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The War Years (1939-1945)

Miss Deneke's Account of the War Years

Miss Deneke’s account of the war years is factual and detailed and shows how the world events which were unfolding impacted on village life.

She first of all sketches out the recent changes in the landscape: towards Kidlington there is a new granary for drying corn erected for wartime needs. A thick column of smoke rises from the ground near Bletchington because of the growth of the cement works and Woodeaton Manor has been taken over by the BBC’s pay department. They have built offices in the stables and have adapted the house. "The BBC has evacuated itself to Oxfordshire," she says.

She gives a brief description of Elsfield in 1939: There are 25 cottages, a school and six more sizeable houses: The Manor, Hill Farm, Church Farm, the Vicarage, Home Farm and Forest Farm. "A half decayed huge tree opposite the Manor serves as a trysting place and a notice board". This is long gone though the cottage beside where it used to stand is called ‘Tree Cottage’.

The postal service is affected. Mrs Hambidge has run the post office and shop but "owing to failing health and to regulations since the war demanding too large a number of registered customers Mrs Hambidge has had to forego her licence". (Every family had to be registered with a supplier of groceries and Mrs Hambidge must have felt unable to cope with all the extra paperwork entailed.) The Post Office has been closed down and the post is deposited in Beckley. Mrs Colwell bicycles to fetch letters and delivers to Stow Wood and Elsfield.

Eva Beatrice Aste nee Leggatt
Eva Beatrice Aste nee Leggatt

Miss Deneke recounts how when the wireless announced that Germany had invaded Poland, Mrs Phipps was standing, broom in hand, in the passage at Church Farm. Joan (Phipps) and Mrs Brown, the farmer’s wife, were there. "They stopped to listen", says Miss Deneke, "and knew they would soon be for it". The announcement on the radio that war had been declared had a similar effect on Mrs Aste, wife of the vicar, who later said that the announcement had imprinted on her memory every single item of furniture in the room she was in.

Miss Deneke was acutely conscious of the changes the war would bring. She calls the war "a change that divides a past age sharply from an age that is to come", which may be why she felt the need to record in such detail and with such loving care how Elsfield was affected. She makes the point that the war has scattered the people of Elsfield far and wide. They have met with a wide variety of people and they will be changed by their experiences, so much so that they may find it difficult to resume their former lives.

Rev Aste
Rev Aste

She lists who left Elsfield and describes how the village mobilised for war. Frank Sharpe had already joined the RAF when war was declared and unfortunately died of a throat infection in Canada. "Our only loss". Ben Jones joined up before telling his wife what he intended to do. He and Dennis Lafford were sent to Iceland where Dennis took photographs which showed a bleak landscape opened up, said Dennis, by the Americans who had built beautiful roads. Dennis brought home two beautiful sheepskins of the long-haired Icelandic sheep which are now laid across the foot of the beds in his parents’ cottage. Hubert Webb joined the RASC and was in Greece, Crete, Egypt and Syria, Gerald Colwell was in Canada. Richard Morbey took part in the D day landings and was in Holland. John Buchan Junior was with the Hudson Bay Co. and went to Sicily, Italy and Holland. William was in the RAF, Alastair was in the Canadian Army. "It was with pleasure and surprise that we recognised his photograph published in several newspapers where a young Canadian officer was seen with Gen. Montgomery" writes Miss Deneke.

Rev Aste and Eva Beatrice Aste nee Leggatt on honeymoon
Rev Aste and Eva Beatrice Aste
nee Leggatt on honeymoon
Mr Merry and Mr Chaulk were called for home defence and sent to guard the petrol dump at Islip. Betty Webb and Joan Phipps joined the land army. Joan worked at Church Farm but Betty worked outside Elsfield. At the Land Army Rally at Blenheim in 1943 Betty’s shallots won a prize. Dorothy Lafford was stationed with the NAAFI at Kidlington then Abingdon and later at Brize Norton. Rev Aste, Mr Butcher, and Mr Hambidge became ARP (Air Raid Precaution) members. Special constables were Mr Allam, Mr Brown, Mr Lafford senior and Mr Watts. The special constables patrolled in pairs. Miss Deneke knows how hard this extra work was for people whose work for the war effort was the all important one of keeping up food production. "When many alerts came it was hard work for men who had to be up at 5 am for milking".

Not only the people were affected but the land had to be adapted to the needs of wartime. 590 acres towards the Washbrook and elsewhere were ploughed up and planted with corn and grass to make better grazing for animals. Potatoes were also grown and these were picked by women and children, most of them going to the Army. A War Agricultural Committee was formed, whose Elsfield representative was Mr Watts of Hill Farm, the biggest employer in the village, and this organisation helped with advice and the loan of machinery. During the course of the war men were imported to work on the land. Some Czechs lodged at Forest Farm and later there were Italian POWs, who lifted mangolds and helped with drainage, as well as dredging the river. Vegetable gardens were also important. In 1944, Mrs Phipps won a prize for her garden, and milk from the farms went to Oxford. Late on in the war on her return to England, Lady Tweedsmuir distributed seeds sent from Canada.

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