Watercress Line

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Wartime Memories

Today, 8th May 2020 marks the 75th Anniversary of VE Day. We had planned a bank holiday event full of 1940s music, dancing, picnics and of course steam, instead we're marking the occassion online. 

One of our lovely volutneers Pete Reynolds has shared with us his memories of growing up in the 1940s:

'My parents were having a house built just outside Devizes, a rural town in Wiltshire, just as the war was about to start. At that time I was just an infant a few months old.

Suddenly they were not allowed certain materials to complete the build. However, somehow the builders were permitted sufficient timber to be able to put a banister on the stairway, to stop the risk of me falling as I started to get mobile.

The house was built on a meadow. When dad asked my grandfather how he should start to get the land ready for cultivation, he was told to 'dig it over as big as 'osses' eds' (Horses' heads!).

The ground was indeed very fertile, as many a time he would take overlarge cabbages to the school where he tought for use in the canteen, helping to eek out the ration.

He had a car, but wasn't allowed to use it because of the petrol rationing. He requested permission to use the petrol in the car's tank to run his lawnmower, but this was refused.

My first memory relating to the war was that my brother and myself were bundled into the cupboard under the stairs with my mum when an aircraft was heard overhead. Apparently it would be the safest place to be if the house was to get damaged in a raid.

My dad was at the front door, watching what was going on, when he rushed indoors saying how he could easily have been the target for a machine gunner.

The nearest bomb to Devizes was dropped near Poulshot, a village a mile or two away, with no damage or injuries.

During 1944, after we had moved to the school house in Devizes itself I can remember we saw probably hundreds of planes flying towards the south, each one towing a glider. I remember dad's comment that 'there must be something big going on'. True. It must have been to do with D Day.

In those days Devizes was a major base for the army, and during the war it also became a POW camp. My next memory must then have been the spring of 1945. There were constant streams of soldiers marching towards the barracks, presumably from the nearby Devizes railway station.

Word went round the locals that they were Nazi prisoners. And a comment from someone who had possibly served in WW1, 'Looks like the war will soon be over - look, a lot of them aren't much more than children'

I suppose it would have been shortly after VE Day, some of those prisoners were put to work to demolish a gun emplacement near to our house, with Allied troops keeping guard with machine guns! I went to watch, but was warned not to go too close.

For a long time after the war, many of the bridges crossing the Kennet & Avon canal were still protected with huge concrete blocks to delay any advance should the Nazis land. That canal, which ran through Devizes, together with the Thames & Avon rivers, formed a natural defense line running across the country from east to west.'

We have collected a number of other stories and memories of WW2 as part of the Heritage Lottery Funded Canadian Pacific project, you can find these here:

My World War Two Childhood - YouTube video

Travelling in World War Two

Memories of an evacuee