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Woodborough’s Heritage

Woodborough, an ancient Sherwood Forest Village recorded in Domesday


Wartime Woodborough 1939-1945



At the outbreak of war Woodborough was a relatively small farming village. It lies eight miles north-east of the city of Nottingham. I am going to look at Woodborough’s contribution to the war effort by interviewing local people in the village who can still remember Woodborough during the war years. Also, I intend to explore the secrets surrounding the military operations, especially the RAF’s involvement at Woodborough Hall and what people in Woodborough did to help the war effort, including: the names on the war memorial; the war horses that were trained there and the prisoner-of-war/army camp.


This will help us to understand the importance of rural villages like Woodborough and how the efforts from Woodborough should never be forgotten. Moreover, without this project, many precious memories may never have been recorded.


Woodborough Hall


Woodborough Hall has been owned by many prominent people in history including William the Conqueror’s son William Peveril, then the Sheriff of Nottingham (Note 1). The present building was built in 1660.


The relationship between the Hall and MI6 started in 1852 when Mansfield Parkyns bought the Hall for £4500. His nephew, Captain Sir George Mansfield Smith-Cumming, founded the Secret Service during a meeting in 1909 at the Hall (Note 2). It was a very small, selective, secretive group when it was first founded and specialised in foreign espionage and internal counter-espionage. Even though the foundation of this Secret Service was before even the First World War, MI6 had a huge role in the Second World War. Probably the most well-known success was the cracking of the German codes and encryptions at Bletchley Park, which was a branch of MI6. It is amazing the think that these war winning successes started when Captain Sir Mansfield Cumming held a secretive meeting at the Hall. Captain Sir Mansfield Cumming was the director of MI6 from its founding in 1909 until 1923.


Note 1: My interview and emails in particular with Matthew McCristal, General Manager.

Note 2: https://www.sis.gov.uk/our-history/previous-chiefs.html


Above: Woodborough Hall, its south facing aspect

Bottom left: First floor servant’s quarters, now a restaurant

Bottom right: View of the garden and pasture from the first floor


During World War Two the Hall (from 1936) was a base for both the Army and the RAF, famously AOC no.12 Fighter Group under Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, who was stationed at the Hall. It was also used, later on, as a temporary base of operations (headquarters) for both the Riding Hussars and the Sherwood Foresters. As there were high ranking military figures residing at the Hall, there was a substantial bomb shelter built in the grounds of the Hall (as pictured below).


When Leigh-Mallory was at the Hall, early on the in the war, all of the domestic staff at the Hall were RAF personnel. They had many jobs from chef to batman (someone who looks after an officer’s uniform). The servants were based on the middle floor, so they could serve the top and bottom of the house with ease. People were always going in and out of the Hall and anyone important was driven by an RAF or Army chauffeur in a big black Humber saloon.


Obviously later when the Army moved to the Hall, all of the RAF staff were replaced by army personnel. It is also rumoured that there was always an armed guard based in the reception of Woodborough Hall, although this cannot be confirmed.


About Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory


While at the Hall, Leigh-Mallory was Air Vice-Marshall of 12 Fighter Group, which controlled the Midlands area. He was married to Doris Sawyer and the couple had two children. Leigh-Mallory’s wife organised homes for the evacuees in Woodborough, who mainly came from Sheffield. He was arguably one of the most important commanders in the Battle of Britain.


Leigh-Mallory and Acting Squadron Leader Douglas Bader proposed a new fighting strategy during the Battle of Britain called ‘Big Wings’. The strategy consists of meeting Luftwaffe bombing raids with a wing-sized formation of three to five squadrons (Note 3). The strategy was tried and it was seen by the Air Ministry that losses incurred by the ‘Big Wing’ strategy were reduced and the Air Ministry were in the favoured opinion that Leigh-Mallory’s AOC 12 Group was working on the right lines in organising its operations in strength (Note 4).






