World War II (1939-45)

The war against Germany’s leader Hitler and fascism touched on Faringdon and district in a number of ways.

Local Defence

Fred Newman Ww2 C1940War Reserve Police Constable Fred Newman of Great Coxwell. He was killed in October 1942 while riding his motorcycle in the blackout. He was in collision with a Bedford 3 ton tender which was transporting a signal beacon to its site near Badbury Woods overlooking Great Coxwell.

In order to have units of men who would be willing to defend the country in the event of an emergency a force, known as the Local Defence Volunteers and consisting of men who were not in the Armed Forces, was formed in May 1940. In July 1940 the name was changed to the Home Guard. At first only volunteers were called for but participation became compulsory in November 1941. The main responsibilities were observation and information but, in case of invasion, it would be as an initial response force. The Faringdon Home Guard drilled on Sunday mornings in the local Marine camp, now Marines Drive, and manned a post in the Services Club where there was an Air Raid warning siren. The Faringdon Home Guard area stretched to the River Thames at Buscot and Radcot. The Home Guard units were stood down in November 1944.

Fire Engine C1940Market Place C1945

During the war protective helmets were worn by the Faringdon Fire Brigade. There was an A.R.P emergency water tank in the Market Place in front of Liddiard’s shop in Faringdon. Children used the tank as a swimming pool so it was covered over with a frame and wire mesh. The probable use of incendiary devices to set fire to buildings and crops was taken seriously by the authorities and leaflets describing what to do in case of an attack were distributed to the populace. An A.R.P. siren was placed on the roof of the Services Club and at the end of the war was moved to the roof of the Police Station and used to summon the Fire Brigade.

Faringdon firemen were also sent to blitzed towns and cities during the war:  Exeter, Bristol, Avonmouth, Southampton, Coventry, and London. More about Faringdon Fire Service…


Pill Box London St 1989During WWII it was feared that the Germans would launch an airborne attack on Britain and especially target this area partly because of the numerous airfields in the area such as Watchfield, Kelmscot, Brize Norton, Kingston Bagpuize and Shellingford.

Pill Box Radcot Rd 1989A series of defensive systems were set up in the locality such as searchlight sites; tank traps; anti-tank ditches at strategic crossing points; posts and ricks of hay and corn in open fields to deter glider landings; concealed spy-holes to observe an enemy approaching; and road blocks.

Pill Box Radcot River 1989Many pillboxes were built along the River Thames to defend against a river borne advance or the landing of aircraft on the adjacent grass plains. They were also built beside important roads and defended with Bren guns and anti-tank guns.

The photographs above, taken in 1989, are of a pillbox at the top of London Street past Sudbury House, a concealed pillbox under the statue in Faringdon House grounds on the Radcot Road on the left as you go down the hill, and one on the river bank towards Kelmscott. There are many many more in this area, strung out all along the river. The local pillboxes were built by local builder A. E. Baker & Sons.

Pill Box Radcot Bridge 1989Radcot Pill Box 2020Between the first two bridges over the River Thames at Radcot is an unusually large pillbox, which is now surrounded by the pub car park and used as a cafe and camp-site office. It is possibly the only pillbox of which there has been found a use for today.

Churchill’s Secret Army at Coleshill House

Coleshill House Pre1952
Coleshill House pre-1952

An Auxiliary Unit of the Second World War, sometimes known as Churchill’s Secret Army, had its Headquarters at Coleshill House. They were a sabotage organisation set up in 1940 in case of a Nazi invasion. They were a rag-tag band of gamekeepers, farmers and others who would have become Britain’s resistance in case of invasion during WW2. Trained at Coleshill they would have engaged in sabotage and carried out assassinations, living in carefully disguised underground bases completely hidden from the outside world. In 1996, an underground operational bunker was re-discovered in a wide belt of woodland surrounding the estate. Entrance to the underground base was by lifting a well camouflaged manhole cover and climbing down a metal ladder. There was also an escape tunnel, as discovery was expected to follow quite quickly once a search by dogs was instigated. For safety reasons the operational bunker is not open to the public but an exact replica has been created and can be visited to see the conditions in which the secret army was supposed to work.

