As part of the KRA’s Memory Lane series in our Newsletters we have met many local residents and they have kindly shared with today’s readers their memories of Knaphill’s past. At this time of Remembrance we are putting a special series of Memory Lane articles on the website that recalled the wartime memories of many of today’s Knaphill residents: Part 1 of ‘The Men & the Boys’
Derek Cloak has lived most of his life in Knaphill. He was just nine when the war started and has vivid memories of wartime life in and around Oak Tree Road. With Aldershot, Inkerman Barracks and many other military and strategic sites close by, Knaphill had its share of incidents to excite the imagination of schoolboys growing up in those war years.
Many London schools arranged for children to be evacuated out into the country and as many as five evacuees, plus Derek, his sister and Mum & Dad lived at their house. Most of them were girls who were evacuated from Mayfield Girls’ School in Wimbledon. Derek’s Mother was a good organizer and the family always made the other children welcome. Many remained friends long after the war. Derek explained that for youngsters these were exciting times; they didn’t understand the risks and the dangers, they saw it as more of an adventure.
The A322 always seems to be busy now, but in the war years it was often busy with long convoys of Military Vehicles heading out along the Bagshot Road usually towards Bisley. Sometimes the trucks had to stop and the Mums from Oak Tree Road would make pots of tea to take to the troops while they waited.
Derek’s father was a Fire Warden and was on duty on several nights a week, with no street lights and the ‘black out’, and thankfully not too many major problems in Knaphill. But in 1940 many local people looked across from the top of Anchor Hill and could see the light of the fires blazing far away in London at the time of the Blitz.
War planes seemed to have been quite a common sight in the skies above Knaphill. One day the Mums were chatting and the children were playing in the front garden, when a couple of fighter planes flew low overhead engaged in a ‘dog fight’ and cartridges started falling all around. Derek remembered his Mother sending the children indoors and ushering them into the cupboard under the stairs….. for safety!! The British Spitfire plane was shot down. The pilot bailed out and came down near to Guildford, but the plane crashed on Inkerman Barracks in St Johns, killing several Canadian soldiers stationed there.
One Saturday afternoon when Derek and his mates were at ‘the pictures’ at the Brookwood Hospital Social Centre they heard a plane in trouble overhead. The excited youngsters ran to see what was happening. It was a twin crew Mosquito and it crashed along the Lower Guildford Road; both of the crew were killed. That day Eric Fagence was at a football match on the Brookwood Farm playing fields and he remembered the same incident. Eric also recalled one of the German Luftwaffe Heinkels that crashed near to West End/Chobham. He went on the bus to see the wreckage, but left his gas mask up there and was sent back to retrieve it! Gas masks were compulsory, and had to be carried at all times. The photograph shows Derek aged about 8 or 9 in about 1940 and apparently the cord across his coat is tied to his gas mask.
In another incident a German Bomber was over Knaphill in daylight with British planes chasing it. The children were in school but could hear the bomber jettisoning its load nearby, and local Mothers ran up to the village fearing Knaphill School had been hit. The school was missed, but a house was flattened off the Bagshot Road and apparently thirteen more bombs were dropped over Brookwood Cemetery.
The war raged in Europe, but for the young boys like Derek and Eric at home much of life went on as normal and it seemed to be an exciting time. They had vivid memories of wartime Knaphill and we appreciate their sharing these recollections with us.