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Lively WWII Discussion with Senior Members of the Over 60’s club

    

Henley a Garrison Town

The Second World War in Henley was discussed at a very enjoyable meeting with members of the Over 60s Club at the club on 8 September. Cakes and drinks were kindly laid on, and a dozen members brought their memories and photographs to share with fellow members.  Liz Toms, David Feary and Michael Redley of the Henley Archaeological and History Group also took part.

Many interesting details emerged, including the role of American servicemen, the presence of German and Italian prisoners of war, and the billeting of evacuees from the cities and refugees from other European countries. Henley was a garrison town and also a centre for production contributing to the war effort, including the manufacture of parts in small workshops for fighter aircraft where women were employed.

Schools and sports continued, although adapted to the circumstances of the war.  Agriculture in the surrounding countryside was largely horse powered before the war but entirely mechanised by the end. The absence of fathers altered family life, and some of those that remained were special constables or air raid wardens.

There were air raid shelters down Station Road, and some of the participants remembered their ‘Mickey Mouse’ gas masks with a pink tongue hanging out. The Sacred Heart School, of 40 pupils before the war, expanded three-fold with the arrival of evacuee children.  Well-known figures seen about the town included the Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie, who lived at the Red Lion Hotel.  The sister of ‘Lord Haw Haw’, the notorious broadcaster for the Germans, lived next door to the old Swan public house up Greys Hill. Although the town was full of people, the traffic was lighter as a result of petrol rationing, notwithstanding the occasional military convoy. One of the participants remembered a piano being pushed down the middle of Bell Street in the middle of the day to a dance, which was a common feature of life in the town during the war.

The History Group began its project earlier this year and has already collected a number of reminiscences. The aim is to produce by the end of 2023  a pamphlet providing a picture of life in the town and the surrounding area during the war drawing on these memories and to mount a small exhibition of artefacts and photos from the war years.

Interested?

If anyone would like to take part, with their own memories or stories they remember hearing, with volunteering time or objects they are prepared to lend, please contact Liz Toms (elizabethtoms@hotmail.co.uk) or Michael Redley (michael.redley@appleinter.net), or any other member of the HA&HG committee.