My 1940's House - ANDOVER MEMORIES 1940 to 1946
A recent correspondent to the Radio Times described the events of WW2 as dismal, dreary and depressing, certainly not - I too was a child during the war and my memories are one of continual excitement and 'hey what next'
126 Millway Road 1940 - rear view.
During the war I lived at 126 Millway Road, Andover in Hampshire, My father had bought the house in February 1940 from the Official Receiver and I still have the official conveyance produced by Talbot & Davis of Andover. It had been built by a local builder for his own use but unfortunately he ran out of funds and had to sell. I see from the conveyance that a Mr F. Sainsbury lived on one side and a Mr A.V.Cookes lived on the other. It was my home from 1940 until 1946 and so much happened during this period that it will remain engraved in my mind forever. The new house fascinated me - it had two round windows on one wall and a dark oak surround to the fireplace in the dining room, the same colour as my father's much prized dark oak HMV radiogram. Every one of Churchill's broadcasts was listened to on this set but a program called "Monday Night at Eight O'clock" was my favourite. The nine o'clock evening news was never missed, followed by those funny messages 'Andre' will arrive by bicycle'. The kitchen had a very large built in coalbunker immediately adjacent to the hot water boiler. Every winter was a nightmare for my parents when the galvanised water storage tank in the roof immediately above the toilet froze. This necessitated my father climbing through the small roof hatch in the toilet with his blowlamp to unfreeze the ball valve.
My father in 1940 - We had just moved into Millway Road.
My father built an Anderson shelter in the back garden under the pear tree and at the rear of the garage there was a superb cherry tree. We also had a Morrison shelter in the front room and many night time hours were spent in here. I remember the Anderson being more of an adventure as we had to go outdoors in the dark to its bunk beds and tiny oil lamps, mother was always last with the Thermos! At the bottom of the garden were Kelly's playing fields, part of which was turned into allotments, and beyond, in the summer, vast fields of golden corn. I spent much time here trying to find Skylarks nests and I am sure driving allotment holders mad with my questions. At times I would creep up and peer into the windows of the Kelly's recreational building and watch the staff playing billiards.
I now live in the Highlands of Scotland but in 1985 I paid a visit to Andover and slowly cruised down Millway Road to look at the old house, it looked just the same but much smaller than I remembered it. I also noted that farther up the road, towards the Weyhill Road end, the little lane with the metal wicket gate appears to be still there, this gave access from Millway Road to Kelly's playing field and was my bolt hole if I was out and the siren sounded! Later in the afternoon I drove to the old airfield and parked my car in the empty pub car park (I can't remember its name) and walked across to the perimeter fence. It was a very hot summer afternoon with a strong smell of hot tar from the road, and guess what, I was amazed to hear and see Skylarks - what memories that brought flooding back - I closed my eyes and there I was back in 1942 with bombers crossing the road and lining up ready for operations.
The pub by the airfield.
During the war my father was stationed at Andover, his signature scrawled, with dozens of others, on a board in the bar of the pub that still stands adjacent to the airfield, I wonder if this war time memento still exists? Christmas time for RAF service men's children at Andover was always a Christmas party at Middle Wallop. I well remember the Christmas of 1940, the Battle of Britain was over but the fighter squadron at Middle Wallop was still on call. During the children's party there was a scramble and all flight crews left. When the scramble was called one of the flight commanders was in the process of giving out presents to all us kids - he left never to return. I remember this so well as I could not understand why he didn't come back and give me mine! The other memory of this Christmas party was being sat in the cockpit of a Spitfire, on the lap of the pilot, whilst the ground crew started the engine. I was so terrified by all the noise and exhaust smoke I had to be lifted onto the wing, where I slid down into my father's arms - what wouldn't I give to sit in a Spitfire's cockpit now!
We may not have lived in 'bomb alley' but there were many excitements and near misses for a little boy to savour. The ME which was shot down and crashed at the bottom of our garden in Kelly's playing field, burying itself and the pilot so deep it took an RAF crew two weeks to dig it out and carry the remains away on a Queen Mary transporter. I remember seeing this incident, I was in the back garden watching a dogfight over the town when all of a sudden a plane appeared falling vertically, there was no noise smoke or flame, just a big dull thump as it hit the ground. My father, in the RAF and stationed at Andover, was home at the time and I remember him running down the garden and across the playing field to see if anything could be done for the pilot! I recall that there was much speculation at the time as to who shot him down. There had been a dogfight over Andover immediately prior to his crash but local rumour had it that he had met his end at the hands of gunners at the airfield.
I well remember the day a doodlebug, apparently aimed at Southampton, went astray and passed over our house at what appeared rooftop level. It landed on the public house in Clatford and blew it to smithereens disturbing hundreds of fleas in the process, six people staying in the pub at the time were killed. Another casualty was the loss of the landlord's wife's diamond engagement ring, later found among the rubble by a fireman and returned. The landlord's dog, locked indoors at the time, appeared unscathed! Fortunately the landlord and his wife were in Andover shopping when the bug landed. The downside of this episode, as far as I was concerned, was there would be no more Sunday lunch trips to the pup by my parents, where I always got a glass of fizzy lemonade and a pink wafer biscuit! The upside for the village kids was the blast blew all the windows out of the nearby school!
The author at the rear of the garage under the Cherry tree.
