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.

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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.

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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?

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The Village Hut in Wartime

19 Townsend

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Honeysuckle Cottage, 19 Townsend

This cottage has a horsey history. A farmer’s groom lived here in 1871, he was Joseph Mabbitt and his boss was Edward Gibbs of Chitterne Farm. Joseph lived in the cottage until he died in 1888 aged 58 years and his wife Elizabeth lived here until at least 1901.

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1882 Corn Rents map, 19 Townsend is plot number 200, Joseph Mabbitt is listed as tenant on the schedule

By 1911 things had changed a little, Elizabeth Mabbitt had moved out to live with her niece a few doors away and Chitterne Farm had a new owner, but still with horses, racehorses.

Ronald Farquharson, bought the Chitterne Farm estate, which included Chitterne Lodge, from lord of the manor, Walter Hume Long in 1906. Farquharson, having made his fortune in rubber, now fancied a new career training and breeding racehorses. His plan was to breed horses at Tilshead Lodge, which he bought at the same time, and train them at Chitterne. His new estate in Chitterne included 19 Townsend, the groom’s cottage.

By 1911 Farquharson had installed (no pun intended!) nine of his workers at Chitterne Racing Stables in 19 Townsend. They were all young men and came from far and wide:

  • John Henry Hemming aged 21, straper, from Leamington, Warwickshire
  • James Walsh aged 19, stableman, birth place unknown
  • William Every aged 18, stableman, from Chester
  • Herman Trathen 21, jockey, from Yorkshire, birth place unknown
  • L Clever aged 17, stable lad, from Birmingham
  • John Gilly aged 28, stableman, from Bigbury
  • Walter Winn aged 38, stableman, from Rochdale, Lancashire
  • Robert Arnold aged 15, stable lad, from Earls Court, London
  • Harry Bond aged 24, stableman, from Bath, Somerset

Farquharson’s enterprise lasted until 1937 when the War Department (MoD) bought the whole of his estate including 19 Townsend, bringing an end to the horse connection. Troops replaced the horses at the stables in the second World War, and widower Ernest Ayres and his six children replaced the stable workers at 19 Townsend, followed by Walter and Florrie Lacey a couple evacuated from Imber in 1943.

I wonder what happened to all those stable workers? And how on earth did they all fit into number 19?

19 Townsend

Conscientious Objectors and GIs in Chitterne

Following my last blog on the lining of the Cut more has come to light. It seems No. 10 Company NCC of conscientious objectors (COs) may have been here in Chitterne preparing the way for the arrival of troops from the USA. Besides working on the Cut, or Chitterne Ditch as they termed it, they were working on the village roads. Perhaps strengthening them for the future movement of army vehicles and providing hard-standings.

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A page from the 1943 War Diary concerning the COs stating “Work at Chitterne Ditch ended”

The work of the COs in Chitterne finished on 3rd November 1943 as noted about halfway down on this document from National Archives. This must have been about the same time that the residents of Imber were given 6 weeks to leave the village. So it was all happening on the Plain in late 1943.

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Letter from WCC thanking the COs for their work in the area

TF who has kindly shared these documents from the National Archives with us says his CO father kept the War Diary up-to-date. The note bottom left on the above letter is in his father’s handwriting.

No, 10 Company NCC finally finished work in West Wiltshire in February 1944 when they moved on to the Salisbury area.

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Extract from letter from WCCs Resident Engineer (Warminster) to the Officer Commanding the COs thanking the men for their work in Chitterne

Soon after the work of the COs finished in Chitterne the US 978th Field Artillery Battalion arrived in the village. I believe they were billeted at Chitterne Lodge and Racing Stables, which the War Department had purchased from Ronald J Farquharson in about 1937. The WD also owned Chitterne Farm and Manor Farm by this time, but both were being farmed, by Robert Long at Chitterne Farm and William and Tom Limbrick at Manor Farm. So it’s not likely the troops were at either farm, they must have been housed at the Lodge and Racing Stables.

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Chitterne Racing Stables 1988

The US battalion, equipped with 155mm Howitzer guns, were here to prepare to support the invasion of Normandy which had started on D-Day, 6th June 1944. The 978th landed on Omaha Beach, Normandy on the 26th June 1944.

Many thanks to TF for providing the fascinating information about the COs and the documents from the National Archives.

Additional information from: The American GI in Europe in World War II: The Battle in France by J E Kaufmann & H W Kaufmann.

 

 

 

Conscientious Objectors and GIs in Chitterne