners stopped work for lunch and some of them called out to us, gesturing us to come over to meet them. The guards didn't seem to mind so we walked rather self-consciously over to the group of prisoners who had called out and sat down with them.

The men were mostly all olive skinned and dark haired with brown smiling eyes, not at all like the enemy we had imagined and we tried to answer their questions, not always understanding their broken English. I remember looking at what they were eating and was amazed to see slices of fruitcake amongst their sandwiches, a luxury I rarely had. One of the prisoners, noticing my envious look, offered me a piece of his cake for which I thanked him before devouring it hungrily. The prisoner then pulled a shabby wallet from his pocket and showed me a photo of a young boy about my age and, when I asked who it was, he answered in faltering English with a noticeable catch in his voice: "My son in Italia." The prisoners were only working there for a few days so I went to the field as often as I could, helping my prisoner friend pick potatoes and was rewarded with the occasional piece of fruitcake. Mick also had a prisoner friend who used to perform conjuring tricks, and the other prisoners would roar with laughter at our bewilderment after each trick, trying to work out how they were done. My prisoner friend also showed me some of the tokens he had earned for working. Each was marked with a value; a sixpence, a shilling or a penny which they could spend back at the prison camp on little extras as and when available. They were kind, compassionate men and we liked them a lot. Then one day they were gone and no one saw them again.

Back at school after the long summer holiday there was an incident that sobered all our thoughts. It was afternoon break-time and the whole school was at play when the noisy chatter of the children slowly hushed as their attention was riveted to the drama unfolding in the sky above them. A returning allied bomber with smoke trailing from its damaged fuselage was limping back towards its base, and the children watched in horrified awe as suddenly the stricken aircraft's exhausted engines failed and it started to fall from the sky. Tiny figures emerged, their parachutes billowing open "mushroom like" as the aircraft fell corkscrewing on its descent to somewhere beyond the trees. Some of the smaller children ran screaming into the school to be comforted by their teachers as the horrific scene faded. We all talked of the incident for days, the sheer drama of it etched indelibly into our minds. Later there was a rumour amongst the boys that the aircraft had crashed near the Hogs Back[4] and that one parachute didn't open and a body was recovered from a depth of three feet in the ground.

The Deadly Butterfly
Second World War Poster - Britain Shall Not BurnOn a Monday Mum sometimes took me to the cinema if there was a good film on. Nearly all the adults in the cinema smoked cigarettes, Mum included, and the light beam from the projector would cut through the dense smoke haze like a searchlight, twisting and dancing in tune with the different images as they passed through the projector lens. There were normally two feature films shown, one the main feature, the other a "B" grade film or sometimes a cartoon, and always between the two was "The Gaumont British News." This showed the latest war news in graphic detail with an upbeat commentary, which helped raise morale considerably. Sometimes there would also be a public information film advising the public about the do's and don'ts to aid the war effort such as: "Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases," with animated German paratrooper germs landing on anything and anybody. I loved these animated cartoons and features especially if they were in colour, which unfortunately was rare.

The information film this time warned about Butterfly Bombs, which were anti-personnel booby trap devices dropped by the Germans in populated areas. People and especially children were advised to call the police if any were found and not to touch them, because the consequences were often fatal and as the name implied these fiendish devices were made to look attractive to catch people's attention. I though was fascinated by them, and looked forward to telling Mick all about it tomorrow.

D-Day and Doodlebugs (Flying Bombs)
It was June 1944 not long before my ninth birthday and I woke up with a start. It was quite early in the morning because I could hear Dad downstairs talking to Mum, and our old battery wireless was blaring out loudly. Listening intently I hurried downstairs trying to hear what was being said, but all that I could make out was something about the army.

"What's happening Mum, why is everyone talking so much?" I queried earnestly. She reached out and held my hand seeing the concern in my eyes. "Something very important is possibly happening today," she said gently, with a noticeable catch in her voice. "Dad and I think the invasion of Europe may have started and a lot of people may die, so we have to say our prayers for them." I remember looking out of the small living room window; the day was quite bright where the previous days had been a little stormy. "Does this mean the war is over then Mum?" I asked. She sighed before replying. "Not yet Michael, but hopefully it shouldn't be too long now." I then went outside, my attention drawn to the sound of aircraft and looking up I was amazed. The sky was alive with masses of fighters and bombers all going in the same direction and I watched in awe at this huge air armada. Just then Mum came out carrying Mavis, and looking up to the sky she lifted her arm and waved a greeting to the aircraft as with deep emotion in her voice she cried out: "Look out Hitler, here they come!"

When I arrived at school that morning it was awash with rumour and speculation about what was happening. The teachers kept popping out of their classrooms during the morning seeking news. Eventually the invasion was confirmed later in the morning by an announcement on the wireless to the nation by Richard Dimbleby from a BBC unit based in the village.[5] Special prayers were then said all that week in school and the church.

V1 - Flying BombA few days later during a break time on the school playing field I suddenly heard the sound of someone yelling out at the top of his voice; it was Jack Barclay one of the senior boys. "Get down everybody, down flat," he screamed to all the children on the playing field as a deadly Doodlebug [6] (flying bomb), swept low over the school, its engine muttering sinisterly. I hugged the ground limpet like, my heart pounding, listening for the dreadful silence. But the pilot-less menace hurried on in the direction of Pirbright, its automatic sights set for London, where its terrible cargo would serve to remind everyone in the land, man, woman and child that the war was certainly not over yet.

