13. WHEN THE LIGHTS WENT ON AGAIN..... Peace and the Class of ’45 - Part 1.
Wartime memories of Farnborough Kent children


by John Riches. 2004.  

Back in the spring of 1945 as Allied armies gradually captured sites in northern France and the Low Countries, the Wehrmacht was no longer able to launch deadly Doodlebugs and terrifying V2 rockets over our Kentish countryside towards London. The last V2 fell close to Court Road in Orpington on 22nd March 1945 and thirty-four years old Mrs Ivy Millichamp sadly became the last civilian to be killed in Britain by enemy action. She is buried in the churchyard at All Saints in Orpington. A few days later on the 29th March the final doodlebug was launched. Prime Minister Churchill realised that as Allied troops were advancing rapidly into the heart of the German homeland, further attacks on mainland Britain were unlikely. Farnborough rapidly changed for the better.

My Dad being no longer needed to help construct new airfields right across the country, travelled using the Great Western Railway down to South Wales where my Mum and I were evacuated and brought us back to Farnborough. I immediately returned to Farnborough Junior School and joined the class of Mrs Moat where the teaching was much more relaxed and pleasant than education in the grim industrial valleys of Wales. I can still remember Mrs Moat’s Nature Study lessons with beautiful coloured chalk drawings on the blackboard describing the constituent parts of primroses – petals, stamens and pistils – details I have remembered right through to this my seventieth year. Within days, on 15th April, our Headmaster Mr Lesley Moat left the school to once again become Acting Head at Blackfen Juniors in Sidcup and Miss Nora Dyke took charge.

On 20th April the blackout ended. Our shutters that prevented the light from the gas mantels from being seen outside in Pleasant View were ceremoniously taken down and chopped up for kindling wood for the fire – our sole form of heating in those days. Others took down their thick blackout curtains – many becoming extra bedcovers as materials were still rationed. There were no more Moaning Minnie air raid sirens from the top of the telephone exchange behind ye Olde George and Dragon on the Square and no need to go into air raid shelters either at home, at school or under the village green opposite the pond. It wasn’t long before the ARP post close by the village green disappeared. The corrugated steel Anderson shelter next to the outside toilet in the garden of my Gran’s house at number 36 High Street was soon pulled up and the garden put back to growing vegetables. But the heavy reinforced brick shelter next-door, built for the semi-invalid Mrs Owen who lived at number 34 High Street, proved too difficult to demolish. Although I knocked down its blast wall in the 1950’s the shelter is still there today and is used as a shed.

On 7th May 1945, only a month after returning from South Wales I walked down Pleasant View, past Mr Follett’s shop and across in front of The Limes Laundry into Orchard Road to visit my friend Donald Curd to see if he was coming out to play cricket up the Farm Field. I was almost at Don’s house when a door in a house on the other side of the road opened and Mrs Fuller – Lill to her friends – leaned out and yelled, “John – the war’s over! It’s just come over on the wireless that the Germans have surrendered!” Great I thought. Now let’s get on with some cricket.

The following day the children realised the enormity of what had happened. In Germany, Admiral Doenitz who succeeded the now dead Hitler as Fuhrer had unconditionally surrendered all German forces to the Allies. What interested the children was that Farnborough School was closed on the 8th and 9th of May to let us all celebrate. Our mothers quickly organised street parties. In Pleasant View they borrowed trestle tables from the Ex-service Man’s Club and set them up. Cakes were quickly made; jellies and tinned fruit that had been bought using scarce personal ration points were mixed together and tinned condensed milk used as cream. It was the most luxurious spread of food we children could remember. Flags and buntings were hung from houses and the solitary bell in St Giles Church could be heard ringing for the first time since the very beginning of the war. All The Alley Kids from Pleasant View were there. Keith Burchell who lived with his grandparents in the cottage next to the Woodman, Esme Symonds, the Williams girls Pat, Christine and Anita, plus Geoffrey, Peggy, John, David and Carol Pucknell and yours truly. If anyone pointed a camera in our direction we all tried to copy Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s V for Victory sign. One or two got their fingers the wrong way round – perhaps a heartfelt message to the defeated Nazis who had so messed up our childhood. Such scenes were repeated right across the village as we found out when we returned to school and had a special Victory in Europe thanksgiving morning assembly. There was great rejoicing in the streets of central London and many Farnborough people travelled up to take part in the celebrations.  