Right: Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory



‘Big Wings’ contradicted the tactics employed by Air Vice-Marshall Keith Park, the Commanding Officer of Fighter Command’s 11 Group, whose group was taking the brunt of the Luftwaffe’s attacks. The argument in favour of ‘Big Wings’ was that the strategy was effective against the Luftwaffe and reduced allied casualties. However, Keith Park complained that the strategy did not get planes over the south-east quick enough to help reinforce his 11 Group who were sustaining heavy casualties, because for ‘Big Wings’ to work effectively you need to get three-five squadrons in the air together and then move forward in formation. Moreover, Leigh-Mallory argued that his 12 Group would not be of much substantial use to the south-east unless it employed effective formations. Unfortunately, this dispute was never resolved.


Leigh-Mallory received many promotions and honours during the war. In 1942 he became the Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command. In 1943 he became Commander-in-Chief/Supreme Commander for the Allied Expeditionary Air Force (AEAF), which basically meant that he was the Supreme Allied Commander for the liberation of Europe from Germany.


Unfortunately he died in November 1944, en route to Ceylon to take up the post of Air Commander-in-Chief of the South East Asia Command, his aircraft crashed over the French Alps and Leigh-Mallory, his wife and ten others were killed. He was one of the most senior British officers and the most senior RAF officer to be killed in the Second World War.


Note 3: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big Wing

Note 4: Bill Newton Dunn, BIG WINGS. The Biography of Air Chief Marshall Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory (1992), P.74.



Left: entrance to a substantial bomb shelter built in the Hall grounds.                Right: inside the Anderson shelter at Woodborough Hall.

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Life in Woodborough


When war was declared on 3rd September 1939, the news spread very quickly around Woodborough, even though they had limited means of communication (Note 5). Although it was so long ago, Mrs Eileen Flower can remember the exact time war was announced, in the morning just before lunch, this is probably because it made such an impact on her. The only means of communication with the outside world was the BBC News bulletins or the newsreels played at the cinema, which according to many were very good. My research has shown that there is more to Woodborough than meets the eye, including: the prisoner-of–war camp, the blackout, rationing, the training of war horses, the military police, the evacuees, the bombings, the occupation of Woodborough Hall by the RAF and Army and the Home Guard.


Prisoner of War Camp


The Arnold Lodge camp site is at present used by a well-known scrap-yard company, called Podders. However, during World War II it was both an army camp and a prisoner of war camp.


Rationing


The rationing of Woodborough was just like the rest of England. Everyone had a ration book and you had different coloured books for different ages (Note 7). You could collect your rations from the Post Office, local stores or the butcher. People with larger families were better off than smaller families as they got more rations, so some larger families in Woodborough traded blocks of unwanted cheese with coal from someone else, this was not a black market as such, merely one item exchanged for another(Note 8).  This may well have been the case for most of England during the war.


Note 7: Interview with Eileen Flower.

Note 8: Interview with Brian Leafe.


Mrs Flower’s last ration book in 1945  which is

in the same style as those from the war years.


Prisoner’s of war billeted in Woodborough during 1944/45

Left: Henri at Wood Farm. Centre: Unknown at Manor Farm. Right: Heinric Gorman at Bank Hill Farm

War Horses/Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry


During the war, Manor Farm, which was originally a racing horse stable, was taken over by the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry (WRY) to train war horses. There were about 30-40 men and many were billeted with families around the village (Note 9).  Some horses were also stationed in a small stable at the other side of the village. The RWY did exercises on a daily basis and was a cavalry unit. However, in January 1941 the RWY became a motorised unit consisting mainly of tanks, after 150 years of using horses, meaning that the horses in Woodborough were never used in combat (Note 10). During the second World War the regiment fought in Syria, Persia and Egypt. It then joined the 9th Armoured Brigade, seeing action in North Africa and Italy. With this formation it took part in the Second Battle of El Alamein, spearheading the breakout of the Second New Zealand Division during Operation Supercharge on 2nd November 1942.


Note 9: Interviews with Brian Leafe and Eric Ward

Note 10: http://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/1372/Royal­_Wiltshire­_Yeomanry


At the outbreak of war, the present site was an army camp and stretched further back than the site at present. About 200 yards behind Podders, I have found what looks like the remains of an old search light or anti-aircraft gun emplacement and an underground bunker. I have tried to find out what the purpose of this bunker was and people only have theories, some of these are that the bunker was used as an ammunition store, a shelter for the Army if under attack or maybe even a building housing men.


