May 8, 2020|

Wickham During the War Years: 1939-1945

When we commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Victory in Europe this month, many of you will remember the war years here in Wickham. Recalling that broadcast made in 1939 announcing that our Country was at war with Germany, it was a most sobering moment.  It was not long before everyone was involved in the preparation for an eventuality although none really knew at that time what to expect.

Two prominent people who were very much in evidence at that time were Colonel and Mrs MacDonald of Webbs Lane Farm, and as both had experience of the First World War, they both knew what had to be done.  The Civil Defence, Fire Service and the Welfare Service were soon organised.  Mrs Dorothy Warwick and Mr A E Roberts were appointed Billeting Officers.

When the night bombing raids started, air raid shelters began to be built in all the gardens around Wickham.  As time progressed corrugated iron shelters became available and also the indoor ‘Anderson’ Shelter which proved a life saver.  Prefabricated rest centres were built on the Glebe land next to where the Old School stood.  These were later converted into two bedroom bungalows.  A large brick shelter was put in in the Square near the King’s Head.  People from Portsmouth as well as Wickham used it; a bus brought them up each evening from Portsmouth and conveyed them back in the morning.

The village school not only accommodated our own children, but also children from Gosport and indeed further afield as families were evacuated into Wickham and billeted with Wickham families.  Many of the children were separated from their parents and so Wickham families acted as their foster parents.  This was very much part of the important war effort on the home front.  Food, of course, became extremely scarce and there was a substitute for just about everything.  Most of the villagers with gardens grew their own supplies.  Ration books were introduced and due to the food shortage, long queues formed outside the shops in the square.  I believe this is how orderly queuing began, a habit which we still, in this country, continue with pride.  Clothing was also in very short supply and rationed.  A clothing market was held in the Victory Hall twice a week.

As the war progressed, more and more men were called up for active service and their work at home had to be undertaken by the womenfolk.  Land Army girls worked on the farms together with Italian and German prisoners of war.  Before Park Place became a Convent, it was owned by the late Commander and Lady Bird and after war broke out, they turned their drawing room into a small factory assembling aircraft parts. Ladies from the village worked there, undertaking this very important job, throughout the war.

Wickham, thankfully, was spared severe damage despite its location near both Portsmouth and Southampton. Stray bombs intended for the ports sometimes fell creating damage to the Water Mains and setting buildings on fire.  The local firemen did a marvellous job tackling the incendiary bomb when they dropped in the Square and on the roofs of buildings nearby.

When peace was eventually announced in May 1945, Wickham rejoiced gratefully, flags were hoisted, church bells, silent for so long, pealed loudly again.  Bonfires were lit and the whole village population sang and danced in the Square.

Although the dark years of the war were naturally very frightening and tense, there was a great deal of kindness and comradeship around.  It was community spirit at its best and it was this, above all, which brought Wickham and its people heroically through the war.

Bill Dean
Parish Magazine 1995

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