Entrance To The Underground Wwii Bunker On The Coleshill Estate, Oxfordshire
Entrance to the operational bunker
Coleshill Operational Bunker Air Vent
Disguised ventilation
Coleshill Operational Bunker Manhole
Down the manhole
Coleshill Operational Bunker Blast Walls
Blast wall in entrance
Coleshill Operational Bunker Kitchen
Kitchen area
Coleshill Operational Bunker Escape Hole
Escape route
Coleshill Operational Bunker Desk
Recreation area on left side
Coleshill Operational Bunker Seating
Sitting and sleeping area on right
Coleshill Operational Bunker
Emergency escape exit

The British Resistance Archive website at www.staybehinds.com covers Operational Patrols and all known personnel, their Headquarters at Coleshill House, and the Special Duties Branch which was the secret civilian spy communications network.

The entire operation would be compromised if anyone found out what was going on at Coleshill House. They needed complete secrecy. All their volunteers sent for training to Coleshill were ordered to report to Highworth Post Office where Mable Stranks, upon receiving the required password, reported their arrival to the camp and arranged for transport to pick them up. They were then blindfolded before being sent on a circuitous route to get to the house. Conditions at Coleshill House were sparse – no electricity or running water until after the war. Water was collected from the village or from wells and lighting was by oil lamps. Unfortunately the building burnt down during the night of the 23rd September 1952 and consequently had to be demolished. It was never rebuilt.

Evacuees in Faringdon

In 1939 the Government arranged for evacuees to come to the countryside to escape the expected bombing of the big cities. These evacuees on the whole did not stay for long as the expected bombing did not take place. However there was a 2nd flood of evacuees in 1940. Faringdon and area received its fair share including whole classes of children from their city schools. Everyone found it quite difficult to adjust, both the evacuees from their urban areas and the families who received them.

Evacuees Faringdon House 1940In 1940, a group of evacuees at a meet of the Old Berks Hunt at Faringdon House. Lord Berners is on the steps with Mrs Penelope Betjamin and her white horse ‘Moti’. In the foreground are evacuee schoolchildren from London with their teacher Mr Smith.

Rialto Cinema 1940sIn front of the Rialto Cinema are teenagers Lewis Boffin, Harry Thomas, John Moody, and Fred Hughes. The young lad in front was an evacuee who was probably staying with one of their families. Lewis Boffin later became a police constable in Palestine after the war. Later, he worked in and finally took over his father Thomas’s butchers shop in Faringdon until he retired. He passed away on 27th May 2018, aged 91 years.

Faringdon had already hosted refugees from the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), which was also a fight against fascism. There were anxious antifascist rallies in the Faringdon and Abingdon areas. Some of the people of Faringdon became energetically involved in the resettlement of refugees of all ages. In 1937, some 80 of the 4000 children brought to England ended up in Faringdon and Aston. Lord Faringdon lent two lodge houses on his Buscot estate for a group of 40 boys. 2 “There was a gargantuan feast held at Buscot House, cooked by a mythical chef called Fass. All the guests were diplomatically arranged by Mr Buck, Lord Faringdon’s butler. The gathering included Spanish republican politicians, poets and artists and many famous British and American sympathisers.” 3

Women’s Land Army

Wla Anne Fryer 1939As well as children, many woman came from the cities to help on the farms around Faringdon. Created in April 1939, the woman of the Land Army were to replace the men who had been working on the land but were conscripted into the army. Sir Stafford Cripps’ house in Filkins (8 miles north of Faringdon) was used as a Land Girls’ Hostel. Local women were of course also recruited.

Photo left: Anne Fryer in October 1939 muck spreading at Shellingford.

