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Memories of Wartime: Stoughton 1944

Published on: 16 Nov, 2013
Updated on: 29 Mar, 2016

Retired schoolteacher Roger Edwards spent his formative years in Stoughton. He has been writing about his own schooldays and here are some of his memories, this article recalling the year 1944.

The young Roger Edwards.

The young Roger Edwards.

In 1944 I seem to remember being in one of a pair of classrooms that were part of a prefab situated well away from the Stoughton Infant School building and on the edge of the Junior School playground. 

There were three classes in the year group, two in the prefab and one in the main infant school building. Due probably to evacuees there were pretty well 50 pupils in each class. I was in the top band, but was positioned 47th out of 50 in an end of term test.

I had an experience at this juncture in which I felt humiliated. We each had to walk out in front of the class in order of our position and choose a prize from a table containing items which some well wishers had donated. The top boy chose a big box of toy soldiers. By the time my turn came all I could collect was a pencil and small scribbling pad. I refused the prize saying that I had several of these at home. I think it was an understandable response. No primary school would organise such an event in this way today.

I remember feeling very ill sometime in the summer of 1944. I staggered home from school. My mother was out shopping and I did not have a key to let myself in. I lay on the bench in the garden shed and remembered waking up in bed in a very hot sweat. Dr Rosenberg, a refugee Hungarian Jew, successfully cared for me through a very nasty bout of pneumonia. I recall being wrapped in hot flannels and people said I was talking jibberish.

At this time I think my reading progress suffered. There was a series called “Gates to Fairyland” which certainly did not appeal. I was only interested in war stories and cowboys and Indians.

The school was very close to the barracks and as we walked up Stoughton Road we would always say hello to the soldier on guard duty.

Not too distant was the ATS training centre. The ATS girls often marched past the school. We would cheekily skip along the side of them and sing: “You’re in the ATS all covered in mustard and cress. The mustard and cress is mouldy and so are the ATS!”

The response from the girls, I must not repeat.

We would often go to the pictures in Guildford. There was lots of choice, the Odeon, the Playhouse, the Cinema and the Plaza (nicknamed the Bughouse).

We caught the late evening Yellow Bus (sometimes grey due to wartime utility paint) back home from outside the Cinema in Woodbridge Road. Often there was a smaller backup bus to take the overspill from the pictures and the pubs.

The buses were packed with soldiers and ATS girls, often extremely noisy as a result of their evening activities. I recall the engines absolutely grinding up Manor Road and disgorging much of their happy load in Stoughton Road close to Manor Road.

Miss Brown's class in one of the huts at Stoughton Infant school, circa 1943-44.

Miss Brown’s class in one of the huts at Stoughton Infant School, circa 1943-44.

Mid 1944 was of course the period of the build up to D-Day. I remember the huge amount of traffic along the Worplesdon Road.  There was a big camp at Pirbright. Moreover, the skies were even more filled with aircraft.

Then the landings took place and my parents thought the war was coming to an end. They were mistaken. It was a long slog from Normandy to Berlin, and for folks at home there was another peril. In June 1944 the first doodlebugs dropped.

I recall coming home from school in the pouring rain, and being soaked from head to foot my mother filled a basin with mustard and hot water to treat my feet. Suddenly I heard a heavy purring sound overhead and I shot the basin of mustard over the floor as I dived under the stairs.

I heard the engine stop and an explosion, although I do not know where the thing landed.

[David Rose adds: This is likely to been the V1 that fell in a cornfield west of Foxburrows Avenue, Westborough, on June 28, 1944.]

At about this time we had a Morrison shelter delivered. This was erected in the sitting room. It felt safer than under the stairs. Subsequently, I remember a doodlebug flying overhead whilst on my way home from school. It was very scary.

I heard a doodlebug early one morning, and after the explosion from my bedroom window, saw black smoke rising from the region of Recreation Road. Thankfully we did not experience the later V2 rockets.

[David Rose adds: This V1 is officially recorded as falling on the same date as the previous one Roger recalls. It actually fell late at night and to the west side of Stoke Recreation Ground.]

The house Roger lived in with his parents at 61 Byrefield Road, pictured in about 1935.

The house Roger lived in with his parents at 61 Byrefield Road, pictured in about 1935.

