Chapter 13 of More from our Village of Spencers Wood, ‘Our Village in the Second Worrld War’ by Margaret Bampton, tells the story of the Village during the war years including accounts of evacuees billetted in the Village and prisoners of war held in the POW camp at Stanbury House. Since the book was published however the Group has continued to research both the First and Second World Wars and some of the articles published in the former Loddon Reach magazine are reproduced below.
The Group has also received a letter from Maria Antonia Bertoni about her father Pio Bertoni, who was a POW held in the Camp at Stanbury House from c.1944-46. This can be found in the People section of the website
At School during the Great War
By 1916 the War had been raging for two years and as a result significant changes had taken place in our two local schools, Ryeish Green and Lambs Lane. Many of the male teachers had volunteered or had been called up and female teachers, who were all required to be single women, were few and far between. When Mr Jones left Lambs Lane to join the Army staff duties had to be rearranged. In 1915, pupil teacher Edith Wilson worked on a part time basis of 2 hours per week and the next year, a monitoress was appointed. This meant that the monitoress would then count as a Supplementary Teacher in two years’ time when she became 18 years old.
Even with the shortages of staff, the attitude towards married women discouraged their employment. At Lambs Lane, in 1916, Miss Rawson asked the Education Committee whether she would be retained after her marriage. The Committee replied that they would approve her retention after her marriage provided that her domestic duties and physical health did not interfere, in any way, with her work in the school.
Ethel Snell, who with her sister Louisa, attended Lambs Lane School when it opened in 1908, had transferred from Charles Russell School in Swallowfield which had then closed. Ethel left Lambs Lane in 1912 and went on to Three Mile Cross School (Ryeish Green) where she was appointed as a monitoress, passing her Pupil Teacher test and was appointed a Pupil Teacher 18 months later. She stayed at Ryeish Green for her five-year apprenticeship and in 1917, qualified as a teacher. She was there in 1916 and after qualifying taught at Twyford.
There was a succession of caretakers at Ryeish Green who were also called up. Mr Underwood who was appointed late in the war received his papers and the managers of the school appealed for his exemption from service to keep him there. Mr Reely, the Headmaster, was called to the Recruiting Office at the Town Hall in Reading. The call was a mistake on the part of the recruiting office. He did however, eventually enlist in 1918 and joined the RAF despite having been refused permission to enlist earlier.
The punishment book has an entry for 1916, which states that one boy refused to do anything he was told and was caned. He still continued to refuse to do as he was told and said that his mother was his authority. The boy was sent home.
The account above by Margaret Bampton appeared in Loddon Reach in April 2016.
Celebrating the end of the Great War
At the end of World War I a banquet was arranged on 3 September 1919 to welcome home all those from Grazeley, Spencers Wood and Three Mile Cross who had survived the War. This was held in Spencers Wood village hall, then called St Michael’s hall.
The menu for the banquet seems modest to us today but would have been a luxury after all the shortages then: salmon with mayonnaise sauce, ham, roast beef, lamb with mint sauce, and steak and kidney pie accompanied with salad and potatoes. This was followed by plum and apple tarts, blancmange, jellies, fruit salad and trifle. There was also cheese and biscuits with fruit, following the deserts. Ales, minerals and cigarettes were also provided. The catering was provided by J Allen of Farley Hill, one of the many members of the Allen family then living in the area.
Reverend Lewarne, vicar of St Michael’s church, said the grace and the toast to the King was made by the Chairman of the event, Brigadier General Crowe who also proposed the silent toast to all those who had not survived the War. The Chairman also compered the concert that followed, during which another toast was made to all the United Services. A W. Dodd opened and closed the concert with a piano solo and the Brigadier General also sang twice as did Mr Percy Cooper, who was connected with the United Reformed Church (URC). Mr C Holloway also sang once. There was an Holloway family living in Grazeley. During the concert there was a call for volunteers to sing and the concert finished with Auld Lang Syne and God Save the King (George V).
The Committee who organised the banquet consisted of three clergymen, Reverend Lewarne who was the chairman, Reverend Cole, the pastor of the URC and Reverend Jones from Grazeley Church. There were two Lieutenants, J Middleton and Salmon and others namely Messrs Alexander, Aldridge, Bullingham, C Double, Eggleton, Hayes, Steel, Turvey and H W Salmon. The Vice Chairman was E R Horton, the Treasurer, M T Temple, and the Honorary Secretary, Mrs E R Grover. Members of the Grover family lived on Basingstoke Road and in Hyde End Road. The Salmons were market gardeners in Clares Green Road and there is a road named after them in the Apple Tree Estate. The Middletons were grocers on the corner of Hyde End Road but before 1919 had moved to Grovelands Farm. (See our latest book.) The Alexanders came from Grazeley as did the Holloways. One member of the Aldridge married into the Wheeler family. The Bullinghams were connected to the village hall and James Hayes lived in the Square. There was a J R Horton at Highlands around this time and E R Horton may have been a relative. The C Double was Charles Double who had the Forge on the corner of The Square.
