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

September 7-13, 1939

Poles stemming German Advance on South West - Berlin claims two towns captured - these were the headlines on September 7, four days after Britain and France declared war on Germany.

The official German News Agency announced that KiefIce, an important railway and road junction had been captured by German troops along with Ciechanow, a town 45 miles from Warsaw.

'Life has changed completely in a week. New values and new standards have been set up, every phase of our daily life has now to be viewed in a different perspective,' a staff reporter in the Advertiser wrote as the first shocking week of war drew to a close.

Meanwhile on the homefront Swindon women had been quickly mobilised into action with the setting up of the Women's Voluntary Service for Civil Defence, based at Regent Circus under the direction of Mrs Humphreys and Mrs Claridge.

'Opportunities are plentiful for women who want to do something,' the conscious raising report continued and Mrs Humphreys announced that the WVS intended to open a canteen at the Civic Offices for voluntary workers 'who are there at all hours of the day and night.'

Swindon mothers received instructions from two ARP workers, Mrs Milton and Mrs. B.O.D. Palmer, on how to use the baby respirators, protection for the very youngest against gas attacks.

During the first week of war, 1,700 mothers attended the demonstrations. 'Dolls were used in the respirators instead of babies and the women were keenly interested,' reported the Advertiser.

Notification was given of further demonstrations to be held at Haydon Wick, Wroughton and Stratton during the following week.

Swindon Trades Council met on Wednesday September 6 and top of the agenda was the subject of war-time profiteering. Councillor H.R. Hustings, chairman at the first meeting of the Swindon Food Control Committee, listened to members concerns.

"We must nip it in the bud," urged Mr. W.H. Collins who said profiteering was bound to take place. "It would be a good idea if a committee was elected from our members to act as guardians of the workers we represent," he added.

Mr. Hustings informed the committee that plans were already made for the registration of consumers and that within a week forms would be sent to every household to ascertain the number of persons in each house. Ration cards would be issued and it was hoped that food queues would be shorter than during the previous war.

It was suggested at the meeting that there would be rationing of butcher's meat, bacon, butter, margarine, lards, fat and sugar, and Mr Hustings commented that as far as he could see there would be little opportunity of profiteering in food stuffs.

Although the newly introduced National Service (Armed Forces) Act saw men aged 18-41 liable for conscription, there were exceptions. On Friday September 8 the Ministry of Labour issued a list of reserved occupations which exempted certain workers from full time military service. Complete with relevant age guidelines the list gave details of those jobs deemed essential to the war effort.

'A man who follows an occupation listed cannot be accepted for whole-time service in any of the Services of national defence if of or above the age stated/ reported the Advertiser.

This only applied to full time military service and workers were reminded that 'it does not prevent anyone from undertaking part time service in a branch of civil defence.'

Among the reserved occupations which had a particular significance to Swindon and the GWR Works were those of blacksmith, carpenter, joiner, coach trimmer and painter, professional engineer, fitter and foundry worker.

The daily bulletin from Swindon Isolation Hospital stated: Mrs Kilminster and Olive Gibbs improving, others doing well.

Blunsdon Women's Institute committee decided to suspend activities until November, owing to the fact their meeting place has been converted into a first aid post and ARP headquarters. Most of the Committee and some of the members were engaged on national service, and it was thought likely that the branch would undertake new forms of war work as occasion required.

It's an ill wind that blows nobody good and the war has involved numerous programme changes which will be welcomed in many quarters,' entertainment reviewer Tuner wrote in Radio Notes. 'Band Waggon is one of the popular shows to be revived now that Arthur Askey and Richard Murdoch have no stage engagements. The full and original team will be on the air on Saturday of next week.'

Prices to be paid to householders on whom soldiers were billeted were set out in an order issued on Thursday night. Where lodgings with bed and attendance but no meals and no cooking facilities were provided, the price was sixpence a night. In cases where meals were furnished the price was tenpence a night for the first soldier and eightpence a night for each additional soldier. Other prices were - breakfast 8d each, dinner lid, tea 3d and supper 5d. Meals for Soldiers were those specified by the Army Act.