Later during the war, around 1940, the site was transformed into a POW camp for Italian prisoners of war initially, and then towards the end of the war it also started to house German prisoners of war. The prisoners were made to work on local farms, they respected the local people and the local people respected them, there was no discrimination to their race. The local people became almost friends with them and they all agree that they were respected like anybody else (Note 6).


Note 5: Interview with Eileen Flower.

Note 6: Interviews with Brian Leafe and Elsie Leafe, Eileen Flower and Enid and Eric Ward.


Top left: A pill box at the top of Nottingham Road. Maybe there to protect the camp, the Hall or the village in case of invasion.  Top right: The stairs leading to the underground bunker, 200 yards behind Podders.  


Bottom left: The underground bunker hidden under the trees, virtually undetectable from the air.  Bottom right: The remains of what is either a search light or an anti-aircraft gun emplacement, there is another one further back in the distance possibly for the same purpose.



The Wiltshire Light Yeomanry outside their billet in a barn at 161 Main Street in 1940.

Above: Charlie Wright.

Left: The emblem of the Troop.

Right: Cpl. Martin Crump.


The ARP’s


The blackout took place every night; this meant that houses were not allowed to show any light whatsoever. Some people in Woodborough came up with an ingenious switch which meant that when the door was closed the switch was closed and the light stayed on, but if the door was opened then the circuit was broken and all the lights in the house were switched off; they did this as the local ARP warden kept shouting at them for showing light when they opened their front door.


Every night a group of between two and three Air Raid Wardens (ARP) went out making sure that no one was showing any light. I know of two ARP wardens in Woodborough at the time, there were definitely more; one was Mr Binch and the other Mr Frank Dunthorne, Mrs Flower’s father, this was a voluntary role. Many people in Woodborough hated the ARP wardens as they were always telling them off, but many understood that this could potentially save their lives and so put up with the blackout regulations.


The blackout didn’t just affect houses, it affected cars and torches. You had to shine your torch down at the ground and all cars, of which there were very few, had to have a sort of ‘hood’ over their headlights so the beams pointed at the floor (Note 11).


Note 11: Interview with Enid Ward and confirmed by others.



The Evacuees


The majority of evacuees in Woodborough came from Sheffield, but some came from Liverpool, London and Manchester as well. They were houses around the village; this was co-ordinated by Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory’s wife, Doris Leigh-Mallory (née Sawyer).


Above left: Woodborough Woods School where evacuee children attended lessons.

Above right: Older evacuees, some from Sheffield seen here tending the school garden.  


The evacuees were treated very well and school work was not affected by the extra numbers in the class, this was due to the old-fashioned discipline regime in school (Note 12). Contrary to popular belief, the evacuees were treated like their own children by their guardians in the village and they made friends very quickly. Brian Leafe and others in the village still keep in contact with some of the evacuees. Some of the children however did not settle in so well and missed their parents and so were sent home after only a few months of living in Woodborough and going to the school. A teacher came with one of the batches of evacuees and she married a local man and remained in the village.


Note 12: Interview with Eileen Flower who was 13 years old at the time and can remember the evacuees in her class.



The Bombings in Woodborough


There were two bombings in Woodborough but fortunately no lives were lost. The only casualty was a horse belonging to Mr Spencer (Note 13). Eileen Flowers’ cousin was sent from Carlton to Woodborough to avoid bombing raids, and the ironic thing is that no bombs hit Carlton but Woodborough was hit twice. The bomb that killed a horse landed in a field on Lowdham Lane. Everyone can remember this bomb and they described it as a ‘big bomb’. It made a huge crater in the ground which has recently been filled in.


Note 13: Interview with Eileen Flower


Above left: A typical WW2 German incendiary bomb. Above right: A helmet worn by ARP’s


Another set of bombs were dropped, on a separate occasion, these were ‘fire’ or incendiary bombs and were dropped near Ploughman Wood and on Main Street. Luckily, these bombs never went off. One fell through the roof of a house and the owner of the house just put the bomb in his bin, this shows the bravery of the civilian population to have the courage to pick up the bomb. The next day, bomb disposal experts came to pick up the bombs, however, some people kept the bombs as souvenirs (Note 14). It is believed, that the reason didn’t ignite was because it had rained heavily the day before and this meant that the bombs could not ignite as it was too damp. Farmers have been ploughing up these bombs for years, but none have detonated. The incendiary bombs were small with a fin-like attachment on the end, they were filled with chemicals designed to start fires.


