Rhoda Woodward Tribute 2: First came the evacuees

This article was composed in 1995 and formed part of the Special Edition of Adderbury Contact published in May, 1995, to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of VE Day.

For most of 1939 everyone talked of war, with the older ones reliving their memories of other wars. We were issued with gas masks, two air raid shelters were build at each end of the village and an assessment made as to how many evacuees each house could Accommodate.

On 1 September the first evacuees accompanied by two teachers arrived from Barking and West Ham. Adderbury then had three schools, the Infants (now “Shepherd’s Keep”), the Girls’ School (now Church House) and the Boys’ School next to the Institute (now called “Rawlins House”)

He evacuees were divided up among the schools. Many soon returned to London as no bombing had taken place. Another contingent of children came from Kent on 12 September 1940, when German bombs made safe haven a necessity.

Evacuees were not our only wartime visitors. Soldiers of the Oxford and Bucks Regiments moved into Greenhill and Adderbury House – some were local lads just called up.

Huts sprang up all over the village in the most unlikely places. Lorries and tanks were parked on the Green – the only playground for the boys’ school. The headmaster protested on two counts to the Commanding Officer – 1) the bad state of the Green, and 2) the sound of the Scottish Regiments’ bagpipes (played twice daily for the Changing of the Guard) being such that the teacher could not make herself heard.

Weekly dances and film shows were held in the Institute, and a canteen set up in the Methodist schoolroom. Between 1939 and 1945 the village was host to nine British battaions, six American Army divisions and, finally, in 1945 a transit camp.  One of the most memorable occasions was on 1 April 1942 when King George VI came to inspect the Cameron Highlanders part of the Southern Command who moved out on 11 April. Many convoys passed through on the main Oxford road. It was a strange feeling watching all those lads going off to fight and wondering how many would be coming back.

Food rationing had, of course, begun. Many men were highly amused at the “Dig for Victory” posters as they had always grown their own vegetables, many keeping pigs and hens. Now they had to have a special card to get meal for their livestock and surrender their meat coupons for a certain time if a pig was killed.

Agricultural workers were allowed an extra ration of cheese. “Bevin’s pies” or agricultural pies were deposited at a volunteer’s house for collection: they cost about 4d … We probably managed better in the country than in the towns. Although many local people must have been worried for their own lads, they made welcome quite a number of soldiers’ wives, enabling couples to have a few more hours together.

At the age of seventeen and a half it was compulsory to register for thw Forces or war work. When VE Day came I was serving in the NAAFI on an RAF camp at nearby Hinton-in-the=Hedges. I remember there was an open-air service out on the runway. All personnel were allowed a 48-hour pass. We fed the ones living too far away to go home. I remember I did not feel any joy – relief, yes, but a great sadness for those who would not be coming home.

Rhoda Woodward

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