WW2 Home Front

As had occurred during WW1 some of the men of Wing went off to war during WW2, others left Wing to undertake war work, while the residents that remained had their lives reshuffled. The impact of this in WW2 was greater than WW1, both as a result of England being the target of bombing action, and as a result of more significant changes like the RAF coming to Wing.

War Work In Wing

The 1939 Register was taken on 29 September 1939, just after the outbreak of war. While it is in some ways equivalent to a census, albeit with a slightly different set of information, it has the benefit of occasional annotations being made during the war. As a result of the information in the 1939 register (full transcriptions of this will be uploaded once complete), the following people are known to have definitely participated in home front duties within Wing:

ARP (Air Raid Precautions) Workers
  • Francis W Badrick
  • Walter Clark
  • Frederick Corkett
  • Alfred J Gurney – warden
  • Ernest F Heley – ambulance driver
  • Robert G Osborn – ARP Report Centre
  • Albert G Paxton – warden
  • Eric W D Paxton – messenger
  • Alfred G Pease – warden
  • John Pease – decontamination worker
  • Leslie G Pitchford – warden
  • Kathleen May Oakley – first aid worker
  • James W Randall – decontamination worker
  • John R Rutherford – warden
  • Charles T Samuels
  • Charles Sawyer – decontamination worker
  • Walter J W Vooght – casualty service
  • Lewis Warren – warden
  • Frank D Wood – warden
Others
  • Susan L Attenborough – Civil Nursing Reserve
  • Helena Guess – Land Army
  • William J Manning – Special Constabulary
  • George H Maynard – Special Constabulary
  • Louis Mortimer – Auxiliary Fire Service
  • Mary E Southern – Police driver
  • Walter D Southern – Emergency Medical Service

This will not be a complete list of ARP or associated workers, however others are either not recorded on the 1939 register or their entry is currently closed due to privacy restrictions.

Women’s Voluntary Service

The monthly narrative reports submitted by the Women’s Voluntary Service for Civil Defence centre for the Wing Rural District Council (the centre was physically situated in Ivinghoe, rather than Wing) illustrate some of the things the residents of Wing were able to contribute from the village to the greater war effort.

Eight tons of iron was collected in Wing as part of salvage collections in May 1940. From subsequent comments we can assume Wing followed the same pattern as elsewhere, that there was less and less to collect after the first initial flush of donations.

In July 1940 Wing village had dispatched over 1000 garments.

In August 1942 the exasperated Ruth C Roberts, centre organiser, notes she has given lectures on Gas with a Gas Chamber in all her villages but these have been “very badly attended”. In November she arranged for lectures on Blitz Bandaging which were “exceedingly good”. In September and October 1943 the Wing members of the Women’s Voluntary Service completed a”Basic Training” course (full details are not given but one of the lectures was fire fighting).

By late 1942 Mrs Roberts had been trying to get a meat pie scheme (whereby meat pies were made and sold to agricultural workers with 1/2d going to the Ministry of Food for each pie) going in her villages, but Wing must have been one of the villages where bakers were already overworked supplying bread. The situation had changed by May 1943 when she was able to report a scheme was starting in Wing. In late September 1944 it was becoming difficult to obtain the necessary quantities of fat to make a satisfactory pastry, and “in the main, the people like them but many get very tired of these pies. Really, of course, they need a bit more meat in them.”

On 21 February 1944 there was a special meeting to inaugarate the Housewives Service in Wing. During the meeting an incident was staged, “with houses etc all correctly placed on a large scale map that I had drawn of their village. When the bomb fell at 6pm in the story the Village Rep was at Aylesbury attending a school for Reps, the Police was away on his day off, the Head Warden was at Court, so all the head officials were out of the village. The W.I. had just assembled and received a direct hit. The appreciation of the situation that then arose shewed intelligence far above the average in spite of the fact that only 3 present had take Basic Training lectures. The object of the meeting was to form a Housewives service and this was done and more Basic Training lectures immediately arranged. The Head Housewife, Mrs Merry Junior, a fully trained V.A.D., received the list of names and will [be] excellent. Her house will be the Red House and the Incident Control point if an emergency should arise. Mrs A. de Rothschild, the Village Rep, had brought a large poster stating the work done since she took over in 1940 – 4,300 garments knitted, 200 nets garnished, 18,173 meat pies have been distributed since May 1943. This list astounded me and I felt that I had, very unjustly, often criticised the work that was being done in Wing. It is certainly a difficult village to run but one cannot say that they have been idle.”

In May 1944 there is a note that there is still one more member to be found for Wing’s Incident Control Team. In June there was now an Inquiry Point Team ready for training in Wing (and it sounds like they were trained in July).

Red Cross

There definitely was a branch of the Red Cross operating in Wing during WW2 as the WVS reports mention it.

