WAR TIME : We are just starting to add information about life in Bletchingley during the First and Second World Wars.
It will also include memoirs of life during active service for some of our local residents.
Check back here soon for more information.
We are very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to publish for the first time some of the war time memoirs of one of our ex-residents.
Tom Mitchell made his home in the village with his wife Anne, living in a number of properties including Tower House and Place Farm. He was an architect by profession and took a keen interest in all village matters. He gave invaluable support to a number of his neighbours, most notably his quick thinking helped to avert the collapse of Brewer Street Farmhouse after particularly heavy rain.
These memoirs are not of life in the village during the war but of his time serving in the Royal Engineers immediately after D-Day. His job as Lt Col. and in charge of the units was, basically, to ensure the building of a network of small but vitally important airfields all the way from the French Coast through to Brussels and beyond. He was awarded an MBE for his role.
The diaries encompass all aspects of the life experienced by him and his men including the narrow squeaks of accidental close encounters with the enemy, liaison with Resistance groups, lack of facilities - and of sleep, the great relief and excitement of local citizens as they realised that the war was nearing an end and rather surprisingly taking the surrender of the German Air Force.
The memoirs are split into four documents:
Tom and Ann Mitchell at their then home, Place Farm
Copyright: c/o BCHS
Like WWI, Bletchingley played its part in the Second World War, in particular eighteen names were added to the War Memorial
One could think that the village itself was not in immediate danger – unlike places such as London and other cities which took the brunt of the home action.
However, Bletchingley is situated just twenty miles away from Central London on a direct route to the coast.
Several aerodromes were comparatively close: Horne, Redhill (Nutfield) and Kenley are not far away and Britain’s International Airport at Croydon was under ten miles to the north.
The primary railway line between Tonbridge and Redhill runs through the parish. Hundreds of trains passed this way taking servicemen to safety (particularly after Dunkirk) and in the opposite direction supplies and equipment were transported on a daily basis. The railway is so clearly seen from the air and on maps that early aircraft navigation used the route to find their way.
Troops were stationed in and around the village throughout the war and the parish housed numerous evacuees (sometimes with their mums too). We have access to a record of the three hundred plus children sent from Brockley in London.
The Society holds a copy of the small book “Bletchingley in the World War 1939 – 1945” compiled by Bruce E Money which details the activities of the village at the time. It covers everything from the Meat Pie Scheme and Jam Making to a Salute for the Fallen - eighteen men gave their lives fighting on the Front.
The village also saw its own share of casualties on the Home Front. There were four people killed (including a mother and young son) on the night of 24th September 1940 during a raid by German bombers; a “hostile aeroplane” was brought down in flames in 1943 on White Hill which killed the three occupants who were subsequently buried in Bletchingley cemetary; and in 1944 the house at South Park Farm was destroyed by an exploding V1 flying bomb killing the then sole occupier instantaneously – her two children survived unhurt in the air-raid shelter built alongside the house in the garden. Her husband was away serving in Africa.
There was even a secret wartime factory in the village.
On this page, we are trying to show some of the diversity of experiences encountered by people at home and abroad.
The small book by Bruce E Money is invaluable for anyone wanting to know about the village during World War Two. It was written in response to a note written by Brigadier General H Cotes-James in which he hoped “some comprehensive account of the activities of the parish during the war years” would be written. We are unable to loan out this booklet but will research information on request.
World War Two had no effect on the continuing publication of the Parish Magazine. In 2015, Nigel Price gave a talk to the Society about this period citing numerous examples of the type of news covered.
As may be expected, there were lots of articles published about fund raising for all sorts of causes and the usual entertainments for both the villagers and the soldiers stationed nearby. But more "hard to read" articles appeared: notices of yet another death or injury suffered by a local family and also some harrowing stories of the experiences of those that did survive.
The Parish Magazine is a great historical resource for the village giving a month by month account of life in Bletchingley.
The document here is a copy of the report published in that very magazine of Nigel’s talk.
As WW1 progressed, the numbers available for fighting dwindled and so National Service was instigated in 1916 lasting until 1919. Amongst others, women, children and Reverends were exempt.
It came into being again in 1939 with similar exemptions but this time lasted until 1960. All 17-20 year olds were called up for 18 months and afterwards served as Reserves for the following four years.
One forgets sometimes that after WW2 Britain continued to have a military role in many countries – Malaysia, Cyprus, Korea, the Mau-Mau uprising in Kenya and the Suez Crisis to name a few.
Ray Eddolls was one such National Service recruit during World War Two
Read his story here.
Biffy Dunderdale lived in the vilage for many years.
His career can broadly be summed up as "Spy" or "Man of Mystery" - so much so that he is often considered to be the real-life prototype of James Bond.
