Posted in Country House, Film, History, Maritime History, Vintage, World War Two

Southampton & The Basque Refugee Children of 1937

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  • Basque children arrive at Southampton aboard the liner, SS Habana, having been rescued from the horrors of the Spanish Civil War.  May 25th, 1937.

I am extremely pleased to finally be publishing this article which I have been researching, on and off, for about a year now. Since the plight of migrant children continues to dominate European news headlines, it felt like the perfect time to crack-on and write-up my notes. Regardless of your political views about refugees, economic migrants or asylum seekers, this is a heart-warming, true story, fundamentally about humanitarianism.

The successful evacuation of 3,840 children to Britain from the war-torn Basque region of Spain in May, 1937 is an event in our nation’s history that we should justly be proud of. As the narrator states in the British Pathé film below: ‘Britain has always been a safe haven for exiles’. Perhaps we should all bear this phrase in mind when formulating an opinion about the plight of families fleeing war-torn countries.

  • British Pathe film from 1937, ‘Tragedy of Civil War – Basque Refugee children arrive in England’.  Film shows the children arriving in Southampton as well as the temporary reception camp at Stoneham Farm, Eastleigh, near to the city centre. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.

In 1937, Spain was engaged in Civil War and had been since 17th July, 1936. The political background to the War is complex but I recommend listening to Melvyn Bragg’s BBC Radio 4 documentary on the topic from the In Our Time series, broadcast in April 2003, which clearly sets-out the facts.

At first, the British government did not want the Basque refugee children to come, intervention could be seen as an act of taking sides. The government wanted to maintain a neutral reaction to this conflict. The Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, William Cosmo Gordon Lang (1864-1945), also found himself in a difficult situation, he too had to adopt the Church of England’s neutral position whilst supporting humanitarian initiatives for the Spanish women and children.

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  • Bombing Of Guernica In Spain, April, 1937. The event inspired Pablo Picasso’s 1937 painting, ‘Guernica’.

On 26th April, 1937, the non-militarised Basque town of Guernica was heavily bombed. This was one of the first aerial bombings by Nazi Germany’s Luftwaffe. The town was devastated and over 1,600 people killed. Archbishop Lang happened to be in the Basque region at the time, reporting back on the children’s harrowing plight. Public conscience was stirred and the British government were forced to back down.

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  • ‘Guernica’, a mural oil-painting on canvas by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), completed in June 1937, as a reaction to Nazi Germany’s bombing of the town. The painting is housed in Madrid’s Museo Reina Sofia.

Originally, the Home Office only gave permission for 2,000 children to be evacuated to Britain. However, since France had already given shelter to between 16,000 and 18,000 refugees, supporters argued that it was not unreasonable for Britain to ‘do her bit’ and take-in 4,000 children.

If England will not have them all, 2,000 will be landed at Bordeaux en route, and the rest will be brought to Southampton arriving Saturday. [22nd  May, 1937).

(The Daily Echo, 18.5.1937)

The people of Southampton rose to the challenge as one might expect from a Port town with a long history of welcoming migrants fleeing persecution. The town needed to pool all of its human resources to pull-off a successful reception and create a suitable base camp for the children. The children only needed accommodation in Southampton for a couple of months, as the plan was to send them on to new foster homes and country houses throughout Britain until hostilities in Spain had ceased.

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  • Volunteer helpers cleaning a house in preparation for the arrival of Spanish refugees, 1937.

Although the British Government now supported an evacuation, they made it perfectly clear that once on British soil, they would not be held responsible for the children’s welfare. Of course, such declarations just served to fuel the cause. Southampton’s citizens rallied and several days before the refugees were due to arrive, 1,000 of them gathered at the town’s Guildhall to pledge their help, support and donate money.

I found the following quotes from regional newspapers in a clippings folder at the Local Studies Centre of Southampton Central Library. They detail how local people rose to this challenge.  Organisations, such as the Scouts, Guides, Boys Brigade, YMCA, Salvation Army and Quakers lent their support. Southampton’s school children collected eggs and the town’s local co-op donated food and clothes. An egg-storing depot was set-up at Messrs A. E. Turner’s store, London Road, Southampton. High-profile supporters of the evacuation were The Duchess of Atholl, the Cadbury and Rowntree families and King George VI.

Southampton’s response in personal service and in gifts has been magnificent, but there are still several urgent needs unfilled. One of these is a caravan or hut for the use of V.A.D. nurses and as a medical examination room.

(The Daily Echo, 18.5.1937)

Gifts of vegetables toys, clothes, etc, are, of course, warmly welcomed, and there is a caravan just outside [of the Stoneham transit camp, near Southampton] for the receipt of gifts. The generous spirit  of local folk is above praise; hundreds have been working all hours of the night, and even if they go out of their way to engage a cook or collect a string of cars which turn out to be unwanted, they take it all most philosophically. 

The spirit of the camp is admirable: one recognised many of Southampton’s  leading spirits at work on humble jobs or helping in the shepherding of children: so long as they are useful they do not mind. Even trained nurses were cheerfully filling palliases  with straw on Sunday, because that was the most urgent task. Incidentally, someone had the bright idea of turning Sunday afternoon’s curiosity to account, and went round with a tin bowl. He collected £5 in pennies.

(The Hampshire Advertiser and Southampton Times, 29.5.1937)

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  • Three young orphans from Bilbao arrive at Southampton aboard the liner Habana. May 23rd, 1937.

On Thursday 20th May, 1937, the SS Habana sailed from Bilbao, France with approximately 3,840 children on board accompanied by 80 teachers, 120 helpers, 15 Catholic priests and 2 doctors. The ship was only meant to carry 800 and conditions on-board were very cramped. It was a tough voyage, many suffered sea-sickness, diarrhoea, particularly around the Bay of Biscay.

SS Habana arrived in British waters on Saturday 22nd May, lying-off of Fawley, where it awaited English health authorities to clear its passengers so that it could dock at Southampton Port. Early on Sunday 23rd May, SS Habana finally left her anchorage and docked at Berth 106, arriving just before 8am.

The children were given medical examinations then immigration officers took details of their names and parentage, fixing labels to their wrists before they were allowed to troop down the Habana’s gangway onto the safety of Southampton Docks. The children were helped by white-uniformed, Spanish, Red Cross nurses.

Once the children had disembarked onto Southampton Quay, they boarded a long line of Hants and Dorset Motor Services buses which the company had loaned for such purposes. Next stop was Southampton Corporation Baths on Western Esplanade, where a host of volunteers bathed them in disinfectant and gave each child a fresh set of clothes.

The above immigration procedures may seem a little draconian by modern standards but you have to remember that the living conditions these refugees had left behind were so grim, many of them had become malnourished and vulnerable to disease. All sensible precautions had to be taken to ensure no communicable diseases were inadvertently brought into Britain and worse still, spread throughout the transit camp at Stoneham Farm.

In one of the local newspaper reports, I found an account of life in the war torn Basque region, given by a 15 year old girl from the town of Azkoitia in the province of Gipuzkoa.

Nine months ago, I was living with my father and two brothers in Azkoitia, where my father was a magistrate. Now my father is in Bilbao, one of 300,000 refugees from the war zone. My brothers are fighting in the Basque Army against the Fascists. When the fighting began all around my home we had to evacuate the village. My father and I went to Guernica.

We lived there for eight months – mostly underground – until in one air raid the whole town was wiped out.  What had a short time before been a pretty market town was reduced to a mass of flame and ruin. Incendiary bombs fell side by side with high explosives. Panic and bloodshed were rife. All the people in the houses next to that in which I was are now dead.

(Southern Daily Echo, 24.5.1937)

Another account was given by a couple of Roman Catholic priests who had accompanied the refugees to Britain. Benito Juan Sarakoetxea and Padre Gabriel Manterola told reporters at the Southern Daily Echo that the people’s diet had been very poor indeed, food was scarce. Daily rations consisted mainly of fish, black bread and water with some milk made available to children.

They also recalled how citizens were so afraid they were living in the safety of their cellars. In fact since 31st March, 1937, the children had been bombed every day except for three days, leaving many of them now in a heightened state of anxiety.

Southampton residents were asked not to visit the Docks or line the streets to greet the children. This was not an unfriendly gesture but instead one designed to ensure the children were not over-whelmed. Although, from some of the newspaper reports I have read, local children did cheer and wave as the buses transported the refugees to Stoneham Farm.

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  • Stoneham Farm temporary transit camp, May 1937.

The temporary reception camp was located at Stoneham Farm, near Eastleigh, just outside of Southampton. A local farmer, G. H. Brown, lent a parcel of farmland to the cause. The site, run by volunteers, was efficiently organised with 400 bell tents and plenty of facilities although it did take a few days for the terrified youngsters to settle.

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  • Traumatised Basque refugee child arrives at Stoneham Farm temporary transit camp, May, 1937.

In the period leading-up to the refugees arrival, local citizens rallied around to get the Stoneham land ready. Local plumbers laid water pipes, carpenters constructed simple structures and Dockers dug latrines. Depots for food, clothes and toys were set-up all over Hampshire, supported by cricket clubs, churches and women’s organisations.

Unsurprisingly, the refugee children were unused to a structured, daily routine. Many of them had, for quite a considerable amount of time, been running wild due to the horrific circumstances back home. There were some instances reported that whilst at Stoneham Farm camp, some children had been caught stealing from local orchards. Another incident detailed several boys having stolen communion wine from the temporary on-site church tent!

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  • Refugees lining-up to receive their meal at Stoneham Farm transit camp, Eastleigh. May, 1937.

The children were well-fed at the camp, diet consisted mainly of scalded milk, bread, boiled meat and potatoes with peas and onions. Each child was given a daily amount of milk equivalent to 1 and 1/2 pints. There was also plenty of fruit and sweets (thanks to Rowntrees). Cadbury’s also sent down 12,000 chocolate, 12,000 bars. Meals were cooked by local people under supervision of a team of ex-army and navy cooks.

There were many daily activities to keep the children occupied including boxing (organised by ex-heavyweight champion, Joe Beckett), a cinema and Spanish/English lessons.  Entertainment was organised by Spanish-speaking actor Neville Towne. The artist, Augustus John (1878-1961), visited the camp everyday and sketched the children.  A tannoy system was also installed, to keep everyone updated with news from Spain. This was not always very well-received and on occasion very distressful.

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  • Boxing practice at the Stoneham Camp. Professional boxer, Joe Beckett (1892-1965) looks on. May 29th, 1937.

Over the following months children were gradually sent to foster families and designated centres, which were also known as ‘Basque Colonies’. There were 94 Colonies set-up across Britain. The children were dispersed to country houses and private homes in: Manchester, Swindon, Scarborough, Cambridge, Brampton, Worthing, Tunbridge Wells, Worthing, Ipswich, Derby, Welwyn Garden City, Birkenhead, Watford, Thame, Watford, Richmond, Birmingham, Newbury and of course Southampton.

The refugees stayed in Britain for 2 years and when the war ended on 1st April, 1939, all, apart from 500 children were returned to Spain. Many children could not be returned as their families either no longer had a home or had been killed. Approximately 400 children settled permanently in Britain. The father of former Conservative MP-turned broadcaster, Michael Portillo, was a Basque refugee.

I was 14 at the time. I cried a lot in the boat on the way over. It wasn’t just me – many children were crying. It was because we knew what was going on with the war, especially in Bilbao. When we arrived in Southampton we were taken to be checked by a doctor, then we went to the campsite at Stoneham. There were so many children to sort out. Our group were sent to Caerleon in South Wales, between Cardiff and Newport. We had a lovely time there, we were very happy in Caerleon because we were one big family. There were 67 of us, and one Spanish lady who looked after us all – we called her our mother. We stayed there for 2 years until the Second World War started and the soldiers needed the rooms.

(Basque refugee, Maria-Louisa Cooper, 84, reminiscing at the 70th anniversary in 2007.)

Further sources:

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  • Basque children being given toys in Watermillock, Bolton. 26th June, 1937.


Posted in Activity, Aviation History, Bringing Alive The Past, Event, Exhibition, Film, History, Maritime History, Museum, World War Two

Solent Sky Museum, Southampton – Spitfires & Flying Boats –

  •  Film by British Pathé, ‘Vivid Demonstration’ (1936), shot at Eastleigh Aerodrome (later Southampton Airport) on 26th March, 1936. Film features Vickers Long Range Bomber and a Spitfire prototype. This was the Spitfire’s 2nd test flight. Film also shows pilot Jeffrey Quill getting into the Spitfire. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.14.

Saturday 5th March will be the 80th anniversary of Spitfire’s first test flight from Eastleigh Aerodrome (later Southampton Airport), Hampshire which took place on 5th March, 1936. The first Spitfire test flight lasted 8 minutes. Southampton Airport will be marking this momentous occasion, a Spitfire will take-off from there on Saturday on an 80th birthday flight.

Me in conversation with R. J. MItchell at Solent Sky Museum. ©Come Step Back In Time
Me in conversation with R. J. MItchell at Solent Sky Museum. ©Come Step Back In Time

It will first  fly close to the resting place of its Chief Designer R. J. Mitchell (1895-1937). Continuing along the river Itchen to Southampton Water where it will pass near to the site of the old Supermarine factory in Woolston where many thousands of the aircraft were built.  Onwards to Portsmouth harbour before flying back on itself to Southampton Airport.

According to Southampton Airport’s website, the Spitfire should be visible, around the Solent, between 11 am and 12 noon on Saturday 5th. Subject to weather conditions, there will be good vantage points along the River Itchen, Weston Shore, Hythe, Royal Victoria Country Park, Lee on Solent and Cowes (Isle of Wight).

Solent Sky Museum have a rare Spitfire on display, the Vickers Supermarine Spitfire Mk24 PK683. One of the last of its type to be produced, PK683 saw service with the RAF in Malaysia, and is in almost original condition. ©Come Step Back In Time
Solent Sky Museum have a rare Spitfire on display, the Vickers Supermarine Spitfire Mk24 PK683. One of the last of its type to be produced, PK683 saw service with the RAF in Malaysia, and is in almost original condition. ©Come Step Back In Time

Afterwards, head down to the brilliant, hidden gem that is Solent Sky Museum, Southampton  (Twitter: @SpitfireSolent). On Saturday 5th, this multi-award winning Museum will be open from 12.30pm (admission charges apply) for a packed afternoon of activities to commemorate the Spitfire’s 80th anniversary.  A new exhibition will also open on Saturday, ‘Southampton and the People’s Spitfire’, containing over 100 photographs documenting Southampton’s Blitz.

This exhibition will focus on Southampton’s role producing the Spitfire in ‘Southampton’s Blitz’. During the Battle of Britain, in 1940, Southampton was heavily bombed and the Supermarine factory was destroyed. Spitfire production was dispersed to any local site with enough floor space to produce Spitfire components. The exhibition also commemorates the heroic efforts of local residents to maintain Spitfire production at all costs.

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  • The Spitfire production line at the Vickers Supermarine Works in Southampton, 1940.

There were 20, 531 Spitfires built, the last one rolled off the production line in 1947.  Surviving examples are extremely rare (there is one in Solent Sky Museum – Mk24 PK683). The first Spitfire prototype was originally called “The Fighter” F.37/34 but subsequently this changed to prototype K5054.

Captain Joseph “Mutt” Summers (1904-1954) piloted the first Spitfire test flight in 1936. Mutt joined Vickers Aviation Ltd in June 1929, a year later he became chief test pilot at Supermarine Aviation Works. Jeffrey Kindersley Quill (1913-1996), piloted the second test flight on 26th March, 1936 (see film at top of article). Jeffrey was known as “Mr Spitfire” and was Mutt’s assistant. In January, 1936, he began working at Vickers and its subsidiary Supermarine.


R. J. Mitchell's cigarette case which he had with him whilst watching Spitfire's first test flight on 5th March, 1936. Artefact is not normally on display to the public at Solent Sky Museum so was very privileged to see and handle it. ©Come Step Back In Time
Two views of R. J. Mitchell’s cigarette case.  He had the case with him whilst watching Spitfire’s first test flight on 5th March, 1936. Artefact is not normally on display to the public at Solent Sky Museum so have been very privileged to see and handle it. ©Come Step Back In Time

  • ‘Solent Sky Museum Seeking Stories Recalling World War Two’ by Shan Robins (That’s Solent TV) featuring an interview with Museum Director Sqn/Ldr Alan Jones MBE CRAeS RAF Rtd. Alan also introduces some special Spitfire related artefacts from the Museum’s deep archives. Uploaded to You Tube 13.2.2016.

I recently assisted on and participated in several films made by Shan Robins (Senior Broadcaster at That’s Solent TV) shot on location at Solent Sky Museum. It was a wonderful opportunity to find-out more about some of the Museum’s most famous exhibits.

  • ‘The Schneider Trophy’s Influence on the Design of the Spitfire’ film by Shan Robins (That’s Solent TV) featuring Museum Director Sqn/Ldr Alan Jones MBE CRAeS RAF Rtd.  Uploaded to You Tube 4.2.2016.

  • ‘Flying Boats: A Look Back at a Bygone Era’ by Shan Robins (That’s Solent TV) featuring an interview with myself made on location at Solent Sky Museum, which is also home to the ‘Beachcomber’, a flying boat originally built in 1943 as a Short Sunderland Mk3, but in 1947 was converted to operate commercial flights with passengers. Uploaded to You Tube 18.2.2016.

There are many exhibits at Solent Sky that fascinate me but the Beachcomber is by far my favourite. In 2012, I wrote an article about the Beachcomber.  On my recent visits to make the above films, I made sure I spent some more time looking around this lovely vintage flying boat.

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Flying Boats and Southampton

In the summer of 1919 (16th August), Supermarine operated Britain’s first commercial flying boat service from the Royal Pier, near Southampton docks. The first flights were local, to Bournemouth, Portsmouth and Isle of Wight, on a Channel Mk.1 aircraft. In September, 1919, Supermarine operated its first international flying boat service from its premises at Woolston travelling to Le Havre.

The service to Le Havre did not operate for long, starting-up again in September 1923 when flying boats serviced the route between Woolston and Cherbourg. In 1924, British Marine became Imperial Airways who continued to operate flying boat services from Woolston. Between the 1924 and 1958, Southampton became one of the busiest flying boat ports in the world.

Before the jet age really took hold, towards the end of the 1950s, flying boats were the popular, if most expensive, method of travel overseas. Only the wealthy could afford the ticket price as well as spare the time needed to complete the  journey.  Travelling to the other side of the world by flying boat could take eight days or more. Some of the journey would have to be made via ship or other modes of transport until flying boats were servicing more routes. Eight days may seem a long time now but actually, back then it was considered extremely quick!

  • Film by British Pathé, ‘Flying Boat – Sydney Aka New Empire Flying Boat Leaves Sydney For Southampton’ (1938).

Like the Spitfire, the flying boat is also celebrating a big birthday this year. On 3rd July it will be the  80th anniversary of Imperial Airways’ first Short C Class flight from Southampton which took place in 1936. Imperial Airways’ first revenue flight took place on 6th February, 1937 and henceforward, Hythe (near Southampton), became the airline’s home base. Only 42 of this type of flying boat were built.

In the new C Class ‘boats, passenger comfort took precedence. A smoking cabin at the front of the aircraft was fitted out like a lounge, with chairs facing each other around small tables. Behind this was a galley, where a steward delivered restaurant quality meals on china plates. Amidships was the “promenade” deck with large, high-placed windows where passengers could stand and see their sights. In all, 24 passengers could be carried.

All this luxury came at a high price, however. The round trip from Southampton to Australia cost as much as a small house in 1937…. Today, aircraft travel at upwards of thirty thousand feet, and frequently all that is visible is clouds. In the C Class, though, there was no pressurised cabin, so flying took place at low level for the whole of the journey. This enabled Imperial Airways to make scheduled flights almost into sight-seeing tours.

(‘Southampton: The Gateway to The Empire’ by Chris Smith, The Solent Sky magazine, Summer 2014, pp. 16-19)

This first C Class flight took place over Southampton Waters. Southampton was  chosen as the location for an international “marine aeroport”, or “airport”. As the name suggests, the first airports were actually located at seaports, Southampton being one of the first.

Airports were originally not the landlocked complex of buildings and terminals that we know today. Historically, that type of airport would actually have been known as an aerodrome. In the 1930s, Southampton’s aerodrome was based at Eastleigh and is today Southampton Airport.

