“WARTIME MEMORIES”

Josephine Rona (née Kingham) West

Josephine Rona (née Kingham) West was born in Surrey in 1929 and married Guy F. N. West in 1956. She kindly contributed in 2011 the following memories of wartime Effingham.

Wartime Memories

When War broke out we were living on Effingham Common. On that particular day we were preparing to go for a walk with our Governess and I heard my mother telling her not to go near the army camp where the soldiers were based, on Sir Nicholas Waterhouse’s farm. However, we did end our walk at the gate of the camp and our Governess was talking to a soldier when suddenly there was a commotion around the campsite and we were instructed to run home immediately as War had been declared.

As we ran down the hill towards the road my father was waiting for us with the car doors open. We all bundled in, including our two dogs – my sister’s Scotty ‘Angus’ and my Great Dane ‘Marcus’. The sirens were on and as soon as we arrived home we went into the passage under the stairs, which became our sanctuary until an iron shelter was constructed in the hall.

Effingham was on the flight path to London. Many incidents happened in that area. There was a dog-fight over the house and the German pilot baled out of his damaged plane and ended up in a field in West Horsley. We were taken to see him land. He had quite a reception with the army, police and A.R.P. to see he did not escape – our first sighting of the enemy!

One morning I went for an early morning ride on my pony across the Common towards the Station, when I was turned back because the German planes had been intercepted by the R.A.F. and, in their haste to return to Germany, dropped a thousand incendiary bombs on the Common.

We had two evacuees billeted with us. I remember them arriving with a small suitcase each and a gas mask, which we all had to carry with us at all times. They were not with us for long as I fell off our trapeze bar and broke both my wrists. After this we had a couple of French Canadian soldiers billeted, but my parents were concerned as they used to come back to the house drunk on many occasions. They departed and the Canadian soldiers replaced them, and they were very kind to us children and always very respectful.

One interesting incident happened later on in the War during a very cold winter when all the pipes in the house froze, the R.A.F. [appeared] opposite our house with a balloon – apparently a very secret experiment. I heard my parents being told in hushed tones. The officer in charge and his men were invited to “open house” all night, when not on duty, for food, warmth and to sleep. We never heard afterwards what they were doing with this particular balloon.

As I was at school in Keswick as a boarder most of these incidents would have happened in the holidays. We had a rifle range in the garden and were given .22 rifles and taught to shoot invading Germans with the impending invasion. Later the Canadian soldiers taught us to use pistols. The Americans came later in the War and were at Dunley Hill, rather hush-hush I recall.

The doodlebugs were a menace, [we] never knowing where they would strike on landing. During one very frightening raid we were allowed on the balcony to see the great fire of London, a sight which has remained with me for ever.

Later on the German prisoners-of-war cut the hedges around the fields for the farmer, followed by the Italians who sang!