Photos below, donated by Michael Bell: Land Army girls Joyce Bowley, Violet Belcher, Joan Wooster, and Lorna from the Faringdon area. They were harvesting potatoes in a field on the east side of Badbury Clump in 1943/4. The fair-headed young girl in the middle has been identified as Joan Wooster, age 14/15, from Great Coxwell who later married Johnny Sutton.

Wla Group Photo 1939Wla Harvesting Potatoes 1939Wla Driving Tractor 1939


Ration BookFood rationing started in January 1940. In March 1941 each adult received 5oz margarine, 2oz cooking fat, 8oz sugar, 2oz jam, 2oz tea and meat worth 1s 2d (6p).

The Ministry of Food issued wartime cookery books such as ‘Potato Peter’s Recipe Book’ and ‘Win the War Cookery’. People were also urged to grow as much of their own food as possible. In a booklet called ‘The Vegetable Garden displayed’ the Minister of Food, Rt. Hon. Lord Woolton wrote the following message to the populace. ‘This is a Food War. Every extra row of vegetables in allotments saves shipping. If we grow more Potatoes we need not import so much Wheat. Carrots and Swedes, which can be stored through the winter, help to replace imported fruit. We must grow our own Onions. We can no longer import ninety per cent of them, as we did before the war. The vegetable garden is also our National Medicine Chest – it yields a large proportion of vitamins which protect us against infection. I therefore welcome this booklet which encourages people to grow more vegetables. The battle on the Kitchen Front cannot be won without help from the Kitchen Garden’. The War Agricultural Committee was formed and Archie Saunders was the local representative. One of his tasks was to go round to tell the farmers to plough up old permanent grass and grow wheat for bread. Land Army girls helped on the farms, gangs of displaced Europeans were employed in digging out ditches and streams etc., Italian Prisoners of War were dropped off at farms to work, and later German Prisoners of War also came. There were Prisoner of War camps at Stanton Harcourt, Didcot, East Challow, Watchfield, Bicester and a small one at the top of Southampton Street in Faringdon.

Petrol rationing started in September 1939 and finding one’s way around became more difficult when signposts were uprooted. Queuing for buses became compulsory from April 1942. People were encouraged to save their money with slogans such as ‘lend don’t spend’ and ‘kill the squander bug’. There was a War Weapons Week in 1941, Warships Week in 1942, Wings for Victory Week in 1943 and Salute the Soldier Week in 1941. There were house to house collections, fetes and parades to encourage people to give money and to buy National Savings Certificates.

Prisoners of War (POW) Hostel

Back in the 1970s before all the new housing estates were built, there were the ruins of a prison of war camp by what was then the cricket field on the left-hand side of the lane leading off the end of Southampton Street towards Oriel Cottages. The hostel was attached to the main Lodge Farm Camp 25 and it held about 50 pows. The prisoners were taught to speak English and Agricultural Machinery; some stayed in Faringdon after the war to work. The huts continued to be used as extra classrooms by Faringdon Secondary Modern School which was once sited further back on Southampton Street. They were reported to be bitterly cold in winter, even with the ‘tortoise heaters’ that were provided. They were known colloquially by their occupants as “The ‘Uts”. In winter the lane often flowed with rainwater and was inevitably known as “The River ‘Ut”.


  1. Extracts from: The Changing Faces of Faringdon and Surrounding Villages – Bk2 p40-55. By Rosemary Church, Jim Brown, Millie Bryan and Beryl Newman. Robert Boyd Publications.
  2. Faringdon Folly, March 1996 p13  – ‘When three months became a lifetime’.
  3. Faringdon Folly, April 1996 p13 – ‘Memories of the Basque refugee children’ – Vernon Hale.

Researched and compiled by Ian Lee, November 2020.

Page first published 21-12-2019 | Last updated 10-08-2023 | Copyright © 2018-2024 Ian Lee | All rights reserved.