  • British Pathé film, ‘Empire Flying Boat (Imperial Airways) ‘Centaurus’ leaves for flight to New Zealand from Southampton’ (1937). Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.
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  • Imperial Airways flying boat ‘Centaurus’ at Hythe, Hampshire with its five- man crew. The plane flew to Egypt, Iraq and Singapore bringing India to within 2 and 1/2 days air-travel from Britain. L to r Flt Clerk R Doel, First Officer A Richardson, Captain J Sheppard, Wireless Operator L F Mitchell and steward E W Rowcliffe. 1938.

In March 1937, Imperial Airways Limited (1924-1939) started their twice-weekly services to Alexandria and later that year to South and East Africa. These aircraft were maintained at the Hythe flying-boat base until early 1938 when operations moved to Folland’s hangar at Hamble which could now handle five C Class boats at any one time.

From May 1938, arrangements were made for passengers to embark directly onto the aircraft from a pontoon at Berth 101 in Southampton New Docks, doing away with having to board from a launch. Departures to Sydney, Australia left at 5.15am. For early-morning take-offs buoys equipped with electric lights were strung out to indicate the ‘runway’. (Source: Flying Boats of the Solent and Poole by Mike Phipp, 2013, p.46)

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  • A snapshot photograph of a an Imperial Airways flying boat moored to a jetty in Southampton harbour, taken by an unknown photographer in about 1935.

Imperial Airways established their services as four times a week to India, three times to East Africa and twice to Durban, Malaya, Hong Kong and Australia. On 5th July 1937 their first Transatlantic service was started with flights from the UK by Imperial and from the USA by Pan American.  In September 1939, Imperial Airways transferred their aircraft and services to Poole Harbour.

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  • Photograph from 1936. A Flight Steward aboard the giant flying-boat, ‘Canopus’ serves breakfast to passengers in their bunks. Imperial Airways’ Canopus was on the Alexandria-Athens service. It cruised at 200mph and carried 16 passengers in night stages.
Advertising poster for Imperial Airways (1939). On display at Solent Sky Museum, Southampton.
Advertising poster for Imperial Airways (1939). On display at Solent Sky Museum, Southampton.

In the pre-war era, flying with Imperial Airways was everything you would expect it to be, if you had money that is. Passengers who flew regularly with the airline were even allowed to have their valet with them. If you didn’t have a valet to look after your every in-flight need, then you would be looked after by a Flight Steward. In these early years of seaplane travel, all Stewards were male.

Facilities on-board these early flying boats were not luxurious but were adequate. The Short Calcutta and Kent flying-boats were equipped with twin-burner oil stoves, there were no cooking facilities on the Empire ‘boats. Restaurant standard meals were prepared locally in ports across the world, decanted into vacuum flasks and stowed for service in either hot boxes or ice chests.

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  • Steward preparing lunch in the galley of an Imperial Airways, Short L.17 Scylla, a landplane version of the 38 passenger Kent flying boat. The London-Paris route, 1934.

Fruit juices were transferred from the vacuum flasks into serving jugs, bread rolls and Ryvitas were placed in baskets. Food was always served on china plates. Preserves and butter were put on plates and covered with doilies. White linen table cloths and serviettes, metal cutlery, side plates and cruets were laid-out on the tables in each of the cabins.

In 1937 and 1938, Imperial Airways even served Christmas dinners to their passengers, in 1938, Thanksgiving dinner was also provided, popular on the transatlantic routes. All meals were accompanied by wine, spirits, cocktails, soft drinks, hot beverages (tea, cocoa, coffee, chocolate, Bovril, OXO and Horlicks).  Below are examples of Imperial Airways’ dinner menus. First is from 30th August 1938 and second one is from flying boat ‘VB Corsair, date unknown but late 1930s:

Grapefruit or Consommé Princess

Roast Pheasant and Watercress

Lamb Cutlets and Mint Sauce

Roast Chicken, York Ham

Green Salad Beetroot & Apple Salad

Fresh Fruit Salad & Cream

Cheese Cheddar, Gorganzola, Gruyere

Toast Imperial  Assorted Biscuits  Coffee


Pâté de Fois Gras or Grapefruit

Roast chicken, Ox Tongue, York Ham

Russian Salad

Peaches Melba, Golden Figs

Cheese – Cheshire, Camembert, Kraft

Toast Imperial  – Assorted biscuits – Coffee

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  • Imperial Airways, the Short L.17 Scylla, was a landplane version of the 38 passenger Kent flying boat. Flight Steward attends to his passengers on the London-Paris route, 1934.

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  • The Mayoress of Southampton christens the ‘Southampton.’ Naming ceremony of the RMA ‘Southampton’, at which a libation of wine from a silver ewer is poured over the aircraft. The ceremony took place at the new flying boat base at Southampton docks (Berth 50) which allowed passengers to step ashore straight into the airport buildings. Officially opened by Lord Nathanon on 14th April, 1948.

After World War Two, Imperial Airways became the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). The last C Class retired in c.1947. A new marine air terminal was built for BOAC at Berth 50 in Southampton’s docks with bars, lounges and dining rooms, and a direct rail line was established to London Waterloo. However, in 1948, BOAC gradually started to replace their flying boats with modern land aircraft. Their flying-boat services, from Southampton, finally ended in the autumn of 1950.

  • British Pathé film, ‘Flying Boat Deck'(1948). Showcases the new BOAC Marine Terminal in Southampton. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.

Following BOAC’s decision to no longer operate a flying boat service out of Southampton,  Aquila Airways, an independent airline,  stepped-in and filled that gap, well at least until 1958.  Aquila Airways  Ltd was formed on the 18th May 1948 by Wing Commander Barry Aikman and operated from Hamble Beach, adjacent to the former Folland slipway.

Aquila serviced the popular route between Southampton and Madeira, initially under a BOAC Associate Agreement. Aquila also provided charter flights carrying ships’ crews. In 1948, Madeira could only be reached by ship, there were no direct flights. When Berth 50 at Southampton docks became vacant, Aquila moved in. By 1951, the airline had 12 aircraft.

At the beginning of 1949 Aquila purchased the remainder of BOAC’s Hythes and parked them on the beach at Hamble. Aquila was able to make use of Berth 50 at Southampton Docks and G-AGEU Hampshire departed on a proving flight to Funchal Bay on 24th March. Its deluxe cabins with thirty-one seats were served by three stewards, with a cocktail bar available.

(Flying Boats of the Solent and Poole by Mike Phipp, 2013, p.120)

Me behind the cocktail bar from an Aquila flying boat (1948-1956), RMA Hadfield. ©Come Step Back In Time
Me behind a cocktail bar from Aquila flying boat RMA Hadfield (1948-1956). ©Come Step Back In Time

Aquila went on to operate further routes at Capri, Santa Margherita and Montreux at Lake Geneva. All areas difficult to access via land planes. Aquila Captain Christopher Blackburn commented on the holiday atmosphere on many of these routes:

By 1957 we had quite a network of routes in operation, and were anticipating our best year. We had a tie-up with Club Mediterranee and took loads of passengers every week from Marseilles to Palermo and Corfu. This was the most enjoyable of all….The passengers were always in a holiday mood and the girls, whom we always invited up to the flight deck, often wore nothing more than a bikini. If one had a skirt on we found that the solution was for the pilot to open his window just as she was coming up the ladder, sometimes with revealing results!’

This and other passenger and crew reports demonstrate that these were truly golden days of air travel, and completely unlike modern “cattle class” operations. As a bizarre example, one regular passenger aboard Aquila Airways would insist on doing the washing up after her evening meal on board!… Air Hostess Shirley Passmore recalls that: ‘It was nice to be able to make a pot of tea and sit down and drink it with the passengers, or just walk around and chat with them and play with the children.’

(‘Southampton’s Eagles: The Last Flying Boat Airline’ by Chris Smith, The Solent Sky Magazine, Summer 2015, pp. 12-13)

Shirley was an air hostess for Aquila Airways, Southampton during the 1950s. Ivor was a flight engineer, the couple met during a practice boat-drill in 1953. When they married, they had a marzipan flying boat on top of their wedding cake.

Many stars of stage and screen flew with Aquila in the 1950s including: Harry Secombe; Terry Thomas; Trevor Howard; John Huston; Bernard Miles; Peter Butterworth; Janet Brown and John Mills.

On the whole, flight safety records for flying boats were relatively speaking, quite good. However, in late 1957, Aquila’s Short Solent flying boat RMA Sydney crashed into the side of a quarry, Chessell Down, on the Isle of Wight, due to engine failure. All 8 crew were killed, along with 35 of the 50 passengers. Aquila never quite recovered from the tragedy and ceased operations on 30th September, 1958. (Source: Ibid. p.13)

The golden age of international flying boat travel from Southampton slowly drew to a close. The flying boats could no longer compete, in terms of cost, speed and flying times, with planes like the de Havilland DH 106 Comet, a British jetliner introduced in 1952. Occasional flying boat pleasure flights still took place over the Southampton Water.

Indeed the Beachcomber made 17 passenger flights from September 5th to 9th in 1977. Operating from Calshot (the old RAF flying boat base near Southampton), well to be precise, some 4 miles from the moorings at Calshot. This was due to opposition from the Southampton and Solent authorities who did not permit flying boats to operate over Southampton Water at this time. (Source: ‘”Beachcomber”: The Story of a Sandringham and Sunderland Civil Conversions Operated In Australia by Vic Hodgkinson, p.13)

Captain Andrew Evans once wrote: ‘flying boats, in particular, had a special place in the hearts of those who travelled in them, though sadly today they are almost forgotten.’ (Source: Eagles Over Water: From Solent to the Sun – Story of Aquila Airways Ltd by Norman Hull, 1994, p. 85)

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Posted in Decorative Arts, History, Maritime History, World War One

Mary Ann Rogers – A True Victorian Heroine: The Stella Memorial, Southampton, Hampshire

  • Short film I made with That’s Solent TV.  The SS Stella Memorial, Southampton. Film by Shan Robins (Twitter: @ShanTwoots ). Uploaded to You Tube 5.2.2016.

A few weeks ago, I made a short film with That’s Solent TV ‘s senior broadcaster, Shan Robins (see above). Shan and I made our film on a day with practically hurricane force winds! The microphone struggled a little bit, but nonetheless, hope you enjoy.

Shan Robins filming at the Stella Memorial, Southampton. ©Come Step Back In Time
Shan Robins filming at the Stella memorial, Southampton. ©Come Step Back In Time

 SS Stella: Stewardess Mary Ann Rogers

The Stella Memorial (previously known as The Rogers Memorial and before that The Stella Stewardess Memorial Fountain) is located on the Western Esplanade in Southampton. The monument has intrigued me for a long time, having passed it numerous times on foot whilst en-route to the city’s heritage quarter. The memorial is dedicated to Southampton stewardess, Mary Ann Rogers (nee Foxwell) (1855-1899), who lived in Southampton and drowned when the SS Stella sank in March 1899.

Mary’s backstory is heart-breaking. Born in Frome, Somerset on 14th February, 1855. She had 6 siblings, 2 of which were born after the family moved to 19 Weston Shore Road, Southampton shortly before 1865. In 1871, aged 17, Mary moved out of home and went to work as a general servant for Charles Trubbett and his family. Mary didn’t go far, the Trubbett family lived next door at 17 Weston Shore Road.

On 20th March, 1876, Mary married Richard Rogers (c.1852-1880) at the Independent chapel, Northam, Southampton. The couple had 2 children, Mary Ellen (b.1878) and Frederick Richard (b.1881). The Rogers’ marital home was located in Chantry Road, Southampton. Richard, a seaman, worked for London and South Western Railway (LSWR). On 21st October, 1880, 4 years into their marriage, Mary 6 months pregnant with their 2nd child,  Richard drowned at sea. He was swept overboard on the SS Honfleur whilst working as a second mate.

His death was in an era long before the Health and Safety Executive, ambulance chasing lawyers and large compensation claims being brought by family members against negligent employers. Instead, in 1899, it was normal practice for railway companies to offer employment to the immediate family of deceased employees. A job would be offered to either the surviving spouse or eldest child in the family. The latter in this instance was, of course, not an option.

This precedent negated the company’s responsibility to have to pay either compensation or provide a livable pension to the family. In other words, pay money out with no return for an indefinite period of time. There was considerable pressure to accept employment. With a toddler already and another baby on the way, Mary had no option but to accept a job with LSWR.

Almost immediately after the birth of her son in January 1881, Mary began work as a stewardess for LSWR. Her earnings were 15 shillings a week plus any tips received from passengers. For a woman in her circumstances, this was a decent, stable income and in modern terms, a job with prospects. It also kept her family out of the workhouse.

Mary’s parents, James (d.1899) and Sophia (d. 1894) Foxwell, looked after their 2 grandchildren in their home at 22 Albert Street, Southampton while Mary spent long periods of time away at sea. The family eventually moved into 45 Clovelly Road, Southampton and named their home Frome Cottage, a nod to their Somerset roots.

At first, Mary suffered from severe seasickness but after 5 years began to find her ‘sea legs’ and did well in the role. She was popular with passengers and known for her cheery and caring disposition.  Dr John Price explains the role of a steamship stewardess:

…. was in essence that of a lady’s maid or nursery nurse and many of the duties were essentially domestic in nature, such as attending to the needs of ladies in their bedrooms or in the female lounge, and washing and tending to the children.

As one contemporary examination of the role of a stewardess reported, ‘by far the most appreciable services they render is in attending upon and administering to the wants of lady passengers during sea sickness and other illnesses on board.’

Now, though, as the Stella pitched and rolled, throwing its passengers around like skittles, the stewardesses were wholly responsible for the lives of the women and children, rather than simply for their domestic requirements.

(Heroes of Postman’s Park: Heroic Self-Sacrifice in Victorian London by Dr John Price, The History Press, 2015, pp.133-34)

The Stella Memorial, Western Esplanade, Southampton, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time
The Stella memorial, Western Esplanade, Southampton, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time

The SS Stella

The SS Stella was one of 3 sister ships built for LSWR at a cost of £62,000 (nearly £4 million in today’s money). Completed in October 1890, she had a top speed of 19 knots and was licensed to carry 712 passengers. Fitted-out with all mod-cons, electric lighting and 1st class cabins had en-suite toilets. There was even a Ladies’ Saloon and a Smoking Room for gentlemen. The Stella serviced the popular Southampton to Guernsey and Jersey route.

By 1899, Mary had become a senior stewardess. Accompanying Mary on that fateful Maundy Thursday in 1899, was Ada Preston. It was to be Ada’s 1st day at sea working as an under-stewardess on the Stella.  Ada had known Mary since the early 1890s when she lived at 74 Derby Road, just a few streets away from Mary’s home in Clovelly Road. Ada subsequently moved to 37 Radcliffe Road but they kept in touch. Dr John Price comments:

In fact, it is likely that the two women walked together to the quay in Southampton on the morning of 30 March 1899; the same quay where, the following day, relatives of those on board the Stella gathered anxiously to wait for news of their loved ones.

(Ibid. p.135)

Ada’s father had worked for London South-Western Railway but an accident had recently left him paralysed so, like Mary, she went to work for LSWR in order to support her family. Incidentally, SS Stella’s captain, William Reeks, also lived in the next road to Mary, Oxford Avenue.

The Sinking of the SS Stella

At 11.25am on the 30th March, 1899, the SS Stella left its Southampton berth, 10 minutes late. She was on her first daylight service of the season and a special Easter voyage. There were 174 passengers and 43 crew on board. The liner left Southampton in clear weather but several hours later, at 3pm, she hit a bank of patchy, heavy fog.  (Source: The Wreck of The Stella: Titanic of The Channel Islands)

Captain Reeks continued at high-speed, reportedly refusing to reduce his speed which also resulted in a miscalculation of his ship’s position. This decision would seal the SS Stella’s fate. At 3.30pm, the SS Stella, sounded its fog whistle and Captain Reeks set a look-out in the bows to listen for the Casquets’ foghorn. (Source: The Wreck of The Stella: Titanic of The Channel Islands)

At 4pm, the foghorn sounds and Reeks orders full speed Astern. He spins the wheel hard to Starboard and scrapes the Stella’s port side. Shortly after 4pm, the ship strikes Black Rock, one of the notorious Casquets group, 8 miles west of Alderney. The engines are torn from their mountings and water pours in along half her length. At 4.08pm, she vanishes beneath the surface. (Source: The Wreck of The Stella: Titanic of The Channel Islands)

The Stella was fitted with 2 lifeboats, 2 cutters, a dinghy and 2 Berthon collapsible boats. There were life jackets for 754 people and 36 life buoys. However, the lifeboats could only carry 148 passengers. There was not enough time to lower the 2 Berthon boats.

Five lifeboats were launched at rapid speed. One boat drifted until the Vera found it at 7am on Good Friday. Another boat drifted for 23 hours and was rescued off Cherbourg. The  port side lifeboat capsized after launching, stranding its passengers. It drifted for several hours then was righted by a high wave. The survivors managed to pull themselves in.

Unfortunately, they could not find the boat’s bung and the vessel filled, almost to its top, with seawater. The airtanks were the only reason the lifeboat managed to remain afloat. Survivors had to continually bail out the waist-height water with their hats and shoes. Four people died in this lifeboat, including its only woman survivor. The others were rescued by a French tug, Marsouin, at 3pm on Good Friday. One of the Marsouin’s crew straightaway located the bung on a chain!

The starboard cutter and dinghy, commanded by Second Officer Reynolds, contained mainly female passengers. These boats drifted for 15 hours in dense fog and rough seas until they were found 10 miles west of the Casquets at 7am on Good Friday.  (Source: S.S. Stella Disaster by Jake Simpkin)

Mary is said to have refused a lifeboat and insisted on staying with the ship. She declined a place in one of the lifeboats because she had just witnessed the port side vessel capsize and feared an extra person would determine the fate of the boat she had been invited to join.  Her heroic actions were reported in the Jersey Times (15th April, 1899):

Mrs Rogers, with great presence of mind and calmness, got all the ladies from her cabin to the side of the ship and after placing life belts on as many as were without them, she assisted them into the small boats. Then, turning around, she saw yet another young lady without a belt, whereupon she insisted on placing her own belt upon her and led her to the fast-filling boat. The sailors called out, ‘jump in, Mrs Rogers, jump in’, the water being then but a few inches from the top of the boat. ‘No, no!’ she replied; ‘if I get in I will sink the boat. Good-bye, Good-bye’ and then with uplifted hands she said, ‘Lord, save me’ and immediately the ship sank beneath her feet.’

(Heroes of Postman’s Park: Heroic Self-Sacrifice in Victorian London by Dr John Price, The History Press, 2015, p.136)

Unfortunately, detailed passenger lists are not available, these went down with the Stella. Many of the bodies were never recovered, including that of Mary and Ada. Captain Reeks also went down with his ship. Out of the 217 passengers and crew on board the SS Stella that day, 112 survived and 105 drowned. A total of 86 passengers and 19 crew members perished. Queen Victoria (1819-1901) sent a message of sympathy to the bereaved families via the LSWR offices.

Witnesses observed that the sea surrounding the wreck was littered with life belts, timber, luggage, personal effects and a furniture van. Some of the bodies were located in unusual places because of tidal flows. One was found in the mouth of the River Seine and the final corpse washed-up on a Guernsey beach 9 months after the sinking.  Many of the corpses were found floating still in their life belts leading to the conclusion that death had been caused by exposure rather than drowning.

The Board of Trade enquiry began on 27th April, 1899 at the Guildhall, Westminster. Its conclusion, ‘the SS Stella was not navigated with proper and seamanlike care.’ The wreck of Stella was discovered in June, 1973, by two Channel Islands divers. It lies in 49 metres (161 ft) of water south of the Casquets. The tragedy is sometimes referred to as ‘The Titanic of The Channel Islands’.

Me at the Stella Memorial, Southampton, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time
Me at the Stella memorial, Southampton, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time

The Glover Family

Many tragic stories emerged following the sinking of the SS Stella. One of the saddest is the fate of the Glover children.  Seaman Thomas Glover drowned in the tragedy, he left behind a 2nd wife and 5 children from his previous marriage.

Thomas Glover’s 1st wife, Rosina Bella Glover, (nee Rickman) was born in Southampton, 1866. In July 1897, Rosina was run down by a Misselbrooke & Weston horse and cart in Shirley High Street, Southampton. Misselbrooke and Weston were an established local, family-run grocery business which had opened in 1848. The business was eventually sold to Tesco.

