Bremhill Parish War Book

This was quite a flimsy document consisting of two typed pages and twenty-odd closely hand-written pages of lists of personnel and instructions. It was certainly flimsy enough to be eaten if the enemy had ever actually invaded! As the Librarian said when he took the document out of its packet, ‘Oh, I wasn’t expecting that!’ The pictures below will just give an idea of the format of the document.

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The content of the document consists of the following areas to be tackled:

  1. Outline of the problem
  2. Headquarters
  3. Invasion Committee
  4. Civil Defence Services
  5. National Fire Service
  6. Fire Guards
  7. Police
  8. Communication and messengers
  9. Information
  10. Shelter
  11. Food
  12. Casualty Services
  13. Decontamination
  14. Rest Centre
  15. Billeting
  16. Women’s Voluntary Services
  17. Emergency Labour
  18. Emergency Tools
  19. Emergency Transport
  20. Water
  21. Sanitation
  22. Burial of the dead

The Invasion Committee members were:

  • Bishop C.H. Shawe (Chairman – The Old School, E.T.)
  • Rev. G.A. Mitchell (Vice-chairman – The Manse)
  • Mr R.S. Butler (Chief Warden – The Grove, Fx)
  • Mrs Shawe (First Aid)
  • Mrs Lamb (Food Organiser – W.Tyth)
  • Mrs Thompson (W.V.S. – E.T.)
  • Rev. F.E. Birtill (Home Guard – Moravian Sch)
  • PC Maslin (Police – E.T.)
  • Miss Simper (Rest Centre – E.T.)
  • Rev. C.J. Carrier (Warden – Vicarage Bremhill)
  • Mrs Harold Vines (Manor Fm Bremhill)
  • Mr E. Bryning (Warden – Cadenham Mnr)
  • Mr R. Pegler (Home Guard – Elm Fm. Foxham)
  • Mrs Asford (West End Fm)
  • Mr A. James (Siderow Fm)
  • Mr P. Vines (Charlcutt Fm)

It is perhaps interesting to note that only Rev Carrier and Mrs Vines are from Bremhill, the largest settlement, but providing fewest personnel and Charlcutt Farm is still today in the hands of the same family. In addition, sub-groups were established in each of the four areas, responsible for the organisation of distribution of food, clothes and a rota for wardens and fire watchers.

It would be very easy, on reading through the various sections of the document to smile and think of ‘Dad’s Army’, but it makes us strongly aware that they were not in the digital age and had to cope in difficult circumstances with relatively few facilities we take for granted today, such as telephones and motorised transport and, to a degree, being isolated in the country. Motorcycles and bikes came to the fore with messengers having to be at the ready, as transmission of information depended largely on personal delivery. Clearly a good deal of thought had gone into producing much detail with considerable common sense. In the Food Section it was stated that “The Village Shops will be under the control of the Food Organiser and there can be no ‘run on the shops’.” One thinks immediately of the situation only a few months ago when supermarkets ran out of essentials because, in the pandemic, there was a ‘run on the shops’ – but this possibility was foreseen by our local organisers at that time.

It was clear that the whole organisation was centred on East Tytherton which was where the main depots of food and clothes and the Rest House were situated. This makes sense when one considers the position of East Tytherton within the Parish and one can presume that it was easier to transport goods and people on the main road from Chippenham than to have to tackle the hill up to Bremhill. There was also the added bonus of having the Moravian Church and school, plus village hall which all provided differing forms of readily available accommodation. The Moravian Church clearly played quite an important role in these preparations. In addition, there was also the Police Station with one PC stationed at East Tytherton and he had the only priority phone in the area which, in the moment of invasion or indeed other crisis, would be kept operative while all others were switched off at the exchange to prevent misuse of information. The involvement of the Moravian Church was emphasised as the Chairman of the Invasion Committee was Bishop C.H. Shawe, a Moravian Church bishop who became well known for the strenuous efforts he made throughout the war to keep in touch with the (underground?) Moravian Church in Germany.

There was also a noticeable gender division of labour in the distribution of the tasks. Women were allocated food, clothes, Rest Centre, salvage collection and first-aid while the men were the messengers, wardens, home guards and fire watchers. We are given little indication of the age of the men, but it would be reasonable to suppose thirty years plus as many of those younger may well have enlisted, but farming was a reserved occupation and so most men in the area would have been active and working on the land. However, one comment was made under emergency labour that some volunteers “maybe old offering limited services, so less can be expected of them”! When looking through the lists, familiar names from today crop up:- Vines, Satchel, Eatwell, Minty, Peglar, Summers, Bailey, Hatt, Hand and Fry are examples. (The Hands used to live in our house!)

There were allocated first-aid contact points, situated in the ET Church Room, the Charlcutt Institute, the Foxham Reading Room and the Bremhill Vicarage, staffed by women and with a named person in charge, plus a doctor-on-call coming from Seagry. These were basic treatment points with a couple of stretchers and blankets and a small amount of medicine, disinfectant and dressings. The instructions were to treat those with minor injuries, but for anything more serious, the casualty had to be sent to hospital. Those in Tytherton and Foxham went to Chippenham and from Bremhill, they were taken to Calne. At that time, it would seem that at Calne it was really not much more than a better equipped and more professionally staffed treatment centre, while Chippenham was described as a Cottage Hospital. Transport was to be by summoning an ambulance, but, if none available, then by car and, as a last resort, cart. The instructions state if no ambulance…: “Transport can only be what is available: firstly, application can be made to the Home Guard for a car… secondly, if cars are immobilised, then a farm-cart with straw litter will be used.” Not the most comfortable form of transport if one is injured!