The reason they bombed Woodborough it is believed to be either the German bomber was off-loading his unused bombs on his way back to Germany or that the German bombers spotted the tower at the Borstal at Lowdham Grange and presumed it was one of their targets in Nottingham.


Note 14: Interview with Eric Ward



A recording exists of Mannie Foster being interviewed in the 1990’s by Jack Taylor, he was asked about his recollections of the bombings in Woodborough during the last war. Mr Jack Taylor was the owner of Manor Farm. This is a transcript of that conversation:

MF. “I remember watching them [the warplanes] from my father’s bedroom window at the Manor, because, well my brother had to get up because he was in the air raid wardens, and he had to go out and down to Bernard Wright’s barn which had caught fire, but I remember watching them, the incendiaries coming down, they looked much further away and dropping the other side of Ploughman Wood, but in fact they dropped in the fields along Thorpes Road”.

JT. “Then there was one dropped at the top of Hungerhill Lane and that made a big hole”.

MF. “Yes, that was a big oil bomb. Yes, my father said “get the car out and go up the lane and see what’s happening “, when the ‘all clear’ had gone and I know Mr Albert Bailey stood against his gate against the Chapel and I pulled up and he went with me, up to the top of the hill and we went and walked along the lane and stood on a gate and we could see this oil bomb some distance away, but the whole place was lit up, and the field was all wheat and it was all waving corn, but you could see it didn’t burn because everything was saturated, and there had been a terrific lot of rain - it was a good thing really because it didn’t catch fire”.  


Women’s Land Army/Land Girls


The land girls came to work in the forest at lumberjacks, chopping down trees for the war effort. The sawn timber was mainly used as props in coal mines. They were based on top of Bank Hill which was to become the army camp.



Left: A typical poster encouraging recruitment.



Fallen Lancaster bomber


A Lancaster bomber is rumoured to have gone down in Woodborough and killed all seven of the crew (Note 15). I cannot be sure where it crashed but I believe it to be Wood Barn Farm because two people have mentioned it landing there. I am currently waiting for information from New Zealand, because this person used to live in the village and he said that it landed near his house. When it crashed it was guarded by RAF personnel until removed, so none of the children could go and see the Lancaster.


There was a Lancaster bomber witnessed by other children at the time on Mapperley Plains but the people who saw it go down never found it. This Lancaster must either have gone down in Woodborough or in Gonalston where a Lancaster is also known to have crashed. However, I do not think that the Lancaster seen on Mapperley Plains was the same one that crashed in Woodborough because the children on Mapperley Plains tried to find the Lancaster and could not; this tells us it probably didn’t land in Woodborough as they would have been able to see it from Mapperley Plains.


“Planes that crashed in Woodborough during the war I am not sure of the dates but I thought it was July 1944. The first one was in the field behind Wood Barn Farm on Lingwood Lane. It was a Wellington bomber returning from a raid over Germany and it ran out of fuel. No records have been traced regarding a possible incident and other residents of that time did not witness this event. If any records are subsequently found we will gladly update this text. [Ed 2016]

The second crash was on Moor Lane, Calverton. It ran into the hill on the strawberry farm (now the golf course) and I think that also ran out of fuel.


The only bombs dropped on Woodborough were three on top of the Unnies [field] and one on Lowdham Lane killing a horse. Also a line of incendiary bombs were dropped along Ploughman Wood and another line on Main Street”.


The above recollections from Brian Leafe


Note 15: An eye witness account from Brian Leafe


Right: A typical WWII Lancaster bomber



The Home Guard


Woodborough’s Home Guard consisted of 30 to 40 men who were too old to fight on the front lines. The head of Woodborough’s Home Guard was Mr Ted Limb, Cynthia Limb’s father-in-law. Cythia’s brother-in-law was a rear gunner on a Lancaster. After the war he went to Christmas Island, which is infamous for its weapons testing (Note 16).


