All Saints, Fawley - Community & Heritage

John Child

Memories of 1940-1952 by John Child

I was born at Chapel Lane, Langley in 1935.  My parents were Harold and Ivy [née House], and they got married in Fawley Church in 1934.  My mother’s father was a Royal Navy blacksmith who lost his life in 1915 when his ship was blown up at Chatham.  His name was William House and he is listed on the War Memorial in Fawley Church.   Before my mother got married she worked at Stone Farm on the Cadland Estate, then become nanny to Belinda Crossley, who later married Edward Montagu and lived at Palace House, Beaulieu.

Child family wedding at Fawley Church

Harry Child and Ivy House's wedding at All Saints Fawley - click image for full size picture (opens in new tab)

Throughout the war years I attended school at Fawley.  We spent many of our school days in the air raid shelters as the German planes were trying to fire bomb the AGWI refinery nearby.  One day we were all playing outside and the siren had not gone off so we watched a dog fight taking place immediately above the school.  Spent cartridges and some live ones rained down onto our playing field.  None of us were injured in any way.  During the bombing loads of incendiary devices were dropped over the area.  Myself and a friend collected the ones which had failed and took them to the ARP man.  He showed us how to strip them down to make them safer.  From then on, aged 8 or 9 we could do it ourselves, no Health and Safety in those days.

Many things were in short supply throughout the war and for many years after.  The normal request to go to the toilet was to put your hand up.  If paper was required two hands were raised in the air and we were given one square of toilet paper.  This could be folded and taken home if needed.  One day American soldiers came into the classrooms and gave us two sweets each, this was indeed a luxury.

During 1943 hundreds of men were widening the road from West Common to Lepe.  It was my duty to take lunch boxes to our relatives who were helping with the dig.  In this year and early 1944 large concrete blocks were being built at Lepe beach.  We were told this was to prevent any German invasion.  As we discovered in later years these were built for the Mulberry Harbours. 

Large concrete blocks - remaining ruin of the building site for Mulberry Harbours

Remains of the building site for Mulberry Harbours. Click for larger picture. 

A friend and I were creeping through the woods between Lepe road and the river to kill rabbits, when we came across a wooden sentry box with netting where the door would have been.  Further on we came upon many more and inside each were six toilet rolls.  As these were in short supply we collected a sack full and took them home to Mum.  It must have been obvious to Mother why they were there but not to us.  We were told to leave six and return the rest, but not being able to find the sentry boxes the rolls were left hanging on a tree.

In 1944 we saw masses of heavy tanks and other vehicles moving into Blackfield and Fawley Common. The non-stop column came through Blackfield night and day and were parked close to every available space close to the hedges. I was standing at the bottom of Chapel Road when the tanks came towards me, past the Chapel, and turned to my left. I walked to the man directing operations and told him the tanks would sink in the bogs. He told me to go home.

Later that night I was asleep in my bed when my mother woke me up. There was a group of army officers standing at the foot of my bed. They asked if I was the lad who had warned them about the bogs. I had to get up and show them all the danger spots because one of the tanks had already sunk. I was told to return next morning with a friend for a thank-you. Next day we were given a 14lb tin of Old Oak Ham each, plus a feast of hot doughnuts dipped in caster sugar, heaven on earth! The troops were from Canada and didn͛t seem to be short of supplies. A few days before D Day we could hear troops marching all through the nights towards Lepe. I can still hear the crunch on our gravel lane.

Image shows Lepe House - now demolished but in the same approximate position as the current classroom for Lepe Country Park.

Image shows Lepe House - click for bigger picture..

Throughout the war there were two large guns pointing towards the Isle of Wight. When we asked how far the guns would shoot we were told sixteen miles. We knew the Isle of Wight was four miles so we were lost for words. One day the guns had disappeared and some months later reappeared. We now know the defence of the south coast was moved to the Thames level to avoid a pre-German invasion bombing.

Image of Mulberry Beetle

Image shows Mulberry Beetle - part of a floating roadway/pier of the kind constructed at Stone Point. Click for bigger picture of Mulberry Beetle.

In preparation for tanks on Lepe beach, lots of concrete 'chocolate slabs' were laid on the shingle. I saw my first bulldozer when it was grading a ramp from the road at the Exbury turn down onto the beach. In MayJune 1944 several of us young boys watched the loading onto the landing craft. We were sitting in the bushes at the river car park. Two days later when all the transports of every kind had disappeared we were back on the beach to grab anything that was left. The large concrete buildings had gone leaving behind thousands of ball bearings of tennis ball size. After D-Day we found many boxes of ammunition left in the hedges so most boys kept a stash hidden in the heath ditches!

Soon after D-Day a bus load of German prisoners came to work on local farms.  Up until then the local boys and lads had managed to help the farmers.  We could get lots of time off school for the war effort.  We still had to milk the cows morning and evening by hand, at the farm at the end of Lea road. [Langley Farm.] I am amazed how hard the prisoners worked and looked after the safety of us all.  When threshing, my job was to feed the stooks down into the input box.  The prisoners were in the field collecting the stooks with horse and carts.  When the first load arrived at the thresher they went on strike.  The farmer eventually understood that they said my job was too dangerous and it was a man’s job.  Aged nine it was a bit worrying looking into all those flailing wires when it would have taken five minutes to stop the steam engine if we had fallen in.

Wednesday afternoons was the Geneva rest period for the prisoners, so we would all go to Lepe beach.  One German taught me to swim.  They soon made friends with families and found girl friends.  Some couples went walk about into the woods so curiosity sent us to investigate.  School education was dull after that.  In the evening we could see couples walking about quite freely.  While mixing with the prisoners we picked up some German words and most of us could count to ten.

Whenever we found a crashed German plane we would search for souvenirs.  Our best find was the thick bungee rubber they used to hold loose items to the fuselage.  To us the centre core was perfect for catapults.

Eventually the war came to an end with a celebration bonfire in the field next to our bungalow.  This was when most of the incendiary empty cases were burnt.  It took a long time in a hot fire before they caught light and burned with a white glare.

Images of the celebrations

Click any of the images for a bigger picture. See if you recognise anyone!

Langley VE party

Langley VE party (above). Click image for full size picture.

Another picture of the Langley VE party

Another picture of Langley VE party (above). Click image for full size picture.

 

VE party for Hampton Lane, Lea Rd and Chapel Lane

Victory in Europe (VE) celebrations; Hampton Lane, Lea Rd and Chapel Lane (above). Click image for full size picture.

Victory in Japan Day celebrations; Hampton Lane, Lea Rd and Chapel Lane

Victory in Japan Day celebrations; Hampton Lane, Lea Rd and Chapel Lane (above). Click image for full size picture.