War Years


SHILTON 1939- 1945

For Shilton, the six war years, 1939-1945, formed a bridging period, taking the village from the relatively enclosed traditional life of the thirties into a time when external, modern influences were to intrude, never again to disappear. Foreigners arrived in large numbers. German and Italian prisoners of war worked on farms; Irish labourers were employed in the construction of airfields, and American servicemen were stationed on nearby camps. Children from London and Kent attended the village school. Agriculture,which had been in a sadly run-down state during the depression, was subsidised, and farmers were directed as to the crops they should grow. In Shilton, as in the rest of Great Britain, people gave their time and energy to fund-raising, the Home Guard, and all the other activities which were organised to support the war effort.

Those Shilton people who remain here, forty years later, have been talking and recalling incidents from those crucial years, and from these memories we have tried to convey something of the flavour of that time. We hope that allowances will be made for any omissions or inaccuracies in the story. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Shilton is described- as having been a close-knit community during the war years, bound by a common cause. Everyone was very busy,and many of the activities were entirely new to the village.

Social life took on entirely new dimensions, and became more varied

in every way. A group of women formed a concert party, performing their songs and sketches around the neighbourhood to raise money for various wartime causes. In spite of the absence of transport, except for official purposes, people enjoyed walking or cycling to Burford for a film in the Warwick Hall, or to Brize Norton or Bury Barn, for parties given by the Forces. The R.A.F. would decorate their hall on these occasions with coloured parachutes, and since they were not subject to the severe level of civilian rationing, everyone had a really good time.

Shilton women formed a knitting club, which entitled them to a special allocation of wool to knit for the forces. Similarly, membership of the Pig Club gave pig owners extra feed for their animals. Most of the villagers did keep a pig in those days, and they were also very active on their allotments. Some housewives took in washing for men at Broadwell, and Mrs Brooks remembers an Indian cook coming down from the airfield to buy fresh vegetables. Coloured faces were virtually unknown in Shilton before the war.

Whist drives were a popular way of raising money, and were held weekly at the "Reading room." In our display we had letters of thanks to Shilton from Mrs Churchill and from the Duchess of Marlborough, for gifts to the Aid to

Russia Fund, and .to Prisoners of War. Mrs Gardiner had organised whist drives for both these causes.

For War Weapons week, a fete was held in Mrs Burton's field, at Pump Close. The local M.P., Mr Edmonson, opened the fete, and as well as the usual entertainments, there were rides for the children on small tanks brought down

by the R.A.F. For the price of a 6d savings stamp,to be bought in the dining -

room at Pump Close, the children were taken through the pond, up Butts hill, and back by the Manor. There was also an auction, for which Mrs Burton had made a small goat's milk cheese, which went for the amazing sum of £15. At the same event the R.A.F. set up a field kitchen, and there was a fancy-dress dance in the evening. Armine Grobecker remembers being dressed as the current slogan, "Grow More Potatoes."

Shilton's base for the Red Cross was with the Skirvings at The Lawns, where the stretcher and other equipment was kept. Mrs Burton was in charge of the stretcher-party, and had to attend lectures in Burford by Dr Graham. They were told that, should they need a Thomas splint for a fracture, they would have to cycle to Woodstock or Banbury to get one!

There are a number of tales told of Mrs Burton, whose husband, Commander Burton was a P.O.W. in the Far East. She took casual work on neighbouring farms, and helped the Bastons and Jimmy Bell at threshing time, being paid

the going rate of 92d an hour. there was a steam threshing machine which went from farm to farm, drawing its water from the pond. Then, on Saturdays,

Mrs Burton would prepare meatless meals at 6d each for those that wanted them. One airman was married only hours before the Broadwell airfield was sealed off on preparation for D-Day. He took his bride to Mrs Burton, who gave her a home at Pump Close for as long as he remained on the base; and also helped her to find a spot in the perimeter fence where she could make contact with her husband.

Mrs Skirving, in her capacity of local W.V.S. representative, was responsible for a special weekly allocation of meat pies, for agricultural workers. These were made at nearby bakeries, and delivered to The Lawns, where they were collected by those entitled to receive them. Rations were also supplemented by the shooting of rabbits, pigeons, etc: Many people kept pigs and chickens, though these sometimes got stolen. The blame for this seems to have fallen on the Irish.

The "Rose and Crown", in all its' long existence, had probably never been so busy. Everyone remembers the noisy and sometimes violent scenes which became common in the village with the arrival of the Irish workers. Americans, too, were often involved in the fights which regularly threatened the windows of the Trinder's cottage. Beer supplies did not last the week, however, so there must have been some more peaceful evenings. Mrs Bowles was working at "The Chequers" in Brize Norton, and when supplies ran out there, young people would walk or cycle over to Shilton in search of a drink; bringing jam- jars, which took the place of glasses.

