Chandler’s Ford had a population of just over 3,000 people in 1939 and, although only five miles north of Southampton which was badly bombed during the Blitz (57 nights in 1940-41), we escaped lightly. Here’s how …
Two ‘Doodle-bug’ V1 flying bombs fell on Hiltingbury: one landing harmlessly in a field, the other killing the residents of a bungalow in Pine Road (these bombs were presumably aimed at London but, as was the case with so many, they didn’t make it all the way). A couple of ‘breadbaskets’ fell (a Molotov breadbasket was attached to a parachute and so called because it contained both high explosive and incendiary bombs) and a stick of bombs fell in Hursley Road. One German aircraft came over from the north, machine-gunning as it went before flying off towards Eastleigh. As well as the few deaths, structural damage was caused to about half a dozen homes from the bombs. Much more structural damage was caused by the anti-aircraft guns around the area and large cracks in walls and ceilings from ack-ack guns were common.
During the Blitz on Southampton in 1940, the reflection of the fires could be seen in the night sky here in Chandler’s Ford. Searchlights, air raid sirens and anti-aircraft guns made the village very aware of what was happening locally. During the worst of the Blitz, many Southampton families would come to Chandler’s Ford to sleep the night, or for longer if they were bombed out. Several churches and halls were used as reception centres, providing food and blankets. Local residents often offered accommodation and some people made Chandler’s Ford their permanent home.
THE WAR IN THE AIR
During a daytime air attack on Southampton in 1940 a Messerschmitt crashed in Baddesley Road. The pilot parachuted out, landing in the grounds of Cranbury Park, where he was taken prisoner by the Otterbourne Home Guard. The rear gunner did not escape, however, and died. He was buried in Hursley churchyard, though later his body was exhumed and re-interred in Germany.
EVACUEES IN CHANDLER’S FORD
The Eastleigh area was selected for evacuees from Gosport. It was planned to billet mothers and infants in Chandler’s Ford, using North End Senior School (now the Fire and Police HQ) as a billeting centre. One September afternoon the headmaster and his staff were awaiting the arrival of expectant mothers and infants from Gosport. But the buses from Eastleigh Station were misdirected and instead there arrived six double deckers with grammar school pupils. About 300 puzzled households throughout Chandler’s Ford therefore received some very well-developed infants and no expectant mothers! At the Town Hall that evening there was much discussion as to how to sort out the mix up in billeting. But, as it happened, there had been a general welcome and few complaints. The majority felt or hoped that the evacuees would all return within a few days. For many that was correct, due to home sickness, billeting problems and inadequate facilities for schooling. By the end of September many pupils and mothers with infants had returned to Gosport. Eventually, there was a general shift of billets from Chandler’s Ford to Eastleigh.
Pirelli’s major project was the design and construction of a section of ‘PLUTO’ (Pipe Line Under The Ocean). This was one of two lead-sheathed, wire-armoured, hollow pipelines, which were laid under the English Channel to provide fuel for the vehicles and troops in Europe after the D-Day invasion. The pipelines ultimately supplied one million gallons of fuel per day at peak performance.
MARSHALLING FOR D-DAY
The camps of Marshalling Area C were mainly located to the north of Southampton: in Chandlers’ Ford these were near Castle Copse, near Hocombe and Coultas Roads, north of Hocombe Road and near Sycamore Avenue. The 85th Chemical Warfare Company, Royal Engineers, were also in Hiltingbury.
The four camps at Hiltingbury had a total capacity of 11,000 men and 2,000 vehicles, and were the largest group of camps in any of the marshalling areas before D-Day. Many of the Allied troops who camped in this area embarked for Normandy from Southampton docks.
On Hiltingbury Common two large military camps, made up of a multitude of Nissen huts, were used by the Americans and Canadians in preparation for the D-Day landings. Later they housed German and Italian prisoners of war.
In February 1944 land was compulsorily purchased by the War Department for a site for a US tented field hospital near the junction of Bournemouth Road and Chestnut Avenue. To be used by the US military in the lead up to D-Day, the camp had 13 huts. After D-Day it was used to house homeless English families and in 1949 these were moved, to be replaced by Polish refugees.
Every road in Chandler’s Ford, except Hursley, Winchester and Bournemouth Roads was blocked with army transport vehicles. Many people in the Hiltingbury area had to show passes to go in and out of their homes. In the run up to D-Day, to ensure complete secrecy, those living in the northern part of Lakewood Road were subject to special restrictions. Women and children were confined to their homes, with the army providing meals. The men of the households were accommodated in hotels, enabling them to go to work.
At the end of May 1944, the camps were sealed, meaning that the troops inside were not allowed to leave. This was to minimise the risk that enemy spies – or the British public – might realise that D-Day was drawing very near. From 31 May onwards, and according to a highly detailed timetable, troops began to make their way down to the coast and embark onto the ships and landing craft that would take them to Normandy. Vehicles were often loaded earlier with troops on foot embarking only just before D-Day. Once the troops landing on D-Day itself had left the camps, forces who would be landing on subsequent days took their place, forming a steady stream moving down towards the south coast, that in many places continued for months. As the troops went off to France, they waved to the onlooking children, and threw them chewing gum and dried fruit bars.
THE CAMPS POST-WAR
In late 1944 the now empty camps had new functions. The field hospital was used to house homeless English families until 1949. The military camps in Hiltingbury were used for returning servicemen and their families (a two-class school opened, an annexe from King’s Road School, and Brownie and Guide units were started) and for Italian and German prisoners of war.
Another camp, on Hiltingbury Common, was used for the Polish Resettlement Corps whose soldiers were returning from the battlefields of Italy and as forced labour in Germany. Later these were joined by their families who had spent the war in Displaced Persons camps scattered throughout Europe, India and Africa. The camp in Chandler’s Ford was known as Hiltingbury Polish Dependants Hostel and in 1946 was the first base for Polish civilians, mainly women and children, arriving in Southampton docks, before being dispersed to other camps. The children attended the Families’ Camp School and also had their own Brownie and Guide packs.
By 1947 the camp, which by now was administered by the National Assistance Board with an English warden at its head, was already housing over 800 displaced Polish people from all walks of life. Despite the difficult circumstances Polish people, with their deeply rooted faith and resourcefulness, soon established a close-knit community. One of the large Nissen huts was converted into a church. The first priest, Fr Tadeusz Urbański, arrived in the camp with the army in 1945 and in 1951 Fr Antoni Jankowski took over the role of looking after the spiritual needs of the people, with regular Sunday Masses and services. He also taught religious knowledge in the camp school, preparing children for their first Holy Communion.
There was a sick bay staffed by Polish doctors and nurses, and a Polish infants’ school and nursery. The camp closed in 1956 and Southampton Council arranged for the remaining residents to be accommodated in council houses in the area. There are still many Polish families living in the area.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them. Photo: courtesy David Downhill pic.twitter.com/CsXppDGCcW
— Eastleigh History (@Eastleighistory) November 14, 2021