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War Years

 

 

 

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     Village War Years   
by Ray Reeks
  

Talk of village life in war years, evokes memories and stories of local heroism and humour galore. Much of the kaleidoscope of life in those days is measured through the minds of those who were either school children (of which I was one) or young adults.

Many rural families were self reliant as far as basic needs were concerned, having gardens, small holdings and farms to supplement rationed foods. It was from this background that the local militiamen came. They helped to man the Home Guard, the ARP and other back- up units, whilst others were called up to join the forces.

Mr George Bailey, our informant on Home Guard affairs, says that until a year or so had elapsed since the outbrcak of war in September 1939, Dad's Army was probably a good term to use to describe the gallant efforts of this fine body of men. Up until this time pitchforks from the hayloft, rabbiters' shotguns and any other hatchet type tools to be found in the average woodshed had to suffice as defensive weapons in the guarding of strategic points, eg rail and road bridges and checkpoints at the entrances to the village.

As often happens, to alleviate fear and uncertainty, wit and humour blossomed, stories appearing in night duly reports, for instance, noted a suspected enemy submarine spotted off Potteme Bridge . A short-sighted Private Brewer on point duty at Crab Orchard invited a 'Halt! who goes there?' suspect to "Hang on yer to me rifle a minute, while I get me glasses out'!

Officers of the ranks, too, were not without their moments Lt. Jack Sherry naturally wanting a 'good show' on the auspicious occasion of Top Brass dropping in, readily agreed to administer' spit and polish' and Brasso to buttons on the uniform of a recalcitrant colleague. I'll bet they all cottoned on to that one eventually if the truth got out!

Max Barrett who at 14 years old, was the only Civilian Casualty in Verwood during the Second World War, lived in Hillside Road and was the 2nd son of Ena. (ne: Atyeo) and Norman Barrett. During the Spring of 1944 he was in bed with his elder brother Roy when an Incendiary came through the roof and killed him leaving his brother, sleeping in the same bedroom, unharmed. It is understood that his body was taken to the room above the Crossroads Pottery where it was laidout. At that time the room was used by Verwood Scouts. He is survived by 1 brother and 3 sisters (in 2007).

The ARP patrol (Air Raid Precautions) played an important part too, being in line with the coastal approach of enemy aircraft making for industrial targets in the Midlands , often planes were flying over Verwood. Incendiary devices etc were often ditched in this area. In fact it was such a bomb falling onto a bungalow in Hillside Road that caused the only fatality in Verwood, namely that of fourteen year old Max Barrett. As fellow school pupils and scout members, I remember, we threw posies of primroses into the grave, it being the spring of '44.

The ARP Headquarters was at the "Restyng House", which has since been demolished and was where  the new Bailey's complex now stands. Mrs Christine Stratton. as a young teenager along with others, says there were creepy rides, often in pitch black, as they cycled with messages to outlying wardens. My father, Mr Tony Reeks, being the warden for Romford also received messages from the Rev. John Lynes, at that time Vicar of Verwood Who would arrive and throw gravel up to my parents' bedroom window to wake my father for duty.

Air raid shelters came in a variety of types. When at school we would be hastily marched across to a long trench dug in the grounds of the Vicarage, (now Montrose) when the siren blew. At home a dug-out in a large ditch with water running under the floor, which was made of old chicken houses, served three families. The roof wasof corrugated iron and was packed with earth clods. Whilst in residence we shared safety with snails, mice and all sorts of creepy crawl ies.

As youngsters there was novelty about much that occured for the war effort, as with picking and collecting of hundredweights of blackberries, hips from the hedgerows and acorns for the pigs. There were excited excursions on bikes to see the occasional aircraft crash out in the country, most notably a Luftwaffe Focke shot down on the Edmondsham Road , near Birches Copse. The scene was visited next day by the fighter pilot, 'Cat's Eyes' Cunningham, who after the war was to become the chief test pilot for De Havilland. Shattered Perspex from cockpit canopies was prized loot from which finger rings could be cut, a small gem stone placed in the centre.. a hit with the girl friends.

 
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