Shortly after his wife’s death, Thomas took his family to live in Jersey where he met his 2nd wife (name unknown).  Following Thomas’ death on the Stella, his 2nd wife did not wish to bring-up his 5 children. Consequently, on 10th June, 1899, she deposited them at Southampton Workhouse.  The siblings were split-up never to see each other again. The fate of the Glover children was as follows:

  • Laura Mary Glover (1887-1899). Died of tuberculosis in a Dorset nursing home and is buried with her mother in Southampton’s Old Cemetery;
  • Thomas Richard Glover (b.1889).  Sent to LSWR Servant’s Orphanage, Clapham, London in June, 1899. Thomas returned to Southampton to work in his Uncle George Samuel Payne’s butcher shop (102, 150 and 168 Northam Road as well as 95 Derby Road). He joined the Royal Navy and was sent to a shore base in 1911. Incidentally, George Samuel Payne became one of the 1st directors of Southampton Football & Athletic Company Ltd (8.7.1897) which then became known as Southampton Football Club;
  • William George Glover (b. 1892) remained in the Workhouse until 1901 and then also went to work for his Uncle George before joining the Hampshire Regiment;
  • Frederick Glover (baptised January 1894). Sent to Lady Breadalbane’s Home, also known as The Kenmore Orphanage, in Perthshire, Scotland. This was a small private establishment run by Lady Breadalbane herself. In 1912, a number of orphans created when the SS Titanic sank were also sent there too;
  • Elsie Lilian Glover (b.1896). Fate unknown following her admission to the Workhouse.

SS Stella Memorial

The memorial was unveiled on Southampton’s Western Esplanade by Lady Emma Crichton (daughter of the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire) during the morning of Saturday 27th July, 1901. Present also at the unveiling were Mary’s sister, son and son-in-law.

The Stella Memorial, Southampton. Once a drinking foundation but it has long since ceased to function as one. ©Come Step Back In Time
The Stella memorial, Southampton. Once a drinking fountain but it has long since ceased to function as one. ©Come Step Back In Time

Artist Herbert Bryan’s original suite of designs, submitted to Southampton Borough Council and Estates Committee, included a drawing of a memorial seat. The Committee rejected the proposed seat in favour of a more appropriate and practical drinking fountain. However, the memorial has long since ceased to function as a drinking fountain and 3 bronze masks (grotesques) from whose mouths water flowed have now been removed. (Source: Southampton Memorials of Care For Man and Beast by A.G. K. Leonard, published by Bitterne Local History Society: Southampton, p.46).

Close-up of stone-carved roses on the Stella Memorial. ©Come Step Back In Time
Close-up of stone-carved roses on the Stella memorial. ©Come Step Back In Time

The memorial is carved in Portland stone topped by a stepped canopy, with a ball finial. There are 6 outer columns and on the cornice blocks beneath the roof, 32 roses were carved in the 13th century fashion, echoing the roses in the Southampton coat of arms.  (Source: Ibid. p.46)

The memorial was paid for by public subscription. The sum of £570  15 shillings 8d (approximately £35,000 in today’s money) was raised from 519 subscribers. Amongst the subscribers were Emily Davies (1830-1921) and Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917).  Emily was a prominent feminist, educational reformer and suffragist born in Carlton Crescent, Southampton. Elizabeth was an English physician and feminist, the 1st Englishwoman to qualify as a physician and surgeon in Britain.

After the memorial costs had been covered, £50 was paid to Mary’s daughter as a wedding gift. Her son received £200 to be paid at intervals until his shipwright apprenticeship finished. A sum was also allocated to pay for Mary’s father’s funeral costs, he had died shortly after the Stella disaster.

There were 4 key individuals behind the memorial’s creation:

  • Mrs Annie J. Bryans (1857-?). Wealthy lady who resided at Woollet Hall (now Loring Hall), North Cray, Kent. Annie wrote to the Editor of The Times (23.6.1899) to generate support for a memorial to  honour Mary’s heroic actions. She wrote: ‘Her beautiful deed shines out with a lustre which makes it not irreverent to say, “This that this woman hath done shall be told for a memorial of her.”‘ Annie made 4 voyages on the Stella and had been impressed with Mary’s good humour. Apparently, Mary had confided in Annie about her story of widowhood, struggle to be the sole support of her ageing parents and problems raising her 2 young children being away at sea so much. Mary had also told Annie she was intending to leave her seafaring life very soon. At the time of the Stella tragedy, Mary’s daughter, Mary Ellen (20) was to be married. Mary planned to live with her daughter and new husband, at the end of 1899. Annie also wrote a booklet about the Stella disaster, published by John Adams, a Southampton bookseller. Her booklet included the poem ‘The Wreck of the Stella’ written by the Poet Laureate, Alfred Austin (1835-1913). The booklet was handed out to VIPs and general public who attended the unveiling ceremony in 1901;
  • Herbert William Bryans (1856-1925), Annie’s husband and well-respected stained glass artist. Herbert designed the memorial with input from his wife, Frances Cobbe and artist G.F. Watts.

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  • Irish philanthropist and religious writer Frances Power Cobbe. 1860.
  • Miss Frances Power Cobbe (1822-1904). Frances was a well-known Victorian feminist pioneer and religious writer. Active in Bristol as a philanthropist, working in ragged schools, reformatories and workhouses before moving to London where she became a journalist. She focused upon promoting women’s interests and rights in wider contexts. She was one of the first members of the central committee of the National Society of Women’s Suffrage, established in 1871. Frances was a driving force behind the Stella memorial. (Source: Southampton Memorials of Care For Man and Beast by A.G. K. Leonard, published by Bitterne Local History Society: Southampton, p.44). Writing to The Times with G.F. Watts in 1899 (23rd June), she made a plea that a separate fund than that relating to the memorial be set-up for survivors and their families: ‘I have a great desire that our heroine’s death, as well as her life, should practically help others, and that through her, as it were, many sufferers from the Stella disaster may be benefited.’ She also wrote a lengthy tribute to Mary which was engraved on a bronze plaque fixed to the central pillar of the memorial. The tribute reads:

In memory of the heroic death of Mary Ann [e] Rogers Stewardess of the “Stella” who on the night of the 30th March, 1899, amid the terror of shipwreck aided all the women under her charge to quit the vessel in safety giving up her own life-belt to one who was unprotected. Urged by the sailors to makes sure her escape she refused lest she might endanger the heavily-laden boat. Cheering the departing crew with the friendly cry of “Good-bye, good-bye.” She was seen a few moments later as the “Stella” went down lifting her arms upwards with the prayer “Lord have me” then sank in the waters with the sinking ship.

Actions such as these – revealing steadfast performance of duty in the face of death, ready self-sacrifice for the sake of others, reliance on God – constitute the glorious heritage of our English race. They deserve perpetual commemoration, because among the trivial pleasures and sordid strike of the world, they recall to us forever the nobility and love-worthiness of human nature.

Bronze plaque with inscription by Frances Cobbe. Stella Memorial. ©Come Step Back In Time
Bronze plaque with inscription by Frances Cobbe. Stella memorial. ©Come Step Back In Time

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  • Platinum print photograph (1892) by Frederick Hollyer (1837-1933) of British artist George Frederic Watts. Known as ‘England’s Michelangelo’, Watts was one of the most important painters of the late Victorian period.
  • George Frederic Watts RA (1817-1904) advised Annie, Herbert, Frances and their group on the design of the memorial. Local newspapers reported that the designer, Herbert: ‘acted under the advice of Miss Cobbe and G. F. Watts, R.A.’ but it is uncertain how much the latter, then nearing the end of his distinguished artistic career, contributed to the actual design of the memorial.’ (Source: Southampton Memorials of Care For Man and Beast by A.G. K. Leonard, published by Bitterne Local History Society: Southampton, p.46).
Postcard, issued in 1903, showing the Memorial on Western Esplanade, Southampton. Postcards of local views and landmarks of Southampton were popular at the time. This postcard was photographed by Whitfield Cosser of Hanover Buildings, Southampton and was a particular popular one.
Postcard, issued in 1903, showing the memorial on Western Esplanade, Southampton. There were many postcards of local views and landmarks of Southampton in circulation at this time. This postcard was a particularly popular image which was photographed by Whitfield Cosser of Hanover Buildings, Southampton. The cannons shown here, British nine-pounders, were spoils of war from the Crimean campaign (1853-56) and were smelted down during World War Two.



Posted in Event, Exhibition, Film, History, Maritime History, Museum, Vintage, World War One, World War Two

Celebrating Cunard’s 175th Anniversary: Memories Of Glamour On The High Seas

©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Mary 2, Sunday 3rd May, 2015, Southampton before sailing out into Southampton Water with her sister ships, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth. Queen Mary 2 has 2,000 bathrooms, 3,000 telephones, 280,000 square yards of fitted carpets and 5,000 stairs. ©Come Step Back In Time
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  • Poster produced for Southern Railways (SR) to advertise the first sailing of Queen Mary, and tickets to the event from London train stations. The Queen Mary could accommodate 776 first-class, 784 tourist and 579 third-class passengers, together with 1101 officers and crew. She also won the Blue Riband of the Atlantic in 1936 and 1938, and served as a troop ship in World War Two. Artwork by Leslie Carr, who painted marine subjects and architectural and river scenes and designed posters for the SR, London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) and British Railways (BR). Dimensions: 1016 mm x 1270 mm. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)

Sunday 3rd May, 2015 – Sailing of The ‘3 Queens’ From Southampton, Hampshire

In 2015, one of the most famous names in shipping, Cunard, celebrates its 175th anniversary.  On Sunday, 3rd May, I joined the crowds of onlookers at Mayflower Park and Town Quay, Southampton (yes, I did have to make a dash between both locations to get the best images!), to witness the historic spectacle of Cunard’s ‘3 Queens’ sailing out into the Solent.

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  •  A view of a restaurant aboard Queen Mary 2. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Mary 2, Sunday 3rd May, 2015, Southampton.©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

Queen Mary 2 (2003) led her sister ships, Queen Victoria (2007) and Queen Elizabeth (2010), on a ‘thank-you’ procession down Southampton Water and into the Solent. Queen Elizabeth was heading for Hamburg, Queen Victoria to Guernsey and Queen Mary 2 to New York.

©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Mary 2, Sunday 3rd May, 2015, Southampton. ©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Elizabeth, Sunday 3rd May, 2015, Southampton. ©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Elizabeth, Sunday 3rd May, 2015, Southampton. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Victoria, Sunday 3rd May, 2015, sailing past Mayflower Park, Southampton to join Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria. ©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Victoria, Sunday 3rd May, 2015, sailing past Mayflower Park, Southampton to join Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth. ©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Mary 2 setting sail on Sunday 3rd May, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Mary 2 setting sail on Sunday 3rd May, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth set sail, Sunday 3rd May, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time
Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth set sail, Sunday 3rd May, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time
The '3 Queens' sail off into Southampton Water on their respective voyages, Sunday 3rd May, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time
Cunard’s distinctive red funnels belonging to the ‘3 Queens’ can be seen sailing off into Southampton Water on their respective voyages, Sunday 3rd May, 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time

Cunard’s Early History

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  • Sir Samuel Cunard, founder of Cunard Line in 1839.

Cunard Line was formed in 1839 by Canadian born, Sir Samuel Cunard (1787-1865), who had answered an advertisement placed by the British Admiralty for bidders to operate a timetabled steamship service to carry the Royal Mail between Britain and the North American colonies. Sir Samuel was the son of a master carpenter and timber merchant who had fled the American Revolution (1765-1783) and settled in Halifax, Canada.

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  • PS Britannia, 1840. Model (scale 1:48). She was built for the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Co, which became the Cunard Steamship Co Ltd. Her 3 sister-ships, the Acadia, the Caledonia, and the Columbia were also built on the Clyde at the same time.  There was accommodation for a 150 passengers. Charles Dickens (1812-1870) crossed on the Britannia in 1842, which he recorded in his ‘American Notes’. (Photo by Science & Society Picture Library/SSPL/Getty Images)

Despite the considerable risks involved in tendering for this contract (no ship, no maritime experience, huge financial risks, stiff penalties for late delivery of mail etc.), Sir Samuel uprooted his family and moved to Britain. On July 4th, 1940, steamship Britannia left Liverpool, arriving in Halifax, Nova Scotia, 12 days and 10 hours later, averaging a speed of 8.5 knots. Three more ships joined the fleet and by the end of 1840, Cunard offered a scheduled weekly service across the Atlantic.

  • ‘175 Years. Forever Cunard – A Voyage Through History’ by Cunard. Uploaded to You Tube 12.1.15.

A Celebration of 175 Years of Cunard – Exhibition Southampton City Art Gallery

From 1st May until 5th September 2015, there is an exhibition of rarely seen images from the Cunard archive on display at Southampton City Art Gallery. Also featured will be iconic a portrait of the QE2 that was presented to the city by Cunard in 2008 following the ship’s last day in Southampton, her home port.

The exhibition also includes popular posters from the eras which were used by travel agents to sell ocean travel in the most attractive light. A dedicated ‘wall of fame’ will take visitors back to one of the most glamorous eras as they discover which Hollywood stars graced Cunard’s decks.

Southampton City Art Gallery is open Monday to Friday, 10am-3pm and on Saturdays 10am-5pm. Admission to the Gallery and this special exhibition is free. For further information, click here.

A list of free Cunard talks taking place at the Gallery over the coming months can be found here.

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  • 4th September 1947, Southampton, actress Elizabeth Taylor is pictured on board Queen Mary with her two French Poodle dogs, ready to return to America after a short stay in London (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

Notable Cunard Liners

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  • 15th April, 1912: Carpathia arrives to pick up survivors in lifeboats from the Titanic. Original Publication: The Graphic – pub. 1912 (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
  • CarpathiaLaunched 1902, maiden voyage 5th May, 1903, rescued 705 survivors from doomed liner Titanic, torpedoed southeast of Ireland and west of the Isles of Scilly by German submarine U-55, 17th July, 1918;

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  • Passengers drinking in one of the bars on board the Mauretania as it draws into Fishguard, Pembroke. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

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  • The Dining Saloon of the Mauretania c.1900. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)
  • Mauretania – Launched 1906, maiden voyage 17th November, 1907, Blue Riband, out of service 1934 and scrapped 1935;

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  • Interior of the Grill Room aboard the Aquitania, c.1920. (Photo by Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images)
  • Aquitania – Launched 1913, maiden voyage 30th May, 1914, last surviving four-funnelled ocean liner, Blue Riband, served in both World Wars, scrapped in 1950;

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  • c.1920: A line of women waving goodbye to the vessel Laconia as she leaves Liverpool. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
  • Laconia – Launched in 1921, maiden voyage 25th May, 1922, sunk by torpedo from German U-boat U-156 on 12th September, 1942. Aboard were 2,732,  crew, British and Polish soldiers, civilian passengers and Italian POWs.  The final survivor count varies, different sources estimate that there were somewhere between 1,104 and 1,500. Captain of the German U-boat, Werner Hartenstein (1908-1943), ordered his submarine to surface and go back for survivors, this extraordinary turn of events led to what is known as ‘The Laconia Incident.’

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  • The luxurious wood-finished 1st class smoking saloon of the Laconia. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

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  • The 2nd class saloon of the Laconia, with a painted ceiling and pillared colonnade. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

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  • The observation saloon of the Queen Mary serves as the sleeping quarters for American soldiers, while the vessel carries out her duties as a troopship during World War Two. Original Publication: Picture Post – 1825 – Queen Mary troopship – unpub. (Photo by Haywood Magee/Getty Images)

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  • The luxury dining room of the Queen Mary serves as a mess for American soldiers, while the vessel carries out her duties as a troopship during World War Two. Original Publication: Picture Post – 1825 – Queen Mary  troopship – unpub. (Photo by Haywood Magee/Getty Images)
  • Queen Mary – Launched 1934, maiden voyage 27th May, 1936, Blue Riband, served as a troopship in World War Two and after the war G.I. Brides were transported on her back to America, retired from service 9th December, 1967, now a hotel ship, restaurant and museum in Long Beach Harbour, California;

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  • 10th July, 1947: The Queen Mary at Southampton after her refitting at the end of World War Two during which she was used as a troopship. (Photo by J. A. Hampton/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

  • ‘Queen Mary Crew Members’, interviews with crew members who served on the Queen Mary in her heyday. Uploaded to You Tube 22.9.14.

  • ‘Queen Mary War Brides’, former war bride, June Allen, recalls the thrill of coming to America on the Queen Mary. Uploaded to You Tube 22.9.14.
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  • The cocktail bar and observation lounge of the Cunard White Star liner Queen Mary. The bar is made of Macassar ebony with a mural by Alfred R. Thomson behind. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
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  • Dining-room aboard Queen Elizabeth in 1946. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
  • Queen Elizabeth – Launched 1938, pre-war maiden voyage 3rd March, 1940, in World War Two she served as a troopship and after the war G.I. Brides were transported on her back to America, her service career as a passenger liner began officially on her post-war maiden voyage, 16th October, 1946, she was retired in 1968, destroyed by fire in 1972;

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  • Smoking room aboard the Queen Elizabeth, 1950. In this shot, some of the chairs have ropes securing them to the floor, presumably to stop them sliding about in rough seas. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)

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Hollywood Glamour Aboard Cunard’s Luxury Liners

In 1997, I worked as a research assistant on Romancing Hollywood, a conference and exhibition at Millais Gallery, Southampton. The exhibition celebrated the glamour of Hollywood as it was perceived from the 1930s until the 1950s in Britain. Focussing mainly on Southampton, Romancing Hollywood, explored the ways in which glamour was not only received by local people via Hollywood but also created.

During the 1930s Southampton, as a gateway to the rest of the world, became a mecca for stars of stage and screen travelling on Cunard’s popular transatlantic route to New York. The exhibition concentrated on Cunard’s Queen Mary whose maiden voyage departed from Southampton on 27th May, 1936 and the Queen Elizabeth, launched in 1938.

I had the privilege of interviewing crew members who had worked on the original ‘Queens’, amongst other luxury transatlantic liners, during the golden-age of pre and post-war ocean travel. Here are a few extracts from those interviews that were published in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition (Romancing Hollywood by A. Massey, E. Stoffer, A. Forsyth and J. Bushnell,1997, ISBN 1 874011 62 1).  All interviewees described what life was like for the ordinary Cunard employee aboard these glamourous and luxurious ‘floating hotels’.

Jack Barker was born in 1919 and worked in a London Hotel as a Page Boy before going to work for Cunard in 1937 (Andania). After World War Two, Jack worked on the Queen Elizabeth (1938) for 16 years, rising to position of Head Waiter: ‘You would start the morning at half past six. Before the restaurant opened at eight o’clock for breakfast, you would have a scrub out to do, and you had to get into your uniform, which you had to buy yourself, and then breakfast went on till ten, and then after that you had to get your station ready for lunch, and you had to be in the restaurant by  half past twelve, you didn’t get any time off. You got used to it. I must have met hundreds of stars. Alfred Hitchcock, he just took a liking to me as a waiter.’

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  • Crew members working in the engine room of the liner Queen Mary during a transatlantic crossing, 12th August, 1939. Original Publication : Picture Post – 198 – Atlantic Crossing – pub. 1939 (Photo by Kurt Hutton/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Ralph Clarke was born in 1929 and worked on the railway boats at Southampton Docks for 6 months prior to starting work as a Trimmer on board the Queen Mary (1936) in April 1948. He worked on board the Queen Elizabeth (1938) in the late 1940s for 3 trips after an accident on board the Queen Mary, to which he returned: ‘Everything was SO BIG, extraordinarily big for the first month I was virtually lost on the Queen Mary. It was a massive, great big, beautiful ship. Danny Kaye and his wife and two children came down and he would say ‘Hello everybody,’ and he gave a song, one or two chaps in the crew used to be able to play the piano. We had Bing Crosby, we then had Paul Robeson and Jack Dempsey the boxer and he used to come down and say, ‘If anyone feels like a spar with me you are welcome to do it? They used to mix, no matter how big a star, they used to talk to us as if we were human beings and they used to be great friends.’

