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.
The Spanish Civil War in 1936 had provided a dress rehearsal for the Luftwaffe so preparations in anticipation of the expected air raids started the following year with the creation of the Air Raid Precautions system and the enlargement of the Territorial Army and the RAF Reserve. It is estimated that about half a million people volunteered for one or other of these, among them James Cook and his great pal Harry Day (both seen in the 1937-8 football team photograph) who joined the Royal Engineers Territorial Army at Reading. Lessons had been learned from the previous war, though, when there had been a critical shortage of civilian labour in some areas in 1914/15 owing the the great numbers of men who volunteered to fight. The reserved occupations list was published in 1939 and contained a very large number of occupations, in great detail and covering some five million men, that were considered vital to the war effort in their civilian jobs. In some cases the occupation was reserved at any age but in the majority of cases a minimum age applied. Thus most workers in agriculture or horticulture could be accepted into military service as volunteers up to the age of 25 but not if they were older than that. Carpenters, bricklayers and blacksmiths were reserved at any age and, oddly, a band or circular sawyer was reserved only from the age of 30 while a general hand in a timber yard was reserved at any age.
The reserved occupations list meant that few of the men in Englefield could volunteer, or would be conscripted, as they were mostly in reserved occupations but when in 1940 the call did go out for volunteers to form the Home Guard, 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