On Wimpey pay-days the Post Office was besieged by Irish workmen, telegraphing money to their families in Ireland. The queue stretched down the garden path and into the road, and Joyce Read and her father had to work till late at night, wiring off all the orders. At the start of the war the Post Office was in a part of what is now Barn Cottage. Then it was moved up near the crossroads, where it served as a small shop as well as post-office.

It was during the war that permission was first given for marriages to take place in Shilton Baptist Chapel. The first to be married there were Hilda and Harold Hunt, followed soon afterwards by Jack and Joyce Read. On Sundays a good number of R.A.F. men helped to fill the chapel, and they would be welcomed back to tea with the Reads, who enjoyed contact with some of thes men for many years.



Shilton school was the place from which everyone collected their gasmasks a week or two before the outbreak of war. s

About a dozen children were billetted in Shilton as evacuees. There were several girls from a school in Ashford, Kent, and Mrs Skirviug had Lily and Albert from Hoxton. Ernest Payne also came from London, and stayed for about

two years, first with Mrs Bell at the Downs, and then, when she was unwell, with Mrs Read. During that time Ernest only saw his mother once. Mrs Skirving as the local W.V.S. representative, was responsible for billetting arrangements.

The first special issue of free milk for chidren was distributed through the schools, with 3 pint for each child. Mrs Bell cooked special things to supplement the children's diet at lunch time. There were little pots of custard at 2d each, and jugs of cocoa were kept warm on the stove.

On the afternoon when the bomb was dropped at Brize Norton, Mrs Pearson quickly got all the children under the tables for safety.

When orange juice became unobtainable as a source of vitamins for issuing to mothers of pre-school children, rose-hip juice was made to take its place. Chidren took a big part in collecting hips from the hedgerows, and also in salvaging waste paper.

The nearest Welfare Clinic was at the surgery at the bottom of Burford hill, so mothers had a long walk with their prams to see the doctor and to collect their cod- liver oil, etc.


For the farmers, their livelihood was more secure than it had been during the years of the depression, with a guaranteed market and price for all that they could produce. However,they now had to grow crops according

to orders from the Ministry, and the age of form-filling had arrived. In order to obtain allocations of foodstuffs etc., they had to comply with the system, and deal with the paperwork.

In place of men who had been called up for the armed forces, farmers could employ Land Army girls, and prisoners of war. Millie Hunt was a Land Girl, working on her father's farm, and there were a number of others in the area,'some of them living in a hostel, and being sent to wherever they were needed, under the direction of Miss Gray, in Burford.

Some Italian P.O.W.s worked for Mr Bell. They wore brown uniforms with yellow and green circular patches. These Italians lived in a but that they built for themselves out of packing cases, with a thatched roof. It

stood in a field at the Downs for years, and was always known as the "Italian Hut'.' A German P.O.W. working for Jack Gardner made wooden toys, and gave Elizabeth Read a pecking chiken. Another German mended clocks in his spare

time. The Bastons remember their P.O.W.s as being very good workers, who got on well with everyone.

Jack Gardner has a good story about "Tottenham Pudding". This was a concoction made from hotel left-overs. It arrived in a weekly delivery, loaded in large bins, and was a valuable addition to feed for livestock. There would often be strange objects lodged in this mixture, such as spoons, forks, and on one occasion they found a jersey! This was washed several times, and worn, for years it is said, perhaps by Joe Trinder.


The Shilton Home Guard contingent numbered about twenty-two men, with Lieut. J.F.Bell and Sergt. Jack Gardner in charge. At first they were very badly equipped, with one gun between six men, supplemented by pitchforks and pickaxe handles. Their rifle range for practise was in Windmill field, down at the "Bottoms", and the spot where the bank was cut out for this purpose

can still be seen. 'Ammunition was kept in specially-built but in the Skirving's meadow, and this also still remains.

There were two look-out posts which had to be manned at night. One was a sort of crow's nest, built onto a barn up at Sturt Farm, and the other was at Shilton Downs. Sitting up at night in a garage at the Downs, the men played cards, and made tea on a paraffin stove. On one occasion they fell asleep, and the stove caught fire, blackening the whole place. The owner of the garage was Mr Bell, who farmed Shilton Downs, and who was also the unit commander, so great efforts were put into scrubbing the place down, to try and conceal what had happened.

The village units came under the command of area headquarters at Filkins, where Mr Skirving was based, under Bertram Mitford. They organised local manoeuvres, such as Shilton versus Swinbrook, when one side would have to camouflage themselves, to creep up and infiltrate the other's territory. LOCAL DEFENCE MEASURES

There was a pill-box near Stonelands, where flares were lit, to mislead enemy planes searching for Brize-Norton. There were also several road blocks, made from telegraph poles which, with hinges and wheels, could be swung into place if needed.