Sometime in the summer of 1944 the Canadians sited an anti-aircraft gun on the common at the top of Byrefield Road. At this stage I became a young entrepreneur. I decided with my pals to run the water cold from the tap and take four glasses of cold water up to the gun crew.

The drinks were most welcomed. But when I told them they cost a penny a drink the corporal in charge called me a little spiv – and taking my ear, frog marched me to my mum, who was very cross with my efforts at exploiting the Empire’s fighting men.

Normally, children did not travel any great distances at this time, but I was fortunate in having a trip to Blackpool in May 1944. My father was attending a trade union conference representing the Transport Salaried Staffs Association and my mother and I accompanied him staying in a boarding house run by a Mrs Beasley who I nicknamed Mrs Beastly.

As we travelled by train first to Waterloo I noticed that once we were beyond Surbition, the extensive bomb damage could be seen on either side of the line. We crossed London to Euston and from there started the long journey to Blackpool.

The resort was a breath of fresh air. There was no barbed wire as at south coast resorts. Children could play on the beach and there were even ice creams on sale. The amusement park was out of this world to me. An American soldier offered to look after me on an exciting ride that my mother could not face. I now often wonder if he survived the war and made it back to the States. I shocked people in the boarding house by excitingly shouting downstairs that when I stood on the toilet seat and looked out of the window, I could see Blackpool Tower!

Guildford had its evacuees. Two  girls were billeted at the top of Byrefield Road. They would regularly bully me on the way to school. I do not know what I had done to provoke them. I may not have done anything at all. They were in the junior school and I was in the infant school and smaller.

Anyway, under much continued harassment I lost my cool and with a wooden pistol I had, I hit Audrey on the forehead. A bump came up just like you saw in the comics and she ran into the junior school building which in those days abutted onto the infant school.

Eventually I was summoned from registration to report to a Mrs Stemp in the junior school. She was horrified by the injury I had done to one of her girls and she told me she would be looking out for me when I joined the juniors the following term. I worried the whole of the summer holidays about what would happen. When I did join the juniors Mrs Stemp had forgotten the incident. Teachers sometimes never think of the effect of their remarks on small children.

The later part of 1944 was especially memorable. Marine Commandos of 30 Assault Group arrived in Stoughton and were billeted on Stoughton residents. Commandos had the special privilege of being billeted in private homes. The 30 Assault Unit I have since learned was very special. It was the brainchild of Ian Fleming. Its job was  to steal enemy intelligence. Two members were billeted with us. Corporal Alan Royle and Lance-Corporal Bert Morgan. They specialised in safe blowing. Their exploits are recorded in Ian Fleming’s Commandos by Nicholas Rankin. (Faber and Faber 2011).

Sometime in the second half of 1944 I saw a lot of commando gear piled alongside our fence. We then met these young commandos each only 20 years of age, but each already with a huge amount of battle experience. I can remember Alan looking around my bedroom door with his face blackened and wearing a stockinet hat plus Sten-gun having just returned from a night exercise. He studied mathematics in his spare time and ultimately became a mining engine and a lecturer at Leeds University. In retirement he studied and gained a PhD for fun!

Bert was very shy and blushed easily. Bessie Pullinger, the girl next door, rather liked him, but when she called at our house he just blushed and hid behind his newspaper.

In early 1945 the unit left. I remember all the young men boarding their lorries and the women of Byrefield Road in tears as they knew these young guys were going to risk their lives in the final stages of the war in Europe. I did not understand all the tears then, but I do now. Both marines returned.

Being a small family we had many lodgers. Most, I think were from the Dennis Bros factory. We had one spiv-like guy who sharpened his razor on our windows and another who worked for the Ministry of Food who looked like an advert for Lifeboy soap. He spent a long time in the bathroom.

Outside our house in Byrefield Road was the ‘pig bin’. Folks saved their peelings and so on for the pig farmers. Yobs often kicked this bin over, spilling its contents all over the path. Countless times my mother and I cleared up the mess and replaced it in the bin.

We were allowed a lot of freedom as children. A great deal of time was spent playing in the street as there was little traffic. We roamed the commons and played war games among the ferns and bushes, spied on courting couples and generally in this wonderland of nature learned about the birds an the bees! We scrumped apples. Often they were not ripe and we suffered.

