The Thurlows

Village News & Information

The big guns move in

Three concrete pillboxes were constructed, one on the Crown Hill next to no.113, another at the junction at Pound Green, and the other down Dark Lane. The last two still remain. The Home Guard used Mr Sargent’s yard for their parades and training, and the ammunition store was a Nissen hut in the sandpit next to the cemetery. With the threat of invasion looming, the Royal Artillery was the next unit to arrive in Little Thurlow. This was a battery of four medium howitzers, towed in by ten-ton Matador trucks. They were positioned in the western side of The Walks at Little Thurlow Hall. Four gun-pits were dug, together with the shell storage pits. The guns were trained in the direction of RAF Stradishall, to form protection in the event of an invasion. At this time the searchlight unit was moved away from the Big Park as it was considered too close to the gun positions. The new site for the searchlight was in the meadow on the Great Bradley road, opposite The Kennels, where it was to remain for the rest of the war.

The troops with the guns were billeted in several places. These buildings were requisitioned by the War Department: the cottage by the ponds, the squash court and outbuildings, the Mill and Mill House. The Signal Troop was in The Old School. Mungo Lodge was Battery Headquarters and the cookhouse was in the old tin hut. We used to go into The Old School where the signallers were, when the NCOs were out. I was shown how to use a Morse code key and we listened in to the messages coming in on the wireless sets and wireless trucks. A sad note here: one of the soldiers, a Gunner Smith, was accidentally shot whilst on sentry duty at the entrance to the front drive to the Hall and was later buried in the cemetery at Little Thurlow.

By this time the evacuation of the BEF from Dunkirk had taken place, and the good news was that Norman Houchen, Jack Rowlinson and Brigadier Frink had arrived back safely in the UK, but sadly Ned Smith was reported missing.

The air raid sirens were being sounded more now that we had fighter aircraft based locally. Hawker Hurricanes were at Castle Camps airfield. With the increase in the number of alerts at night, we used to troop down to Captain Frink’s cellar, sometimes half asleep. It got quite crowded and we played card games, draughts and dominoes by the light of oil lamps and candles. Sometimes the Orderly Sergeant, who was on duty at Battery HQ over the road, would come and tell us the all-clear had been given. He knew before the sirens had sounded. We would then go home to a cold bed for a few more hours sleep.

After a time we got to be a bit braver, and stayed in our own homes when the sirens sounded. We got to recognise the sound of the Jerry planes – their engines were not smooth-running like our own aircraft. On Sunday 3rd November 1940, RAF Stradishall was bombed by two JU 88s. We were having our tea at the time. The windows rattled and the anti-aircraft guns had opened up. A hangar was hit and one person was killed. There was a German propaganda radio station that used our wavelengths. The broadcaster was an Englishman who had defected to the Nazis, William Joyce, nicknamed ‘’Lord Haw Haw’. I remember my father had switched the wireless on the following Monday evening, and Haw Haw was giving a much exaggerated account of the bombing of RAF Stradishall. I remember my mother saying, ‘switch him off!’.

The Battle of Britain with the daylight raids was less intense. 1940 had been a hot summer, and with the clear blue skies we had seen the vapour trails of the British and German aircraft and we had heard the sound of machine gun fire. The night raids had increased and the first evacuees had arrived. Some came as families, and some on their own. Two families moved into The Firs. As the number of pupils had increased at school an additional teacher arrived, a Miss Bell who was a first-aider and who with Mr Wright, the head cowman at the Hall, started giving first-aid lessons for us youngsters. They took place on Friday evenings at the Hall in the back parlour.

My father, who was a stretcher-bearer in the Home Guard, used the Red Cross training manual. I had the St John’s manual and we used to compare the two together.

By now all the signposts had been removed and the large circular AA black and yellow village name sign, which was on the old roadman’s hut in the square, had also been taken down. I remember it had the mileage to London on it - 55 miles.