The "ringing of church bells was forbidden during the war, but Mrs Burton was appointed to toll them to warn everybody in the event of an invasion. Ernest Lanchbury had planted yellow crocuses on his land, just above the "Dip". They were in the form of a sign, saying "SHILTON", with an arrow pointing down into the village. When in flower, these had to be covered over with damp sacking.

Dick Phillips constructed a special air raid shelter for his cat. The Parish Council considered whether to apply for a public air-raid shelter, but decided against it.

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During the early years of the war the main contact with the armed forces was via the Brize Norton airfield, an R.A.F. base which had been built a year or two before the war started, to be used for training. There was also a

unit of the King's Own Scottish Borderers at Bury Barns, outside Burford. Then, in preparation for the D-Day landings, the Broadwell airfield, now known as the "old airfield", was planned, built, and manned in what sees an amazingly short time.

R.A.F. Broadwell

An opening-up party of 70 arrived on 15th November 1943. The land required for the runways was farmed by the Gardiner family, and by the Bastons. The requisition order came immediately, and without warning. There was no

time to raise what- was left of the potato crop, and much of the best land was lost for ever by the farmers.

'Work began immediately, with a force of largely Irish labour being employed by Wimpey's to prepare the runways and accommodation. Transport Command took control on 24th January 1944, and an advance party arrived on Februarv 2nd. The first Dakotas were flown in a few days later, followed by more, bringing Horsa gliders.

Broadwell had a threefold role:

(a) Delivery of airborne forces and supplies.

(b) Transport runs to the Continent.

(c) Retrieval of wounded troops.

By the end of February, 220 commissioned, and 1400 non-commissioned men had arrived. There were several sorties during April to drop leaflets over France, and'in May there were visits by King George VI, and by Churchill,

to watch exercises. They saw troop-carriers taking off, to drop parachutists on Salisbury Plain.

On June 2nd the station was sealed off. Outgoing mail was impounded, and all leave cancelled; for Broadwell was the starting point for 1000 troops leaving to parachute into Normandy on June 5th. They were followed the next

day by Horsa gliders with more troops, and then by Dakotas dropping supplies. During the following weeks aircraft left Broadwell with re-inforcements, bringing back casualties on their return journeys. American wounded were taken to Bradwell Grove, newly constructed as a U.S.A.F. hospital, while the British were dispersed to other centres for treatment. Meanwhile, Harry Gardiner was issued with a special pass "to tend a foal", that was being reared within the prohibited zone.

One Sunday morning in mid September, 47 Dakotas took off, each towing a Horsa. The gliders were loaded with troops, jeeps, trailers, cycles, handcarts, and anti-tank guns. As they moved towards the East coast they were to converge with similar flights, coming from all directions, so that the sky

seemed filled with the sight and sound of planes, all on their way to Arnhem, one of the greatest scenes of disaster for the Allies.

Broadwell continued to operate as a transport base until the end of 1946, and was finally closed in March,1947. Cracked runways, a water tower, and a few derelict buildings are all that remains thirty- eight years later.

Recollections of the effects of War Activities

When the Broadwell airfield was closed off, Osmond Baston, who was living in a but on the enclosed area, was cut off for-days. Harry Gardiner was issued with a pass which was inscribed "to feed a foal".

Joyce Read was in the garden one afternoon, watching two planes circling overhead, when she noticed that they bore Swastikas. She dashed indoors, from where she heard the thud of bombs falling at Brize Norton. A hangar had been

hit, destroying about. fifty aircraft. After this incident there was a government order for planes to be scattered when on the ground.

Two landmines were dropped on Swinbrook, shaking windows all over Shilton. Some incendiaries fell up the Lanes road, thought to have been dropped by planes returning from the raid on Coventry, and a British plane crashed near Stonelands, killing the pilot.

Mrs Brewis Mrs Burton, and other ladies went to Bradwell_ Grove, and to the Casualty Clearing Station on the base, to help the wounded with their mail -

WHEN THE WAR WAS OVER. The church bells rang.

Flags were hung out to welcome men returning from the Services.

In January 1945 a public meeting was held at which it was agreed to collect money for a Welcome Home Fund. This was "To raise a sum of money so that each member of the forces from Shilton may be presented with a gift of money as a token of appreciation from the village on arrival home after the war". This led to yet more whist drives, raffles, collections, and, on May 21st, a Fete. The total sum raised was £264.13s 7d.. a really large amount when one adjusts for the massive inflation that has taken place since that time. Each person was to receive a basic £10 plus an extra sum, proportionate to the length of service. It was delivered personally by

Lt. Col.Brewis and Mr Skirving on behalf of the parish, and at the same time words of advice were given concerning the importance of using the money wisely. When the Americans moved out of Bradwell Grove, it was taken over

for a time by the Royal Marines School of Music.