The main food depot was in East Tytherton, but with depots in Bremhill, Foxham and Charlcutt/Spirt Hill. Control of the depots was under the Food Organiser, but each area was responsible for checking and arranging delivery of supplies from ET and for local distribution. It was clearly stated that not everyone was entitled to claim food and quantities were allocated per person, although there is no indication of the criteria by which these decisions were reached. There was a similar arrangement for second-hand clothes.

The Rest Centre was based around the Moravian Church and was open to anyone needing some form of sustenance. However, its main reason was to house any ‘stragglers’ who arrived in the village and to accommodate refugees who, the instruction says “are not meant to exist, but if any arrive should be kept and directed to the ET Rest Centre”. I feel what was in mind was emergency accommodation for anyone whose house had been destroyed. It also stated, “Our own people should be prevented from leaving – less likely if they are well occupied”, but no indication is given as to how they might be well occupied! In the Rest Centre, there was fairly strict segregation of the sexes, with men and boys in the Village School, women and girls in the Moravian School gymnasium and the Village Hall was the (mixed) dining room. There was total provision for 70 people, a not inconsiderable number. Should there be a need for the billeting of troops, however, East Tytherton offered to receive 15 and Foxham 12, while there was provision for emergency accommodation in the Bremhill and Foxham schoolrooms

Sanitation was dealt with briefly as it was perceived that most houses had their own provision, with the majority having a privy in the garden and a few boasting a proper WC. No provision was to be made for public latrines, although the Rest Centre had an allocation of 2 Elsan toilets. Water supply also very much took care of itself as there was some mains supply and an ample distribution of wells. East Tytherton and Foxham had the main regional water supply, while Bremhill received its water mainly from Mount Pleasant and from some wells. Charlcutt/Spirt Hill depended on wells where there are plenty. Charlcutt had 11 wells in use and Foxham had 7. (Our present house in Bremhill was dependent at that time on the well near the front door for all its water and the privy still existed when we bought it.)

Transport was well detailed, clearly being an important factor in the countryside for delivery of food and clothing, transport of any injured and transmission of information. All types of transport were considered. Requests were made for local people to make available what they were able or prepared to offer, which were then listed.

East Tytherton offered a total of 8 cars, 2 tractors, plus a cart from every farm; Foxham had 12 cars, 5 tractors, carts from every farm, plus 2/3 busses from Hatt’s Coaches. (Hatt’s were a popular local coach firm, providing a range of coach holidays here and abroad, developing well in the 1970’s/80’s, but eventually overstretched their capability and were declared insolvent in 2014.)
Bremhill provided 5 cars, 2 tractors and carts Charlcutt and Spirt Hill between them offered 4 cars, 3 motor-cycles, 4 tractors, carts plus 1 milk lorry!

Although slower, the use of carts was probably essential as they would have been more adaptable for the transport of more bulky items such as food, clothes and other non-urgent materials and had the advantage of being able to be driven by boys, so not taking men from essential agricultural tasks.

As there was only one telephone with priority in times of crisis (Police Station) and many Parish residents also did not have a telephone, transmission of information by messenger was essential and across the parish area there were between 10 – 12 messengers available who were able to take and notify people of information personally. Clearly transport for this was essential and in addition to the above there were 3 motor-cycles available in Foxham and E. Tytherton and 1 in both Bremhill and Charlcutt. There were also many bikes available across the area. There were 2 official notice boards, with one positioned at the East Tytherton Police Station and the other at Bremhill Church. It was stated that “If no mechanical means ( of spreading information was available, personal contacts had to be used.” It may in effect, have been quite efficient, but it does bring to mind ‘Chinese Whispers’ and one might wonder at how many garbled messages there may have been, had we been invaded! – but also the difficulty they had with trying to be efficient with such limited resources, no local radio, far fewer phones, no fax, no email and even telegrams, which still had to be delivered by a person!

In the event of invasion, advice was given to the public who were entreated not to be openly aggressive. “Do not have a shot at the enemy. Leave it to the Home Guard and the Military.” This infers that, being a farming community, most households were likely to have a 12-bore gun. The advice also continued “If asked by the enemy to provide labour or information, give as little as possible. Hide some, but not all, of your food.” This was designed, hopefully, to avoid possible violent confrontation, so ‘sort of play along with them, but don’t co-operate very much’ (my words)! The chairmen of the main and sub-committees should be aware of information on labour vehicles and tools controlled by the Home Guard who were contactable via Spirthill Farm, Monument Farm and Godsell Farm. There were 30 members of the Home Guard in each of East Tytherton, Bremhill and Foxham, together with 6 wardens and 6 fire-parties. No shelters were to be provided in the separate villages and the instructions state that “No advance arrangements have been made for slit trenches as they are not advisable in the area. Each house is responsible for its own protection.” The mind boggles at the idea of digging a slit trench around Bremhill and holding up the enemy approach from it!
Some of the items listed in the contents page were simply lists of people involved, or the information given was minimal. For example, it was said that there were no specific arrangements made for decontamination, except there was a bathroom at the Rest Centre which could be used for a wash and that burial of the dead would be in the Bremhill and Moravian churchyards, using the normal gravediggers. However, the document does represent a carefully thought-through plan for a frightening emergency, using what facilities were available and relying also on the good will of the inhabitants to pull together.

Not a world-shattering document, but an interesting one giving a clear picture of the time.

Ewen Bird.