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Wartime memories

At a very early stage in the war there was established a Warnford Home Guard Platoon and my father became Captain. It really was Dad's Army! My father knew nothing about the military but his Bailiff, Charles Lock, had won a military medal at Gallipoli in 1915 and adjudged that as the owner of the estate, it would be appropriate to make "RP" Captain. I remember that there was a real fear that had the Germans might elect to seize the vital ports of Southampton and Portsmouth by dropping paratroopers some 20 miles inland and so a lookout post was established on top of Beacon Hill, connected by landline to a telephone by my father's bedside!

Looking at the Platoon photograph more closely, it is evident that a number of the men were wearing medal ribbons from the First World War; Jim Schofield, Jack Holloway (my father's Head Keeper) and Sgt Binning.

There was some quite serious training. A rifle range was established at Beacon Hill and a grenade throwing range in an old chalk pit in the bottom of Pinks Hill. For those with 12 bore shot guns, special cartridges were provided in which the pellets had been replaced by a single lead ball. My father claimed to have hit a target at 200 yards! The Home Guard also used paper bags filled with fine chalk powder to simulate attacks on enemy motorbike dispatch riders!

The platoon held periodic exercises and I remember one which took the form of searching the whole of Pinks Hill Wood in which three German parachutists were supposed to be hiding. On another occasion (demonstrating both the wrong way and the right way to go about things) the platoon came up the road in a bunch towards Wheely Down laughing and smoking, only to come under heavy fire from a enemy machine gun post hidden in some bushes at the end of our garden. The enemy was Jack Holloway and the machine gun a very loud rattle! The exercise then had to be repeated the correct way, with platoon members well spread out and two small groups split off to provide covering fire. I remember another occasion when Sgt Ron Clark was manning a machine-gun post at the junction of the A32 and Rann Lan and was (much to his disgust!) captured from the rear.

The following Platoon Orders of 11th April 1942 provide a graphic demonstration of the need to re-use paper to safeguard supplies. They were typed on the backs of Hampshire Pig Industry Association piglet litter records before being signed by my father!

Warnford Park was requisitioned by the army at the very beginning of the war and its first occupants were men of the 1st Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers who arrived straight from Dunkirk with only the clothes they stood up in. There were a great many Nissan huts concealed under trees in which ammunition and other military hardware was stored and on the right-hand side of the lake there were four massive structures in which we heard were stored 20,000 rubber tyres. Outside the park, the redundant pig fattening houses were used to store a considerable amount of the reserve food supply for Portsmouth. I recall a figure of 1,200 tons of sugar being mentioned! The following picture from November 1941 is of one of the pig farrowing houses which was built for 1,000 pigs (mothers and babies) but now full of (so the caption says) "1,000 tons of valuable potatoes".

At one point, Warnford was one of only two farms in Hampshire growing potatoes for supply to Portsmouth. These were hand-picked and bagged-up by women from the village and the bags were then stored in huge pyramid-shaped clamps, covered with straw to protect them against frost. Despite this protection, I remember the hard frosts of one particular wartime winter requiring the efforts of German PoW's to hack the frozen potatoes out of the clamps with pick-axes!

Church services were held every Sunday throughout the war and it was the Guard Commander’s job to light the stove in the middle of the aisle every Saturday evening which was the only source of warmth.

One of the first things that my father did at home was to convert our cellar into an air raid shelter. Whilst we never came anywhere near being bombed I do remember when the engine of a doodlebug flying bomb cut out overhead before exploding in a sugar beet field about a mile behind our house. It blew off most of the sugar beet tops in the immediate area but apart from that and a crater, no one seemed at all interested!

I remember clearly how much rationing was a part of the wartime experience. My mother taught herself how to make butter and cheese to supplement lunches for everyone working on the farm. The home dairy she established at Wheely Down House was soon producing 14lb truckles of cheese for sharing amongst the village.

My most vivid memory was looking out of my bedroom window to see an orange glow in the sky and the realisation that this was Portsmouth in flames. It was from the same bedroom window that I watched an endless stream of planes, their wings painted in black and white stripes and towing gliders packed with troops, pass overhead on their way to the Normandy landings.

On the evening of VJ Day and the conclusion of hostilities across the world, I remember the whole village gathering on top of Beacon Hill and the wonderful view we all had of such a precious piece of Hampshire with the Meon Valley before us and farmland stretching out as far as the eye could see to the hills of the Isle of White in the far distance. I can still remember the atmosphere of joy and happiness mingled with a sense of huge relief that we were no longer at war.

Some twenty tons of wood had been gathered to create an enormous bonfire and as darkness fell it became evident that other fires had been lit on all of the highest points of the South Downs in a tradition dating back for hundreds of years to mark occasions of national importance. A huge amount of hard work (and enterprise given the impact of rationing) had been put into creating a feast of sandwiches, cakes, fruit and chocolate. There was milk (from the dairy!) and tea and even two or three barrels of beer from The George, as the village pub was simply known in those days.

By way of entertainment, someone (goodness knows who!) had provided half a hundredweight of fireworks which were let off with many oohs and aahs. The evening ended at exactly midnight with Jack Holloway, my father's gamekeeper, firing a salute of twelve shots into the air. Jack was a perfect person to do this as he had fought in the 1914-18 war. (On a separate occasion I remember Jack telling me that he had a picture of a ten pound note tattooed on his chest as he reasoned that by doing so he would never be without money)!

After the celebrations on Beacon Hill, my parents and I climbed into our car and went off touring the local villages. I shall never forget seeing a crowd of people dancing in the floodlit forecourt of The Shoe At Exton. Even though I was only ten years old at the time the memories of this historic evening have stayed with me with amazing clarity.

The following article from The Hampshire Chronicle tells the story of a terrible training accident in April 1944, just two months before D-Day, when a glider crashed in Warnford Park killing 26 service men.


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