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  • 1948, Bellboys from the Queen Mary  being inspected by the chief steward prior to leaving Southampton for New York (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

John Dempsey was born in 1920 and first went to sea in 1934 on the Mauretania (1907) as a Bell Boy at the age of fourteen. While working on the Berengaria (formerly the SS Imperator but after being brought by Cunard, sailed under the name Berengaria), he volunteered to assist the masseur, Arthur Mason in the Turkish Bath. When he moved to the Queen Mary (1936), Arthur Mason requested that John rejoin him, which he did until the until the outbreak of war. John joined the Queen Elizabeth (1938) for its post-war maiden voyage and worked in the Turkish Bath as a masseur until 1960: ‘The majority of first class passengers, mostly the Jewish community, loved their Turkish bath and massage. The hours of the gentlemen were 7am to 10am and from 2pm to 7.30pm. These people were running around upstairs and in the smoking lounges and the observation bars and had to behave themselves to a certain extent. What they wanted was to take their clothes off and be normal. So they came to the Turkish bath, off with their clothes and, ‘Hey John, go and get me a pint of beer’. They used to tell stories and do drinks. They were letting their hair down, for about the one and half hours that they were there. These were film stars, all lovely people, great people. I had a Christmas party in the Turkish bath with Noel Coward. It was a Christmas trip and he said to us ‘Have you got any parties?’ Well all the ship had parties, a fellow called Tommy MacDonald and the ship’s dispenser. We were drinking and telling stories, and that was our party. Coward sent me a Christmas card another year.

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  • Swimming Pool on-board the 2nd class of the Queen Mary. March the 3rd, 1936 (Photo by Imagno/Getty Images) [Swimming Pool der zweiten Klasse auf der ‘Queen Mary’, Southampton, England, Photographie, 3,3,1936]
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  • Passengers on the Queen Mary eating dinner in the luxurious cabin class restaurant during her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, May 1936. The radiating light on the map by Macdonald Gill at the far end of the room constantly pinpoints the vessel’s location. (Photo by Hudson/Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Terry Hargroves was born in 1928, after demob from the Air Force he worked on the Queen Mary. Terry started by washing dishes, working his way up over 14 years to a Bedroom Steward in first class: ‘I had a set of rooms, which usually depended on something called a section, which was a set of about 5, 6, or 10 rooms. You were responsible for keeping them clean, making of all the beds, and attending to the passengers that used them. You took the passengers on, took their luggage and sorted that out. You fetched and carried for them and you tried to look after them the best you could until they got off the other end. The passengers lived in the middle of the ship and crew lived at either end. Either end of the boat there was part of the boat tied up. On the back end of the boat there was an area where the ropes came in to tie the ship up and for the cargo. That big area was designated as the crews’ ‘Pig and Whistle’. They had a little bar, that was the crews’ pub. You found an empty beer barrel or you sat on the bollards or an empty beer crate. Every now and again Bob Hope or Tommy Cooper came down there. Quite a few people were persuaded to come down. The crew would decorate it with a few flags and couple of spotlights. I think Bob Hope said that he’d played in many theatres but he rarely played in a sewer.’

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  • 12th August 1939: Staff on the Queen Mary pass the time during a transatlantic crossing in one  the ‘Pig And Whistle’. Original Publication: Picture Post – 198 – Atlantic Crossing – pub. 1939 (Photo by Kurt Hutton/Picture Post/Getty Images)
  • Bob Hope and Loretta Young were among a number of American film actors and actresses who arrived at Southampton on the Queen Mary for the Royal Command Film Performance in London on November, 1947. (Photo by Planet News Archive/SSPL/Getty Images)
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  • A steward unpacking a passenger’s luggage while a stewardess arranges a vase of flowers on the Queen Mary, 1948. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)
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  • Cabin class passengers enjoy a tea in the middle of the Atlantic on the promenade deck of the Queen Mary c.1939. Original Publication: Picture Post – 198 – Atlantic Crossing – pub. 1939 (Photo by Kurt Hutton/Getty Images)

Frank Makinson was born in 1925, he joined the Queen Mary (1936) in 1944 while serving as a troopship and stayed with her until 1967 for her last voyage to Long Beach. Frank continued to work in the pantry of both the Queen Elizabeth and QE2 until 1970: ‘We always supplied the in-between meals, sometimes we also had a night pantry which I was in for quite a while. When there was music and dancing going on, on the ships, we had to supply sandwiches and various things to these rooms where they had these sessions. I remember getting an order for cold meat from Victor Mature, and he stressed that he wanted a whole turkey sliced up. It was just about the time his Samson and Delilah [1950] picture was about, so I think he wanted to let everyone know that he was a big eater. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were on the Queen Elizabeth towards the end, that was when they had recently got back together, and she had a great big fancy ring. I didn’t see them, but I had dealings with regards to the stewardess, she used to want Stilton cheese for them. One of them liked a lot of the blue of the Stilton, and one liked a lot of the white. Just who was what, I don’t know.’

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  • Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton on the QE2; c.1960; New York. (Photo by Art Zelin/Getty Images)
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  • Cabin verandah grill on the Queen Mary – postcard from 1930s. (Photo by Apic/Getty Images)

John Minto was born in 1927, he joined Cunard in 1949 as a cabin steward aboard the Queen Mary (1936). He worked his way up to first-class waiter and ultimately became the Captain’s Tiger (waiter). John left the Queen Mary in 1955 and became Mayor of Southampton in 1978/9: People like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Winston Churchill used to go in the Verandah Grill, they used to go incognito and the cost of going in there for a meal was ten shillings which was fifty pence. In the Veranda Grill, everything was on tap. If you wanted oysters, you got oysters, if you wanted caviar, you got caviar. Each kitchen, each galley was divided into specific areas. You had the pastry, the soup and the grills. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor never came down to the main restaurant, they always went to the Verandah Grill. The thing that always struck me about them was the amount of luggage they had.’

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  • Cabin bedroom on Queen Mary – postcard is from 1930s (Photo by Apic/Getty Images)
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  • A bootblack cleans the passengers’ shoes on the Queen Elizabeth (1938), as she makes her way from Southampton to New York, May 1964. (Photo by Bert Hardy Advertising Archive/Getty Images)
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  • 20th October 1964, American actress Carroll Baker, born 1931, on board the Queen Mary on her way to London for the premiere of her film ‘The Carpetbaggers’ (Photo by Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images
Posted in Event, Fashion History, Film, Historical Hair and Make-up, History, Maritime History, TV Programme, Vintage, World War One, World War Two

V.E. Day 70th Anniversary – Memories From My Family’s Photo Album (Kent & Netherlands)

V. E. Day commemorative silk scarf. Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
V. E. Day commemorative silk scarf from 1945. Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time


Germany surrendered on 7th May, 1945, and the next day was declared V.E. (Victory in Europe) Day, ending World War Two in Europe. However, for many servicemen and their families, May 1945 was not their war’s end. The Allies were still at war with Japan but on the 6th and 9th August, 1945, the United States dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered, World War Two was officially at an end.

V.E. Day commemorative pins, 1945. Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
V.E. Day commemorative pins, 1945. Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time

In 2015, Britain will be marking the 70th anniversary of V.E. Day Victory in Europe and from Friday 8th May 2015 there will be a three-day weekend of commemorative events across the country. At 3pm on 8th May, national two-minute silence will mark the moment Winston Churchill (1874-1965) broadcast to the nation the news that war was officially over. (Follow UK events on Twitter: @DefenceHQ – hashtag VEDAY70)

Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
Souvenir V.E. Day brochure, 1945. Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
Victory souvenir postcard, 1945. Private collections. ©Come Step Back In Time
Victory souvenir postcard, 1945. Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time

One of the most poignant of these V.E. Day 70th events will be the lighting of a hundred beacons at various locations around Britain from Newcastle to Cornwall. In the skies above London, there will be an aerial display of Spitfire and Lancaster bomber planes, and cathedral bells will also ring-out across the country.

VE day party May 8th 1945. Cuckoo farm , Boxted , Colchester.  Victory in Europe day 8th May 1945. A celebration party at Cuckoo Farm near Colchester Essex England. party was held for the local community by the Joy family who owned the land . Mum in the middle of the picture would be waiting till August for VJ day and the end of the second world war. Colchester's new football stadium is at this location today. Image courtesy of Glenn Pattinson (Glenn's Flickr account is full of lovely heritage images, click here).
V.E. day party, May 8th 1945. Cuckoo farm , Boxted , Colchester, Essex. This celebration party was held at Cuckoo Farm (near Colchester Essex England).  The party was for the local community hosted by the Joy family who owned the land. Glenn Pattinson’s mother is in the middle of the picture, however, she would be waiting until August for V.J. day. However, for various reasons, her husband didn’t return home until February 1946. A lot of service people were kept in India after August 1945 because of the country’s internal religious and political problems.  The British Raj was coming to an end and there were increased social tensions. Colchester’s new football stadium is at this location today. Image courtesy of Glenn Pattinson (Glenn’s Flickr account is full of lovely heritage images, click here).

People are also being encouraged to organise street parties within their local community, similar to those organised 70 years ago. Although I am sure trestle and picnic tables will be employed in 2015 rather than dismantled Morrison shelters which were used in May, 1945! To help inspire you, I have curated a selection of ‘rationbook recipes’ from my own collection of 1940s cookery books. (Click here) I have also collated a Pinterest board packed full of inspiration to help you create a 1940s style look, for both men and women. (Click Here)

Souvenir invitation for a children's V.J. party, 1945. Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
Souvenir invitation for a children’s V.J. party, 1945. Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
My late grandmother with her sister on the beach at Hythe, Kent, in the late 1930s. ©Come Step Back In Time
My late grandmother with her sister enjoying a fun-filled Summer on the beach at Hythe, Kent, late 1930s. ©Come Step Back In Time
My late grandfather (left) with a friend at Hythe beach, Kent before World War Two. ©Come Step Back In Time
My late grandfather (left) with a friend at Hythe beach, Kent before World War Two. ©Come Step Back In Time


Family holiday, bungalow, opposite Hythe seafront, Kent. Photograph taken after World War Two. ©Come Step Back In Time
Grandmother in the porch at the bungalow in Hythe, Summer 1956. ©Come Step Back In Time
Grandmother in the porch at the bungalow in Hythe, Summer 1956. ©Come Step Back In Time

Before war was declared in 1939, my grandparents enjoyed carefree summers in Hythe, Kent at the family’s holiday home, a bungalow located on Dymchurch Road, directly opposite the seafront. The bungalow still exists today, with its original name, but is no longer in our family.

The lady standing-up is my great, great, grandmother.  Photograph is dated c.1911.
The lady standing-up is my great, great grandmother Verena Chads (Nee Jennings) who brought the Hythe bungalow in 1929. Photograph is dated c.1911. ©Come Step Back In Time

My great, great grandmother (pictured above, standing) Verena Jennings (b.1864) cut a formidable figure. She was an educated lady of independent means with a portfolio of properties across London. She married into the Chads dynasty, an illustrious naval family but later divorced her husband, an unusual step for a woman in Victorian England. Her ex-husband later took his own life for reasons which I feel it entirely inappropriate to discuss on a public forum such as this. However, she did receive a substantial divorce settlement and lived out the rest of her days enjoying a comfortable standard of living.

Verena Chads (Nee Jennings) a successful businesswoman, my great, great grandmother. ©Come Step Back In Time
Verena Chads (Nee Jennings) a successful businesswoman, my great, great grandmother. ©Come Step Back In Time

My great, great grandmother did not enjoy living in London during the Summer months and decided to purchase a holiday home on the Kent coast which she could live in from Easter until September.  She had always enjoyed trips to the seaside during her childhood. In 1929, now in her 65th year, she purchased a new bungalow that had just been built on a plot of land not far from Hythe Ranges, on the Dymchurch Road. The bungalow was the first to be built on that plot and was sold by local Hythe estate agents C. R. Child & Partners , the firm still exist today.  Incidentally, it was one of the first sales that this estate agent made in 1929, their inaugural year.

My late grandmother in 1930s (Verena Chads' granddaughter) in the garden of the Hythe bungalow. ©Come Step Back In Time
My late grandmother (centre) with her sister and friend enjoying Hythe beach in the 1930s. ©Come Step Back In Time

Great, great grandmother named the bungalow ‘Multum-in-parvo’ which is Latin for ‘much in little’. The bungalow remained in the family until the early 1970s. Every Easter she would come down to her Hythe seaside retreat. Compared to her usual standard of living in a large, smart central London townhouse with servants, conditions at the bungalow were primitive and servantless.

My late grandmother in 1930s (Verena Chads' granddaughter) in the garden of the Hythe bungalow. ©Come Step Back In Time
Verena Chads’ granddaughter, my grandmother (1930s) in the garden of the bungalow at Hythe. ©Come Step Back In Time

In 1929, the bungalow had a large garden, no sanitation, an outdoor toilet, no electricity or running water (rain water was collected in a vast metal container and boiled for daily use). Perishables were stored in a meat safe, which was corrugated with a grill on the front, as there was no refrigeration nor suitable marble-lined larder at the property. My mother tells me that apparently it became a family tradition, started by great, great grandmother, to take oysters and a pint of Guinness, most days at 11am.

  • Guinness advert. A print from the Illustrated London News, 12th December 1936. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
My grandmother with her best friend in the garden at the Hythe bungalow. ©Come Step Back In Time
My grandmother with her best friend in the garden at the Hythe bungalow before World War Two. ©Come Step Back In Time

It was necessary to shop on a regular basis in order to eat fresh produce. A local farm in Palmarsh, close by the bungalow, provided the family with dairy products and the milkman called at the bungalow most days. A kitchen range was fitted after World War Two and in 1955, gas was connected to the property and finally in 1958, water and electricity. By the 1960s, basic mod cons had been installed.

1916 Swift motorcar similar to the one great, great grandmother brought for use whilst she was in Hythe. Image from my own private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
1916 Swift motorcar similar to the one great, great grandmother brought for use whilst she was in Hythe. Image from my own private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time

The fishmonger and butcher also made home visits. Great, great grandmother grew quite friendly with the fishmonger which resulted in her hiring him as a chauffeur during the Summer months. She then brought a World War One Swift motorcar, although she didn’t drive herself, the fishmonger drove her around when she was at the bungalow. In exchange, she allowed him to drive the car for his own use from October until March. When she died, the fishmonger brought the Swift and continued to use it.

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  • 4th June 1938: A little girl at London Waterloo Station makes enquiries for trains to the seaside during the Whitsun Holidays. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Before World War Two, great, great grandmother used to journey down to Hythe from London Victoria on the East Kent Coach. She travelled with many of her possessions, including her beloved parrot. She would alight at Red Lion Square, Hythe and continued the rest of her short journey to the bungalow by train, alighting at Botolph’s Bridge, an unmanned halt close by. This halt opened in 1927 and closed just before World War Two in 1939, it didn’t re-open after the war. For a couple of years she travelled by train to Sandgate until it closed in 1931. The family also often made good use of Romney Hythe and Dymchurch light railway line (RH&DR) when visiting the bungalow.

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  • August 1922: A family paddling in the sea at Dymchurch, 9 miles up the Kent coast from Hythe. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
My late grandmother on Hythe beach in the 1930s.
My late grandmother on Hythe beach in the 1930s. ©Come Step Back In Time

RH&DR opened for public use on 16th July, 1927, when the inaugural train travelled from Hythe to New Romney. The 8 miles between Hythe and New Romney was covered in double tracks. In 1927, St. Mary’s Bay had its own RH&DR station known as ‘Holiday Camp’ due to its location near to several holiday and boys camps, popular in the area at that time. St. Mary’s Bay was known (and still is!) for its lovely beaches, perfect for bathing.  In 1928, the RH&DR line was extended to Dungeness via Greatstone, creating a main line ride of 13.5 miles.

My great, great grandmother's copy of Hythe, Sandgate, Folkestone, Dymchurch, New Romney Guidebook, from 1927-8. Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
My great, great grandmother’s copy of Hythe, Sandgate, Folkestone, Dymchurch, New Romney Guidebook, from 1927-8. Private collection. ©Come Step Back In Time

Another reason that attracted my great, great grandmother to Hythe in 1929 was its obvious potential as a popular, smart, seaside resort. During the 1920s Hythe had begun to invest in its tourist infrastructure and in May, 1924, the ‘Bathing Establishment’ had been converted into a restaurant and tea room, The Pavillion. It was then leased by Mrs Farmer and a music and dancing licence was granted.

Hythe has had a long history as seaside resort, emerging first in the Georgian period. In the Hythe, Sandgate and Folkestone Guide (1816) it was stated:

In the immediate neighbourhood of Hythe there is a pleasant walk called Marine Grove, leading to the sea-side, and another denominated Sir William’s Wall, where both visitors and the inhabitants frequently form agreeable promenades (especially in the summer evenings), and to which the refreshing coolness of the sea-breezes are extremely inviting…..

(Hythe: A History by Martin Easdown & Linda Sage, 2004, p.69)

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  • High Street, Hythe, Kent, 1890-1910. The High Street in Hythe contains the Smugglers Retreat (on the right) which was demolished in 1907. Popular belief has it that a light was lit in the projecting upper storey window to signal to smugglers off the coast that it was safe to land. (Photo by English Heritage/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

The arrival of Hythe as a respectable watering place really began in 1854, when the Corporation opened the Bathing Establishment behind the sea front in South Road at a cost of £2,000…They [the baths], catered for the craze amongst the wealthy that the bathing in, and drinking of, seawater could cure all their ills. Indoor baths had grown in popularity as a more comfortable alternative to sea bathing whilst, unsurprisingly, the drinking of seawater was in decline in 1860. However, the recommended daily does for any partakers was 1/2 pint of seawater mixed with milk, beef tea or port wine….The [bathing] machines were hauled to and from the sea over Hythe’s steeply shelving shingle beach either by horses or by using a winch.

(Ibid. pp.69-70)

Views of Hythe from My great, great grandmother's copy of Hythe, Sandgate, Folkestone, Dymchurch, New Romney Guidebook, from 1927-8. Family collection. ©Come Step Back In Time
Views of Hythe from My great, great grandmother’s copy of Hythe, Sandgate, Folkestone, Dymchurch, New Romney Guidebook, from 1927-8. Top: Military Canal, Middle: Esplanade, Bottom: Ladies’ Walk. Family collection. ©Come Step Back In Time

In 1938, Stade Court Hotel and Four Winds Restaurant opened on West Parade, Hythe. The buildings were designed in the fashionable 1930s Art Deco minimalist style popular at the time. Leisure facilities began to increase in town and on 26th May, 1930 the Grove Cinema showed the first talking picture. The cinema was nicknamed ‘The Shack’ on account of its appearance but closed on 1st March, 1958.

On 12th June, 1937 the Ritz Cinema opened on the corner of Prospect Road and East Street. Another Art deco modernist-style building which could hold 858 patrons. Canal Hall in Hythe was another popular tourist destination, this time for dancing, opening its doors also in the 1930s.

Hythe’s spectacular, Venetian Fête, was one of the highlights in the Summer season calendar (and still is!). The event takes place on Hythe’s Royal Military Canal. The first Venetian Fête took place on 27th August, 1890 on the suggestion of Hythe reporter Edward Palmer who thought a parade of illuminated boats on the Canal would be an excellent tourist attraction and a showcase for local trades.

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  • 5th September 1935: The ancient pageantry of the Cinque Ports, Councillor E C Smith, mayor of Hythe, sets out in his barge to welcome visiting mayors during the Hythe Venetian Fête at the Royal Military Canal in Kent. (Photo by Horace Abrahams/Keystone/Getty Images)

The event continued every year until World War One when it stopped and restarted again in 1927. Unfortunately, in 1927, there were complaints from locals who were unhappy about the 8 hour closure of the canal banks during the procession. The event did not take place again for 3 years but in 1934 there was a big revival and the annual procession drew large local and national crowds. The last one before the outbreak of World War Two was on 30th August 1939.

My late grandmother and her niece on Hythe beach in the 1930s, before war broke-out in 1939. ©Come Step Back In Time
My late grandmother and her sister on Hythe beach in the 1930s, before war broke-out in 1939. ©Come Step Back In Time
  • British Pathe film showcasing women’s swimming costumes from 1939. Uploaded to You Tube, 13.4.14.
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  • 22nd October 1938: Young Muriel Richards, just one of the children sent to Dymchurch in Kent in anticipation of the start of World War Two. The storm clouds are gathering in Europe and the Summer of 1939 was to be the last time my family holidayed in Hythe until 1946. The evacuee in this image wears a label round her neck for identification. Original Publication: Picture Post – Album Of A Teacher In The Crisis – pub. 1938 (Photo by Merlyn Severn/Picture Post/Getty Images)
My late grandmother in World War Two, with some splendid victory roll curls! ©Come Step Back In Time
My late grandmother in World War Two, with some splendid victory roll curls! ©Come Step Back In Time
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  • 8th April 1940: Despite the war, painters brighten up the sea front at Folkestone in hope that there might be an influx of tourists during Summer season. Sadly, this frontline town struggled to attract the tourists as the war progressed. It wasn’t long before it became a militarised zone. (Photo by Arthur Tanner/Fox Photos/Getty Images)


On 3rd September, 1939, World War Two was declared. At the time 1,000 children were staying at St. Mary’s Bay Holiday Camp, near Dymchuch and had to be immediately evacuated. The Sands Motel in ‘The Bay’ had two large naval guns mounted on the front of it, pointing out to sea. The guns were disguised to appear like two adjoining houses having false roofs and wooden chimney pots. The defences along the sea wall were reinforced as iron scaffolding was erected and mines fixed to it. Both The Sands Motel and the children’s holiday camp took direct hits from enemy bombs.