Evacuees Corner, a dedicated column in the Advertiser, posted messages from families separated during the evacuation exodus - Mrs Badham, 47 Hythe Road, Swindon evacuated from 271 Lillie Road, Fulham was anxious to trace the whereabouts of her two children Jean and Ronald who were scholars at Munster Road School, Fulham.

The response to the appeal for prams and push-chairs required to meet the needs of the many mothers and children evacuated to Swindon was very poor. Mr T.H. Fessey, secretary to Swindon Council of Social Service, explained that he had more than 50 applications for prams, and that at the time of publication only four had been made.

Harry Martin, the Swindon Town F.C. Trainer, terminated his employment with the club to take up a new emergency job with the GWR at Swindon.

William Henry Franklin, an erector of 33 Morris Street, became the first victim of the blackout. Mr Franklin, described as middle aged, was pushing a bicycle in the road near Rodbourne Cheney when he was hit by a Bristol bus just before 10.30 on Sunday night. He was taken to the Victoria Hospital but died early Monday morning.

photographs courtesy of Swindon Advertiser;
Baby gas mask demonstration
Councillor H.R. Hustings
1924 aerial view of Swindon Works
Arthur Askey and Richard Murdoch
T.H. Fessey secretary to Swindon Council of Social Service

Frances Bevan

September 3, 1939

Shortly after 11. 00 am on September 3, 1939 Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was forced to break the news everyone expected but no one wanted to hear. In a radio broadcast made from the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street, Chamberlain announced, that for the second time in a generation, Britain was at war with Germany.

By 1921 Austrian born WWI veteran Adolf Hitler was leader of the National Socialist German Workers' Party, popularly known as the Nazi Party. In the 1932 July elections he led the Nazis to a victory which saw them the largest party in the German Parliament with over 37% of the votes and 230 seats.

Throughout the 1930s Hitler climbed the political ladder in pursuit of his ambitions, the creation of a thousand year Third Reich and the annihilation of the Jewish people. In defiance of the Treaty of Versailles he had rebuilt the German armed forces in preparation for the seizure of Lebensraum, ‘living space’ for his Aryan master race. Hitler resolved to reunite lost German territories and set his sights on the reclamation of Czechoslovakian held Sudetenland.

When Chamberlain signed the Munich Agreement in September 1938, resulting in the annexation of the Sudetenland, he had hoped to avert war, but it soon became obvious he had misjudged the German Fuhrer.

During the summer of 1939 the world watched and waited as French residents in Germany were evacuated on orders from Paris, while German 'tourists' in Danzig suddenly began to number in the thousands.

German troops eventually marched into Poland on September 1 and air attacks on Polish towns and cities followed the invasion, among those bombed the capital Warsaw. At Czestochowa a famous 16th century shrine was destroyed despite a declaration that attacks would be confined exclusively to military objectives.

In Swindon, volunteers worked double shifts digging and erecting air raid shelters and 2,400 evacuees arrived on September 1, the first in a mass evacuation of children from Britain's cities.

On this historic day 70 years ago, the Evening Advertiser published five special editions, keeping the people of Swindon fully up to date with events in the developing crisis.
The first emergency blackout saw Swindon resemble a ghost town, according to a report in the Advertiser. "There was something strangely unreal and uncanny about the stillness which came with the darkness. And it was oppressively hot too."

Although described as not a hundred per cent black, Swindon residents explained that they had been unable to "procure the most suitable materials." Pedestrians were said to have caused inconvenience by ambling all over the road but the new white line in the centre of the main Streets had proved invaluable.

All cinemas and places of entertainment were closed until further notice and the Evening Advertiser's planned excursion to the Huntley & Palmer's biscuit factory in Reading was cancelled.
Doctors under the Ministry of Health Emergency Medical Service were ordered to report for duty.

Radio Relay, Swindon declared it would broadcast any emergency announcements affecting the interests of the people of Swindon and the evacuees.

More than 100 pregnant women were among the evacuees expected in Swindon. Accommodation at the Maternity Home had been extended and seven new nurses employed.

With 177 hours ten minutes of sunshine, August 1939 was a hotter month than that of the previous year, according to Mr. H. Cook, the Swindon meteorologist. Temperatures reached 70-78 degrees Fahrenheit across a 20 day period.

photographs courtesy of Swindon Advertiser;

Frances Bevan