World War Two
The Second World War began in September 1939. Many of Blackheath’s young men were called up, but those who remained (usually because of being medically unfit for service), along with older villagers, formed The Local Defence Force under the command of Colonel Sandeman. His home, Brantyngeshay, became the Headquarters. There was a network of field telephones set up with D3 cables extending from HQ to Shalford, Chilworth, Wonersh and Shamley Green.
In 1940, on instructions from Winston Churchill, the LDVF became known as The Home Guard. In Blackheath, they were known as ‘B’ Company, 5th BN Surrey Home Guard Signals. Originally only men were able to enlist but later some of the younger women of the village joined up in a non-combatant role including Betty Edwards, Joan Hawkins and Joan Covey.
The Volunteer Arms public house became the central control for air raid warnings with publican Bill Loynes as ARP warden. The air raid siren was located at St.Martins Corner, near the crossroads. Billie Hockley remembers running up the village in her tin helmet to report for duty as a messenger.
Plenty of flying bombs (V1’s or Doodlebugs) were seen from the village , but only two fell close by. One fell on the North side of the big field behind the allotments near the village hall, the other in the field behind Barnett Hill and Wonersh. The latter fell before villagers had any warning and, caused much consternation. Squadrons of B52 bombers and spitfires would be clearly visible flying over the village heading off to France.
In 1940, the Government requisitioned the Hallams in Littleford Lane, ‘Cheshunt’ in the centre of the village (for the Adjutant’s HQ) and’Theobalds’ on the cricket pitch (for other officers’ use), as well as the surrounding heathland, and Blackheath experienced its own mini invasion with the arrival of British troops.
Village life was continuing despite the hardships of war, but nothing could have prepared the people of Blackheath for such a change in its population.
The first troops to arrive were members of the Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment who remained in the village from 1940-1941. Next came the Royal Regiment of Artillery, mostly Northerners, who were known to the locals as the ‘go boys’. They established their camp on the heath and remained for two years before they departed for Palestine in late 1942. Some were to return to Blackheath and the surrounding villages to marry local girls and many settled in this area. One such soldier was Clarence (Jo) Rossall who served in the 67th Field Artillery under the 48th Division (South Midlands). Jo met Molly Sink who lived with her parents at Sandilands on the cricket pitch. In 1945, Jo returned to Blackheath, married his sweetheart Molly Sink, and moved into Sandilands with her, where he remained until 1984 when he moved to Wonersh. He was a familiar face at the cricket club. Their children and grandchildren still live in the area.
The village was a hive of activity during the war years. Barnett Hill was a busy convalescent home for wounded servicemen. They were known in the village as the ‘blue boys’ because of their blue uniforms worn with red ties.
Chilworth Station was an important link for troops and residents. The younger women of the village liked to go down to the station, particularly around the time of the Dunkirk evacuation. Numerous troop trains were passing through with repatriated and wounded soldiers. The soldiers often gave the girls mementoes such as pieces of shrapnel and continental cigarettes and matches.
The soldiers were not the only new residents. A number of children were evacuated from Islington and Wandsworth and billeted into homes throughout the village. The children went to a small kindergarten run by the vicar’s daughter, Miss Margaret Poole . The children were a familiar sight around the village with their teacher, on best behaviour, complete with their gas masks over their shoulders. The local village children found the village to be extremely exciting at this time with all the activity.
1st November 1942 saw the arrival of thousands of Canadian troops. They had been billeted in Aldershot for some weeks under the command of Lt. Colonel McMahon. The regiment was decentralised to the following areas -
Regimental HQ - Snowdenham Hall, Bramley
Headquarters - Northanger House, Godalming
‘A’ Squadron - Blackheath
‘B’ Squadron - Munstead Heath
‘C’ Squadron - Unstead Park
‘D’ Squadron - Bramley Park
Known as the ‘Rhinos’ to the villagers, ‘A’ Company of the 18th Armoured Car Regiment called Blackheath home between 1942 and 1943. Members of the Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers were also attached to the Manitoba Dragoons. Many of the men came from the Winnipeg area in Manitoba.
The Hallams became HQ of ‘A’ Squadron. Protective boards were laid to protect the lovely wood panelling of the house. An excerpt from the Manitoba Regiments scrapbook has a note as follows -
‘ On November 1st 1942 the Regiment moved to requisitioned houses and mansions in Surrey. Here, we were in one of the loveliest parts of England, and the men found it very pleasant to live amongst such friendly rural surroundings, especially after the oppressive atmosphere of Aldershot”.
The heath, occupied by hundreds of men and armoured vehicles became a tented city. Large bell tents were erected to the right of Littleford Lane on Derry Hill for accommodation, and the circular indentations in the heathland can still be seen clearly today. There was a cookhouse up behind Blatchfeld.
