Thursday 22 August 2013

'Everyone must make sacrifices, even golfers' - Heslington Hall during WW2

One of the most significant periods in Heslington Hall’s history is its occupation by RAF Bomber Command No.4 group  from 1940 until 1947. Whilst attempting to reimagine life in the Hall and the village during these tense years of British history, Donald Ward’s Heslington Memories have become our discoveries. And whilst recounting life in the village in these notoriously dark times for the British, writing always with a comfortingly upbeat undertone he sheds some light on Heslington’s ‘War Years’. The anecdotes we have had the fortune of reading show the way servicemen and women, villagers, in Heslington and no doubt villages and towns up and down the country refused to let the tragedies of war weigh too heavily on their outlook, and life went on.
Heslington Hall was thankfully never hit by any bombs during the war, the nearest place that was hit was a house called Spring Villa; we hear that although thankfully there were no fatalities the watchdog had to be put down, and ward remarks ‘I bet it was a Christmas they never forgot, as all the windows were broken and the house was covered in soot’.
from University of York's 50th Anniversary site
Heslington vilage, undated,
from the university's 50th Anniversary site
Ward was too young at the time to join the RAF himself, but he was still active in village work .He recalls one particular night on fire duty from which we can envisage the tensions and anxiety that would befall a village, especially one with a Bomber Command headquarters through the long nights. The pair were patrolling in front of the Hall when his partner ‘a nervous man’ jumped into him and let out a terrific scream, shouting ‘It got me!!’ .Far from capture by Nazi invaders he had, in Dad’s Army fashion, walked into the head of a horse.
Ward came across other troubles while undertaking another job of transferring the cattle. A problem similarly and frequently encountered by his father who would often receive angry messages from RAF bases requesting him ‘to remove his cows from the runway’, since planes were able neither to take off nor land. After Donald had successfully and without trouble guided his cattle to the golf course, they immediately and frantically broke into a gallop right across the fairways. This was much to the outrage of ‘all associated with golf’ but in these difficult times for everyone they were quite rightly told that ‘There’s a war on and everyone must make sacrifices, even golfers’.
Before the RAF took over during the war the house had been occupied by the 4th Lord and Lady Deramore and Ward describes one particularly amusing scene during a shooting trip. The shoot, at Langwith woods, had stopped for lunch and the Lord Deramore, having taken a walk, noticed that the lavatory of one of only three residents of Langwith, an old lady, had fallen down. She answered his concerned enquiries with a description of a somewhat less effective set up involving a plank of wood between two trees. Deramore was understandably upset by this and on his return home sent his joiner to build her a new lavatory. Upon his return to Langwith he asked how she was finding her new lavatory to which she replied that it was too good to use, so she was keeping her hens in it!

This post was written by Hugo Laffey, one of our student interns.
For more on the work of our student interns see Heslington Hall - Country Life and Archiving Ayckbourn

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