Kennet Valley at War Blog April 2018

On the last Monday of April the Kennet Valley at War Trust gave SASHA member and guests an interesting talk on the origins and purposes of their Trust. and bombing of Newbury.
The US 101 Airborne “E” company 506 Parachute regiment became famous worldwide after the making of the film Band of Brothers. “E” company men and NCOs were based in the Hightown stables at Aldbourne while the officers were quartered at Littlecote House. Thousands of such paratroopers were trained at Toccoa Georgia USA and a military museum has been created to tell their story. The stable building at Aldbourne was bought by this U.S. museum, it was dismantled and shipped to America by two of the men, who later helped create the Kennet Valley at War Trust. One small stable had been left in place in Aldbourne this became the Trusts first acquisition. The owners of Littlecote House allowed this stable to be rebuilt in their grounds in 2007, where it has been restored. It also gave the Trust a room to house their artefacts. This museum at Littlecote House is free of charge and is open daily between 10am and 4pm.
Economy had to be part of the war effort and the British Sten (Woolthworth) gun cost 9/6d against the Thompson sub machine gun at a cost of £7.10.0. The Trust has been given many items with fascinating histories. An American turtle shell tin helmet with a large dent in it that had been worn by Sergeant Gilbert Morton during the DD landings and deflected a bullet saving his life. This helmet had been used as a plant pot by a lady in Ramsbury before being donated to the Trust.

In 2017 the Trust received the donation of a Wacko glide crate, one of thousands would have been used to transport Waco CG4A gliders before D-Day during WW2 but this was a very rare survivor. This crate had been used as a carpenters workshop at Greenham Common and the silhouettes of American army carpenters’ tools were hidden under the post war interior. After the war it had become a tailor’s workshop and then a garden shed.

The second part of the talk was on the bombing of Newbury on February 10th 1943. The Blitz of the 1940/41’s had ceased with the change of German focus in June 1941 when it began its attacks on Russia. Nuisance raids continued and another change of tactics came about when Hitler ordered terror raids when the Luftwaffe began random bombing to cause maximum alarm anywhere in the UK. The bombing in Newbury was a result of this policy.
Two Dornier 217-E were in the area that day one attacked Reading and the other attacked Newbury. In Reading 41 were people were killed and 29 of those were eating at the People’s Pantry, one of the British Restaurants run by the WVS. The second bomber headed towards Newbury and attacked in an arc from the south, by the time he crossed the railway lines which it is supposed was the target there were no bombs left. His route crossed Southern Terrace 3 killed, St John’s church no deaths, St Bartholomew’s Almshouses 7 killed and the Council School 3 children and 2 staff killed, dropping his bombs as he went. In less than two minutes 15 lives were lost, 25 people were seriously injured and 265 buildings were damaged. Both these planes were shot down as they attempted to return home and the crew, of 2 per plane, died.
The Trust received money from the Heritage Lottery Fund and used some of this to produce 3 leaflets of war walks for Newbury, Ramsbury Airfield and Littlecote Park and Marlborough Tank Island, plus an on-line museum and school information packs.
At the end of the meeting the audience got a chance to ring the Air warden’s bell and wield the Gas warning rattle as well as try on the British army jacket and tin hat and the smarter US tailored jacket and turtle shell helmet and hold one of the decommissioned weapons.