At School the fire notices and posters about dangerous anti-personnel butterfly bombs were removed and the entrances to the air raid shelters that had been excavated under the Junior playground were temporarily boarded up. They were not permanently sealed until 1948 and I often wonder if they’re still there underneath the posh apartments that have been built in the old school buildings. Mrs Moat our teacher was asked to travel to North Wales to bring back the remaining evacuees. Soon our class and the school were complete again.

First Farnborough Cubs and Scouts were back to full strength. Whilst I was evacuated a German rocket had landed close to the Scout Hut and partially blew it off its brick pillars. Every pane of glass was smashed. After a working party of fathers had made the hut safe again, Akela Rosie Sims and Scoutmaster Bob Baldock were truly delighted.

Pitt Road Farnborough VE day street party, photo by Leslie Daborn, supplied by Pat Chivrall.

"Our Mothers quickly organised street parties. If anyone pointed a camera in our direction we all tried to copy Prime Minister Churchill's V for Victory sign. One or two got their fingers the wrong way round - perhaps a heartfelt message to the defeated Nazis who had so messed up our childhood"

During the war the 51, 47 and 402 buses that served Farnborough village simply had their route number displayed on the front and back. The Government’s theory was that local people would know the correct bus route to get where they wanted to go and that strangers would have to ask. Thus German spies would become more conspicuous. Destination boards showing Shoreditch, Sidcup Garage or Tonbridge reappeared and the gauze coverings designed to protect against bomb blast that were stuck on the windows of the buses were removed and the headlight shades on all public transport vehicles, lorries and the very few cars around were unscrewed. It wasn’t long before the express Green Line coaches were reintroduced. Before the war the number 4 Green   Line passed through Farnborough en-route from Tunbridge Wells, via Victoria in London to Chertsey. After the war The London Passenger Transport Board determined that our Green Line’s number would be 704 with its westernmost destination at Windsor. The Green Lines continued operating through Farnborough for many years until traffic congestion forced them off the road.

The lamplighters went to work again so that the gas streetlights along Farnborough High Street once again illuminated villagers passing by after nightfall. The signposts at The Green and at the bottom of Farnborough Hill reappeared and I and my friends watched excitedly as workmen replaced the milestone by the village green after it had been in store for the duration, perhaps in the depot of the Orpington Urban District Council that served Farnborough in those days. The AA box at the junction of the main Arterial Road and Tubbenden Lane was put back on its mounting and the attractive golden grasshopper sign reappeared above the door of Martin’s Bank in the High Street. The four mounting holes can still be seen to this day above the door of Bank House now a doctor’s surgery.

The Odeon cinema in Bromley soon started Saturday Morning Pictures for all the local children and many of us from Farnborough travelled by 47 and 402 buses to enjoy a new experience. But when the Gaumont by Bromley South Station, now a Debenhams Department store, invited Uncle Tommy Handley of the famous wartime wireless programme ITMA to officially open its Saturday sessions for children, we all deserted the Odeon and became avid followers of the Gaumont British Club. “We come along on Saturday morning, greeting everybody with a smile; we come along on Saturday morning, knowing that it’s well worth while…..” we all yelled in unison from the tops of our voices as we watched a small ball bounce along the top of the words.

Sometimes our parents took us to see more adult films. When the Pathe news showed pictures, taken as Allied forces liberated Belsen and Buchenwald Concentration Camps, neither children nor adults were spared from seeing the harrowing images of the atrocities that had occurred – images that remain with people of our age to this day.

My Mum was in her last days working at an Admiralty building -  Fanum House in Leicester Square. Just before she left she took me to work with her on the train and showed me off to her colleagues. Returning, sitting on the top deck of a red London bus travelling down Whitehall towards Victoria Station, there was a sudden cheer and Winston Churchill the Prime Minister, a large cigar in one hand, was waving at everyone with the other hand from the back of an open car as it turned out of Downing Street. I realise now that it must have been part of Winnie’s efforts to win votes, as shortly afterwards on 5th July the first General Election since 1935 took place. I remember asking my Dad how he was going to vote and was surprised when he said “Labour,” as Farnborough seemed to be such a strong Conservative area. When the result finally came days after the election once all the overseas votes from the armed forces had been counted, the result was almost totally unexpected. Winston Churchill was a hero to most people, but there was a belief that the Labour Party under Clem Atlee would be much better at rebuilding the peace after the war. Labour gained 239 seats and had an overall majority of 196. Exciting stuff for a politically interested ten year old!  
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