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  • 1940, Kent. With the threat of German invasion imminent, a Coastal Guards detachment on the cliffs between Dover and Folkestone, are given a demonstration in the use of petrol bombs (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

During World War Two, Britain’s coastline was vulnerable to enemy invasion, particularly in the south or east. As soon as war was declared, beaches were planted with mines, barbed wire and other obstacles. Access to front-line coastal towns like Dover and Folkestone were heavily restricted.

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  • 1940, barbed wire defences on the coast of Folkestone and Dover (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

Due to the location of my family’s bungalow, directly opposite the seafront on Dymchurch Road and close to the Hythe Ranges, this meant that visiting the property during the war was very much restricted. Definitely no holidays (the beach was out of bounds anyway!), local people and property owners had to obtain a resident’s pass to both visit as well as travel back and forth to their homes. My mother recalls that some of these visits made by her grandmother to inspect the bungalow meant that she had to be accompanied by military personnel to do so.

The Hythe Ranges have been used for live firing for nearly 200 years, they are one of the oldest ranges in Britain and are still used by the military today. There are two Martello Towers on the site as well as a “Grand Redoubt” fortification at Dymchurch which was built in 1800 as a defence structure in case of an invasion by Napoleon (1769-1821). During World War Two, the Martello Towers in Hythe resumed their role as a defence structure. They were used as look-out posts and armed with anti-aircraft guns and searchlights.

The Hythe School of Musketry, founded in March 1853, now known as the Small Arms School Corps (SASC). In 1939, the SASC took over responsibility for defences in the area:

A sea mine and boom defence system was installed in Hythe Bay and a minefield land on the seaward side of Hythe Gasworks. The beach was defended with a gantry of scaffold poles with attached mines and six-inch gun emplacements were located on the Promenade. Ladies Walk Bridge was demolished as a defensive measure, and others were disabled. The Royal Military Canal was enmeshed in barbed wire.

  • ‘Toy Train Goes To War’ (1944). Short film featuring the RHDR before World War Two carrying holiday crowds and then refitted for its important role in wartime when, according to my mother, one of the cargoes it transported was ack-ack guns. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014

One of the RHDR engines, Hercules, was converted into an armoured train using guns salvaged from crashed aircraft. As the threat of invasion loomed, the Small Arms School was largely exiled to Bisley. Hythe became a prohibited zone and could be entered only with a valid resident’s pass: The district south of the Royal Military Canal was cleared and declared strictly out of bounds.

(Hythe: A History by Martin Easdown & Linda Sage, 2004, p.115)

  • Troops stationed in the Hythe area have been provided with a novel leave train. Troops of the command travel to visit the cinema and join main line trains for home leave. (On the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Light Railway – Probably at New Romney, Kent) (Photo by Planet News Archive/SSPL/Getty Images)

Unsurprisingly, due to its frontline coastal position, Hythe suffered at the hands of the Luftwaffe. During World War Two, in total, there were 19 air raids; 2 bouts of shelling; 11 fallen doodlebugs; 20 civilians killed (3 by a bomb that fell on and completely destroyed the Arcade in the High Street, 4th October, 1940).  On 10th May, 1942, 2 people died when a bomb fell at the back of Trice’s refreshment rooms and on 21st August, 3 others perished when a bomb exploded in the air above Prospect Road and Bank Street. (Source: Ibid p. 115)

One of the worse instances of civilian fatalities took place on 15th August, 1944 when a doodlebug flattened numbers 1-5 Earlsfied Road, claiming 5 lives. In 1941, on the Hythe Ranges, close to our family’s holiday bungalow, 3 soldiers were killed by a bomb whilst practicing there. In April, 1944, all civilians (except those who lived there) were banned from sea by virtue of a 10 mile radius, this was enforced right along the coast of southern England. By the end of 1944, Hythe was a husk of its former self, battle scarred but nevertheless ready to rise again from the ashes and re-establish itself as a popular seaside resort once more.  During the war, many of its residents had boarded-up their homes and moved in land which created a ghost town in their wake.

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  • Evacuee Barrie Peacop enjoys an ice cream as he sits on a mine washed up on the beach at Deal in Kent towards the end of World War Two. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
In the Summer of 1946, my family were finally allowed to return to their holiday bungalow in Hythe. My mother was a toddler at the time and this was her first experience of the seaside. Top left she is pictured giving her favourite teddy bear a bath. Notice behind the garden boundary is covered in barbed wire, left over from wartime. The other 3 photographs show my mother on Hythe beach enjoying a splash around in the sea. ©Come Step Back In Time
In the Summer of 1946, my family were finally allowed to return to their holiday bungalow in Hythe. My mother was a toddler at the time and this was her first experience of the seaside. Top left she is pictured giving her favourite teddy bear a bath in the garden at the bungalow. Notice behind, the garden boundary is still covered in wartime barbed wire. The other 3 photographs show my mother on Hythe beach enjoying her first sea encounter. ©Come Step Back In Time


Hythe, like the rest of the country, celebrated V.E. Day on 8th May, 1945. A Victory Party was held for local children at the Old Jesson Club, St. Mary’s Bay. Hythe Town Band played as part of the area-wide celebrations, having been disbanded at the start of World War Two following call-up orders.

My family were not allowed to return to their holiday bungalow in Hythe until the Summer of 1946. When they did, it was quite a celebration by all accounts from the photographs I have seen in our archives. Summer 1945, my grandfather was still serving in Holland (more about him in a moment), therefore the Summer of 1946 was the first time all the family was able to come together and celebrate the end of the war. My mother recalls that everyone travelled down to Hythe in April 1946, this month also happened to my mother’s 2nd birthday!

Summer 1946, my grandparents are reunited and enjoyed a wonderful Summer at the bungalow in Hythe, celebrating the end of the war and all the family surviving safe and sound. ©Come Step Back In Time
Summer 1946, my grandparents are reunited and enjoyed a wonderful Summer at the bungalow in Hythe, celebrating the end of the war and all the family surviving safe and sound. ©Come Step Back In Time

The above photographs show my mother’s first experiences of the seaside and playing in the sand. However, she informs me that she was less than happy with her first ‘dip in the sea’. Apparently, a soldier and his friend were walking along Hythe beach and saw my mother and asked if they could take her into the sea for a splash. My grandmother agreed, my mother was scooped-up and as they splashed around a large wave engulfed them all. Mother was really upset, bawled her eyes and the shocked soldiers hastily placed her down on the sandy shore. She is still terrified of water today and has never liked swimming since, only learning to do so when she was in 60th decade!

My grandparents and my mother. All safely reunited after World War Two and having fun on the beach at Hythe. ©Come Step Back In Time
My grandparents and my mother. All safely reunited after World War Two and having fun on the beach at Hythe. ©Come Step Back In Time
In the garden at the bungalow, Summer 1946. My grandfather is in the centre.  ©Come Step Back In Time
In the garden at the bungalow, Summer 1946. My grandfather is in the centre. ©Come Step Back In Time

My mother recalls that despite being allowed back on the beach in Hythe after the war, there were still many dangers present in doing so. Unexploded ordnance, debris such as rusty barbed wire and lots of fire bombs were common sights. Civilians were not allowed to walk on the Hythe Ranges for quite some time after the war and for obvious reasons until the sight was made safe to the public.

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  • 24th December 1945: A bomb disposal officer gently pulling a mine from the sea in Hythe, Kent. (Photo by Hamlin/Express/Getty Images)

In fact there was still barbed wire on parts of Hythe beach and by the bungalow well into the 1960s! Until 1971, just off the coast near Hythe, there was even a large piece of Mulberry Harbour wreckage that had broken-off in 1944. My mother tells me that this large piece of concrete and steel was the size of a small house.

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  • 24th December 1945: A bomb disposal officer with a mine washed up on the beach at Hythe. (Photo by Hamlin/Express/Getty Images)

Mother remembers that as she and her siblings grew-up throughout the 1940s and 1950s, discarded fire bombs and gun cartridges on the beach at Hythe were still a hazard. My grandfather insisted that everyone remained vigilant when playing on the shingle and sand. The more popular resorts in Kent, such as at St. Mary’s Bay and a little further along in Folkestone and Ramsgate, were first to have their beaches cleared of these hazards. It took a while longer for Hythe to be made safe.

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  • 13th November 1944: Authorised by the Town Council, the destruction of concrete tank barriers on the seafront at Ramsgate, Kent, finally begins. They are no longer necessary, and would only impede the return of the tourist trade. (Photo by Harry Todd/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
  • British Pathe film from 1964 featuring the bomb disposal unit operating along the Kent coastline, including Lydd, twelve miles along the coast from Hythe. They are clearing ordinance from World War Two.

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  • 3rd August 1946: The Marquis Trio performing on the sands near Dymchurch, Kent. Original Publication: Picture Post – 4152 – A Girl Drops Out Of The Blue – pub. 1946 (Photo by Merlyn Severn/Picture Post/Getty Images)

My mother remembers that holidays at the bungalow after the war until the 1960s were no-frills affairs compared to today’s beach holiday. Buckets and spades, ice-cream and swimming in the sea were the main activities. For the first decade after the war, people were still suffering the effects of rationing, money was tight and it wasn’t until the latter half of the 1950s when people’s disposable income began to rise. But these early years after the war were a time of carefree Summers, freedom to explore.

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  • August 1955: Holiday-makers on the beach at Dymchurch, Kent. (Photo by D. Peacock/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
My aunt and uncle standing in front of their dad's Ford Zephyr. Galleywood Common. 1955.
My aunt and uncle standing in front of their dad’s Ford Zephyr. Galleywood Common. 1955. ©Come Step Back In Time

In the mid 1950s my grandfather purchased a new, grey, Ford Consul 204E (MKII – 1956) which meant that getting to and from the bungalow at Hythe was now much easier. In addition, photographs in our albums from this point forward, show that Summer holidays based in Hythe now included day trips further afield to places such as Pevensey and Polegate in Sussex.

Family outing to Wannock Tea Gardens, Polegate, Sussex. 1955.
Family outing to Wannock Tea Gardens, Polegate, Sussex. 1955. ©Come Step Back In Time
My family at Pevensey Castle, East Sussex. 1955.  ©Come Step Back In Time
My grandmother, mother and great grandmother (Back, L-R) and my aunt and uncle (front) at Pevensey Castle, East Sussex. 1955. ©Come Step Back In Time

My mother describes this post-war period as a time of simple pleasures, children saving their pocket money and spending it on ice-cream and souvenirs. Her favourite purchase was a doll with a crinoline dress made out of sea shells. Afternoon teas were a treat, fish and chip suppers were the norm and if they wanted candy floss then a trip to Folkestone was necessary. In the 1950s and 1960s, seaside shows at either Hythe Summer Theatre in the Institute or Leas Cliff Hall Folkestone were also included as part of the treats enjoyed by my family.

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  •  A scene from the film version of Dry Rot  showing L-R: John Chapman, Diana Calderwood, Brian Rix, John Slater, and Charles Coleman (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

One of my mother’s favourite theatre trips was to see the play Dry Rot by John R. Chapman (1927-2001). This popular 1954 comedy, about dishonest bookmakers, was part of the repertory theatre in residence which ran over eight weeks at Hythe Summer Theatre in the Institute.

Grandmother (right) with her friend Rita in the garden at the bungalow in Hythe. Summer 1955. ©Come Step Back In Time
Grandmother (right) with her friend in the garden at the bungalow in Hythe. Summer 1955. ©Come Step Back In Time
Daughter of family friend with Inky the poodle in the garden at the Hythe bungalow, Summer 1955. ©Come Step Back In Time
Daughter of family friend with Inky the poodle in the garden at the Hythe bungalow, Summer 1955. ©Come Step Back In Time

After the war, St. Mary’s Bay became popular again with tourists on account of its long sandy beach and The Sands Motel was often booked-up for the whole season. My mother loved visiting ‘The Bay’ to have an ice-cream and also remembers going to Dungeness sometimes too, she said they put an ice-cream kiosk in there after the war. In the 1950s and 1960s there were a number of holiday camps in ‘The Bay’, including Maddieson’s Golden Sands. A friend of my grandfather ran one of these holiday camps after leaving the army. Kent, particularly seaside towns, enjoyed a tourist boom until the 1960s when the advent of cheap foreign lure families away to foreign shores. Britain can never guarantee a rain-free Summer but the Continent could. Many seaside towns struggled to keep going, became shabby and fell into decline.

My family on Hythe beach, Kent in 1956. The annual holiday to Kent was a favourite of my mum. Even Inkie the poodle (bottom left) came too. I think Uncle Victor might have had a few nips of brandy on the journey down, since he has decided to wear a plastic bucket as a sunhat. ©Come Step Back In Time.
My family on Hythe beach, Kent in 1956. The annual holiday to Kent was a favourite of my mum. Even Inkie the poodle (bottom left) came too. I think Uncle Victor might have had a few nips of brandy on the journey down, since he has decided to wear a plastic bucket as a sunhat. Grandmother (front row, 2nd from left), great grandmother (front row, 3rd from left). Grandfather (back row, right-hand side). ©Come Step Back In Time.
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  • 22nd August 1952: A boy dressed as Peter Pan surrounded by fairies floats down the Canal on a barge, one of the attractions at the Hythe Venetian Fête in Kent. (Photo by Stanley Sherman/Express/Getty Images)

During the war, no Venetian Fêtes took place in Hythe, the event restarted in 1946 but due to a lack of available materials to decorate floats there was no procession in 1947, it then took place annually between 1948 and 1954. My grandparents took my mother to the Venetian Fête in 1946 and each year from then on. The Fête would fall at the same time as my aunt’s birthday in August which made it an ideal family outing. From the latter half of the 1950s, it was then decided that because floats were expensive to decorate, Fêtes would take place bi-annually and this has remained the case ever since.

The Venetian Fête was always one of the highlights of my family’s Summer holiday. Even when the bungalow had been sold in the early 1970s, I remember still being taken to see the procession several times as a child on a day trip from our home in Battle and latterly Hastings. No carnival ever came close to the standard of floats that took part in Hythe’s Venetian Fête. In 2015, the Fête will take place on Wednesday, 19th August, 7pm start.

  • British Pathe film showcasing Hythe’s Venetian Fete (1960). Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.

The RH&DR re-opened in 1946 between Hythe and New Romney and in 1947 the Dungeness section was opened by Laurel and Hardy. The New Romney to Dungeness extension was only a single as opposed to a double track because of the shortage of materials after the war.

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  • Laurel and Hardy drive the inaugural train on the New Romney-Dungeness section of the line which had been closed since the start of the war, during the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway’s 21st birthday celebrations. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
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  • c.1956: The size of the Hythe ticket office of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Light Railway corresponds with that of the trains themselves. The line boasts the title ‘The World’s Smallest Public Railway’. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)
My late grandfather, Sergeant Frederick Langley. I love this photograph because the crease across the middle is where my grandmother folded it in half and kept it on her person during the war. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)
My late grandfather, Sergeant Frederick Langley. I love this photograph because the crease across the middle is where my grandmother folded it in half and kept it on her person during the war. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)


My late grandfather, Frederick Arthur Langley, was born in 1916. When World War Two broke out in 1939, he joined the 29th (Kent) Searchlight Regiment, a volunteer air defence unit of Britain’s Territorial Army (TA), established in 1935. During World War Two the unit was part of the Royal Engineers.

Grandfather with some of his unit in the early stages of World War Two. Location unknown but likely to be Molash, Kent, c.1941.
My Grandfather (4th from left) with some of his unit in the early stages of World War Two, before he became a Sergeant. Location unknown but likely to be Molash, Kent, c.1941. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)

The regiment had its origins in a group of Independent Air Defence Companies of the Royal Engineers formed in the Home counties by the TA during 1924. My grandfather’s regiment was part of the 314th (Kent) Anti-Aircraft Searchlight Company which was based at Southborough and later Tonbridge, Kent.

My grandfather in camp, c.1941. Location possibly Molash, Kent. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)
My grandfather in camp, c.1941. Location possibly Molash, Kent. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)

My grandfather’s decision to join this particular regiment may have been influenced by his own father’s military service during World War One. My great grandfather, Arthur Langley, had been a Corporal in the Royal Engineers.

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  • 27th March 1942: Anti-aircraft guns ready for action below the cliffs of Dover as warning is given of approaching enemy planes. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

The 29th Kent Anti-Aircraft command played a vital role in the Battle of Britain (10th July – 31st October, 1940) which was waged in the skies, particularly over southern England. The regiment’s searchlight skills also provided an important first-line of defence along the Kent coast during The Blitz (7th September, 1940 – 21st May, 1941).

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  • 1942: Anti-aircraft gun pits in the walls along Dover’s coastline. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
  • An array of army searchlights illuminate the night sky over London, in the hope of spotting enemy aircraft during World War Two.

In the Winter of 1944, it became evident that the German Luftwaffe was suffering from a severe shortage of pilots, aircraft and fuel meaning that aerial bombardment of Britain could pretty much be discounted. In January 1945, the War Office began to re-organise surplus anti-aircraft and coastal artillery regiments into infantry battalions, primarily for line of communication and occupation duties, thereby releasing trained infantry for frontline service.

In this re-organisation, my grandfather’s regiment became the 631st (Kent) Infantry Regiment, RA. On 22nd January, 1945, the 631st was attached to the 59th AA Bde, which became the 307th Engineer Infantry Brigade. After an initial period of re-training, the 631st was sent to North West Europe in April, 1945 to work under the 21st Army Group and SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) commanded by General Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969).

On my grandparent's wedding day, 23rd March, 1940.  ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)
On my grandparent’s wedding day, 23rd March, 1940. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)
My grandmother's wedding dress, beautiful thick, blue satin, made by her best friend. My mother and I are currently restoring this dress back to its former glory. ©Come Step Back In Time
My grandmother’s wedding dress, beautiful, thick blue satin, made by her best friend. My mother and I are currently restoring this dress back to its former glory. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time


Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands on 10th May, 1940 and the Dutch armed forces (apart from those in Zeeland) surrendered on 15th May. The country’s sovereign, Queen Wilhelmina (1880-1962) resided in Britain during the war and whilst in exile managed the Dutch government, which had also escaped there. It was thought the Netherlands would remain neutral in World War Two like it had done in World War One. Therefore an invasion by Germany and the suffering subsequently endured by many Dutch citizens, shocked everyone.

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  • Foreign Royalty, pic: c.1943, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, (1880-1962) Queen from (1898-1948) making a wartime radio broadcast while in exile during World War Two(Photo by Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

In 1939 there were 140,000 Jewish citizens in the country, 25,000 of whom were German-Jewish refugees who had fled Germany during the 1930s. Two thirds of the Jewish community resided in Amsterdam.  In the Winter of 1940, all Jews had to be registered. On 1st May, 1942 all Jews were required to wear a yellow star. Only 40,00 Dutch Jews survived the war and 75% of the Dutch-Jewish population perished, one of the highest percentages out of all of the occupied countries in Western Europe.

During the war, approximately 400,000 people went into hiding in the Netherlands some of which were Jewish. One of the most famous of these ‘hidees’ was Annelies Marrie “Anne” Frank (1929-1945) a young Jewish girl from Germany. The Frank family moved from Germany to Amsterdam in 1933 when the Nazis gained control over Germany. In July 1942, the Franks went into hiding in some concealed rooms behind a bookcase in the building where Anne’s father worked.

After two years, the group was betrayed and transported to concentration camps. Anne and her sister Margot were eventually transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where they died (probably of typhus) in February, 1945. Anne’s wartime diary, The Diary of a Young Girl, was published posthumously.

Less than 2% of the Dutch population sided with the Nazis. Immediately after occupation, democracy was abolished and parliament dissolved. The NSB party (Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging, the National Socialist Movement) a Dutch fascist and later national socialist political party were the only legal political party in the Netherlands during most of World War Two. Members of the NSB were rewarded for supporting the Nazis and as such kept positions of leadership during the occupation.