One of the things we commemorated at school was Empire Day. The day would start with the usual school assembly, then the whole school would gather around the tall flagpole situated in the school courtyard and the Union Jack would be raised. As it fluttered proudly in the breeze prayers would be said for the Empire, after which all the classes would march to Wyke Church where there would be an Empire Day service conducted by the vicar. Then the whole school would have the afternoon off which was the part I liked best of all.

One of my favourite uncles, Uncle Joe, used to visit Rose Cottage now and then. He was one of Mum's younger brothers serving in the parachute regiment, and he and his girlfriend Gwen would visit sometimes for tea, which pleased me because the thing I liked most about Uncle Joe was that he could yodel. He could yodel to any popular tune of the day and both I and Mick would listen enthralled at his rich, melodic yodelling as he and Gwen twirled together in our tiny living room. Both of us tried to copy his yodelling, but Mum would get fed up with it and tell us to shut up. One day Gwen came over on her own to visit Mum, crying all the time and continually asking Mum did she think that Joe still loved her because he had gone away without saying goodbye. Mum tried to comfort Gwen by saying she felt sure that Joe still loved her and that the war was to blame. We learned later that he had been parachuted into France on D-Day and had been wounded but survived, but I never saw Gwen again.

The Beginning at the End
Wolf Cubs' Enrolment Card - Click for an enlargementI remember well sitting with other wolf cubs of the 1st Normandy pack in the warm sitting room of Akela [7] (Mrs Henry), practicing our skill with knots, first aid and other useful pastimes a wolf-cub should know. It was early in the new year of 1945 and very cold, so Mrs Henry had decided to use her house in Guildford road for the meeting this week instead of the draughty scouts hut. Mrs Henry was the temporary Akela, standing in for the real one, Mr Dyson, who was on active service with the eighth army, first in North Africa and now in Italy.

The war was going very well now for the allies in Europe who were advancing quickly on all fronts.
Newsreel pictures of occupied peoples' joy when they were liberated were now seen regularly at the cinemas. There had been a temporary set back over the Christmas period when the Germans launched a desperate last-ditch offensive, but that had now been halted and overcome. Then a seismic event occurred, the memory of which has stayed with me all my life.

It was very late one evening in early May and I was sound asleep in bed when I was awakened by the sound of my Mum calling out to me. "Michael, get dressed and come downstairs as quickly as you can, there's a lovely surprise for you." Although barely half awake I hurriedly dressed and raced downstairs, my mind whirling in anticipation at Mum's excited call. "They are lighting a bonfire on the green," she said breathlessly. "Hurry or we'll miss it." We ran quickly along the path to the lane and along to the green where we saw flames leaping from a tangled mass of hurriedly arranged brushwood. I looked on in wonder because I had never seen a real fire outside at night before, at least not that I could remember. I could hardly take it all in, it was something like a dream and I called out excitedly, "Mum, what's happening, what's it for?" Turning to me with tears in her eyes and her voice trembling with emotion she said, "It's the war Michael, we have won the war against Germany; it's all over."

Celebration of Victory Certificate - Click for an enlargement I was stunned; all my life it seemed to me there had been a war going on and now there wasn't, and I couldn't quite grasp it. The next day was a public holiday and with it much jubilation. In the evening most people went out to celebrate at the Duke of Normandy pub where tables and chairs were put outside in the pub garden for parents with children. As buses passed by the drivers were plied with offers of a drink, servicemen were hugged and kissed as people let their hair down. VE Day was truly a day to remember in Bailes Lane and Willey Green. Amidst the celebrations though, the people knew that their country was still very much at war with that pernicious foe - Japan. Many families in the village had fathers or sons away in the Far East engaged in that dreadful conflict which no one could foresee the end of, and seemed to inflict more and more casualties as the Japanese were pushed back into their homeland. My uncle Charlie was aboard a British Battleship bombarding Tokyo as part of a softening up process prior to a possible invasion of the Japanese mainland. However the decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan forced her to surrender, saving a great many allied lives. Thus another celebration took place in the lane in August: VJ Day!

After almost six long years of war, certainly as far back as I could remember, it seemed a new beginning had started. The village was at peace.

Michael Gaines

Poem by Michael Gaines "The Lane and Willey Green (1940 - 45)
Sunday School Attendance Certificate
Empire Day Certificate
Wolf Cubs' Enrolment Card
Celebration of Victory Certificate
Letter & Christmas present received from a Teacher
Map of Bailes Lane and Willey Green


  1. Mr Pudduck lived at Vergudo, Bailes Lane. (Return)
  2. Henry and Polly Crooke lived in Ballater, the bungalow, moving out soon after their son Ronald was killed by an army lorry. (Return)
  3. Germany, Italy and Japan declared war on the USA 11 December 1941. (Return)
  4. Two British aircraft are known to have crashed in this area. A Halifax bomber on the 10 March 1941 at Merrist Wood, Worplesdon and a Mosquito bomber at Wanborough Manor, Wanborough on the 23rd August 1945. (Return)
  5. Richard Dimbleby made a broadcast announcing the invasion from a BBC blockhouse that had been built at what is now the junction of Culls Road with Christmaspie Avenue and is commemorated by a plaque. (Return)
  6. What was reputed to be the second Doodlebug (flying bomb) to land on British soil ended up in the sewage farm near Elm Hill, an appropriate resting place for such a weapon! (Return)
  7. Akela is a symbol of wisdom, authority, and is anyone who acts as a leader to the Scout and can be a Cubmaster. (Return)
Wikipedia Links
Butterfly Bomb
V-1 Flying Bomb
VE Day
VJ Day

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