World War II (1939-45)

The war touched on Faringdon and district in a number of ways – Local Defence, Pillboxes, Churchill’s Secret Army, Evacuees, Women’s Land Army, and Rationing.

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 1989Pillboxes were built along the River Thames to defend against a river borne advance or the landing of aircraft on the adjacent grass plains, and also on important roads. These latter to be 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 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 which has been found a use for today.

Churchill’s Secret Army at Coleshill House

Coleshill House Pre1952An 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.

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.

All their volunteers sent for training to Coleshill were ordered to report to Highworth Post Office where Mable Stranks reported their arrival to the camp and arranged for transport to pick them up.

Conditions at Coleshill 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.


Rialto Cinema 1940sIn 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.

Photograph 1939-45. In front of the Rialto Cinema are teenagers Lewis Boffin, Harry Thomas, John Moody, and Fred Hughes with a WWII evacuee in front. Lewis Boffin later became a police constable in Palestine after the war. Then 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.

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.

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, Joan, and Lorna from the Faringdon area, harvesting potatoes in a field on the east side of Badbury Clump in 1943/4. The 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.


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.

Researched and compiled by Ian Lee, November 2020.

Page last updated: 02-02-2022 Copyright © 2018-2022 Ian Lee