Memories of World War II

In 2019 Adderbury History Association was asked by Christopher Rawlins School if any older residents of the village could come into school and share their memories of the last war.  In the end only Jean Moore was able to talk to the children; her mother had run the Telephone Exchange (now Tinkle Cottage) near the Red Lion.  However, several other people who had been in Adderbury as children shared their reminiscences with me, and so did some current Adderbury residents who were in other parts of the country.  I passed some of these on to the children, and here they are in full.


Peter Coombs came to this part of the world as an evacuee from Kent.  He and his brother travelled in a lorry and when they reached Oxfordshire, they got increasingly anxious, as the lorry kept stopping and dropping off children, but not them.  They were left until last, and found themselves in   Sibford Ferris.

They settled happily – they enjoyed playing in the fields, and every day they crossed two fields to collect fresh milk.  The best part of their new life was the absence of bombs.  In Kent they had been under the flight path of German planes heading for London.  There had been a shelter at the end of their road, but if they didn’t have time to get to it, they just had to take refuge under the stairs.

At first Peter and his brother went to school in Sibford; later they cycled to school in Banbury, and after the war Peter’s family left Kent and settled in North Newington.

Louise Harris lived in Ledwell (near Sandford St Martin).  Her family hosted several evacuees.  Two soon went home because they were homesick.  One girl became a good friend of Louise; they kept up afterwards and when Louise got married, the former evacuee was her bridesmaid.

Peter Dance’s family, like many in Adderbury, had people staying with them during the war.  First there were two boy evacuees,who didn’t stay long.   Later the Dances hosted two women teachers; one of them kept up with Peter’s mother for some time after the war.  Later still there was an army officer and his batman.   Peter’s next door neighbour had two boy evacuees who stayed for some time, and a family friend in The Crescent hosted two girls.

Peter’s wife, Grace, lived in London, and was evacuated at the age of three to stay with an aunt in a village in Ayrshire.  When she was old enough she went to the village school and remembers the kindness of the headmaster who let her borrow some of his books.  She was notable as the only evacuee  in the village, and when she went back many years later as an adult, she was greeted with “It’s the wee vaccy!”

Schoolboys, soldiers and tanks

The Boys’ School soon had only one teacher, Mr Bradbury, as his colleague had been called up.   Peter Dance remembers that the school’s numbers were boosted when the evacuees from London came to Adderbury.  The boys from West Ham were accompanied by their teacher, Mr Farmer.

Several people recalled tanks in the village.  A number of troops were stationed in Adderbury, and so there were plenty of tanks around.  Peter Dance attended the Boy’s School (now Rawlins House) and the boys used to play football on the Green in break.  He remembers being a bit annoyed when they couldn’t play because of the tanks on the grass.  Tanks were also to be seen on the tennis courts; there were troops billetted at the Tennis Club.  Some small boys were given rides up from the tennis courts to the baker’s in Chapel Lane (not a journey that would normally require a lift!).

There were various schemes to raise funds for the troops.  Louise Harris still has the certificate which she received from the Red Cross at the end of the war for collecting a penny a week for “Soldiers, sailors and airmen”.


Peter’s father, Phil Dance, was a Special Constable, covering  an  area including Shenington, Alkerton, the Sibfords, Epwell and Broughton. So he was one of the few people in the village to have a car (the doctor was another).  His duties included enforcing the blackout.  

In October 1940 two bombs fell near the Aynho road, in Ashmole’s Field (between Bo-Peep Farm and Nell Bridge)  They exploded and left holes, but did no harm; the aim had probably been to damage the railway line.  Peter Dance remembers his father had to walk along the  line to check that there was no damage.

No bombs fell in Adderbury, but there were air raid practices, and when the siren sounded everyone took shelter.  Peter Dance recalls that the first time the siren went off, he and his mother  sheltered under the stairs.  When his father came back, he pointed out that they had chosen a bad spot, as they were directly underneath the hot water tank!  

They had a shock one night, when a barrage balloon which had somehow come loose, hit the window of Peter’s parents’ bedroom with a loud bang and shattered it.  Peter remained asleep throughout the drama, and was furious to have missed it!