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  • A Dutch poster from World War Two, depicting a WA man with the words ‘In dienst van ons volk, en gij? Wordt WA man’ (‘In the service of our people, and you? Become a WA man’), c.1943. The WA or Weerbaarheidsafdeling were the paramilitary wing of the Dutch Nazi party NSB, who worked in collaboration with the Germans to arrest Jews and Resistance members. Poster by Lou Manche. (Photo by Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)

In 1943, the Dutch Resistance movement was strong whereas previously recruitment had been slow. In May, 1943, following the Nazi’s introduction of Arbeitseinsatz , every Dutch male aged between 18 and 45 was forced to work in German factories, particularly those bombed regularly by western Allies! Consequently, many eligible men went into hiding. Food was heavily rationed in the Netherlands and the resistance movement played a vital role in raiding distribution centres to obtain ration cards for those men in hiding. The LOLKP was the underground resistance movement organised for people in hiding.

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  • Civilians and armed resistance fighters in a recently liberated Dutch city during World War Two force a traitor to walk the streets with a shameful sign around his neck which reads roughly ‘So we do with those who betray people in hiding,’ Breda, Netherlands, 1944. ‘People in hiding’ refers to Jews and Underground fighters trying to avoid the Nazis. (Photo by Horace Abrahams/Keystone Features/Getty Images)

Women were particularly important in the resistance movement, they tended to attract less suspicion. Membership consisted of citizens drawn from a wide range of occupations, religious backgrounds and political beliefs such as butchers, farmers, teachers and housewives.

Radios were confiscated by the Nazis who feared that the English radio broadcasters may give instructions to people of the Netherlands. Only 80% of all radios were ever handed in and many sets disappeared, hidden under floorboards, cupboards, cabinets etc. People became very resourceful and some created simple radio receivers ‘crystal receiver.

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  • 1946  Audrey Hepburn as a teenager with her mother, Dutch Baroness Ella van Heemstra. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Actress Audrey Hepburn’s (1929-1993) experiences in the occupied Netherlands provide a fascinating insight in what life was like at that time. Her mother was a Dutch aristocrat, Baroness Ella van Heemstra (1900-1984) and her grandfather was Baron Aarnoudvan Heemstra, mayor of Arnhem, 1910-20.

Both Audrey’s parents belonged to the British Union of Fascists but her father was a Nazi sympathiser. When their marriage broke down in 1935, he moved to London and Audrey moved with her mother to Kent where she attended a small private school in Elham.

When war broke out Audrey and her mother moved back to the Netherlands to live in Arnhem as they believed, like many others, the country would remain neutral. In 1940, she used the name Edda van Heemstra in order to distance herself from an English sounding name. Her uncle was executed in 1942 in retaliation for an act of sabotage by the resistance movement. Her half-brother was deported to Berlin to work in a German labour camp and her other half-brother went into hiding to avoid the same fate.

Audrey attended the Arnhem Conservatory for the duration of the war but suffered malnutrition, anaemia, respiratory problems and edema, like many of her fellow Dutch citizens lack of available food had serious health implications. She supported the Dutch resistance and gave ballet performances in secret to collect money for the movement. Sometimes, she acted as a courier of messages and parcels for them, an extremely dangerous thing to do, if caught she would have been tortured and executed.

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  • Resistance grafitti in a street in the Netherlands during the Dutch famine of the winter of 1944-45. The slogan reads ‘Eist Meer Brood’ (‘ask for more bread’). (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

During the Winter of 1944-45, famine spread throughout the Netherlands. The famine had been caused by a German blockade cutting-off food and fuel shipments from farm areas. Approximately 4.5 million people were affected and many survived only due to a network of soup kitchens. Food was so scarce that people even ate tulip bulbs and sugarbeets.

In her memoirs, Audrey recalls making flour to bake cakes and biscuits from ground down tulip bulbs. Following liberation in 1945, she became extremely ill after putting too much sugar on her porridge and eating an entire can of condensed milk. It is estimated that between 18,000 and 22,000 people died that Winter.

  • ‘Liberation of Amsterdam’ (1945) (there is no sound) by British Pathe. Allied troops parade the streets, greeted by delighted Dutch citizens after years of Nazi occupation during World War Two. Uploaded to You Tube 22.5.2013.


The liberation of the Netherlands began in September 1944. The Allies crossed the Rhine in March, 1945 and Canadian forces entered the Netherlands from the east, liberating the rest of the Nazi-occupied Dutch towns. The Netherlands was largely liberated by the First Canadian Army which included Canadian Forces, the British 1st Corps, 1st Polish Armoured Division alongside American, Belgian, Dutch and Czechoslovak troops.

The 307th Engineer Infantry Brigade, of which my grandfather’s unit was part of, arrived in Europe on 23rd April, 1945. My mother recalls her father saying that conditions travelling across Europe were extremely tough. Food rations were low and soldiers did not always have the right equipment. At one point, soldiers in my grandfather’s unit were so dehydrated that they had to drink water reserved for train engines. The cold was another difficulty he encountered, he had to chew raw ginger to keep warm.

On 5th May, Canadian General Charles Foulkes (1903-1969) and the German Commander-in-Chief Johannes Blaskowitz (1883-1948) reached an agreement on the capitulation of German forces in the Netherlands in Hotel de Wereld in Wageningen. The following day, the capitulation document was signed in the auditorium of Wageningen University, next door to the Hotel de Wereld.

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  • c.1944: A newly liberated Dutch town. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

A chronological list of liberated Dutch towns:


14th  September: Maastricht, Gulpen, Meerssen

16th  September: Simpelveld liberated by the 803rd tank destroyer battalion

17th  September: Sint-Oedenrode, Veghel

18th  September: Eindhoven

19th  September: Veldhoven

20th  September: Nijmegen, Geldrop, Someren, Terneuzen

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  • September 1944: Allied Sherman tanks crossing the newly-captured bridge at Nijmegen in Holland during their advance as part of ‘Operation Market Garden’. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

21st   September: Schijndel

22nd  September: Weert

24th  September: Deurne

26th  September: Mook

27th  September: Helmond, Oss (The battle of Overloon started on 30 September)

5th  October: Kerkrade

6th  October: Ossendrecht

18th  October: Venray

27th  October: Den Bosch, Tilburg, Bergen op Zoom

29th  October: Breda

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  • Dutch Resistance fighters armed with captured German weapons smoke and talk to each other on the street during liberation, Breda, Netherlands, 1944. (Photo by Keystone Features/Getty Images)

30th  October: Tholen, Goes

1st  November: Vlissingen, Westkapelle

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  • November 1944: Allied assault troops dash through the streets of Flushing (Vlissingen) in the Netherlands to clear out the remaining enemy snipers after the World War Two liberation of the town. (Photo by Worth/Keystone/Getty Images)

2nd  November: Wissenkerke, Zoutelande

6th  November: Middelburg

8th  November: Veere, Koudekerke

3rd  December: Blerick


1st  March: Roermond, Venlo

1st  April: Doetinchem, Borculo, Eibergen, Enschede

3rd  April: Hengelo

5th  April: Almelo

12th  April: Westerbork, Brummen, Deventer

13th  April: Assen, Diepenveen, Olst

14th  April: Arnhem, Zwolle

15th  April: Zutphen, Leeuwarden, Zoutkamp

16th  April: Groningen

17th  April: Apeldoorn

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  • 21st September 1944: Dutch citizens cheering British Sherman tanks in Holland. (Photo by Jack Esten/PNA Rota/Getty Images)


Both Hengelo and Enschede are located in the Overijssel province of the Netherlands. Enschede was one of the first Dutch cities to be captured by the Nazis due to its close proximity to the German border. Enschede had a large Jewish population at the start of the occupation, approximately 1,300, only 500 of whom survived, many went into hiding on local farms with the help of resistance members.

In 1930, Hengelo had a Jewish population of 247 which increased to 360 in 1941 as a result of refugees fleeing from Germany. Jews had lived in Hengelo from the early 1800s onward and their community declared independent in 1830. The community was important in the development of the textile industry in the region.

In August 1941, the Hengelo Synagogue was vandalised by Nazis and members of the NSB. Fortunately, the building’s contents had already been removed and hidden in anticipation of such an attack. In September, 1941, Jews in Hengelo were rounded-up for deportation, this continued until the following summer. In 1951, there were only 86 Jews stilling living in the town.

On April 29th, 1943, workers in Hengelo walked out of their jobs in a protest strike. The Nazis announced that 300,000 Dutch army soldiers, previously captured in 1940 and subsequently released, were now to be recaptured and sent to German labour camps.  Hengelo’s town centre was completely bombed out during an Allied attack on the 6th and 7th October, 1944. The raid killed 200 people. After days of carnage, the strikes resulted in over 180 deaths, 400 casualties, and 900 prisoners of war being sent to concentration camps.

Hengelo Victory Parade 9th May, 1945. One of the photographs in my grandfather's collection, It shows his unit taking part in the event. Eric tells me that: 'The photo was taken in Burgemeester Jansenstraat. The street is there today but it has totally changed so you would not recognise it today.  The church in the far-side of the road was torn down in 1966. During the war civilian administration was located next to the church. Resistance fighters set fire to the administration building [after first being ransacked, then soaked with gasoline]so that the Nazis could not check whether someone had falsified ID cards, which had been issued by the resistance itself. A copy of all issued ID cards was kept at the administration office.'  ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)
Hengelo Victory Parade 9th May, 1945. One of the photographs in my grandfather’s collection, it shows his unit taking part in the event. Eric tells me that: ‘The photo was taken in Burgemeester Jansenstraat. The street is there today but it has totally changed so you would not recognise it today. The church in the far-side of the road was torn down in 1966. During the war civilian administration was located next to the church. Resistance fighters set fire to the administration building [after first being ransacked, then soaked with gasoline] so that the Nazis could not check whether someone had falsified ID cards, which had been issued by the resistance itself. A copy of all issued ID cards was kept at the administration office.’
©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)


Last year I posted on my Twitter account (@emmahistorian) a selection of photographs from our family archive featuring my late grandfather. In 1945, he had, together with his unit, been part of the Allied liberation of Nazi-occupied Netherlands. He was stationed in Hengelo, a city in the eastern part of the Netherlands, in the province of Overijssel, from April 1945 for approximately six months.

During the liberation of Hengelo, local citizen Mrs. A. Wilmink (centre)enjoying the company of Allied soldiers . Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (
During the liberation of Hengelo, local citizen Mrs. A. Wilmink (centre) enjoying the company of Allied soldiers . Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (

These photographs and associated backstory caught the attention of Dutch historian, Eric Heijink (@ericheijink) ( Twitter: (@operatiemanna). Eric has curated a major exhibition commemorating the liberation of Enschede, 70 years ago this month. The exhibition opens on 1st April at the Centrale Bibliotheek Enschede and continues until 9th May, 2015. There is also a second exhibition at Synagoge Enschede which opens on 1st April and continues until 26th April, 2015.

Poster for new exhibition in Enschede, commemorating 70th Anniversary of liberation from Nazi occupation in the region.
Poster for new exhibition in Enschede, commemorating 70th Anniversary of liberation from Nazi occupation in the region.
Opening of exhibition in Enschede, 1st April, 2015. Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (
Opening of exhibition in Enschede, 1st April, 2015. Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (
Exhibition commemorating 70 years since the liberation of Enschede region, the Netherlands.
Opening of new exhibition commemorating 70 years since the liberation of Enschede region, the Netherlands. Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (
Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (
Part of the new exhibition at Enschede Central Library until 9th May, 2015. Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (

However, the story does not end here! One of the photographs to be included in the exhibition features a local family from Hengelo, the Schuits, who had befriended my grandfather in 1945, following the town’s liberation. Together with some of his fellow soldiers, grandfather visited the family regularly, resulting in the soldiers forming an affectionate bond with the Schuits.

The Schuit family from Hengelo. Dick and Henrik are the two young boys picture standing-up. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)
The Schuit family from Hengelo. Dick and Henrik are the two young boys picture standing-up. My grandfather took this photograph. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)
Inscription on back of Schuit family photograph taken by my grandfather. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)
Inscription on back of Schuit family photograph taken by my grandfather. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)

How do I know this? Well, conversations I have had with my family about these photographs and, more specifically, a lovely inscription written by the Schuits on the reverse of one of the photographs which reads:

To our best English friend Fred Langley in remembrance of his stay at Hengelo, Holland. Family H. J. Schuit.

I am extremely grateful to Eric’s detective work which has revealed that not only does the Schuit’s house still exist in Hengelo but both of the young brothers shown in the photograph are still alive! The eldest brother continues to live in the town. Eric made telephone contact with the youngest of the two brothers, Dick Schuit (79), who remembered my grandfather, “the Sergeant”.

My grandfather, Sergeant Frederick Langley. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)
My grandfather, Sergeant Frederick Langley. ©Come Step Back In Time (The Langley Family Archive)

Dick recalls that his parents came in contact with grandfather when trucks from his unit stopped outside their house, not long after Hengelo was liberated. The Schuit family invited him in for tea, together with several of his fellow soldiers, this tradition continued for quite a long time whilst the soldiers were stationed there. The Allies remained in Hengelo from the end of April, 1945, for approximately 6 months.

Allied soldiers by their camouflaged tank during Hengelo's liberation. Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (
Allied soldiers by their camouflaged tank during Hengelo’s liberation. Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (

The Schuit brothers, Henrik and Dick, recall another British soldier, Jerry Barnard, a driver with the Royal Engineers, also being one of these regular visitors. On one occasion, another British soldier, ‘Jeremy’, brought with him a pair of miniature toy soldiers which he had been brought in Brussels and he gave them to Henrik and Dick.

The Schuit family lived next door to the Hotel Lansink in Hengelo, this location had its advantages. The Hotel had been commandeered by the SS as a divisional HQ (2nd Class) which meant that during regular raids on local properties, the Schuits were pretty much left alone. This was just as well as they were hiding a cousin from the Dutch town of Zwolle. The cousin had been employed in Germany but he managed to flee and seek refuge with the Schuits.  He lived in hiding with the family for two months and survived the war.

Sherman tanks on the streets of Hengelo following liberation. Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (
Sherman tanks on the streets of Hengelo following liberation. Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (

The Schuit brothers remember the day Hengelo was liberated. British soldiers walking and others driving tanks down the nearby street of Julianalaan. There was one particular incident involving SS officers who were chased down the street by Allied soldiers as the men fled on bicycles. The soldiers caught-up with the officers (at gun point) and they duly surrendered.

Dick Schuit explained that the British soldiers were billeted in a nearby factory, officers were quartered in Hotel Lansink. Unfortunately, his family do not have any more photographs of my grandfather as it was very rare in 1945 for local people to own a camera. A majority of the photographs that exist from that time were taken by Allied soldiers. My mother has written to the Schuit family who are keen to re-established contact and we look forward to corresponding with the brothers, finding out more about my grandfather’s time in Hengelo as well as what life was like for the Schuits under Nazi occupation.

Allied soldiers enjoying the company of the local people of Hengelo following liberation. Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (
Allied soldiers enjoying the company of the local people of Hengelo following liberation. Image courtesy of Eric Heijink (

I was delighted to provide photographs from our family archive as well as background information about my grandfather for inclusion in the exhibition. It means a great deal to both myself and my family that he will be part of this event, a fitting tribute to a wonderful gentleman who served his country in World War Two. Grandfather was one of the lucky ones, he returned home, uninjured, to his family, after the war ended.

My grandfather's story featured in Hengelo's Weekblad newspaper (24.3.2015, p. 15 - Thanks to all the hard work by historian Eric Heijink!
My grandfather’s story featured in Hengelo’s Weekblad newspaper (24.3.2015, p. 15 – Thanks to all the hard detective work by historian Eric Heijink!

The BBC have also announced (17.3.15) an extensive season of programming across television, radio and online, and a major education project honouring Britain’s Greatest Generation. Some of the major television highlights include:

  • VE Day: Remembering Victory (BBC One – 1×90): Some of Britain’s best-loved figures from stage and screen recall the jubilation of that unforgettable day;
  • Britain’s Greatest Generation (BBC Two – 4×60): This major four-part series celebrates the last survivors of the Second World War, now in their nineties and hundreds, and their achievement in helping to win the war;
  • The BBC At War (BBC Two – 2×60): Debates about the BBC’s role were just as volatile in the 1940s as they are today. In this two-part series, Jonathan Dimbleby uncovers the story of how the BBC fought Hitler – and Whitehall – with a unique insight into one of the story’s leading players – his father, Richard Dimbleby;
  • Savage Peace (BBC Two – 1×60): Only at the war’s end was the true scale of human suffering and misery revealed, and so devastating was the scene that Europe was dubbed ‘The New Dark Continent’. This film will re-examine the aftermath of the War to ask if too much stress has been laid on an optimistic view of victory in Europe with celebratory images of VE day;
  • Fighting for King And Empire: Britain’s Caribbean Heroes (BBC Four – 1×60): In this programme, Caribbean veterans tell their extraordinary wartime stories in their own words. They also reveal how they have faced a lifelong struggle as they helped build Britain’s multicultural society – to be treated as equals by the British government and the British people;
  • World War Two: 1945 & The Wheelchair President (BBC Four – 1×90): David Reynolds re-examines the war leadership of American president Franklin Roosevelt. In this intimate new biography set against the epic of World War Two, Reynolds reveals how Roosevelt was burdened by secrets about his failing health and strained marriage that, if exposed, could have destroyed his presidency.
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  • The cover of a Victory Special issue of Picture Post magazine depicting a mother and her two sons celebrating V.E. Day in Britain, at the end of World War Two, 8th May 1945 (published 19th May 1945). (Photo by Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Posted in Film, History, Maritime History, World War One, World War Two

Happy New Year 2015 & Historical Pinboard 1915


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  • Greetings card from 1915. (Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)

Happy New Year readers, welcome to 2015!  I’ve no idea what this year holds but as with everything in life, best ‘roll with the punches’. I have never been a fan of making New Year’s resolutions but am rather partial to writing endless lists. One such list I have compiled contains historical anniversaries coming-up over the next twelve months, there are quite a few of them, here’s my top selection:

  • January 24th (50th) death of Sir Winston Churchill;
  • April 25th (100th) start of the Gallipoli Campaign in World War One which ended on 9th January, 1916;
  • May 7th (250th) launch of the HMS Victory, (100th) sinking of the RMS Lusitania, (70th) 8th V.E. Day, (75th) 27th-4th June – Dunkirk invasions;
  • June 2nd (175th) birth of Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), 16th (100th) foundation of the British Women’s Institute, 18th (200th) Battle of Waterloo, 15th (800th) Magna Carta issued;
  • July 10th-31st October (75th) Battle of Britain;
  • September 6th (100th) first Women’s Institute meeting held in Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, Wales;
  • October 12th (100th) British nurse Edith Cavell (1865-1915) is executed by a German firing squad for helping Allied soldiers escape from Belgium, 15th (600th) Battle of Agincourt.

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  • Battle of Britain Memorial, unveiled in 1993, situated on the white cliffs near Capel-le-Ferne between Dover and Folkestone, Kent.

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  • Engraving (1873) featuring King John (1166-1216) signing The Magna Carta (1215).

I thought it would be interesting to have a look at some newspaper reports from a hundred years ago:

A New Year is dawning – a year of great possibilities, great responsibilities, and, we believe, great achievements. The year of 1914 has marked an epoch in the history of the world, and as it recedes into the shadows of the past our thoughts go back to its early days, before the German war of aggression darkened the peaceful lands of Europe.

At the beginning of January, 1914, the British public, which dearly loves deeds of adventure, was thrilled by the news that Sir E. Shackleton had decided to lead another expedition to the South Polar regions, and in November tidings were received that the party had reached Sydney on its journey southwards.

Scarcely a year has passed, and Great Britain is engaged in the greatest venture she has ever undertaken – a venture which has stirred the imagination, the sympathy, and the loyalty of Britons all over the world. As the bells welcome in the New Year the sons of the great World Empire are fighting with the Allies in France and Belgium; against the Germans in Africa; and Volunteers are devoting themselves to strenuous exercise in the Dominions and in the training camps of England, preparing  themselves for active service in the early spring. 

