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History Society

The History Society meets on the second Thursday In the month at the Community Centre from 7.30pm. For more information please contact John Hudson on 01865 735277.

Report from the most recent meeting:

Liz Woolley gave us a talk about Children’s Experience of the Second World War in Oxfordshire on Thursday 14thMarch; that brought back so many memories of what life was like during the conflict.

Many were at Church and heard of the announcement of war during Prayers and Sermons.

Children saw an initial hive of activity centered around air raid precautions and air raid shelter building as it was thought that a German invasion was imminent. Oxfordshire’s efforts towards the war revolved around Agriculture, Manufacturing, Aircraft Salvage and Repair, Clinical trials of Penicillin, Ammunition Stores, Voluntary Working and Evacuees.

One of the first things that children had to get used to was the Gas Mask, which for children were made to look like Mickey Mouse.  Children laughing inside these masks sounded like pigs snorting.  They were issued with special grease to put on the eyelets to prevent condensation build up.  This was supposed to last the duration of the war but soon ran out and was replaced with other alternatives including Brylcreem and Vic.  Apparently the smell was very distinctive.

Children had to practice using air raid shelters, which disrupted School activities.  With constant air raid warnings both by day and night Children became very tired.  Concentration and attendance at School was badly affected.  Later towards the end of the War as the build up for D-Day progressed the noise from Tanks again disrupted Schools.

Children observed changes in the landscape as airfields, anti-invasion obstacles, Pillboxes were constructed and road signs and railings were removed.  Shop windows were taped up as an anti-blast measure.  There were games, exploration and adventures associated with war activity. Collecting shrapnel and the occasional live mortar bomb was not unheard of as was venturing into crashed aircraft with gruesome findings.

Rationing meant that sugar and sweets were not available until begging from American GIs became a favourite pastime.

Integration of evacuees meant children had to adapt their School activities and share their classes. Lessons were scheduled into half-day sessions allowing Children freedom to go Potato Picking and other war work. Scouts acted as messengers, child working parties cultivated the land, children entertained on stage, and worked at riveting tanks at MG in Abingdon.  Collecting bones, rubber, tin, scrap iron and many other activities were done to raise funds for planes and ships.  Children’s encouragement to work was the Mars “for merit” Bar one of the famous slogans of the Second World War. As more women went to work on the land and in the factories Children were often left to fend for themselves and so crèches were set up one of which was at Jesus College, Oxford. Some evacuees had a very hard time with several not settling into the countryside culture and ending up in special care homes. “Dirty Smelly Vackies” was often a cry heard from indigenous Oxfordshire children.

As VE Day was announced Children were entertained in Street Parties. But life was to change again as Evacuees returned home and Oxfordshire Children had to get used to absent Dads returning home from the War.