A great problem for Shilton at the end of the war was the acute shortage of housing. As the Broadwell airfield was gradually run down, finally closing in 1947, huts became vacant, and these were quickly taken over by young

couples, unable to find anywhere else to live. It was not until 1949 that the first six co uncil houses in West End were completed.


Whilst I did not reside in Shilton during the war years, I had been to Shilton school for several years, leaving in 1938, and I still spent a good deal of time in the village until I moved in 1941

It would be fair to say, that in the 1930s Shilton was a very quiet, close-knit community, so that it was never involved in action seen in some areas of the British Isles. Any change in the way of life was very noticeable, none more so than the regular departure of the younger men into the forces. Several of the younger lads had to abandon their Scouting, but soon became members of 1315 Burford squadron of the Air Training Corps. This entailed cycling to Burford two nights per week and sometimes Sunday morning as well. At the formation of the L.D.V, (later the Home-Guard), some of the elder men and others not yet in the forces responded to form a local unit, with a 'Guard Post', if I recall correctly, at Shilton Downs.

The arrival of some 'young ladies', evacuated from a girl's school

at Ashford, caused some heart fluttering among the local youths. Unfortunately their stay seemed very brief.

The first bombing of R.A.F. Brize Norton caused some worry, as everyone then realised what could develop as the war progressed. Luckily only two or three more local raids occurred, and a land mine dropped near Swirbrook, which probably caused more talk than damage.

Few people in the village at that time had a motor vehicle; relying mainly on Pedal cycles, so travel was little changed, although for a while a road block was in position on the Burford- Carterton road. The soldiers manning this block lived in tents at the back of the Manor.

• The building, equipping and manning of R,A.F. Broadwell must have had a profound effect on the village, but by this time I had myself joined the R.A.F., and am therefore unaware of the details.

Regretfully my friend Arthur Warbey did not survive the war, killed in an aircraft crash in 1945. The only name to be added to the memorial for 1939- 1945.

The wheel did turn something of a circle for me, as on getting married in 1948, I returned to Shilton to live in one of the converted Nissen huts for about two years. Despite moving away again, my wife and myself remain regular visitors to this delightful village.

N.B. Should any important detail have been overlooked or not agree with the reader's recollections, I can only apologise. Forty plus years do tend to dim the memory. '

.............We are very grateful for this contribution, sent anonymously.


l, Annual Parish Meeting held in Schoolroom on March 20th 1940:

A letter was read from the Witney R.D.C., asking for co-operation in

collection of waste paper on the village, it was reported however that the

Boy Scouts were already doing this work and the letter was left on the table.

2. Parish council-Meeting held in Library om Nov 6th 1940:

The question of a public air raid shelter was discussed and it was

decided not to apply for one at the present time.

3. Annual Parish Meeting held at the Post Office on April 16th 1941:-

It was brought to the notice of the council that no stirrup pump was

available for the use of the village to deal with any fire bombs that might

fall in the village and after discussion it was proposed by Mr G. Eustace, and

seconded by Mr J,E.Osborne that the clerk should buy one and for the present

it would be kept at the residence of the chairman Mr R.W.Skirving in a room

that it would be available at any time. Carried.

4. Annual Parish Meeting held at the Lawns Shilton on Tues 31st March 1942:

A discussion, on Waste Paper and other salvage was opened and it was

agreed that this be continued at the next meeting of the Parish Council.

5. Annual Parish Council Meeting held at the Lawns on April 9th 1943:

A discussion arose re salvage and Mr Skirving the local. representative

of W.R.D.C. was asked to press that council to collect more frequently in

the village.

6. Annual Parish Council Meeting held at Lawns Wed April 12th 1944:

Mr Skirving reported that Witney R.D.C. housing committee had allotted

six cottages for Shilton to be built as soon as possible at end of war.

Applications to be made to him for consideration.

7. Parish Council meeting held in the Vicarage 27th Nov 1946:

Resolved that permission be granted the Welcome Home Committee to

inscribe the names of the fallen during the 1939- 1945 conflict on the

Village War Memorial.





CMDR. BURTON, R.N. Japanese P.O.W.




RON BOND, ARMY. (Regiment not known)







These men lost their lives in service.


These sites cover the ox18 area of Oxfordshire England, including  the following villages, OX18, Alvescot, Bampton, Black Bourton, Burford, Broadwell, Carterton, Clanfield, Kelmscott, Kencot, Langford, Lechlade, RAF Broadwell, Shilton, Parish Pump, Oxfordshire Events,


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