Sunday, August 17, 2008

Feltham has grown out of all recognition in the 20th century, from the little town of the late 1930’s that had only just become a District Council, to the 21st century town it is now. The Depot of the Royal Army Services Corps had been established just after the First World War, in Elmwood Avenue, and Feltham was considered to be military town. Many civilians from the local area, worked at the Depot, on the lorries which were brought in for repair and overhaul in the large sheds there. These were then driven down the narrow High Street on their way to other Army Depot’s in the country. There was a railway line, branching off the main line from Waterloo to Windsor or Reading, which ran through Highfield and emerged at Feltham High Street, where Barclays Bank is today. It crossed the main road into Browells Lane to disappear through large metal gates into the Depot. There were khaki uniforms to be seen everywhere, and at 10 o’clock each evening, the Last Post was sounded, on a bugle, at the Guard House. Trains carrying goods into the Depot became more numerous, which set tongues wagging that there would be a war, as the Army was stocking up with supplies.

As the crisis between Europe and Germany became more serious, surface shelters were erected round Feltham Green. Air Raid Sirens were placed a strategic places round the town, and Anderson shelters were delivered to residents’ houses. When war broke out in September 1939, the local Civil Defence went into action. Training was given in the used of stirrup pumps at the Civil Defence H. Q., close by Bridge House Council Offices. Churches were put on alert in case their halls were needed for housing families bombed out from London. Ration Books and Gas Masks were issued from the Council Offices, and the dreaded blackout was put into operation. Petrol rationing was brought in for those with cars. Eventually, the coupons were only given to the emergency services and doctors. There was a small ration for the local taxi service, again only for an emergency.

The Feltham Railway Marshalling Yard was filled with wagons and vans of all sorts, and was working day and night. If, at night, the lights were to be seen, then there was an ‘all clear’, but if the marshalling yard lamps were turned-off one could expect an air raid that night.

Back gardens were turned into allotments, and vegetables grown beside the Anderson shelter. Chickens were also kept where there was room, to help out the egg ration. The Army Depot was full to overflowing with troops, and many soldiers were billeted-out with local families.

To help with meals, British Restaurants were set up by the Government as eating places for a nourishing meal at a reasonable price. Feltham’s was known as the Spelthorne Restaurant and was housed in the newly opened Parish Hall, which was at the rear of the Playhouse Cinema, where the Tesco’s car park is today.

The first bomb in the West London area was relatively small one, dropped randomly, one Friday evening, in Feltham High Street, close to Elmwood Avenue and the Army Depot.

Bedfont Recreation Ground became the home of an anti-aircraft unit with a very loud gun, which rattled the area when it was fired.

Although life was restricted and long hours were worked, the local population did the best they could and tried to get on with life. Cinemas were opened, and showed a small slide if an air raid warning had been sounded. National charities such as War Weapons Week and Spitfire Week were well supported. The General Aircraft Company at the end of Victoria Road was also working day and night repairing Supermarine Spitfire Aircraft, these were often seen flying over Hanworth Air Parks after repair and overhaul.

Later, the Hamilcar and Horsa Gliders were to be seen overhead. These gliders were designed and developed at G.A.L. and a number were built at the Feltham factory. Other factories were working full blast.

The Minimax Fire Extinguisher Company was on full production on the extinguishers; and also developing a de-salination gadget that could be placed in lifeboats, for anyone found adrift without water. This could turn sea water into a drinkable solution.

Little factories on the edge of the Air Park were turning out nuts and bolts by the thousand, and other essential items. As trains arrived at Feltham Station, crowds would be seen making their way to the factories in and around the town. Many of the residents worked on the Great West Road and spent long hours in the factories of the Golden Mile. Feltham people were proud of their war effort which helped gain ultimate victory.

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