For much more detail see our People page for some of his known exploits during both World War One and Two. There were no doubt many other, unknown, exploits too.
Never really reached his full potential in life but many years later became an international news story with GCHQ getting involved.
A story for anyone who likes a puzzle.
Even though Bletchingley was only twenty miles from central London it was deemed a safe refuge for children evacuated from Brockley in South East London. However safety could not be guaranteed - see our panel below
A longer article is in preparation
Eighteen names were added to the Bletchingley War Memorial following the end of WW2.
A longer article will be provided here in due course but in the meantime the names of those who did not come back can be found on the Bletchingley Village website.
There were also casualties on the Home Front - see our side panels for more information
Best left to Bruce E Money:
"Names of all parishioners serving with the Forces, together with their home address, unit and rank, were printed in the (Parish) Magazine. Every month casualties, promotions and awards were recorded and fresh enlistments added.
A finely bound, specially printed register lay throughout the war on a table in the Church, where all could refer to it. Difficulty was experienced in bringing this register accurately up to date at the conclusion of hostilities.... . A correct list is in the possession of the Bletchingley Branch of the British Legion. The total number serving was 297.
At the end of the war a Welcome Home Fund was raised from donations in the parish amounting to £583 14s 3d*.
A ballot was taken among all who served to settle how this money should be spent, and it was decided that it should be distributed equally among them, including the next-of-kin of the fallen. £30 was spent on an illuminated address, a copy of which was given to each person, together with £1 16s 0d as their share of the total sum.
Six persons did not claim the award and cheques for four others were returned un-cashed through the Bank, as they could not be traced. The balance of £15 19s 11d left therefore in the hands of the distributing committee was given to the British Legion, who decided to contribute it to the cost of adding to the Village War Memorial."
*Note on Current Values: £583 in 1945 = approx. £25,000 in 2020
In June 1940 it was agreed to place the upper room of Church House at the disposal of troops stationed in the neighbourhood, every evening of the week as a Reading, Writing and Recreation Room, the Women’s Section of the British Legion assumed control and supervised the provision of cups of tea and food.
On January 24th 1941 the army also compulsorily requisitioned the lower room until 1943. Whilst using the room, a soldier accidentally discharged his rifle, the bullet passed through the floor of the upper room (and the roof) – narrowly missing a lady seated in it as a Woman’s Institute meeting was being held there.
Bletchingley Village played its part during World War Two, a small book written shortly after the end of hostilities details many of the contributions made to the War Effort.
There is a brief mention of the two factories in the village: Risbridgers in Stychens Lane who produced mechanical parts (for what is not revealed) and the other known as the IMA factory situated at the very heart of the village.
The Government had already decided to move the production of munitions from the traditional large industrial areas to many small rural places to protect them from enemy fire. Joe Mansour, director of Lines Brothers (of model aircraft fame) and who had a holiday cottage in Little Common Lane, set up just such a factory with the help of Bunny Ross (manager) in a large garage building right beside the churchyard (where the new houses are now).
It was known then as the International Model Aircraft (IMA) Factory. Three weeks later, the factory was already producing shell cases and other articles which were then sent away for filling with explosives.
But... in a room at the back of the factory other, secret, work was underway.
Before the war Lines Bros were used to make “recognition” models of aircraft, ships and tanks for use by the Forces; now they were asked to design and build a model rocket-propelled aeroplane - which they did in the room at the back.
Numerous prototypes were produced to the specifications provided; the models were tested at a number of aerodromes and sometimes used as target practice.
The factory employed 70 young girls on the production line, apparently to the strains of “Music While You Work”. They then had to load the finished articles on to lorries – not without a few moans and groans apparently.
Recently the Society received an enquiry about the Factory from a chap with an anecdote about how his mother (who worked at the factory) got married at Bletchingley and had to cross the busy main road from her house by the Whyte Harte to the Church in her bridal gown. A convoy of army lorries stopped to let her across. We were able to confirm that this was indeed true and sent photographs of the factory complete with mother.
The factory had special concertina doors at the front as part of the blackout security system; at the back part of a nearby house was commandeered to support the effort. A canteen run by Elsie Ross (presumably a relation to Bunny) was installed to feed the workers.
Over fifty years later, a talk by Bunny Ross to the Historic Society saw twelve former workers attend. This led to a re-union of the Factory colleagues with one man travelling from Switzerland to attend.
Photos are available by using the “Contact Us” page; some, but not all, of the workers have been identified.
From the top:
All photos copyright c/o BCHS
Not Air Raid Warden as you might expect but Air Raid Precautions (ARP)
The first ARP Post (2nd September 1939 – the day before war was declared) in Bletchingley was in a back room on the first floor of the White Hart; a few months later it moved to Tower Bungalow.
