Stephen Barker, a trustee of the Buckinghamshire Military Museum, gave a fascinating and wide-ranging illustrated talk on Oxfordshire in the Second World War to the Henley Archaeological and Historical Group on 7 November. Stephen drew heavily on first-person accounts of the people of the time. The Group has its own project to research the Second World War in Henley, so there was particular interest in what Stephen had to say.
Preparations for the War began in 1938, including the construction of air raid shelters. On declaration of war in 1939, evacuation from London began and Oxfordshire, including Henley, was an important destination. Evacuees had mixed experiences – some enjoyed the novelty of country life, while others missed their families. Oxfordshire had its Home Guard, whose duties were the guarding of strategic installations – and fighting off elite German paratroopers in the event of invasion, which fortunately never happened.
Oxfordshire hosted a number of RAF stations, including that at Henley; satellite stations became particularly important when the main bases became the target of attacks. A total of 3831 bombs were dropped on the county, resulting in 20 deaths and 300 houses being damaged. A major raid took place in Banbury in October 1940, when 6 people were killed; the main target was the aluminium factory which supplied 60% of the airframe material for Spitfires, although it was never bombed, while a decoy factory was.
Women were employed as volunteers, whether in the Binfield Heath knitting circle making clothing or the Girl Guides recycling paper. There were 425 members of the Women’s Land Army in Oxfordshire working on the farms, often alongside POWs. The War involved everybody, not just the armed forces.
The next meeting of HAHG (with a festive feel) will take place at the Chantry House in Henley at 7.30 for 7.45pm, on Tuesday 5 December, when Jane White will talk about Alan Caiger-Smith, founder of the Aldermaston Pottery in 1955.