There were horse-drawn traders who visited Byrefield Road. Mr Childs sold fruit and vegetables as did Mr Chew who was always spitting in the road. There was the Co-op milkman and Lymposs & Smee’s horse-drawn vehicle driven by a lady named Nancy.

One day my mother who received her milk from the Co-op spotted Lymposs & Smee’s horse performing in the road. She instructed me to get a bucket and shovel and collect the droppings for the garden. On reaching the pile I was confronted by Mrs Hensby our neighbour who remonstrated that it was her milkman’s horse! I had to give deference to age.

Summer 1945 and Roger with his Uncle Cyril's Christmas present, plus models of a Douglas Boston and a Mosquito aircraft.

Summer 1945 and Roger with his Uncle Cyril’s Christmas present, plus models of a Douglas Boston and a Mosquito aircraft.

Christmas 1944 was cold. I remember having a leather belt with dogclips on each side to carry a jackknife and a whistle. They were quite the fashion with small boys. Health and safety would not allow it today.

Roger Edwards today!

Roger Edwards today!

I spent Christmas morning walking around the house just wearing it with a feel-good attitude. Then I became bored, but fortunately my Uncle Cyril arrived with a fantastic toy.

He was very skilled and had made a wooden submarine that fired a torpedo which hit the side of a wooden cruiser which released a mousetrap device which knocked into the air detachable parts of the ship thus giving the impression of blowing it up. This was such a unique and exciting toy!

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Responses to Memories of Wartime: Stoughton 1944

  1. Bernard Parke Reply

    November 17, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    Roger certainly evokes pungent memories of those now far off days of privation.

    Privations perhaps, but we never gave up hope although we lived in world devastated by the war.

    He mentions Mr Chew the greengrocer with his horse drawn cart of goods. He was one of many local traders from those pre-superstore days who have long since departed.

    Perhaps, in Stoughton, Mr Perrin business was the most frequented for he ran the fish and chip shop in the Worplesdon Road. This was the only food which could be bought off the meagre rations allocated to us at that time.

    Every night, bar Sundays of course, long queues of customers would snake their way along the road in the hope of buying nine penny worth of fish and three penny worth of chips.

    This of course put considerable pressure on the Perrin family in their effort to do their bit in the war effort.

    The fish and chips were like “manna from heaven” to us children, which lost none of its appeal by being wrapped in the scant single sheet newspapers of war time Britain.

  2. Roger Edwards Reply

    November 18, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    I was only seven years old when the V1 dropped on Recreation Road and my memory is perhaps a little amiss here. David Rose reports it dropping at 11.15pm 28th June 1944. This was of course on a mid-summer night. I must have seen the black smoke from my bedroom window when it was dusk and not in the morning as I stated. Thanks for the correction David.
    Roger Edwards.

  3. Roger Edwards Reply

    November 21, 2013 at 11:01 am

    Is there anyone else out there with memories of the Marine Commandos in Stoughton? Memories of Stoughton Infant and Junior Schools in wartime would also be welcome.

  4. Roger Edwards Reply

    January 9, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    Talking of Perrin’s fish and chip shop, I do seem remember that one of Mr Perrin’s employees was a German lady named Erma. I believe she was a Jewish refugee. I think she had some unkind remarks said to her by the less well informed customers during the war years. I hope she eventually had a happier life.

  5. Roger Edwards Reply

    June 14, 2015 at 6:22 pm

    The picture of Miss Brown’s class should be dated circa 1944-45 not 1943-44. Sorry my error.

  6. Roger Edwards Reply

    August 8, 2015 at 3:40 pm

    Correction: Sorry I had a senior moment. My bout of pneumonia took place in 1945 Not 1944. See my post on 1945.

  7. Tony Feist Reply

    January 12, 2016 at 4:23 pm

    I lived at 23 Byrefield Road and I was born in 1935.

    I remember the water tank at the top of the road.

    I used to peel potatoes for Mr Perrin [fish and chip shop] as a Saturday morning job.

    I also used to help a Miss Pratt deliver milk from a horse and cart.

    The horse, named ‘Lofty’, was one of four or five stabled in Barrack Road.