In Reading Library there is a copy of the Reading Standard’s Pictorial Record of the War in four volumes. In volume four, 1919, on page 983 is a flashlight photo of the returned warriors of Spencers Wood, Grazeley and Three Mile Cross at the banquet, should anyone wish to see it.
Margaret Bampton and Jackie Blow, Setember 2019
War Time Memories
In 1917 after a request for information a number of residents shared their memories with us, including war-time ones…
We heard about one family that lived in Church Lane, Three Mile Cross, where a bomb fell in the field opposite and damaged their house and they had to move out. Another bomb fell in a garden in Grazeley Road and blew off the front door of the house during the night while the family continued to sleep upstairs. We spoke to another resident who had been a child evacuee to Reading who was separated from her mother and younger siblings and housed with many different families and, at one time, even had to sleep in a garden shed.
The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 caused a halt in the installation of main infrastructure services. Spencers Wood remained a rural village, causing amazement to the evacuee children who were sent from London and other cities. It was a shock to find no electricity, no piped gas, no running water. Dotti Johnson who was 7 when she came to Spencers Wood told us: “The grey stone cottage was without sanitation or running water. Drinking water came from a well in the back garden. Lighting was obtained by oil lamps and candles. Cooking was done by a small kitchen range.” Many houses had wells in their gardens or in their outhouses where fresh cold water could be pumped directly into a sink.
There were no street lights, and the wide starry skies sometimes over-awed the city children. However, they generally loved the freedom of the countryside, exploring and playing in the many surrounding fields and woodlands and picking fruit, nuts and flowers according to the season. Schooling was shared with the village children, and some teachers came with the evacuees. The resident grown-ups (all able-bodied men were called up into the armed forces) often felt that the village was over-run with children, and they arranged many concerts and other activities in the village hall. These delighted the youngsters. We have records from evacuees saying that this was the happiest time of their lives.
Jackie Blow and Patricia Green June 2017
Evacuated to Spencers Wood
Evacuees came to Spencers Wood in September 1939 at the outbreak of World War Two. In a wish to keep at least our future generations safe, young children were removed from the cities and towns which were likely to be bombed and taken to villages in the country. Spencers Wood, Ryeish Green, Three Mile Cross and surrounding villages were designated reception areas particularly for children from London. Mothers with very young children came too but most children came alone or as a group from school with a teacher. The children evacuated to this area travelled from Waterloo Station to Wokingham, where they transferred to coaches for the rest of their journey. They each had only a small case and the all-important gas mask in its box fastened with string round their necks.
Children were allocated to local residents and it is heart-warming to know that many children regarded their time here as some of the happiest of their lives. Not all placements were successful, of course, and some boys and girls
returned to London when there was little or no bombing during the autumn of1939. However most of them returned when the air raids began in earnest. The John Ruskin School and the Cypress School in Croydon brought whole classes of children here. The children had to continue their education and the local school buildings had to accommodate the extra pupils. At first, Ryeish Green (then a junior school) and Lambs Lane schools arranged to have separate sessions with their own children, taught by the original staff attending in the mornings, and the London children having their lessons in the afternoons. This was soon changed and the children were mixed together to have lessons for the whole school day. It was quite a culture shock for both groups of children and rooms were described as “bursting at the seams”.
As the town children settled in, they regarded their surroundings with amazement. There were few of the amenities they were used to – no street lighting, few houses with electricity, many with no mains water. It was strange to get water from the well in the garden or from the communal well on the Common off Basingstoke Road. Instead of narrow streets with their neighbours’ houses and industrial buildings, there was all that sky and lots of open space with green fields, woods and animals! Children had to fit in with the customs of the families they were staying with, but many found plenty of time for play and for exploring the wide countryside. Children roamed with their new friends to Shinfield or to Grazeley, enjoying streams and woods. Clocks were put forward two hours in summer to get the most daylight in the evenings and everyone was expected to assist in getting in the harvest. Schools closed so that the children could help in these vital labour-intensive tasks since all the younger men were away at war.
With the abundance of children in the villages, special efforts were made to entertain them during holidays and at Christmas. Church and chapel were important. Concerts were put on and shows at schools were rehearsed and polished ready for performances there and in the village hall. Local children recall that some of the refugees were “rather boisterous” but that they all learned to become tolerant of one another and some formed lasting friendships. Several of the refugees who attended Lambs Lane School recorded memories reproduced above.
Patricia Green, September 2009