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  • August 1915: Posters at Marylebone Station advertising war loans. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Day by day tales of unflinching courage, resourcefulness, and heroism reach us from the theatre of war. The news of the great air and sea battle of Cuxhaven, which came filtering through on Sunday night, outvied for sheer daring, skill, and ingenuity the most romantic story of adventure penned by novelists of any age. And while Great Britain can produce men like these she is able fearlessly to bring to a successful conclusion tasks, however difficult, with which she may be confronted in the immediate future.

Therefore, with high hopes, unbounded enthusiasm, and never-faltering optimism, she greets the New Year of 1915. British commerce is satisfactory in spite of the depression caused by the war, and British goods are in ever increasing demand all over the world. The great British Fleet is patrolling the seas, and merchant ships pass to and fro to neutral countries carrying their freight to distant parts. German and Austrian goods, which were stocked in quantities by many English shops, have now been largely superseded by British, bearing a label “British Made”. For quality, finish, and general workmanship they cannot be equalled.

(Preston Leader, 13.2.1915)

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  • Soldiers reading the Suffragette newspaper, April 1915. That week’s editorial by Christabel Pankhurst expressed intensely anti-German sentiments typical of the time. The front cover image is a reproduction of a French cartoon of Joan of Arc (St Joan) in full military armour, hovering as an angel above Rheims Cathedral, which had been badly damaged in September 1914. The headline screams: ‘That which the fire and Sword of the Germans Can Never Destroy’. (Photo by Museum of London/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Votes for women announced at the beginning of 1915. We may claim that our efforts to keep the suffrage flag flying in spite of the war have met with a gratifying and stimulating measure of success. In several instances we have through the columns of the paper and by means of meetings, deputations & etc  been able to draw public attention to serious abuses which have made the lot of women in wartime harder even than in peace; but never for a moment have we lost sight of our single goal; the enfranchisement of women.

The Woman’s Right-To-Serve Demonstration: A Great Procession. The demonstration, on July 17, of thousands of women from all classes-aristocrats, professionals, workers in many forms of art and industry, women who rejoice in demonstrating, and women whom nothing but clear conviction and a strong sense of duty would draw from their quiet homes into the glare of publicity – which was organised to demand as a right that women should be allowed to take their share in munition and other war work, was a success in every detail, except the weather, which was deplorable.

….it was picturesque, enthusiastic and impressive, and drew a concourse of many thousands, some of whom may have “come to scoff”, and when the story of the World War comes to be written, the patriotic part played by women of the Empire, of France, of Belgium, of Italy, of Russia, will be chronicled, and this great demonstration of women craving to work for the war will find honourable place.

(The Illustrated London News, 24.7.1915)

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  • A lithographic comical postcard promoting an anti-suffrage sentiment concerning women’s rights, published in New York City (1915). The husband washes clothes and watches the baby and cat at home. (Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)

  • Suffragette Rally, Trafalgar Square, London, ‘Suffragettes Help The War Effort’ (1915). British Pathe – Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.

Undoing the Dardanelles blunder: The withdrawal of the British troops from two of the three points held on the Gallipoli Peninsula may be taken as a sign that the Government has at least realized the stupendous blunder is committed in venturing upon this expedition, the earlier phases of which Mr Churchill described as a ‘gamble.’ A gamble it has proved in the lives of the most heroic of our race. The casualties at the Dardanelles numbered up to November 9 no fewer than 106,000 officers and men. In addition, sickness on this front accounted for 90,000 down to October. A loss of nearly 200,000 men was thus incurred without any adequate result.

Not only did the Government despatch to the Dardanelles forces which, judiciously utilized at other points, might have achieved the greatest results; not only did it divert to the Near East munitions at a time when we were perilously short of high-explosive shells. It also deceived the nation as to the position and prospects after its strokes had signally failed through initial mismanagement or the inadequacy of the army employed. The public has not forgotten the optimistic assurances of Mr Churchill, Lord Robert Cecil, and Lord Kitchener.

Mr Lloyd George’s speech last evening really contains the gravest indictment that has as yet been drawn against the Government. Here is a confession that when the Germans were in May making 250,000 high-explosive shells a day the British production was only 2,500. Even now he implies that, despite great efforts, we have not equalled the German output. Shall we ever overtake it? Only if the nation works its hardest. The fatal words of the war, he said, were ‘too late’. These words have dogged the Allies’  every step.

(Daily Mail, 21.12.1915)

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Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, Film, History, Literature, Maritime History, Motoring History, Rural Heritage, TV Programme, Vintage, Vintage Retail, World War One, World War Two

Rye, East Sussex: Hideout For Smugglers & Haven For Writers

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  • Mermaid Street, Rye, East Sussex.
Illustration of Mermaid Street, Rye from Rye and District Holiday Guide (1950).
Illustration of Mermaid Street, Rye from Rye and District Holiday Guide (1950).

Through the ages – sackings and burnings, invader and pirates, smugglers and highwaymen, Kings and Queens, statesmen and reformers, and, in more recent years, threats of invasion, bombs and incendiaries, to say nothing of “doodle bugs.”

And yet through it all Rye seems to stand quite imperturbable and seemingly unconcerned with the passage of time, for we read that in 1263 the Friar of the Sack were allowed “to dwell in peace and quietude… in the Town of Rye,” and we can stand in the same street to-day and feel the same sense of “peace and quietude” and realize that nothing seems to have altered in the last 700 years. The peculiar appeal of Rye is that inasmuch as other towns take you back to the past, Rye brings the past ages right into the present day.

(Handbook and Guide: Rye, Winchelsea & Northiam by L.A. Vidler and W. MacLean Homan, 1950)

I spent my childhood in East Sussex, it is a picturesque county with a fascinating history dating back to the 5th Century AD when South Saxons settled there following the Romans’ departure.  The ancient town of Rye, close to the East Sussex coastline, was once contained in the Manors of Rameslie and Brede. I visited Rye many times with my family and is a town that remains close to my heart.


In my collection of vintage publications there is a 1950 copy of the Rye & District Holiday Guide. It is a joy to dip in and out of this little book, a slice of nostalgia from post-war Britain. For a majority of Britons, 1950 was not a time of prosperity, food rationing was still in place and petrol rationing did not end until 26th May that year. During the early 1950s, many Britons chose to spend their holidays or days out close to home. Guidebooks, such as this one, became an invaluable resource. It was not until the end of the decade that one in three British families owned a car and venturing outside of one’s locality became the norm.

Rye & District Holiday Guide (1950).
Rye & District Holiday Guide (1950).

The guidebook is jam-packed full of advertisements promoting local tourist attractions as well as establishments offering that ever popular British staple, afternoon tea. In the back section there is a comprehensive accommodation list, some of the descriptions given are so charming, I thought it would be nice to share some of my favourites with you:

Illustration from Rye & District Guide (1950).
Illustration from Rye & District  Holiday Guide (1950).

The Mill, Iden-by-Rye. An old Millhouse all on one floor, rooms of good size and comfortably furnished. On Bus route 2 miles from Rye and situated in country surroundings. Our own farm produce. Sandwiches willingly packed. Inclusive terms. 

Illustration from Rye & District Guide (1950).
Illustration from Rye & District Holiday Guide (1950).

Monastery Guest House, High Street, Rye. Principal rooms overlooking secluded garden flanked by the original old Monastery Chapel wall (1379). Spend a restful holiday in a happy atmosphere with comfort, courtesy and consideration.

Illustration from Rye & District Guide (1950).
Illustration from Rye & District Holiday Guide (1950).

Thornton House, Northiam (near Rye). Ideal for country holidays. Good food, a happy atmosphere and every consideration. Bus and London coaches pass the gate. Inclusive terms from 4  1/2 guineas weekly.

Robin Hill is a Guest House unusual – antiquity with fine old oak beams and timbered rooms with cosy chimney corners, yet possessing every modern convenience.

Rye as a touring centre is ideal for walkers, cyclists and motorists. Rolling wooded country North and West of the town, the sea to the South, and the wonderful Romney Marshes to the East. Good roads radiate in all directions with country lanes and paths in profusion.

Advertisement from Rye & District Holiday Guide (1950).
Advertisement from Rye & District Holiday Guide (1950).

Rye together with its surrounding area, has long been a mecca for literary types.  Playwright John Fletcher (1579-1625) was born in Rye in 1579 at the Old Vicarage House and at which his father, the Rev. Richard Fletcher, then resided as minister and preacher during the vicariate of Rev. Richard Connope, an absentee; as he would not resign in Mr Fletcher’s favour, the latter left Rye when his famous son was two years old. John Fletcher’s birthplace was pulled down in 1699 and a new house re-erected in 1701.

Illustration from Rye & District Guide (1950).
Illustration from Rye & District Holiday Guide (1950).

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  • Henry James poses outside Lamb House c.1900. (Photo by Kean Collection/Getty Images).

Lamb House (National Trust), Rye was home to American novelist Henry James (1843-1916) from 1897 until his death. James wrote The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903) and The Golden Bowl (1904) in house’s garden room (destroyed by a bomb in World War Two). Lamb House featured as Mr Longdon’s home in The Awkward Age (1899).

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  • E. (Edward) F. (Frederic) Benson, c.1915. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

E. F. Benson (1867-1940) moved to Rye in 1919 and lived at Lamb House. He wrote six novels and two short stories in the popular ‘Mapp and Lucia’ series. These quintessentially English novels depict life in a 1930s provincial market town. Four novels are set in Tilling, a fictional location based upon Rye. Lamb House became the model for Mapp’s, as well as for a little while, Lucia’s home, ‘Mallards’. Benson was Mayor of the Borough of Rye from 1934 and accorded Honorary Freedom of the Borough on March 22nd, 1938.

The main protagonists of Benson’s Mapp and Lucia books are two sharp-tongued, well-healed ladies, Elizabeth Mapp and Emmeline Lucas (Lucia) who both jostle for pole position in Tilling society. Newcomer to Tilling, Lucia, sets out to topple the town’s resident queen bee, Mapp. There are plenty of jolly japes and cutting remarks along the way too.

A new adaptation of Mapp and Lucia aired on BBC One, Christmas 2014. A three-parter written by Steve Pemberton (who also plays flamboyant Georgie Pillson, Lucia’s sidekick) and directed by Diarmuid Lawrence (Desperate Romantics, Anglo Saxon Attitudes, Little Dorrit).

  • ‘On location with Mapp and Lucia’, behind the scenes with the BBC cast and crew in Rye. Uploaded to You Tube (17.12.14) by National Trust Charity.

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Illustration from Rye & District Guide (1950).
Illustration from Rye & District Holiday Guide (1950).
Illustration from Rye & District Guide (1950).
Illustration from Rye & District Holiday Guide (1950).

In 1773, theologian John Wesley (1703-1791) visited Rye, East Sussex, and wrote in his diary: ‘I found the people willing to hear the good word at Rye but they will not part with the accursed thing, smuggling.’ During the eighteenth century, Rye and nearby Romney Marshes were awash with smuggling activities. Bandits would smuggle goods such as brandy and tobacco in at night by boat from France to avoid high import taxes.

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  • Arthur Russell Thorndike (1885-1972), English actor and novelist, early 20th century. Thorndike was the brother of Dame Sybil Thorndike (1882-1976). (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)

One of the most notorious gangs of smugglers was the Hawkhurst Gang who frequented The Mermaid Inn, Mermaid Street, Rye. Actor and author Arthur Russell Thorndike (1885-1972), born in Rochester, Kent, wrote a series of books, known as the Dr Syn series, based upon eighteenth century smuggling activities on the Romney Marshes. The main protagonist is the swashbuckling Rev. Dr Christopher Syn who leads a rebel band against the King’s press gangs.

Books in the Dr Syn series are:

  • Doctor Syn: A Tale of the Romney Marsh (1915)
  • Doctor Syn on the High Seas (1935)
  • Doctor Syn Returns (1935)
  • Further Adventures of Doctor Syn (1936)
  • Courageous Exploits of Doctor Syn (1938)
  • Amazing Quest of Doctor Syn (1939)
  • Shadow of Doctor Syn (1944)

  • Clip from The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh , a television adaptation of Thorndike’s concluding Dr Syn novel (but written first). This television series aired in three parts in 1963. Uploaded to You Tube 23.4.11.
Illustration from Rye & District Guide (1950).
Illustration from Rye & District History Guide (1950).
Posted in Decorative Arts, Event, Fashion History, Film, Historical Hair and Make-up, History, History of Medicine, Horticultural History, Literature, Maritime History, Motoring History, Mrs Beeton, Theatre History, Vintage, Vintage Retail, World War One, World War Two

Mary Evans Picture Library – Celebrating 50 Years

©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

In October 1964, in the Evans’ small Blackheath home, Mary clambered onto a stool to reach the top shelf of a clothes cupboard in order to retrieve an engraving for the BBC. By this time, every last corner of their home was stuffed full of the antiquarian books, prints and ephemera that were the personal passion of Mary and her husband Hilary, and became the foundation of Mary Evans Picture Library; thus valuable engravings were forced to share a home with Hilary’s casual wear.

The library grew rapidly throughout the 1960s and 1970s. 1975 was a key year when Hilary and Mary were founder members of both the British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies (BAPLA), the industry’s trade organisation, and the Picture Research Association. In the same year they published the first edition of The Picture Researcher’s Handbook, which ran to eight editions.

Hilary and Mary’s daughter, Valentine, joined the company in 1992 and her three young children are frequent visitors to the library.

(Above extracts from Mary Evans Picture Library’s website)

©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

This year, Mary Evans Picture Library celebrates its 50th anniversary. Earlier in the Summer I received an invitation to attend an Open Day at the Library’s premises in Blackheath, London. Such a wonderful opportunity to visit this unique, family-owned, historical picture library whose core philosophy since opening, in 1964, has been:

to make available and accessible all the wonderful images created for people to enjoy over the centuries which were originally published in books, on posters, in advertisements, or as prints.

©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

The Library have more than half a million images currently available online and five hundred new images are added every week. A quick glance at the end credits of a documentary or pictures featured in an editorial will reveal Mary Evans Picture Library to be one of the main contributors.

The building that now houses this priceless collection was formerly the Parish Hall of All Saints’ Church on Blackheath. It is designed in the Arts and Crafts style by architect Charles Canning Winmill (1865-1945).

©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

There is something really quite special about the Library. Upon entering you are immediately transported into a maze of corridors and staircases leading to room after room of historic treasures. This vast collection is presided over by a team of friendly, knowledgeable staff who are passionate about the priceless ephemera they are custodians of:

Few working offices feature desks surrounded by a fine collection of coronation mugs, a melted wax fruit display, an original Edison Phonograph and a broomstick in full flight suspended above the heads of staff.

©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

The set-up of our office is unashamedly individual, and the archive of postcard folders, rare books, boxes of ephemera and racks of bound magazines is as integral to the working space as the computers and desks, squeezed, as they are, into the last available corners.

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©Come Step Back In Time

The main room downstairs will always be known as Mary’s office…. Conducting a tour of the library invariably involves squeezing past colleagues, step ladders, Missie the dog, someone preparing lunch or a private researcher hidden behind five large volumes of Illustrazione Italiana from the 1880s.

(Fifty; 50 Pictures for our 50th Birthday , 2014, Mary Evans Picture Library)

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©Come Step Back In Time

Mary Evans Picture Library also manage a number of private collections. At the Open Day I was thrilled to meet some of these contributors which included:

Me with Anne Zielinski-Old at the open day. ©Mary Evans Picture Library
Me with Anne Zielinski-Old. ©Mary Evans Picture Library

 Anne Zielinksi-Old

Fashion artist Anne worked for a range of prestigious clients during the 1980s and ’90s.  Anne studied fashion and design at the University of Brighton (1970-73), St Martins School of Art (1975-1976) where she was trained by Elizabeth Suter and Colin Barnes. In 1993 Anne studied at the Royal College of Art, London, undertaking a Research Degree by project. During her long and high-profile career Anne’s clients have included Harrods of Knightsbridge, Fortnum and Mason, Garrards Crown Jewelers, Burberrys, the Sunday Times, Vogue, Cosmopolitan Magazine and more.

One of Anne’s many career highlights includes working for Mattel Inc. in California (1997-1998) as an Art Director for Barbie Collectibles. During her time at Mattel Inc. Anne created a Princess Diana Doll and an Elizabeth Taylor Auction Doll which was purchased by actress Demi Moore. I had the pleasure of speaking at length with Anne about her extraordinary career.

  • For further biographical information about Anne, click here.
  • For more information about Anne’s career as a Doll Designer, click here.
  • Browse Anne’s Air Kiss Collection which is managed by Mary Evans Picture Library, click here.
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©Come Step Back In Time

London Fire Brigade (LFB)

The archive of the LFB (The London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority) is managed exclusively by the Mary Evans Picture Library. The collection contains extensive documentation of the fire service in London from the nineteenth century to the present day. Subjects covered by the images include: World War Two, the Blitz, 1936 fire at Crystal Palace, fire-apparatus from Selfridges Department Store (1966), historic fire-fighting equipment and vehicles.

  • For more information about the LFB archive, click here.
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

Grenville Collins Postcard Collection

Grenville Collins’ collection comprises over ten thousand images, mostly from before World War One. Grenville has one of the world’s most comprehensive selection of postcards depicting Turkey and the late Ottoman Empire. In the 1960s, Grenville managed rock band, The Kinks, following which, in the 1970s, he lived near Bodrum in Southern Anatolia, Turkey. Included in his collection are several books of postcards by Max Fruchtermann who published Turkey’s first commercial cards in 1895. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to Grenville, his collection is outstanding.

  • Browse the Grenville Collins postcard collection managed by Mary Evans Picture Library, click here.
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

H. L. Oakley Silhouettes

One of the more unusual collections managed by Mary Evans Picture Library are the silhouettes of Captain H. L. Oakley (1882-1957). Oakley’s great nephew and biographer, Jerry Rendell, attended the open day with some fine examples from his private collection. Jerry has written a book about his great uncle’s work, Profiles of the First World War – The Silhouettes of Captain H. L. Oakley  (2013, The History Press).

Oakley was known as ‘the man with the magic scissors’ who began cutting silhouettes aged just seven years old. He trained at the Royal College of Art. During World War One, he served with the Yorkshire Regiment, the Green Howards, transferring to the 96th (Lancashire) Brigade in May, 1918. Oakley contributed silhouettes and drawings to the trench newspaper, The Dump. His work also appeared in The Bystander (8th March, 1916, ‘Trench Life in Silhouette’).

  • ‘The Man with the Magic Scissors: Oakley of The Bystander‘s Western Front in silhouette’, by Luci Gosling (Mary Evans Picture Library), published 27.8.2013, click here.

Mary Evans Picture Library – A Few Fascinating Facts

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  • Mary Evans’ lifelong passion for dogs influenced her collecting habits which has resulted in an eclectic mix of books, objects and assorted ephemera. Mary eventually acquired the Thomas Fall Archive in 2003;
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    ©Come Step Back In Time
    ©Come Step Back In Time
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    ©Come Step Back In Time
  • The library represents some of the best historical sources of material from around the world. They have exceptionally detailed coverage of the history of many countries, with notably large collections from Germany, France, the United States, Spain and Italy;
  • The library recently launched a superb First World War blog (Picturing The Great War)dedicated to showcasing some of the more unusual and surprising content from the period which is currently held in the collection, click here.
  • In October, 1965, London Life, launched. Although the magazine only lasted fifteen months (closing, Christmas Eve, 1966), it is a wonderful record of swinging sixties London. The library has a complete run of London Life, in five volumes. Each publication reads like a who’s who from the world of sixties music, fashion, media and photography (Terence Donovan, Twiggy, Gerald Scarfe, Jean Shrimpton, Terence Stamp, Ian Dury, Vidal Sassoon, Joanna Lumley, Celia Hammond, Peter Akehurst, the list goes on). These iconic individuals helped shaped London as a vibrant cultural hub during one of the twentieth century’s most dynamic decades. London Life was edited by Mark Boxer, founder of the Sunday Times magazine, the managing editor was David Puttnam (now Lord Puttnam).
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    ©Come Step Back In Time

    ©Come Step Back In Time
    ©Come Step Back In Time
  • The Illustrated London News (ILN), launched on 14th May, 1842, is one of the library’s high profile collections. Although the ILN Picture Library (which also includes The Graphic, The Sphere, The Tatler, The Bystander, The Sketch, The Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News, The Illustrated War News and Britannia & Eve) remains under the ownership of Illustrated London News Ltd, the back catalogue of publications are housed at the Mary Evans Picture Library in Blackheath. Due to the importance of this world-class collection, it was once known as the ‘Great Eight’.

