In April 2020, Datchet Village Society received a letter from Roger Hardy who was evacuated to Datchet in 1940 during WWII. He has kindly permitted us to publish his recollections
‘The chain of events in the summer of 1939 meant that, at the end of the summer holiday, our family had to stay down in our bungalow, tucked behind the sea wall on Romney Marsh near Camber Sands. We remained there for the ensuing winter instead of returning our house in south-east London. That changed dramatically the following spring when Dunkirk fell and the military decided to take over the coast. We, and our grandparents who lived next door but one, were given 24 hours to clear everything out and go back to London.
‘It was not long before the Blitz proper started and because we had no air-raid shelter it was decided that Mum and we three children and grandparents should go to live with Great Auntie Vi in Datchet whilst one was built in our garden. She kept a shop, G Checkley Baker & Confectioner, which had once been her husband’s bakery, on the Slough Road in Datchet. That is her standing in the shop doorway in a photograph taken just before WWI (main photo). George Checkley had died a while before the outbreak of WWII and there was no more baking but Auntie Vi continued to run the shop with whatever stock she could get hold of. There was, when we went there, a lovely display of chocolates in the window, and by that stage of the war we hadn’t seen any sweets for what seemed like forever. We soon discovered to our utter dismay that they were all cardboard replicas of Cadbury’s best.
‘The demands and the stress of having your younger sister and her husband, your niece and her three young children come to live with you in your small house was quite beyond our childish comprehension but Auntie Vi coped magnificently. The shop was what would otherwise be the front room. One went through the shop into the parlour, beyond that to the kitchen/scullery and beyond that to the bakery which was still as George had left it after his last batch of bread came out of the oven.
‘At the top of the single flight of stairs to the left was the front bedroom, to the right the middle bedroom and through that to the small back bedroom. This was a Victorian cottage that had never been modernised and, as it was in those days, there was no bathroom and the one toilet was somewhere down beyond the bake house. How did the adults cope? Our family had the middle room, with we three children sleeping on a mattress on the floor in the corner, our grandparents had the small back room and Auntie Vi the front bedroom. My father used to come down at the weekends from his week-time job in London teaching lathe skills to munitions workers.
‘My elder sister and I were enrolled in the village school which was very friendly but I do not recall actually making any friends even though many other pupils must have made the same walk as us, to and from school along Slough Road into the village. Every Sunday afternoon there was Sunday School at St Mary’s Church; anything to get us out of an overcrowded house! We were given a little book and, for every attendance, a colourful stamp to stick in it. My best friend, apparently, was Joe, the farm worker who lived next door. He was a magician; walking in the fields opposite the shop he could pull something from the ground, wipe off the dirt, cut a slice out of it and give me a whole new experience in tasting something more crisp and fresh than I had ever had before. And I can still taste that turnip.
‘To a child, the war did not seem to intrude into village life even if, in reality, it most certainly did. But I have no memory of ever hearing the air raid warning siren going or the ever-welcome “All Clear”, although there was a siren on a tall post on the Green. There were no Air Raid Wardens, sandbags or military visible anywhere, that I remember. Once a single-seat captured German fighter plane was set up on the Green, steps were put up alongside the cockpit, and all the children from the school filed out to climb the steps to look at the cockpit and throw a penny or a threepenny bit into it “for the war effort”.
Once a single-seat captured German fighter plane was set up on the Green, steps were put up alongside the cockpit, and all the children from the school filed out to climb the steps to look at the cockpit and throw a penny or a threepenny bit into it “for the war effort”.
‘There was a fascinating model village, I don’t recall it being of Datchet itself, on the ground just by a field entrance on the Slough Road. It was made by Mr Avis, a local builder, as an advertisement for his building business. He was also an accomplished artist as his painting of Slough Road shows. As a small child, so much closer to the ground, the detail and the reality of the model allowed one to move right into it and be part of its life. Mr Avis, who lived on the Slough Road was, like Auntie Vi, a stalwart member of the Gospel Chapel down the Horton Road.
‘By mid-1941, an air-raid shelter had been built in the garden of our London home and my mother, younger sister and I went back to live there while my elder sister stayed on in Datchet for educational reasons. Back in London I was enrolled in a privately-run prep school because, as the family story goes, while at St Mary’s Village School I had learnt to swear. Oh dear!’