Burpham During the Second World War

November 10, 2021| Current Issue, History of Burpham

Moira MacQuaide’s history of Burpham

As we approach Remembrance Day in 2021, it’s worth looking back to see how life in Burpham was remembered by residents. Then, as now, everyone was affected by changes to daily life, much of which was totally out of their control. The village was very different to now, with working farms along both sides of the London Road and fewer houses.

Burpham Primary School started changing in 1939 when trenches were dug in the grounds to provide air raid shelters, but these were useless as they filled with rain water, and it wasn’t until late 1940 that a proper concrete shelter was installed – Jean Menzies remembered playing Hangman in there. The school doubled in size to 62, when evacuated children from Fulham arrived as part of Operation Pied Piper, living with local families.

Burpham school children gardening in 1945 (N Hamilton).

Many were amazed at being in a rural area, with farmland, animals, trees and flowers abounding. Miss Chesterfield arrived in 1940 to be the Headmistress, becoming the longest serving teacher in the school’s history. Children planted vegetables as part of the Dig for Victory campaign, and enjoyed the chocolate powder sent from Canada for them to take home – dipping their fingers in it on the way. The Surrey Emergency Committee tried to requisition the iron railings around the perimeter of the school, to be melted down for munitions, but they faced the full force of Miss Chesterfield’s disapproval and the railings are still there today. Miss Lugsden and Miss Pratt also joined the school during the war years, and all three teachers retired in the early 1970s.

The Burpham air raid siren was at the Kingpost, being a central point for the village but, although the school could hear the siren telling them to go to the air raid shelter, they couldn’t hear the all-clear one telling them to come out!

The Green Man circa 1930s (postcard).

Mr Nobes, the publican of the Green Man, was told by the Food Office that two churns of milk would be provided for the evacuee children who were travelling from London. Pat Ward, his daughter, remembered that the pub had been a centre for family gatherings, but war broke up families. Also, it was difficult to get supplies as the pub was allocated gin and whisky on the basis of pre-war requirements, despite it being busier during the war.

The pub kept lots of chickens, which provided eggs and meat. They didn’t take in any evacuee children because they sold alcohol in the pub. She said that the Government was keen to keep the London Road open, in case the rail line was bombed.

Barbara Stone remembered that a bomb went off near the bridge on New Inn Lane, presumably intended for the railway, and the roof of her house was lifted up and back down, leaving broken windows and cracks in walls. Her father, Valentine Gow, worked for Cow & Gate and was responsible for ensuring that factories had all the necessary parts to keep going, so he had to travel round the country – he invented the first milk bottle washing machine. He was also in the Home Guard. She also remembered all the children were issued with gas masks and hers had a Mickey Mouse face in red and blue.

The Home Guard B Company set up its HQ at the Green Man, meeting in the Function Room in the Paddock Rooms. One of their duties was going out at night to check that houses had blackout curtains at their windows. Captain EH Shepard, who illustrated Winnie the Pooh books, was second in command of the Battalion in 1942. At the end of the war, members of the Home Guard were sent a letter from King George VI, thanking them for their time and effort. There was a Prisoner of War camp in Merrow, where many prisoners were kept – some of the Italian prisoners worked on Gosden Hill Farm, making baskets to sell, while some German prisoners worked at cutting hedges.

Fundraising was important and various social events were organised by the Burpham Women’s Institute, in aid of projects such as the Salute the Soldier Week. Children collected National Savings Stamps, which raised funds for War Weapons Week.

Leo Keene, who farmed Gosden Hill Farm, served with the Milk Marketing Board during the war, ensuring that milk was available where it was needed, especially for schools. The farm provided accommodation for girls from the ATS, WRAF and WRNS, who would pay for board & lodging with food coupons. Farm workers were usually reserved occupations, so they could continue providing food to the community.

The London Road was busy with military vehicles travelling back and forth, including lots of tanks. Also, American soldiers came through Burpham and threw sweets to the children as they went past.

The St Luke’s War Memorial on Burpham Lane shows the names of the 11 men who lost their lives in WW2. Many of their fathers served with the Home Guard. All but three of those who died were under 25 years old – so young to die.

  • Aubrey Collins of Hawthorne Way
  • James Cross of London Road
  • Norman Drake of Orchard Road
  • Jack Dunn of Meadow Road
  • Clive Hammond of Jacob’s Well
  • Harry Hirst of Orchard Road
  • Derek Lord of Orchard Road
  • Kenneth Percival of Paddocks Road
  • Frederick Ranger of Winterhill Way
  • Samuel Reid of Burpham Lane
  • Peter Vickers of Orchard Road

Names on St Luke’s War Memorial.

Many others from the village served in the forces and came home after the war.

War time was challenging for most people. Rationing of food, coupons to buy clothes, air raid shelters in the garden, blackouts in the house, and watching the planes fighting in the sky. So many people, in the forces and a range of other occupations, made it possible for most of our parents and grandparents to get through those difficult years.

The Duke and Duchess of Sutherland held a garden party at Sutton Place in June 1945, to celebrate the end of the war in Europe. Many Burpham residents were invited to this. Street parties were held around the country, but the only image found for Burpham was of Merrow Lane children gathered for their party.

Merrow Lane children celebrating VE Day 1945 (A Keane).