Mrs Stansfield Prior was appointed Supervisor of telephone operators: a complete roster covering day and night was worked throughout the war.
The accompanying messengers were originally drawn from the Boy Scouts of the village but this was enlarged to cover any boys over sixteen.
Two other Warden’s Posts in the parish were at the Rectory Garage and at Greenacre, Rockshaw Road. The rectory at the time would have been the one that is now “Cleves” on the main road to Nutfield.
There were numerous servicemen stationed in and around the village during WW2. These included troops from the British Pioneer Corps and later the British Signal Corps; Canadian troops were quartered in various places around the parish.
Being on the main route into London one of the major “jobs” here was to give early warning of enemy activity. The War Office erected a camp at Pendell and was used as a rest centre and headquarters for the men of the Searchlight Units. Around eighty were housed at any one time.
The camp was on the corner at the junction of Warwick Wold Road and Pendell Road. Most of it is now under the M23 motorway bridge but some buildings can still be seen from the footpath that runs alongside the northbound carriageway – though this area was later re-purposed by the Metropolitan Police Training Unit. The eastern side of the camp has also been re-purposed as a permanent Travellers' site.
24th September 1940: four persons were killed as a result of high explosive bombs dropped during a German air-raid:
Alfred Nelson Keates, aged 82;
Helen Margaret Kent, aged 35, her son, Derrick Charles, aged 7 and Pamela Kelly, also aged 7, who was an evacuee staying with the Kent family.
29th June 1944:
A young man (un-named in our booklet) from Warwick Wold died when a flying bomb exploded in Peckham Road, London
21st July 1944:
Diana Mary Lambert, aged 34, died when an exploding flying bomb swept away the family house at South Park.
Her two children were found unhurt in the adjacent air-raid shelter.
It is known that there were several put in place around the village including at South Park (where two little girls were saved from enemy action); Pendell Court Farmhouse and at Clare Cottages. Trenches were also dug here – presumably on the green?
Morrison shelters were issued to house-holders for indoor use, a heavy kitchen table made of steel with wire sides seemingly capable of holding up the ruins of a small house. There is no evidence that this was ever tested in action.
In September 1941, it was decided to lower five of the Church bells from the belfry to the floor of the Tower and bury them under a thick layer of sand behind a dwarf brick wall, as protection against fire or other catastrophies, and this was done.
One small bell only was left hanging by arrangement with the authorities, to be rung in the event of invasion, as a signal to the parish.
Taken from the booklet written by Bruce E Money.
Tim Whittle has written a highly detailed account of an oft forgotten aspect of World War Two: “Fuelling the Wars – Pluto and the Secret Pipeline Network 1936 – 2015”
In 2020 he gave an insightful talk to the Society with particular emphasis on the local area. It is still possible to see traces of the route of the pipeline north of the village today.
The document here is a copy of the report published in the Parish Magazine following Tim’s talk.
The book is available from the author, on-line and all good bookshops - ISBN: 9780992855468 published by Folly Books Ltd. A recording of the talk to the Historic Society is available to members by using our “Contact Us” page.
The Eddolls family shop in Outwood Lane
The mystery of the Pigeon's message
“...it is obvious to the rest that these citizens are helping Hitler, but why they should wish to do so is not quite so clear.”
Musings in the WW2 edition as to why fellow villagers were not contributing to the Saving Funds
During September 1941 in the blackberry season over 1000 pounds weight were collected and made into jam by the WI under the Jam Preservation Scheme.
For agricultural workers and others who had to carry their food to work away from home, a scheme to provide meat pies for them was started in 1943.
By April 12th 1944, 2,500 pies had been made and cooked at Bletchingley House then distributed by the WVS for the most part to workers at Brewer Street and Warwick Wold.
There were a number of air crashes locally - some have already been alluded to on this page.
One in particular caused a lot of controversy - at the time and later too. The episode ended with a moving ceremony in Belgium attended by people from this village.
We hope to have a new article here soon
Have A Bath at The Palace:
August - September 1944 - From the Normandy Beach-head to the Liberation of Brussels
An Airfield Too Far:
Holland, September 1944 - Operation Market Garden
I Have Waited Five Long Years To Do That:
January - March 1945- Allied Crossing of the Rhine
March - August 1945 - In the Heartlands of Germany to VE Day
Permission was sought from and given by the War Department to Tom for the writing of these notes. Thanks must be given to Angela Price for typing up the original hand-written notes.
Copyright to all of this work remains with the Estate of Tom Mitchell - applications to reproduce any part must be made to the Executors of the Estate, via this website if need be.