From time to time we had aircrew billeted with us. One I remember well was a navigator from Brighton who eventually did two tours of operations - he survived the war only to die of TB eighteen months after the war ended. His legacy to me was he taught me how to tie my shoelaces by sitting me on a pile of old books in the cupboard under the stairs! Another kept his pistol, a Webley revolver, in his greatcoat in my mother's wardrobe. I of course soon discovered this and on many occasions, when no one was looking, sneaked into the wardrobe and attempted to pull the trigger - I never managed it, presumably the safety was on!
I was woken one morning by my mother and told to look out of the window - what a sight- the whole of Millway Road was full on both sides with tanks, half tracks and jeeps, full of Americans - I knew about Americans because my father had returned from America just before war was declared - two jeeps were parked in our steep drive, one half in our garage, and my mother was being given tins of Red White & Blue real coffee and I was given a box of oranges! Amazingly, by mid morning they were all gone and it was just as if nothing had happened - but that was the way of it during the war. Later I was to discover that all these troops were on their way to the coast for the Normandy landings and today I often wonder whether the men in the two jeeps parked in our drive survived the landings.
Early morning and my mother calling me to come and look at the German plane on fire - and there, at what appeared to be roof top level, was a Dornier in flames from end to end. The fuselage covering was almost all burnt away and there inside amid the flames with a figure running forward - within seconds the plane nose dived to the ground and crashed in a wooded area just behind the houses on the other side of the road - all the crew perished. I remember my mother was horrified, because where the bomber had crashed was only a small distance from a new school I was about to attend. Recent research indicates this bomber was returning from the Coventry raid.
The stump of the tree opposite the bakery.
Andover airfield, known locally at the time as 'the Drome', was a bomber base and on many occasions I would watch the outgoing and returning bombers. One morning in 1944, accompanying my mother on an early visit to the shops, a Flying Fortress, badly shot up, full of holes, virtually no tail and on three engines was struggling to make it back to Andover. Rapidly loosing height its wing clipped a tree, shearing off both wing and tree, causing the plane to swing across the road, removing the roof of Burbridge's bakery, eventually crashing in fields just yards from the runway - all the crew perished. In 1985 I visited Andover and was amazed to see the stump of the tree still stood and looking carefully an observer could still see a change of tile colour on the roof of the building that had been the bakery. I wonder how many of today's older Andover residents remember this episode? On my visit in 2001 I noticed the building was still standing, for older Andover residents it stands on the road to the drome, near by where the grain silos still stand, but the tree stump has been removed and its place taken by a new BT phone box! Before the war the bakery had an illuminated Hovis sign on the roof. Houses now surround the area, but even though the tree stump has been replaced by a phone box the bakery building still stands, it's discoloured roof and wavey ridge tiles the only reminder of that terrible event more than 60 years ago.. I also have memories of bright yellow rubber air crew dinghies being tested, tied up to the bridge over the mill stream in the town centre, right by the entrance door to the church junior school. At the time I was attending a school called Rookwood, at the time the boys were seperate from the girls and in different buildings; today Rookwood school still exists but is now all one school, boys and girls together - also a Spitfire in a shop window, unfortunately I cannot remember the name of the shop - and walking through the colonnade in the town centre to the doctor for a diphtheria inoculation, boy was my arm stiff!
I have so many memories of this time, but the one that even today I often think about is the lady that had a small shop and post office, in a wooden hut, located about 100 yards up the road on the opposite side from our house in Millway Road. All through out the war she kept a small blue biscuit barrel on the counter and on each visit gave us kids a biscuit from the barrel. With food like biscuits in such short supply I'll never forget that kindness - and never forget the make of biscuit, it was always a Lincoln!
Where the dinghies were tested and the door of the church school.
My final memory of the war in Andover was VE night, and what a night. I was allowed to accompany my parents to the town centre where in front of the Guildhall singing and dancing went on all night - civilians, RAF and Army both British and American filled the square - hands knees and bumps a daisy was my favourite!!
It's all over, summer 1945. The author with his mother and father.
We, I am sure were just a typical country family. For generations we had been farmers; my paternal grandfather was in the cavalry but was killed 3 weeks before the end of WW1 leaving three sons and a daughter. For some reason none decided to follow in their fathers footsteps and they all joined the military! My father, the eldest, joined the RAF in 1920; his middle brother joined the army, eventually ending up in the North African desert as a member of the Long Range Desert group and later the SAS. The youngest son joined the Metropolitan Police but as soon as war broke out he joined the RAF. Completing one tour he volunteered for a second only to be killed during a raid on Essen, 12/13 March 1942. I still have the Daily Mail report on this raid and the press cutting about my uncle and his death. Apparently a Daily Mail reporter arrived unannounced on my Grandmothers doorstep requesting a story about her dead son - it seems that nothing has changed! He lies buried in a small village church graveyard in Gueek, Holland along with his crew mates, two British, one New Zealand, one Australian and a South African - a fitting reminder of Commonwealth sacrifice. The daughter, my aunt, was a nurse; she joined the Army Nursing Corps, was sent to France and died of polio in 1939.
At the end of the conflict half my immediate family had been killed, but those days are now just memories, to me at the time it was all excitement, with Kelly's playing fields my playground among the skylarks - certainly not 'dismal, dreary and depressing'.
If you have enjoyed this narrative and have any memories of old Andover I should very much like to hear from you. Please E-M@il me.
Arthur J Binning. January 2001.