The Home Guard met once a week at the Institute on Roe Lane. They also regularly did exercises. However, they were ill-equipped with only a few rifles and some hand grenades. Once one of them let a round off into the roof while cleaning a rifle, no-one was hurt. This has an uncanny relationship to the popular BBC programme ‘Dad’s Army’ where they are ill-equipped and incompetent. So how useful would the Home Guard have actually have been in an invasion? If they were all as under-trained and ill-equipped as the Woodborough Home Guard, they would not have posed much of a threat against a German invasion.


Note 16: Interview with Cynthia Limb



Left: The Woodborough Institute - the building where the Woodborough Home Guard held their weekly meetings. Pictured Mannie Foster a long standing Trustee of the building.


Woodborough War Memorial


George David Cooke was born in 1912 and died 19th December 1944 aged 32. He served in the Royal Navy and was at the time of his death a chief motor mechanic. He drowned in the Hamble River at Lower Swanwick when the dingy into which he was stepping accidentally overturned. He was a member of the Woodborough United Brass Band.


James Samuel Greaves was born 1914 and died 6th July 1941 aged 27. He was 5117806 Private 1st Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment.


Reginald Hallam was born on 15th May 1910 and died 25th September 1943 aged 33. He was 2124359 Sergeant of the 268 Field Company Royal Engineers. Sergeant Hallam was building Bailey bridges at Burnham Beaches in Buckinghamshire. A Bren carrier crossing the river was not properly secured, it rolled back and he was knocked unconscious and drowned.


Peter Frederick Paulson was born on 20th September 1918 and died 21st June 1942 aged 23. He was 1480184 Lance Bombadier of 277 Battery (City of Nottingham) 68 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery. He was killed in action at Tobruk.


Robert Percy Paulson was born on 30th October 1921 and died 16th May 1940, at the age of only 19. He was 912360 Gunner 107 (South Notts Hussars) Regiment, Royal Horse Artillery. He died on active service at British Military Hospital Jerusalem.


Eric Joseph Clayton Richardson was born in 1919 and died 2nd May 1945 aged 26. He was 3689 Major 1st Battalion 3rd (Queen Alexandra’s Own) Gurkha Rifles. He died of injuries sustained.


Wilfred Richardson was born August 1921 and died 10th April 1944 aged 23. He was 745445 Warrant Officer RAF, Pilot/Instructor. He was killed in a training crash when it is believed that both engines cut out on take-off and crashed into a stone wall.


Arthur Roy Ward was born on 29th January 1921 and died 21st/22nd June 1944 when the whole crew failed to return from a bombing raid over Germany. He was 1738524 Sergeant RAFVR Wireless Operator/Gunner 619 Squadron, RAF Lancaster Mk III ND 986 PG-S. He was awarded the 1939-1945 Star, the France and Germany Star and the 1939-1945 War Medal.


Rev’d Jack Evans taking the dedication service in 1949 for the addition to the war memorial of the WWII service men who died. Sir Richard Atcherley unveiled the names, also in attendance were Frank Small later to become Sir Frank and villagers, a congregation of local people and relatives.



Conclusion


To conclude, I believe that we can learn a lot about the war by studying small villages such as Woodborough. The village contributed to the war by training war horses, growing crops, housing evacuees and prisoners-of-war and creating a ‘bomb-free haven’ for our military such as Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory to carry out their strategic planning.


Acknowledgements


I would like to express my gratitude to Eric and Enid Ward, Brian and Mavis Leafe, Norman Tyler, Cynthia Limb and Eileen Flower for their willing participation in interviews and their continued interest in my project. I would also like to thank Podders for telling me about the site and allowing me to take pictures of the underground bunker and AA gun emplacements at the back of their site. Matthew McCristal, General Manager of Woodborough Hall, for taking me around the Hall, giving me vital information and letting me take pictures of the Hall and finally John Hoyland and Paul Reed from the Woodborough Photographic Recording Group for letting me use their information on the war memorial and for letting me use their pictures of Woodborough.


Bibliography




Researched and written by Daniel Warrington


Aged 13 at date of completion and is currently 14 (D.O.B 8th May 1998).

The project was for school and I won an award for best history project at the Nottingham High School out of the year.


Link: The Woodborough War Memorial - for WWII fallen service men


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