Englefield in World War 2
Curiously, although it is slightly closer in time we know less about the Second World War in Englefield than we do about the First World War. The people themselves didn't talk about it much once it was over and there was no parish magazine at the time to act as a record.
The Second World War, like the First, was seen coming a long way off and the policy of appeasement practised as Hitler's National Socialist Party disregarded the Versailles Treaty by rearming and then annexing the Rhineland, Austria and Czechoslovakia between 1933 and 1939 did nothing to prevent it. It did, perhaps, buy some time though and despite the combined efforts of mere appeasers and active Nazi supporters in the country, sufficient preparations were made just in time.
Preparations in anticipation of air raids had started in 1937 and it is estimated that about half a million people volunteered for the ARP, the Territorial Army and the RAF Reserve. In Englefield, James Cook and his great pal Harry Day (both seen in the 1937-8 football team photograph) joined the Royal Engineers Territorial Army in 226 Field Company and, as were their predecessors in the previous war, they were at Annual Camp (at Stanbury Park near Shinfield) when the war started. They were mobilised on 2 September, one day after the Germans invaded Poland and one day before the formal declaration of war. Lessons had been learned from the previous war and there was no great haphazard rush of volunteers, indeed unless already in the TA or with a reserve commitment from previous service it sometimes seemed to be remarkably difficult to get into the forces until one's turn to be conscripted came round. Even then few of the men in Englefield would be conscripted as they were mostly in reserved occupations. When in 1940 the call did go out for volunteers to form the Home Guard, however, a good number came forward.
It is somewhat disturbing to speculate on what part Englefield might have played had the Royal Navy and the "little ships" not managed to rescue a significant proportion of the Army from Dunkirk and other French ports, and the Royal Air Force not successfully resisted the Luftwaffe through the summer of 1940. At that time Englefield found itself at a focal point in the land defences of the country, although far inland from any seaborne invasion. In June 1940 there began the hurried construction of a series of "stop lines": defensive lines dividing the country into compartments and intended to fix an invader long enough to allow a counter attack to be concentrated on him.
The most important of these lines was the General Headquarters line (GHQ line), in fact a network of defensive lines, protecting London. GHQ Line Blue followed the Kennet and Avon Canal from Theale to Bradford on Avon and GHQ Line Red ran from Theale through the Sulham Valley to Pangbourne and then along the river Thames to Abingdon and beyond. Along the natural barriers provided by these waterways was constructed a large number of concrete "pill boxes" to provide cover for troops manning machine guns and anti-tank weapons. In the Sulham Valley the River Pang did not provide a sufficient natural barrier so an anti-tank ditch some 55 yards across was dug along the valley and supplemented by various other anti-tank measures such as the concrete "dragon's teeth" in addition to the pill boxes. The area around the intersection of Line Red and Line Blue, a vital "hinge" to be forced open to allow an assault on London, would have been a particularly important strategic target for the enemy but the flat Kennet valley between two ridges of high ground (left) was an ideal location in which an advancing enemy, fixed by the necessity to cross two watercourses and the defenders in the pill boxes, could be killed by bombardment from the air and by artillery.
It is on these defensive lines that the local Home Guard would have made their stand in a second battle of Englefield 1070 years after the first.
World War 2
The "vital hinge": Line Red and Line Blue meeting just to the east of Theale
© 2019 Richard J Smith