Friday, September 9, 2011

September 14-20, 1939

As the war entered its third week, the air raid shelter building project carried on apace across Swindon. Published in the Advertiser on Monday September 18 was this photograph of two likely lads at their ARP post named the "Robbers Roost."

While Swindon children and evacuees prepared for a midweek return to school, plans were announced that bomb proof shelters built at a cost of £16,000 would provide protection for 4,500.

With weekly air raid drills to be held in all schools, temporary measures included a scheme of dispersal of children to occupied houses in the immediate vicinity of the schools.

Meanwhile the Home Office had issued a notice that no musical instruments were permitted in ARP posts. The new regulations came after Swindon Air Raid Wardens had contemplated installing radio relay in their dug outs.

It was feared that the music might prevent the wardens from hearing the air raid warning siren and until such time as the problem could be overcome radios and musical instruments were banned. However, an assurance was given that if arrangements could be made for the warning to be given over the radio relay system the situation would be reassessed.

The photograph caption of "Robbers Roost" included the following tips on how to produce an effective sandbag. "Incidentally sandbagging should not be done with the seams outwards as the bags are liable to burst in wet weather and spill the contents. They should also be battered tight with a Spade and the corners tucked in."

An announcement of proposed rationing measures was made in the Swindon Diary feature a roundup of local news and views.  With coal rationing due to begin on October 1, local coal merchants were working overtime, assessing their customers' requirements based on past supplies. Coal, gas and electricity for both domestic and small industrial consumers would be limited to 75% of the quantity used during the corresponding quarter of 1938.  Householders with evacuees billeted with them were advised that they could appeal to the local Fuel Overseer for an increased allowance.

Meanwhile local garages saw an increase in sales as motorists attempted to beat the deadline for one last fill up. It was reported that at one Swindon garage "the rush was so heavy that a long queue of cars was lined up."  It was later confirmed that petrol rationing had been postponed for a week.

Able Seaman P.M. Francome of 108 Princes Street was one lucky sailor. A former SWR employee, Percy Francome was drafted to the aircraft carrier Courageous but a bout of illness saved him from almost certain death.

Under the command of Captain W.T. Makeig-Jones, the Courageous was on an anti-submarine patrol in the south west approaches, south west of the Irish coast, when she was torpedoed by the German U-boat U-29.

But unbeknown to his worried wife, P.M. Francome (AB), who had been called up three weeks earlier, had fallen ill two days before the ship sailed and had been removed to a naval hospital.

"Just been told that they have sunk HMS Aircraft Carrier Courageous. What a
Godsend I got off that draft... I bet you were thankful and glad I did, when you heard of it," he wrote from his hospital bed, in a letter published in the Advertiser on Wednesday September 20.

The Courageous sank on Sunday September 17, the first British warship to be lost in the war. More than 500 men were killed but among the survivors were two Pewsey men, Dennis George Tarrant and Stanley Sounders.

Swindon Rotary Club announced the suspension of their regular luncheon dates. Their meeting place, the luncheon room at the King's Arms Hotel, was otherwise occupied as a result of the war.

The Swindon and North Wilts branch of the National Union of Journalists abandoned their annual Press Ball due to take place on Friday December 8 at the Town Hall in view of the outbreak of war.

The new Congregational Church on Upham Road opened this week in 1939. Builder Mr. Geoffrey Beard presented a golden key to Mrs A.B. Marsh whose husband had been secretary at the old church on Victoria Road. "It is a dark and threatening day and never surely did we need the reality for which this church stands more urgently than now," said Rev. &. Hartley Holloway in his opening address.

Swindon Council of Social Service acknowledged the receipt of ten shillings sent by Mrs Rose Conbai of Springfield Road towards the relief of needy evacuees.
Mrs Tucker of 13 Stanier Street issued an appeal for wool of any colour and quantity for her team of 24 workers who were "knitting blankets in their own homes for deserving cases." Contributions could be sent directly to Mrs Tucker or to the office of the Women's Voluntary Services at 45 Regent Street.

As the Swindon Education Committee met to decide on a date for Swindon schools to reopen, it was announced that boys under the age of 16 would not be enrolled in the ARP service. It was felt that they should not be exposed to the strain and long hours the work entailed.

One family who clocked up an impressive contribution to the war effort was the Jagger family of Blunsdon House. Col. Jagger was with his regiment while his wife was a Company Commander with the Women's Auxiliary Territorial Service. Two of their daughters were also engaged in military work at home and overseas.

A special edition of the Advertiser published 11.57 pm Sunday September 17 announced that at 6 o'clock that morning Soviet troops had crossed the Polish-Soviet frontier from Polotzk in the north to Kamenetz-Podolsk in the south. In a note sent to M. Crzybcwski, the Polish Ambassador in Moscow, the Soviet Government declared the invasion was in order to safeguard their own interest and to protect the White Russian and Ukranian minorities in Eastern Poland.

'Stomach Trouble Due to War Worry - Many people in these anxious times are finding themselves victims of Indigestion for the first time in their lives. They don't enjoy their food. They fail to digest it properly. They feel queerly out of sorts, depressed, miserable.' Pharmaceutical firm Alex C. Maclean were quick to exploit the wartime situation in their advertising campaign for 'Stomach Powder.'

photographs courtesy of Swindon Advertiser;
Robber's Roost
sinking of HMS Courageous

Frances Bevan

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