Tidworth In War Time - a Memory of Tidworth.

My parents, younger brother and I moved to Tidworth in 1938 when I was 3 and my brother 1 year old. I was born in Collingbourne Ducis and we spent a very short time in Ludgershall but, as I understand it, the new council houses were too damp so my father was allocated one of the new War Department houses in Nepaul Road, then known as Zouch Cottages. Owing to his pre-war military experience, my dad was soon called up and joined the RAOC, but later was commissioned into the newly formed REME. My brother and I attended the North and South Tidworth School at the bottom of Station Road and delighted in the daily crossing from Wiltshire into Hampshire. A friend called, as I remember, Fitch was the son of a draper who had a shop and house half of which was in each County.

Apart from a stick of bombs dropped on Matthew Barracks, Tidworth did not come under attack but we youngsters got plenty of fun playing with 'blasting caps', thunderflashes and driving jeeps of which the Americans invariably left the keys inside. I recall one incident, which has since gained wide recognition, when a 13 year old boy from Ludgershall called Jim Stoodley and his younger brother managed to "borrow" a Piper Cub Aircraft, take off, circle round Andover and crash land in the trees above Station Road. Terry (my brother) and I were too young to indulge in such activities but we managed to move a few Jeeps around. The Americans were very kind to us and, apart from sweets, chewing gum etc they would give us old baseball bats and baseballs. They were intrigued and impressed by the fact that we used these items to play cricket and before long we had converted them to the game.

Looking back I suppose it was a lethal combination of boys whose fathers were away and the obvious dangers of masses of military equipment left lying around, now known to be in preparation for D Day. My neighbour, Godfrey PIke managed to blow four fingers of his left hand off with a "blasting cap" but it is surprising that more injuries did not occur in view of our practice of making home-made fireworks from thunder flashes, and a piece of old piping would make an excellent trench mortar if you stuck it in the ground, lit a thunderflash, put it inside and then a second one. Timed correctly the first one would explode, sending the second one high into the air and, if we were very lucky, the latter would go off in mid air.

During the earlier part of the war, air raid warnings were scrupulously heeded and from our school we had to file off with our gas masks to the shelter on the other side of Station Road where we would sit singing "This old Man" etc until the all clear sounded. In the playground we would line up our gas masks in their boxes to keep our place ready for filing back into school.

Our Headmaster, Mr Heath, was a WW1 veteran and suffered from a nervous twitch, no doubt as a result of his terrible experiences. He had an Austin 7 car which he kept in a garage between the playground and his house. We liked to peep through the cracks to look at it but, owing to petrol regulations, I don't recall ever seeing it outside.

My father came back soon after the end of the war, having served in France up to Dunkirk, then Egypt and latterly Northern Ireland. We had celebrations right through from VE Day to VJ Day and I think the bonfire was stiil smouldering enough to be used on November 5th!

Moving on, our house in Nepaul Road was purchased from MOD by my brother who sadly died in 2007 and it is still in my possession. He and my parents are buried in Holy Trinity churchyard. Terry was a keen photographer and I shall search his folders, slides etc to see what there is of interest. I now live with my wife, Pauline, in Wales.

A memory shared by Paul Vivash on Jul 16th, 2012. Send Paul Vivash a message

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