RAF

Battle of Britain parade in Wing in 1943
Battle of Britain parade in Wing in 1943
Photo courtesy of Lynn

During WWII Wing was home to the RAF (No. 26 Operational Training Unit for Bomber Command), meaning the population of Wing gained up to 1,000 extra residents. Amongst them were servicemen not only with the RAF, but also from the RAAF, RNZAF, RCAF and US Air Force, and WAAF servicewomen.

The existing airfield in Wing was restored in 1940-41 and had two runways, five hangars (although one was later destroyed in a bad crash landing), and even its own decoy airfield! The airfield also had its own unique aircraft for a few weeks – Captain V.H. Baker of Martin-Baker came to Wing in August 1942 to trial the MB3 prototype, but unfortunately both Baker and the MB3 were lost in a forced landing following engine failure. For more info about the airfield see the book Wings Over Wing by Michael Warth published by Book Castle 2001 (I have indexed the names appearing within, primarily RAF servicemen although it does include some local residents), and Thames Valley Airfields In The Second World War by Robin J Brooks published by Countryside Books. Cublington village also has a snippet on the Wing airfield in their History section.

Other RAF servicemen stationed at Wing during WWII but not mentioned in Wings Over Wing include Wally Boyes, who married local girl Doris Jordan.

There are a few residents listed in the 1939 Register as labourers at the “air port” and my guess is this means the airfield. They were Charles Elliott, Harry Essex and William Essex.

The airfield in Wing was also an official repatriation centre for returning prisoners of war during Operation Exodus in 1945, and was the gateway to home for 32,822 men in 1,269 aircraft from Europe from 9 April to 3 June 1945 – apparently they received quite a welcome! Read one serviceman’s memories of returning via Wing on the BBC’s WW2 People’s War archive. The repatriation efforts are mentioned in the WVS reports: “Wing Area has been helping at Wing Aerodrome with Leighton Buzzard in the work of receiving and welcome the ex-prisoners. It has been a most thrilling task and all the members who have been able to go have very much enjoyed the work. The Station has organised the reception quite splendidly and we go up in teams when called upon to do so. The 7 villages near by the Aerodrome have so far taken part in the work. In talking to the men all say that but for the Red Cross Parcels they would not be here. They are thrilled with the reception they have received everywhere, full of praise for the USA troops and our own who have liberated them. Stewkley is joining with Wing and are delighted to be helping with this work.” and again in June: “This area was very busy with this work until Wednesday May 17th but since then we have not been called out. I do not think any prisoners have arrived at Wing since this date [this is incorrect, there were arrivals up until early June]. This was a most interesting job and all the members who were able to go very much enjoyed the work.”

Evacuees

Billy in Wing in WW2
Billy, seen here with his tin hat, was one of those who was evacuated to Wing during the War.
Photo courtesy of Mary Wheeler

Another location in Wing with particular relevance to WWII was the Ascott House estate. When the Royal Chelsea Hospital in London was bombed the residents had to be transferred out around the county, and a group of the Chelsea Pensioners were rehoused at Ascott from 1941 to 1947. Given that bombs had also fallen on Wing Park Farm on the night on 1 October 1940, closing the road, I’m not sure that neighbouring Ascott was a wise choice!

As well as these pensioners, Wing also became a temporary home to children being evacuated from London. You can read one little boy’s story of being sent to Buckinghamshire on the BBC’s WW2 People’s War archive. The following Wing residents are listed in the 1939 Register as responsible for evacuees:

  • Alfred J Gurney – evacuation officer
  • Edith M Sainsbury – evacuation helper
  • Arthur Woodman – billeting officer

The following children are listed in the 1939 Register as evacuees present in Wing in September 1939. There will have been more however their records are closed for privacy reasons, and there will of course have been more coming and going over the course of the war.

  • Alfred W J Francis
  • Christine M Sellwood

The September 1941 report from the Women’s Voluntary Service includes a note that evacuation was currently “rather unsatisfactory as many of the children [in Wing RD] have returned to London”. In August 1942 “children keep drifting back to London… I feel a little compulsion should be used [and] either let all the children go back to their parents or be made to stay in the country. No gratitude is shown either by the parents or the children. Some parents have disappeared into the blue.” Her numbers suggest that the number of evacuee children in the district at that stage may only be around a quarter of the peak.

US Forces

Yes, the Americans were in the area. The WVS reports mentions both soldiers and WACs from mid-1944, with the WACs making a more favourable impression on Mrs Roberts, at least, than the soldiers: “They were all most interesting and one learnt more about America and their customs in that short time [a day trip out together] than all contacts made with the Men. As the future Mothers of U.S.A. they will make far better Ambassadors for England than the others. It was very illuminating to hear that they disapproved most heartily of the way some of the men behaved with our girls.”