    ©Come Step Back In Time
    ©Come Step Back In Time
  • Hilary Evans was a world-renowned authority on paranormal phenomena. The library has an excellent selection of images on this topic in addition to Hilary’s own publications in this field: Seeing Ghosts: Experiences of the Paranormal (2002), Panic Attacks: The History of Mass Delusion (2004), and Sliders: the Enigma of Streetlight Interference (2011).
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
  • Vintage fashion is well-represented in the library’s collection with a number of rare publications. They have: a six-volume Le Costume Historique by A.Racinet; Strutt’s Dress and Habits of the People of England;  French fashion journals, Gazette du Bon Ton and Art, Goût, Beauté, both with pochoir fashion plates. The  library also represents designers Hardy Amies (1909-2003) and Victor Stiebel (1907-1976).
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  • Ninety plus volumes of A & C Black colour books, published between 1901 and 1921, are held in the collection. These books have distinctive cover designs which are decorated in gilt and inside, plates have been produced by adopting a three-colour process which was popular at the time.
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
  • Mary collected several hundred different editions of Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, including a first edition.
©Mary Evans Picture Library
The perfect habitat for this social historian to while away the hours. I truly did get to ‘step back in time’. ©Mary Evans Picture Library
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100 year old stereoscopic viewer which allows the user to see two separate images as one single three-dimensional picture. ©Come Step Back In Time
100 year old stereoscopic viewer which allows the user to see two separate images as one single three-dimensional picture. ©Come Step Back In Time

Think History – Think Mary Evans

Closer to History

Centuries of Inspiration

From Antiquity to Modernity

The Specialist History Source

Visual Documentation of the Past

Picturing the Past

The World of Images

First Choice for History

(Fifty; 50 Pictures for our 50th Birthday , 2014, Mary Evans Picture Library)

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Selection of retail merchandise which has featured images from the collection at Mary Evans Picture Library. ©Come Step Back In Time
Selection of retail merchandise featuring images from various collections managed by Mary Evans Picture Library. ©Come Step Back In Time
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©Come Step Back In Time
Posted in Activity, Aviation History, Bringing Alive The Past, Event, History, History of Medicine, Literature, Maritime History, Motoring History, Review, Vintage, World War One

The Lost Generation: The Young Person’s Guide To World War I by Martyn Barr (2014) – Review

©Martyn Barr – Out Of The Box Publishing Ltd
©Martyn Barr – Out Of The Box Publishing Ltd

The Lost Generation: The Young Person’s Guide to World War I (2014), by award-winning Kent author, Martyn Barr, is the latest educational publication from Out of The Box Publishing. Martyn, a PR and design consultant, established Out of The Box Publishing Ltd in 2009, to produce and market his own books which, since then have included:

Extracts from The Lost Generation.
Extracts from The Lost Generation. ©Martyn Barr – Out of The Box Publishing Ltd

The Lost Generation is a beautifully illustrated and thoroughly researched softback publication which tells the story of World War One from a British perspective. Although the guide is aimed at young students (Key Stages 3 & 4), it also offers an excellent introduction, to such a complex period in world history, for the budding adult historian wanting to ‘dip their toe’ into this topic.

Regular readers of Come Step Back in Time will know that so far this year I have written many articles on World War One. I wish I had discovered The Lost Generation earlier, it would have saved me a lot of time (although never wasted!) ploughing through numerous academic tomes on the subject. What I really needed in the beginning was a straightforward introduction to inspire me continue on my research journey. The guide covers the war’s origins, as played out in a far-flung corner of Europe, right through to its bloody and bitter conclusion.

At a wallet-friendly price of £5.99 (including Free second class postage), The Lost Generation is an essential addition to your history bookshelf.  Fifty pence from every copy sold will be donated by Martyn to The Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal.

Extracts from The Lost Generation. ©Martyn Barr - Out of The Box Publishing Ltd
Extracts from The Lost Generation. ©Martyn Barr – Out of The Box Publishing Ltd

Inside The Lost Generation, are 62 pages, over 70 photographs/illustrations and a fold-out map on the back cover – ‘Taking Sides: A Europe Divided’ – illustrating a fractured Europe divided into allied powers, central powers and neutral countries.  The text is well-written and the layout is user-friendly. Some of the World War One topics Martyn covers include:

  • Motives for war;
  • Assassination of the Archduke and Archduchess, Franz Ferdinand and his wife, in Sarajevo;
  • Home front propaganda;
  • White feather campaign;
  • Pals battalions;
  • The ‘Old Contemptibles’;
  • Key Battles on the Western Front (Mons, Marne, Ypres, Passchendaele, Neuve Chapelle, Loos, Verdun, Somme, Jutland, Camrai, Amiens);
  • The Gallipoli campaign and siege of Kut-al-Amara;
  • Life in the trenches;
  • Women at war;
  • War horses and animals on the frontline;
  • Prisoners of war;
  • Aviation;
  • The postal service;
  • Poetry;
  • Medicine.
Extracts from The Lost Generation. ©Martyn Barr - Out of The Box Publishing Ltd
Extracts from The Lost Generation. ©Martyn Barr – Out of The Box Publishing Ltd

Writing about The Lost Generation, Martyn comments:

A century has now passed since the outbreak of ‘the war to end all wars’ in 1914. The fertile fields of France and Belgium, where millions died, are no longer muddy, pock-marked quagmires. Nearby, row after row of white headstones mark the spot where men (and often boys) made the ultimate sacrifice… a practice repeated in many other countries across the globe.

Providing a guide to the First World War for today’s generation has been a challenge. The Lost Generation offers an overview of the war as it progressed, as well as a series of features that help flesh out the story. It has not been possible to cover every single battle and event, but I’ve tried to include the most significant from Britain’s perspective.

(p. 4, Teachers’ Resource Guide by Martyn Barr, 2014, Out of The Box Publishing Limited)

Interview With Martyn Barr

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Martyn about his work as an author:

Why did you decide to write The Lost Generation?

Although I am not an expert on this topic, I have always been interested in World War One and because 2014 is the 100th anniversary of its outbreak, it seemed like the right time to publish a book on this topic. It felt like a big responsibility at times, tackling such a complex topic. I wanted to write a guide, told from the British perspective which had depth and challenged the reader but didn’t go into a huge amount of detail.

I am not a teacher or a historian. I am an author with a background in writing and design. I understand how important book design is in publishing. Design layout in a book impacts upon the reader experience, it needs to be cohesive and engaging.”

Although The Lost Generation is aimed at the younger student of history, do you think it also has wider appeal?

Yes, very much so. I always consider my readership carefully. I ask myself ‘what would they want to see inside a history book about World War One’? Modern generations of youngsters do not want to read lots and lots of text, they prefer snippets. I also wanted to produce a publication that appealed to both teenagers and adults.”

Do you offer on-line resources for teachers to accompany your publications?

“Yes we do. Supporting educational material is available to teachers after they have purchased their publication(s). We then provide password details so that they can access the relevant Resource Guide on-line. Material included in these guides is cross-curricular.”

Tell me a little bit more about your unique concept of corporate sponsorship to facilitate the publication process?

Many of our publications are sponsored by companies. As part of their package, we provide each sponsor with 500 copies of the book they have helped to publish. It is entirely up to the company concerned what they choose to do with these publications. In the case of The Lost Generation, which was sponsored by Fenwick Limited, they have decided to distribute their copies, for free, to local schools in Kent.”

Reviews – The Lost Generation

Fenwick Limited chose to sponsor The Lost Generation to mark Group Trading Director Hugo Fenwick’s term as High Sheriff of Kent, 2014. He says:

I was pleased to lend my support to this project to ensure that the current generation recognises the huge sacrifices made by their forebears 100 years ago to secure their freedom. The government has pledged to fund an educational programme to create an enduring legacy and I think this book supports that admirably.

Martyn presents a brutally honest account of the First World War, and has pitched it perfectly for a teenage audience. He has managed to achieve this without dumbing down the material in any way, so I’m sure adults will enjoy reading it too.

The Lost Generation has been well-received by both the general public and historians alike. Dr Will Butler from the University of Kent at Canterbury, who also fact-checked the book prior to publication, comments:

This book is a valuable guide for a youth audience, or anyone approaching this subject for the first time. It is richly illustrated, covers a significant amount of detail, and avoids those well-trodden myths of the First World War, to provide a concise history of the topic.

Amber Rudd MP for Hastings and Rye writes:

A detailed and well-written book and resource to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. Martyn has succeeded in producing a fitting tribute to all those who bravely gave their lives for our freedom.

Extracts from The Lost Generation. ©Martyn Barr - Out of The Box Publishing Ltd
Extracts from The Lost Generation. ©Martyn Barr – Out of The Box Publishing Ltd

Teachers’ Resource Guide – The Lost Generation

Martyn has written a Teachers’ Resource Guide to accompany The Lost Generation. Packed full of useful support material. Upon purchase of The Lost Generation, password details to access the on-line guide can be found on p.51, it is the last word that appears on that page. Generous educational discounts are also offered to schools and colleges, depending on quantities purchased. Details of these offers together with details of how to purchase individual copiesclick here.

Canterbury Cathedral In Times Past: Remembering WWI

Remembering World War I will be at the centre of this year’s event; examples from the rich collections at the Cathedral Archives will be on display to tell the story of life in the Cathedral City between 1914-1918. The exhibition will feature manuscripts, photographs and patient records illustrating the Voluntary Aid Detachment hospitals; a series of documents relating to the War Work Dept; letters from soldiers from the front; the diary of a cavalry officer and WWI pilot; artefacts relating to HMS Kent; details of how the casualties of the war were remembered, and the construction of the memorials in the Cathedral and in the City. Activities for children will include making a remembrance poppy and lavender bag.

(Canterbury Cathedral Website, published 18.8.2014)

On the evening of Tuesday 7th October, Martyn will be signing copies of The Lost Generation, at Canterbury Cathedral as part of their ‘Canterbury Cathedral in Times Past: Remembering WWI’. This free public event begins at 5.30pm with Evensong sung by the Cathedral Choir and at 6.30pm various activities and displays begin inside the Cathedral. The event ends at 8.40pm.

Canterbury Cathedral holds these open evenings annually but this year’s event commemorates World War One. Visitors will also be able to try their hand at a number of skilled crafts including applying gold leaf, carving stone, and brass rubbing. Free guided and audio tours will be on offer and there will be visits to the private chapels, the Bell Tower, the organ loft, and the choir practice room. For further information about this event, click here.

Author Martyn Barr ©Tim Stubbings
Martyn Barr in the Cloisters at Canterbury Cathedral. ©Tim Stubbings
Posted in Aviation History, Bringing Alive The Past, Event, Film, Historical Hair and Make-up, History, Maritime History, Motoring History, Rural Heritage, Vintage, World War Two

New Forest Remembers – D-Day Commemorative Event June 2014

©Come Step Back In Time
Forces Sweetheart entertained the crowds at Lymington Town Railway Station. D-Day commemorative event, 21st June, 2014. ©Come Step Back In Time

I recently wrote an article and made a couple of short films about Hampshire’s role preparing for the Invasion of Europe in 1944. For that article, ‘DDay, 70 Years On: Hampshire Remembers’, click here.

This Summer there have been many D-Day commemorative activities taking place across Hampshire. On 21st June, I attended Lymington-Brockenhurst Community Rail Partnership’s immersive history event in the New Forest.  Visitors were given the opportunity to step back in time and experience life in 1940s rural Britain, quite fabulous it was too.

An ambitious undertaking, involving a number of different locations. Brockenhurst station, Lymington Town station, Brockenhurst village and Berthon Marina, Lymington all came alive with the sights and sounds of wartime Britain. Vintage vehicles from the era, restored D-Day vessels (HMS Medusa and Pilot Rescue Launch 441), retro-themed stalls, fair rides, dance displays, music, singing, specially designed heritage walks and much, much more.

In Brockenhurst Village Hall, there was also an evening showing of The Longest Day (1962) together with a fish and chip supper. The film is all about D-Day and based uponn the 1959 book, of the same name, by Cornelius Ryan.

In order to showcase, fully, this fabulous day of nostalgia and reflection, I made this short film.

  • ‘D-Day Commemorative Event – New Forest Remembers, 21.6.14’ created by Emma, Editor of Come Step Back in Time.

On Lymington Town Quay there was a service of thanksgiving as well as the dedication of a plaque commemorating the departure of 2nd Battalion The Essex Regiment (The Pompadours) for Normandy on 3rd June, 1944.  The plaque was unveiled by a representative of The Royal Anglian Regiment and Mr Maurice Crosswell JP, President of The Rotary Club of Lymington.

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©Come Step Back In Time

The 2nd Battalions of the Essex, Glosters and South Wales Borderers were organised into 56th (independent Brigade) in January, 1944. On 25th May, 1944 the Essex moved into Camp B3 in the Beaulieu area, where it prepared for D-Day. Early morning PT and route marches ensured the physical fitness of all ranks with the emphasis now being placed on stimulating a sense of urgency. Training continued for street fighting, mine laying and clearance and weapon training, whilst night operations were extensively carried out. In short, the battalion was fighting fit and fit to fight. The camp was sealed and the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel JF Higson MC, briefed all ranks on their role in the invasion.

At 5.oo pm on 3rd June the battalion left camp and was taken to Lymington, where it embarked on Landing Craft Infantry (Large) for Southampton. Bad weather delayed the landings and the battalion finally sailed from Southampton for Normandy at 7.00 pm on 5th June. The evening was dull and overcast and although a heavy swell was running it was a quiet crossing. At 12.30pm the following day the battalion landed without casualties east of Le Hamel, which was still in enemy hands.

(Text above is from the back cover of a booklet produced especially for the ‘Plaque Dedication Service and Ceremony’ that took place at Lymington Quay, 21st June, 2014)

©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time


D-Day Veteran, Geoffrey William Dunstan attended the plaque unveiling ceremony and service at Lymington Quay. Geoffrey was 19, when he took part in D-Day. He was a member of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry who took part in the assault on Sword Beach. ©Come Step Back In Time
D-Day Veteran, Geoffrey William Dunstan attended the plaque unveiling ceremony and service at Lymington Quay on 21st June, 2014. Geoffrey was 19 when he took part in D-Day. He was a member of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, one of the regiments that landed on Sword Beach. ©Come Step Back In Time.

In 1939, Brockenhurst station received the first cohort of evacuees, mainly from Southampton and Portsmouth. During World War Two, nearly five thousand child evacuees came to the New Forest. In order to commemorate this at the ‘New Forest Remembers’ event, local school children, dressed in period clothing, recreated the spectacle of evacuees arriving in the village during the war.

All evacuees would have been placed with local families who received ten shillings and sixpence to accommodate one child per week (£16 in today’s money). This fee was reduced to eight shillings and sixpence for two or more children at the same address. Villagers in the New Forest were not particularly well-off and all evacuees had to bring with them:

  • knife, fork, spoon, plate and mug;
  • comb, toothbrush, gas mask;
  • handkerchief, shoes, plimsolls, socks and a change of clothes.
©Come Step Back In Time
A 1937 Bedford Country Bus, an eleven seater vehicle which at the ‘New Forest Remembers’ event offered rides around the Lymington town for a small charitable donation. A wonderful experience for fans of vintage vehicles such as myself. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
Inside the 1937 Bedford Country Bus. In 1939, the bus was used by the military to transport service personnel. In 1945, the vehicle was brought by Pentonville Prison for moving prisoners within the grounds. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
Art Deco period detail inside the Bedford Country Bus, 1937. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
A stunning Deco light fitting inside the 1937 Bedford Country Bus. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
Lovely ‘Dig For Victory’ display at Lymington station by Lymington Gardening Club and Lymington Flower Club. ©Come Step Back In Time

During World War Two, large areas of Open Forest, close to Brockenhurst – Wilverley Plain, Ober Heath, Longslade Bottom, Whitefield Moor – were ploughed over and crops planted. Approximately fourteen thousand allotments worth of land was utilised for the ‘Dig For Victory’ campaign. The crops grown ranged from cereals, potatoes, turnips to rapeseed and flax.

©Come Step Back In Time
Lymington Town station’s waiting-room where the clock had been turned back 70 years to 1944.  ©Come Step Back In Time
One of my favourite vintage vehicle exhibits at Brockenhurst station. A rare 1933, Austin 16/6 Westminster Sports Saloon. Only 50 were produced and 3 are still in existence. It was first registered in Somerset in 1933. During World War Two it was used as an Air Raid Warden’s Field Office in Holders Yard, Petersfield, Hampshire. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
Inside the restored 1933, Austin Sports Saloon caravan. Brockenhurst station. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
Inside the restored 1933, Austin Sports Saloon caravan. Brockenhurst station. ©Come Step Back In Time
Georgina Craufurd, Hon. Secretary of the Friends of Lymington to Brockenhurst Line, part of the Community Rail Partnership. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
Mr and Mrs Street c.1940. They ran ‘T. Street & Son’ a General Ironmongers in Brockenhurst Village. The shop still exists today. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
Streets Ironmongers in Brockenhurst village is still going strong in 2014. For the D-Day Commemorative event, the current owners, like many other retailers in Brockenhurst village, turned back time to the 1940s, dressing and decorating their shop windows accordingly. As you can see, many items that were sold 70 years ago are still available today. Current interest in nostalgia has ensured that hardware classics such as wooden clothes pegs and enamelled pie dishes are still remain popular.   ©Come Step Back In Time
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A newspaper from June 1940 on display in one of the shop windows in Brockenhurst village. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
Martins of Brockenhurst, chemist shop,  decorated for the event. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
Various pharmacy items from the 1940s on display at Martins Chemist shop in Brockenhurst village. ©Come Step Back In Time
J. W. Martin Chemist Shop c.1940. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
Forces Sweetheart entertains the veterans and dignitaries, HMS Medusa, Berthon Marina, Lymington, at a private reception at the end of the day’s events. ©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
One of the maritime stars at the D-Day event was HMS Medusa (ML1387) on station at Berth E1 in Berthon Marina, Lymington. This vessel was involved in 6/44 Operation Neptune (Naval element of D-Day and Invasion of Normandy). Read more about her restoration: and her involvement in D-Day: Medusa is recognised as being one of the vessels selected to represent the nation’s maritime heritage by her inclusion in the National Historic Fleet. ©Come Step Back In Time

In 1943, Setley Plain, close to the main road between Brockenhurst and Lymington, was Camp No.65 for prisoners of war (POWs). The first POWs to be housed at Setley Plain were Italians captured in Africa and later on Germans. POWs in the New Forest often helped the Land Army and took odd jobs in local villages. Some worked in the local sawmill and made toys for local children. On the whole, the POWs received a warm welcome from the locals in the New Forest, some even stayed on after the war ended.

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During preparations for D-Day, this site (now a private airstrip) near South Baddesley, Lymington was RAF Lymington, All that exists today of the original site is a blister hangar (top right) and the grass runway. ©Come Step Back In Time

In 1943, at a site near South Baddesley, Lymington, construction began to create a temporary airfield, an Advanced Landing Ground (ALG), known as RAF Lymington. The airstrip still exists but is now private property, part of the Newtown Park Estate. Between 1939 and 1945 there were twelve airfields operating in the New Forest.

In 1944, RAF Lymington had two landing strips, four blister hangars and many parking bays. The original landing strips at RAF Lymington were made of steel mesh pinned to the ground with large stakes. Tented accommodation for the Airmen and other staff working at the airfield was provided, hidden, in the nearby woods.

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View of the airstrip looking towards the Solent. The airstrip is now private property, party of the Newtown Park Estate but in 1943-44 it was RAF Lymington. ©Come Step Back In Time

RAF Lymington became home to the 50th Fighter Group, Ninth US. Tactical Air Force, they were first to use the airfield from April, 1944. P-47 Thunderbolts were familiar sights to anyone living in the New Forest area during 1944. Thunderbolt aircraft covered the beach landings on 6th June, 1944 as well as supporting allied troops invading Normandy. RAF Lymington ceased operation in Spring, 1945.

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©Come Step Back In Time

Other Squadrons stationed at RAF Lymington in 1944 were: 81st Squadron; 50th Fighter Squadron; 313rd Squadron and 9th Tactical Air Force U.S.A.A.F. The first three Squadrons then moved to an airfield in Normandy after 24th June, 1944.

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Airmen, possibly pictured at South Holmsley airfield, New Forest, 1940s. Photograph featured in a shop window display in Brockenhurst village as part of the ‘New Forest Remembers’ event. ©Come Step Back In Time

©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time