Chalfont St Peter at War

‘Is this a natural hazard!’

The good people of Chalfont St Peter went to war in earnest some time in 1940 when the Luftwaffe damaged a local golf course. The ,phoney war’ ended with a bang ‑ literally and figuratively. We now knew what we were up against. Only the most frightful barbarians would damage a golf course!

Within weeks the village was collecting money to build a corvette. The Spitfire fund was all very well but we needed to do more ‑especially when another bomb fell in a field (now Croft Road). This, it was agreed, was an attempt to bomb the Holy Cross Convent! How dastardly could they get? The adults expressed their disgust at this blatant attempt to kill or injure innocent nuns and the children were organised to collect scrap metal for the war effort.

So, off went the kids (1 was one) with old prams and the then popular soap‑box‑on ­wheels contraptions collecting scrap from door to door. This went well until a patriotic lady living in Chalfont Heights told two small boys to take the scrap metal items she had stored in her garden shed. Enthusiasm being what it was in those days she had the problem later of recovering her lawn mower, watering can and sundry tools which had also been stored in the garden shed. Small boys and girls were later relegated to collecting waste paper, which seemed a safer option.

Primitive air raid shelters were built at the village school and, since air raids occasionally occurred in the mornings, instruction was given as to how the children should behave in the event of the siren going off whilst on the way to school. The rule was clear “if you are nearer home, then go home. If nearer to the school, go to the school.” The predictable result included a mass and rapid evacuation of the school playground the kids headed home at the first note of the siren. Older residents may remember Mr Randall, one of the teachers, speeding down Church Lane on his bicycle trying, a latter day cowboy, to round up the stampeding horde.

The adults meanwhile had progressed from membership of the Local Defence Volunteers ‑ equipped with deadly arm bands ‑ to membership of the Home Guard. They were equipped with broomsticks and the odd shotgun, no doubt to the terror of Hitler’s SS Divisions. The Home Guard had a convenient headquarters in The George!

Liaison between the children and the Home Guard was close, unofficial and not entire to the liking of the local commander. Small groups of inquisitive and sometimes jeering boys were no encouragement to close order drill or practice with a ‘mortar’ (a piece of drainpipe) in Chalfont Park. One particularly angry officer drove the onlookers away with dire threats and a walking stick. He was the loser when the same small boys gave away the position of his platoon to an enemy’ during manoeuvres.

The village was not without its fortifications. A number of dugouts were constructed in various ‘strategic’ places and contraptions made from tree trunks and cartwheels were put in place to block the road to Chalfont St Giles. Since these obstructions could be pushed out of the way by a couple of reasonably strong men, it is doubtful if they would have delayed the Panzers for long. Whether or not these defences contributed to Hitler’s decision not to invade will never be known, but the dugouts were a popular feature.

They were much appreciated by courting couples and small boys experimenting with an illegal cigarette. The arrival of American forces had a dramatic effect on the village especially on the younger female residents. A brisk exchange of nylon stockings and other goodies preceded a resurgence in the popularity of the dugouts. Meanwhile the children spent all their spare time at camps in Chalfont Park and The Grove gathering supplies of sweets, chocolate and even, sometimes, oranges!

The arrival of the 51st Highland Division changed matters. The Americans, who had never fired a shot in anger, had the money and the girls. The Scots, just arrived from the Italian and African campaigns were tough, seasoned troops who knew what war was all about, but had little money and no girls. The result was inevitable. An unwise remark from an American to the effect that he and his buddies were here “to win the war for you guys” brought about the virtual destruction of the Baker’s Arms (now known as the Poachers) as the Scots vented their feelings on their American comrades in arms. The fight overflowed into the High Street giving the locals a splendid half hour of entertainment until the MPs arrived and stopped the fun.

Everyone ‘did their bit’ in those days and mention must be made of one elderly ARP warden. This gentleman when awakened by the siren during the regular nightly raids in 1940/41 would leave his warm bed, put on his tin hat and greatcoat (over his pyjamas) and sally forth into the road. He would blow his whistle for two or three minutes thus ensuring that any of his neighbours who had slept through the siren’s wail were now well awake. He then returned to his bed and went to sleep in the knowledge of a job well done. Such was the spirit of service in those days and the dedicated way in which the Nazi hordes were defied.

Towards the end of the war it became clear that the chances of invasion were negligible.

However, the Home Guard, in the spirit of service, continued to operate. The occasional parade was held ‑ one of which was addressed by an American general, who predicted that if the Germans invaded the Home Guard would give them a very tough time. A safe prediction in view of the fact that the Germans were rather busy fighting on Normandy at the time. However, the general’s remarks were well received and amply celebrated in the Merlin’s Cave in Chalfont St Giles, despite the beer shortage! The social side of the Home Guard remained notably active until the war ended.

These are a few of the memories of the village at War ‑ there are other, more serious recollections; but through it all the lighter side helped to keep us going.