The Canadians created many of the paths and the main gallops on the heath as part of their encampment. Stony flint paths and tracks were hurriedly built with gravel from Farnham. The area was formed as part of an assembly area for 10,000 vehicles. Rows of vehicles were parked up over the heath and around the perimeter of the cricket pitch. Soldiers from the Canadian Engineers returned to Blackheath after the war to help clear the camp and restore the heath. Many old vehicles and bits of equipment were auctioned off or buried on the heath.
The narrow lanes around Blackheath became extremely busy with vehicles, and many of the passing places that we use now are those carved out to accommodate the military vehicles. Transport for the local population was mostly a bicycle, the train or walking; petrol was in short supply and rationed.
The Canadians were to be part of the Allied Forces invasion of France in 1944. Their time here in Blackheath was spent training and preparing their armoured ‘staghound’ vehicles for their long journey through Europe. They set up a large maintenance area with deep inspection pits for the vehicles near the current top car park. The common was ‘out of bounds’ and encircled with barbed wire fencing to all non-military personnel.
Hilda Beasley, although only 14 years old at the time remembers well the lorries parked over the heath and the long rolls of barbed wire along Littleford Lane. Many local children found ways to sneak into the camp to receive sweets from friendly Canadians. One evacuee, George Brown from London, decided to crawl under the fence to have a look at the mysterious goings-on on the heath. He had just scrambled under the fence, when a large Canadian soldier suddenly smothered him. He thought he was in serious trouble, but the soldier had only flattened him to protect him from an imminent air raid warning. He was rewarded with chewing gum and sent home.
The heathland became home to thousands of men. Boxing events and concerts kept the troops entertained; they were held up on the edge of Derry Hill and Lynes Farm, its natural shaped amphitheatre providing a good location for such events. One such exhibition match was held with the World Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the time American Joe Louis; it was reported that he came and fought here in an exhibition match. Louis travelled more than 21,000 miles staging 96 boxing matches to 2 million soldiers. Some of the local children, including Brian Monk and Hilda Beasley, sneaked up to watch before being sent home as the event turned rather lively. The Champion Jockey Steve Donoghue also entertained the troops at one event.
The village hall became an important hub for both the villagers and the troops. It was used for ‘Ensa’ concerts and dances and two film shows a week. More importantly it was used daily as a ‘canteen’ for the off-duty soldiers. The canteen was manned by women of the village under the watchful eye of Rose Ayears, and others in the YMCA. They worked four shifts a day. The younger women of the village were very keen to volunteer to serve out the ‘chips beans and sausages’ to the soldiers.
It was a common sight to see lorries, jeeps and armoured vehicles mounted with Bren guns parked on the verges near the village hall whilst their drivers enjoyed some leisure time, and a good old cup of British tea in the hall. Regular dances were also held in Wonersh and at Dunsfold Park, the Military Police often having to be present due to high jinks amongst the soldiers.
In late 1943, villagers awoke to the sound of roaring engines. Vehicles and troops were lined up along the lanes and verges ready to depart. Most of the vehicles disappeared off down Sample Oak Lane to Chilworth. Villagers waved them off to an unknown destination – subsequently they learnt they went to a holding area nearer the South Coast for further training, and preparation for Operation Overlord, the D-Day invasion of June1944.
The Surrey Advertiser ran an article in May 1943 shortly before the Canadians departure from the area –
“The ‘Surrey Advertiser’ has been asked by some of the lads of the ‘Canadian Army’ to thank the people of Bramley and district, for their hospitality, great welcome, and general kindness. Their experience they say had been a happy one.
The writers wished their Surrey friends good health, good luck, and a safe return of their lads after the victory. Unsurprisingly, there would have been a number of broken hearts for the local girls when the troops left. There were a few in our village who married Canadians such as Molly Risbridger, who married Ken Lloyd Maxted.
After the Canadians left, the Hallams became a prisoner of war/internment camp for German and Italians. There was a small lookout post manned by the Home Guard. Formed of sandbags, it was sited on Head’s Hill (Aeroplane Hill). By 1945, it held over 400 German and Italian prisoners who worked on surrounding farms, and engineering projects such as laying new roads. They wore baggy trousers with the letter ‘PW’ printed in large white letters on their seats. The local gardeners would know if the Italians had been past, because their gladioli bulbs would have disappeared; the Italians loved to eat them. The two village churches, St Martin’s and the Friary were used for worship by villagers and the POWs.
Fascinating aerial photograph of Blackheath taken by The Royal Canadian Air Force just after WW2. It shows the scars on the landscape, all the paths and the white area where the main camps and transport parks were.