Brian was born in March 1930 in Tilehurst and came to Radley in 1934. He lived at 89 Foxborough Road. When the family arrived in Radley the road was called Station Road and Brian’s mother was very upset when the name was changed just before the war. The Council wanted the houses to have numbers as well as, or instead of, names.
Brian left school at the age of 14 in 1944 and helped on Mr Taylor’s farm at Peachcroft for a year before starting an apprenticeship to train as a motor mechanic with Mr Gowring at his garage in Ock Street, Abingdon. It was not possible during the war for him to have a fully indentured apprenticeship because he would have had to go to a technical college. As Radley was then in Berkshire this would have meant him going to Newbury and he had no transport.
Brian’s memories of wartime Radley are of a very sleepy little village where everyone knew each other, where you could walk through the meadows and swim in the shallows of the River Thames near Sandford.
Living in Radley during wartime
- The night in the blackout that he was kicking a ball against the old stable block at the Bowyer Arms and managed to hit the head of someone passing by on a bicycle. Unfortunately, the cyclist was the village policeman. He was reprimanded by the policeman as well as by his parents.
- The war brought people in Radley together. Brian spoke of the division between those who lived in Lower and Upper Radley but they united as one during the war. There was a big drive to help the war effort mainly led by Mrs Hutchins who lived at East House, one of the large semi-detached houses on Foxborough Road opposite what is now Stonhouse Crescent. With the help of ladies such as Mrs Allen, Mrs Saunders, Mrs Jeacock, Mrs Hadland and his mother she organised many money-raising activities from her music room. People collected such things as aluminium. Competitions were organised and the prizes would be savings certificates, which was the government’s way of raising money. People were encouraged to buy savings stamps towards a savings certificate.
- Brain’s memory of Mrs Saunders is of her shouting across the village calling her daughter Peggy (‘our Peg’) in the evening. Radley was so quiet that sound travelled a long distance.
Evacuees in Radley
- One of Brian’s most vivid memories of the war was seeing crowds of evacuees on Radley Station. They had come by train and it seemed to Brian that all the children had with them were little brown bags with their face masks. Ladies on the station were trying to find homes for the evacuees. Many were waiting for the train to take them on to Abingdon. The arrival of the evacuees meant that Brian could only go to school in the morning as the evacuees had lessons in the afternoon. Brian’s family took in some children even though their bungalow was already full with his cousins and aunts from London. When the evacuees returned to their own homes Brian’s mother was forced to accommodate RAF officers. It seemed that they were only there for a couple of weeks and never came back. It was only when their relatives came to collect their belongings did Brian realised that the reason they hadn’t come back was because they were either missing or had been killed.
- When the doodlebugs started attacking London, Brian’s relatives came back to stay with his family. In 1943 his mother and Mrs Jeacock put on a party for his cousin’s fifth birthday. It was held in the village hall and about 80 children attended.
- Mr Edwards was the publican at the Bowyer Arms in 1943 when his daughter married a Canadian service man. The ladies of the village got together and helped to organise the wedding arrangements. Brian’s mother made the buttonholes, using carrot tops and carnations wrapped in silver foil from cigarette packets. Someone made a cake for them and everyone came together to make it a special occasion.
Soldiers travelling back from Dunkirk
- Brian remembers the Sunday he stood on the station bridge when trains were going through carrying soldiers returning from Dunkirk. He said that it was eerily quiet as the trains were going very slowly. Many of the men were bandaged and all he could see of one man was the cigarette he was smoking. Some of the men were in a terrible state. They were en route to Oxford where some of the colleges and examination halls had been converted into temporary hospitals.
The Home Guard and Upper Thames Patrol
- Brian remembers the Home Guard members. He recalled that, near the kissing gate at the start of the footpath through Radley College just past the main entrance on the road to Kennington, there was a slit trench and a big piece of tree trunk with another piece of tree trunk on top of it. Attached was an old cartwheel that was supposed to be wheeled across to stop any tanks. He often saw the Home Guard with their rifles.
- The Upper Thames Patrol, who had commandeered boats on the Thames, were taking a break and having a cup of tea one day when Brian and his friends untied the boat from its moorings.
The armed forces
- There was a big artillery camp at the top of Sugworth Lane and the men from there used to come with their band to dances held in the village hall. To have a live band was very good.
- Some bombs dropped on the Wildmoor estate on Wootton Road in Abingdon and a land mine dropped at Clifton Hampden. Harwell airfield, where there were Fairey Battle aircraft before it became a glider training air station, was attacked.
- Mr Shirley, who lived in Foxborough Road, was one of the first prisoners of war. He was in the Territorial Army and so was one of the first to be mobilised.
- The three Allen boys (Les, Stan and Teddy), who lived next door to Brian, fought during the war. Stan was killed near the end of the war and never saw one of his daughters. One of the Smewin family died.
- Brian saw hundreds of planes flying over Radley. Sometimes it was Mustangs practising shooting at trains, but at other times it would be the squadrons circling round to gain height before going towards Europe. His mother often used to say ‘What poor devil is going to get it tonight?’.
- Many soldiers from the USA arrived on Radley Station just before D-Day. They were throwing candies, chewing gum and money to the children watching them. Brian didn’t go to school that day!
- Just before the Battle of Arnhem a large plane landed in one of Mr Frearson’s fields just past the big chestnut tree at the start of Lower Radley. It was soft ground, so no-one was injured.
- Brian say lots of gliders going across, also lots of training aircraft from RAF Harwell.
- There were a lot of fights in Abingdon between the tough USA troops and the British. On one occasion a reserve policeman stood on a metal seat by the County Hall and shouted ‘Now, now my lads, calm it down’. Brian didn’t say if it had any effect.
The end of the war
- Radley changed after the war. Many men came back having seen many different places and so started moving away from Radley. There were quite a lot of poor people in Radley at the time and many of their children had never seen the sea. People started travelling and realising there were opportunities to improve their lives further afield.
This account is based on an interview with Brian by Tony Rogerson recorded on 29 October 2003.