Herefordshire’s Home Front in the Second World War

Margery Dale is second from left
When the bombs fell on the city where nurse Margery Dale (second from left) from Preston-on-Wye was working she stayed in bed: “We were too tired to go to the shelters.”
Marjorie Rosser
As a WAAF at RAF Rednall in Shropshire Marjorie Rosser prepared the base’s Spitfires. She was startled to discover, one morning, an escaped German POW hiding in one of the cockpit.

What do you want to be when you grow up? Asks a German POW.

“A POW like you,” replies the Herefordshire schoolboy – new book is a record of county life during the last war.

Following the fateful announcement of war 80 years ago in September 1939 schoolboy Henry Moss was dispatched to hide Aconbury’s church silver from the Third Reich; a hastily formed Home Guard prepared to make a final stand against the expected invasion of Herefordshire; and clandestine local Covert Auxiliary Units were instructed, as one county landowner put it, “to lay low then kill off important Germans.”

Teenagers started working on farms after school while their mums shouldered the men’s jobs, made munitions, or joined the Land Army, the Timber Corps or the Auxiliary Training Service.

The older generation dreaded another war: “It was only 21 years since the last one which killed two of my uncles and my mother’s fiancé,” recalled RAF recruit Jim Thomas, who, personally, found the prospect of war exciting.

Children, however, were frightened and confused: “A bomb fell near Canon Pyon: I thought Hitler had followed me,” reported little London evacuee Bruce Leonard. “We were put on the trains without our mothers,” wrote another evacuee, Mavis Matthews: “I cried bitter tears.”

The county received a flood of new faces – Canadians, Indians, black and white Americans, Italian and German prisoners of war, displaced Polish families. Yet even in the midst of war, there were lighter moments: one farm lad, asked by a German prisoner of war what he planned to be when he grew up, instantly replied: “Pow! Like you!” There was the Tupsley Home Guardsman who hit his own house with a mortar during training; and friends Barbara and Gwen learning to jitterbug in Hoarwithy Road with wounded GIs awaiting transport. “My experience taught me to smile even in the face of tragic times,” recalled Barbara.

Herefordshire’s Home Front in World War Two, is based on people’s pictures and memories, collected by the county reminiscence group Herefordshire Lore.

The author, Hereford-based journalist and historian Bill Laws interviewed many of the book’s contributors. “This is the story of one of the most traumatic events of the twentieth century, told by the people who were there,” says Bill.

Colonel Andy Taylor is curator of the Herefordshire Light Infantry Museum, which is hosting the book launch: “The war touched everyone, but there was a determination and camaraderie born from shared hardships and a common purposed. Bill Laws shows these highs and lows of life in Herefordshire: it is a valuable record based on individual experience.”

Herefordshire’s Home Front in the Second World War is published by Logaston Press, price £10. Funds from sales will further the work of Herefordshire Lore.