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The War Years (1939-1945)

There was, of course, a blackout. Everyone had to be careful because a light could be seen for miles - across Otmoor. One night, Mrs Webb heard a great thundering on the door. She was frightened and when she opened it and saw a man in uniform, even more frightened. She thought she might be in trouble because of showing a light, though she had been careful. However the man was a despatch rider and was very grateful that there had been a sliver of light creeping out from the bottom of her door. He had been completely lost in the dark. She gave him a cup of tea which he drank with relish, then set off again. She closed the door behind him and put a mat over the bottom of the door to keep the light in.

School Cottage with the telephone box to the right
School Cottage with the telephone box
to the right

In September 1940, during the Battle of Britain, there was an invasion alert. Mr Lafford was called by Mr Watts on the telephone in the kiosk next to the school and told there was danger of an invasion. Mr Lafford ran to the Vicarage to tell the vicar, who along with his wife ran across to the church and began to ring the bells. On that occasion, road blocks were manned at either end of the village all Saturday night and all day Sunday until the danger was past. The observation post was manned and if the Germans had invaded, there were 17 men who had been prepared to die for King and Country. Mr Watts was so thankful that the Battle of Britain was won that he sold a ram and gave the proceeds to the Red Cross.

There was a barrier on the road from Elsfield to Marston before the junction with the Woodeaton road. On one occasion, Miss Deneke was challenged to show her identity card by the person manning the barricade. She was most surprised as, in general, every body knew everybody else. The road barriers were made from ladders mounted on a bicycle wheel at one end and fixed to a post at the other. This made them easy to wheel across and block the road, though how effective they would have been in stopping a tank is debatable.

Sergeant Taylor was in charge of the Home Guard in Elsfield. They had no proper rifles at first but made do with poles and shot guns. They had bunk beds in the reading room at the school and kept watch at either end of the village, two of the men keeping watch at the northern end of the village so they could see over Otmoor and another two at the Oxford end of the village looking towards Headington. They would be on watch for two hours at a stretch. At the end of two hours, one of them would go and wake the next man by banging on his window with a prop. Unfortunately, one time they banged a bit too hard and the window broke. Pinker and Bedding were no. 1 patrol and operated between the observation hut (in the field next to the King Charles Oak) and the north road block. No. 2 patrol was Lt. Corp. Hambidge and Private Boolyer on high ground in the East looking towards Headington. Their job was to look out for enemy aircraft and enemy agents.

There were three sections which made up a platoon: Elsfield, Beckley and Woodeaton. When they did acquire guns, the Browning automatic was manned by Corporal Watts and Privates Pinker and Millington. The Tommy gun was manned by Corporal Maltby. Private Maltby was the dispatch rider and Private Hayes was at the telephone kiosk. He would transmit messages to Private Lafford who would act as runner. The others stayed at their stations where they had a days’ supply of rations, gas masks, eye shades, ointment and field dressings.

Fortunately, there was no invasion but the war did impinge on village life in a dramatic way. Mr Morse found an Anson plane in Woodeaton Wood. It had been there about two days and the pilot was dead. One German plane crashed on Otmoor and all six crew were killed and in 1945, an American Liberator got into difficulties over Headington: the men bailed out and the plane crashed at Forest Farm. When Mrs Merry and Mrs Phipps were cycling near Islip a bomb fell there, missing the petrol dump but destroying a house and killing some pigs. The shock of the blast blew Mrs Merry and Mrs Phipps off their bicycles.

In 1943, Miss Parsons was called upon to provide accommodation for a Canadian Searchlight Company which was stationed in the village for two months. They cooked their meals on Miss Parsons’ oil stove in her dining room. Miss Parsons, determined to do her duty though she was now well on in her eighties, was also prevailed on to help with evacuees.

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