    I think it was the Co-op but it could have been Lymposs & Smee. [Ed: It was the latter].

    I attended Stoughton Infants and Junior Schools and recall the fish pond.

    If we had been very good and the weather was fine our teacher, Miss Turner, would take us outside and we would have our lesson seated on the raised edge of the pond.

    I do have a photo of our class and I am still in regular contact with my pal, John Smith, who lived in Worplesdon Road.

    • Roger Edwards Reply

      March 28, 2016 at 8:50 pm

      Miss Pratt’s Christian name was, I think, Nancy.

  8. John Lomas Reply

    January 13, 2016 at 4:39 pm

    I was born in 1942 and lived at 18 Byrefield Road.

    Was the milk cart a four-wheeled or a two-wheeled one?

    I know the Co-op did deliver there because that is who we had and we used to get the tokens from either the shop on the corner of Sheepfold Road or the store in town but, I also remember a two-wheeled “trap” type of delivery cart which I think was from of the local farms possibly the one at the end of Grange Road.

    [David Rose replies: It was probably a two-wheeled cart from Burden’s Dairy that was in Grange Road. I have a photo of it decorated for possibly a carnival and perhaps pictured in Sheepfold Road, Byrefield Road or Pennings Avenue. I will email you the picture.]

  9. Tony Feist Reply

    January 14, 2016 at 10:44 am

    The cart I was on had four wheels.

    I recall putting a wedge under the rear wheel when going downhill.

    The grocer on the corner of Sheepfold Road was Mr Fryett (maybe Mr Fryatt).

    Along that parade of shops were Ayers (bread and cakes), Atkinson’s (butchers), Gittins (greengrocer) and a shoe repair shop.

    On Worplesdon Road, opposite Byrefield Road was Gash’s Garage. Mr Gash lived at (I think) 29 Byrefield Road.

    Phillip Atkinson lost a hand when he tried to retrieve a pencil he dropped into a sausage making machine.

  10. John Lomas Reply

    January 28, 2016 at 12:19 pm

    Tony, I have only just seen your reply.

    My principle memories are from 45/7 onwards.

    Mr Frye(a)tt’s may have become a Co-op later.

    Do you remember the “old” chap who had the hardware store next door to the houses which were along that row?

    I had forgotten the name of the the garage owner but not the sound of his Standard Vanguard going down the road without, as I realised much later, changing gear.

    As the garage was so close one wonders why he took it home, unless he needed it for mobility.

  11. Tony Feist Reply

    January 29, 2016 at 11:07 am

    Have been racking what little brains I have but cannot remember the ‘old chap’.

    Mr Gash lived at ‘Swainston’, three houses up from us.

    I have just looked on Google Earth and the name is still clearly displayed with the date of build – 1934.

    I remember one of his sons returning from the Far East where he had been a prisoner of the Japanese. Due to his mistreatment he had a big pot belly. In the ignorance of childhood I recall saying: “I thought they had nothing to eat.”

    Another son, Alan, I think, worked at the Surrey Advertiser.

  12. Roger Edwards Reply

    March 29, 2016 at 4:31 pm

    The chap with the hardware shop was a Welshman name of Edwards(no relation). I remember Tony Feist, He and I went on a long bike ride in the Surrey hills in January 1951. It snowed hard.

    Tony lived next door to the Welch family, Vera and Clem. I am still in touch with their daughter born in 1949. Further down the road was a Mr Drew who also was a POW of the Japanese. Likewise was Mr Andsley who owned a hairdressing business facing Byrefield Road.

  13. Jan Messinger Reply

    March 29, 2016 at 7:50 pm

    For those of us not born in the 1940’s, this is delightful to read. Lovely to hear about local history.

  14. Tony Feist Reply

    April 4, 2016 at 3:58 pm

    In reply to Roger Edwards:

    I am afraid I do not remember that bike ride, yet I really wish I did.

    Do you recall Malcolm Matravers and Jimmy Harris who lived on the opposite side of the road?

    A frequent visitor to the Matravers was Mick Blundell, a good friend of mine, who lived in Saffron Platt.

    Malcolm’s dad, Jim was the driver of a Yellow bus that was involved in a triple fatality crash at Runfold, in 1952.

    I do wish I could remember that ride.

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