Several people mentioned seeing a glow in the sky over Aynho from the London blitz, and recognising the distinctive sound  of German planes heading for Coventry.  Some also remembered being taken to Croft Lane, to see the glow in the sky to the north, as Coventry burnt in November 1940.  


Graham Collier was actually in Coventry.  He was eight when war broke out. The city was bombed a number of times and Graham and his friends used to collect bits of shrapnel and swap them.  They also played with the incendiary bombs which had landed, but not gone off.  One boy kept a collection of them in a shed, until they were discovered and safely disposed of!

Graham’s father was too old to be conscripted so continued working in a small company making car components.  When the war started production switched to the rear turrets of Wellington bombers.  After work he served as an ARP (Air Raid Precautions) Warden.  When there was a raid on, he was kept busy putting out fires and rescuing people.  Graham recalls that some people tried to escape danger during raids by migrating to the outskirts of Coventry and sleeping in tents.

Graham never felt frightened in wartime, although going to the Anderson shelter at the bottom of the garden was a regular occurrence.  His  mother kept important items, like ration books and identity cards, in a tin, and Graham, as the eldest child, was responsible for taking it to the shelter, and ensuring that the documents were kept safe.  When the siren sounded, his mother would just say, “Tin!”, and Graham would know what to do.

One building destroyed in the Coventry blitz was Graham’s school.  He and his friends were delighted that there was no school to go to, and very disappointed that after only two days another school was found for them!

Graham’s wife, Iris, grew up in the same city.  Her father had been gassed in the First World War.  He never spoke of his experiences then, but on the morning after the bombing of Coventry in November 1940 he took Iris and her two brothers into Coventry to see the devastation in the flattened city.  Iris never forgot him saying to them: “Just look at that!  That’s war.  And in ten years time, they will be friends again”. 

When the war ended Graham’s mother organised the street party.  By this time Graham was an apprentice electrician.  One of his jobs was especially memorable; he helped to fix an illuminated star to shine out on the cathedral spire (which survived the bombing) for the first Christmas of peacetime.


Jill Boss was further away, living on the Cornish coast in Looe.  She was a baby at the start of the war, but learnt later that the family boat building business was taken over by the Admiralty.  It was kept very busy with men working in shifts for 24 hours of the day. 

Jill remembers their Anderson shelter; it frightened her because there was  no light and it smelt musty, but luckily they never had to use it.  The kitchen table had steel legs and top, to act as a shelter, if necessary.  She also remembers her Mickey Mouse gas mask; she hated it when her mother tried it on, because it fitted so tightly.

When she was older she used to walk home from school.  She remembers the day when she looked down at the beach from the cliff top and saw what she thought was one of her father’s small boats bobbing up and down at the edge of the waves.  She started to run down the zigzag path to save the boat from being washed out to sea.  But suddenly a large hand came out from a green door, and pulled her inside.  She was furious and bit it!  But it turned out that the hand belonged to a local policeman and he had saved her life – the “boat” was a German mine!  

Her most dramatic memory was of a walk with her grandmother, when they saw a German plane flying low with its tail on fire.  They took shelter as it turned in their direction and saw the pilot jump from the plane. His parachute carried him above their heads – she still remembers vividly the terrified look in the pilot’s eyes – the plane did a nose dive on to the rocks far below, and they heard a loud bang and saw a huge ball of fire.  The pilot was soon captured.

On the day war ended Jill helped her mother and grandmother paint jam jars, tie string around the tops and put a nightlight in each.  Many little flags were also ironed and hung on string.  That evening she found out why, when she saw the river at Looe full of boats, large and small covered with flags.  Her Dad’s boat had all the painted jam jars hanging below the flags.  When a gun fired, all the candles were lit and the boats made their way out of the river to the sea.  Jill and her family were aboard their boat and did a big circle in the bay.  It was a night to remember! 

Fiona Gow
June 2020

With many thanks to: Jill Boss, Graham Collier, Peter Coombs, Grace and Peter Dance and Louise Harris

And if any readers have their own memories of World War Two, I would be happy to record them.

Adderbury at war is the subject of the 2014 Adderbury History Association publication In It Together by Barry Davis, which deals with the actions and the lives of Adderbury people both in the forces and on the home front, in World War II and the Great War 1914-18 as well as earlier conflicts. Details of this publication can be found on the home page of the website.

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