The Village Hut in Wartime

The old First World War corrugated iron hut acquired by the village in 1921 to serve as a village hall was again pressed into use by the services in the Second World War.

hut small
Village Hut in Bidden Lane, no longer exists, the site is part of Well Cottage garden

In 1940 the Village Hut Committee planned for the hut to be used purely as a recreation facility by 225 Squadron RAF billeted in the village, but by October that year the RAF had commandeered the large room in the hut for use as sleeping quarters.

The committee were shocked to discover the state of the hut in June 1941 after the servicemen had left.  Two chairs were missing and several damaged, the platform extension and music stool were missing, the stove was broken and the hut was in a mess. The RAF officers summoned to examine the damage promised to send and fit a new stove. They offered 14/6d (73p) in compensation for the broken and missing chairs and for timber to make a new platform extension, and promised to send a fatigue party to remove the ashes and rubbish from the rear of the hut and to clean up generally. The committee accepted this offer, the new stove arrived and the fatigue party cleaned up.

Chitterne Lodge

In August 1941 225 Squadron borrowed the hut piano for use in the Officers quarters at Chitterne Lodge for three weeks. The Committee were relieved to see that it was returned still in good condition.

Lectures were held in the hut in 1941 by the Home Guard and the Pioneer Corps. On 4th May 1942 members of the Officers Training Corps were billeted in the hut overnight and paid a 6/8d fee. The Men’s Club at the hut asked the committee for physical training classes and were able to obtain the services of an instructor from the Welsh Guards stationed at Codford.

Later in 1942 the Royal Army Medical Corps, billeted at Chitterne Lodge, were selling a gramophone and offered it to the hut committee for £20. The committee decided their budget would not stretch to this, but they did agree to loan the hut platform to the RAMC for a show at their billet. In May 1943 the RAMC were allowed free use of the hut for an ENSA concert, to which the village were invited. By October 1943 the RAMC were holding Whist Drives and Dances regularly in the hut, but not charged because they had transported the hut piano to and from the piano repairer in Warminster for free.

In 1944 the Engineers, stationed at Chitterne Lodge, asked to use the hut for entertainment on Sundays. The committee agreed to this as long as the use didn’t coincide with religious services.

Lastly, in January 1945 Major Baddeley of the 3rd Wilts Cadet Battalion asked to use the hut for cadet meetings. The committee agreed and charged 2/6d per session. Could this be the same man who lived in Chitterne for many years at Syringa Cottage?

The Village Hut in Wartime

Leo and Lawrence

An intriguing enquiry from an online used bookseller arrived by email this week. One of their books has an enclosure that mentions Chitterne. The book is about Lawrence of Arabia and the enclosure is a note hand-written by Group Captain L G Maxton of The Grange, Chitterne. The bookseller wants to know: “Was Maxton a well-known figure in the village and whether his association with Lawrence (Shaw) well known?”  If any readers of this blog can help with the question regarding Leo Maxton and Lawrence, or T E Shaw as he was known in the RAF, please get in touch.

I passed on the little I know of Group Captain Leonard Graeme Maxton, who lived here at The Grange for 30 years, and died in 1972. Mostly anecdotal tales of his connection with testing the landing or take-off mechanisms aboard aircraft carriers, and over-doing his excitement by driving around Chitterne blowing his horn when Winston Churchill was returned to government in the 1951 election. Now I come to think of it, someone else told me he died at the wheel of his car when turning onto the B390 in the village in 1972. So, yes he was definitely a well-known Chitterne character. But whether he knew Lawrence, I have no idea.

Insert in the Lawrence of Arabia book
Insert in the Lawrence of Arabia book

The note reads: “I have kept this picture of T E Shaw, Aircraftsman R.A.F., as it is a typical one of his stance and arms’ attitude when static – Mount Batten RAF Station 1930-31. L.G.M.” The cutting is from the Sunday Times of September 17th 1961.

From reading his note it would seem Maxton had at least had seen Lawrence and was probably stationed at the same base as Lawrence in 1930-31.

Leo and Lawrence