Memories of Denham in Wartime
On 10th May visitors from the Chorleywood branch of the University of the 3rd Age (U3A) came to Denham to enjoy the Walks Around the Village using the leaflets published a couple of months ago by the Denham Community History Project. Amongst the visitors was Marian Trim who had spent her childhood in Denham from 1939 to 1945 during the Second World War. Marian's father Fred was the village police constable. The family lived in the police house which stood on the Oxford Road close to Oxford Gardens.
We caught up with Marian enjoying an afternoon break in The Falcon with the rest of her group of 19 walkers. She offered us a few of her recollections illustrated by her old photo collection. How many memories do these photos have for our readers? Please use the Comment box below to tell us or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Our house was standard for the time. The toilet was outside , the bath was in the kitchen under a large wooden lid (useful) and our water was heated in a ‘copper’ boiler."
Marian remembers the police station where her father was a constable as just a wooden hut or huts. She recalls that out front of her house "there was a sizeable back garden for vegetables and fruit and at the front "a field with an apple tree and a swing. It's now under the A40"
We used to walk down Old Mill Road to church. Mum and I used to polish the brasses regularly. Mum belonged to the Mothers Union and Women’s Institute, both very active during the war.
The Luftwaffe, the air force of Nazi Germany, were dropping bombs on Britain with particularly intense bombardments in the south east of England in the autumn of 1940. Houses that had gardens usually had a bomb shelter into which the residents would retreat when the air raid sirens warned of an attack. Often constructed only of corrugated metal they provided little or no protection from a direct hit, but could provide protection from falling masonry and shrapnel.
Marian's shelter was rather more substantial.
"The air raid shelter which figures largely in my pictures, was more fun to dig than to sleep in – cold, damp, black, scary".
Marian has kept a newspaper article about the shelter which became something of a mystery in later years. The article tells how after the war the Parish Council thought the entrance was an old sewer vent, but the Buckinghamshire Advertiser found differently. A photo from 1939 published in the Advertiser showed Detective Sergeant William Brough from Tatling End Police Station and behind him Sergeant Fred Trim when the shelter was being dug out. There in front of them is three year old Marian, herself described in the article as "a willing helper".
The dug out for the shelter acquired a nickname recalling the two defensive lines between France and Germany, the Maginot Line and the Siegfried Line. They called it The Denham Line.
In fact only a few bombs fell in the Denham area but the records do show that a bomb came down on the Way and Tillard recreation ground to the rear of the Trim family's police house. London of course suffered greatly, particularly during "the Blitz" from September to November 1941 when Germany's Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler launched his "Blitzkrieg", or Lightning War, on Britain.
"During the blitz I woke up being carried on my father’s shoulder to the air raid shelter and there was a red glow in the sky. My mother said ‘poor London’."
On 7th December 1941, the Japanese air force attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean. It was a date described by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt as one "which will live in infamy". The following day the U.S.A. declared war on Japan. Three days later, as Japan's ally, Hitler's Germany declared war on America. That brought American soldiers into the war in Europe. They joined others from European Countries exiled to Britain from their homes but determined to continue fighting to liberate their homelands from German occupation. Marian recalls -
My brother remembers soldiers in strange uniforms – maybe Poles or Czechs ? I remember the big American trucks driven by large GIs with big cigars, getting very lost round Denham. I remember too that Denham received many Czech refugees and made them welcome.
The British resistance to the threat of a German invasion (in particular that of the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain) combined with the arrival of the Americans and the growing irrationality of Hitler's organisation, turned the tide of the war in favour of Britain and its allies. By 1944 Marian was listening to a rather different sound of aircraft.
I remember the unforgettable roar of a sky full of bombers in the night headed for Germany.
The Trims' garden produce no doubt helped to sustain them during times of food shortage. There were other generous providers - but also unscrupulous thieves
We were very fortunate to receive food parcels sometimes from my Mum’s girlhood friend in New Zealand (married to an ANZAC from WW1). She and her friends used to club together to send a parcel - ‘Doing our bit for England’ she wrote.
As time went on we just received a piece of wood with the label on it, the food having been stolen on route.
On 6th June 1944, the forces allied against Germany invaded five beaches on the coast of Normandy in France and began the long but determined advance towards Germany so as to bring an end to the war in May 1945. But an increasingly desperate Hitler was not going to give in easily. As the allies were fighting in Normandy, Hitler launched another bombing onslaught on London, this time using rockets, many thousands of them loaded with high explosive, first the V1s and then their more refined successors the V2s.
Many of these rockets fell well short of their London targets landing relatively harmlessly in Kent and other south east counties, but much damage was still done by those that got through. People came to dread the sound of the rocket engines which would cut out leaving a terrifyingly silence as the bomb fell.
By the time of the V1 rockets we no longer used the air raid shelter and used to all (Mum and 3 kids) get into the cupboard under the stairs. One night I remember there was the familiar chug chug chug and silence and my brother said with glee ‘this is us’.
I saw my mother face go grey and realised for the first time ever that she was frightened.
Despite the turmoil of war, there were parts of Marian's childhood familiar to later residents and even today
I of course went to the Infants School in Old Mill Lane, and later to the Junior School in Village Road. Favourite places were the grazing meadows (now the Denham Country Park), and Gerrards Cross Common and Bekonscot by bus.
The Second World War ended with Nazi Germany's unconditional surrender on 8th May 1945. The date has become VE or "Victory in Europe". It heralded the end of Marian's Denham childhood, but she retains fond memories.
VE Day came and my dad was posted to Marlow. All the family loved Denham in spite of the wartime problems, and those that are left (my brother Alan and me) still do. Of all the places we were posted to afterwards Denham was ‘home’.
For more about Denham during the two world wars, visit Denham Remembers World War 1 (denhamhistory.online) and Denham Remembers World War 2 (denhamhistory.online).