Second World War (1939-1945)
We have collected our information about Thornbury during World War Two from a wide variety of sources. There are various memorials around Thornbury to those who gave their lives and websites that give details about the the war record of many local people, generally men, who served in the armed forces. However we have also tried to collect details from newspapers of the time and from personal accounts about the day-to-day life of the civilian population, from rationing to fire-fighting. People came into Thornbury at this time in surprisingly large numbers, official and unofficial refugees, soldiers and prisoners of war. We have made extensive use of the Gloucester Archives for research on those topics as we have for so much more.
Soldiers, Seamen and Airmen – snippets of information about people from Thornbury and the surrounding areas who served in the armed forces during the Second World War. Click here to read more
St Mary’s Church War Memorial – we have transcribed the names listing the Thornbury men killed from the memorial in the Church. You can click on any of the underlined names to read what we know about each person and his family. Click here to read the names
Thornbury Grammar School – Thornbury Grammar School had to make changes as war broke out. Small examples of the effects of war are noticeable in the school magazine ‘The Thornburian’. The issue for 1941 was greatly delayed and when it was published it lacked a cover and the number of pages had diminished. Paper rationing came into force with the outbreak of war in September 1939 and gradually became stricter. By 1941 Speech Day presentations were also affected as books could no longer be given as prizes.
Some events were forced to cancel as they took place in the evening and not all rooms could be effectively ‘blacked out’ in accordance with the new regulations.
The boys began to be involved in filling and carrying sandbags for the air raid shelters built in the Combe next to the school. Boys also helped in the Home Guard and A.R.P. The girls apparently were more employed in more lady like activities. They were attending a session on Tuesdays after school to knit useful garments for the Old Thornburians in the forces. Both sexes however were involved in fire watching and all were encouraged to join the National Savings Scheme and to collect Waste Paper.
In response to the ‘Grow More Food’ scheme implemented by the government the boys formed a gardening club and took over some of the school’s land for growing vegetables. The upper area of the school grounds was fenced off to pasture sheep, apparently at least in part to save the use of petrol in mowing the grass,
The staff began to change as more of the male teachers went to serve in the armed forces or government establishments.
More seriously ‘ The Thornburian’ began to list the former pupils known to have enlisted and those who were killed or taken prisoner as a result. The issue printed in July 1945 lists the former pupils of the school who were serving in the services and those who had been killed at that time. These were listed under the branch of the service in which they served. Read the names listed in The Thornburian
A Memorial Clock was erected on the outside of the building facing the playing field and a memorial tablet was erected in the former Thornbury Grammar School listing the names of the Old Thornburians who had perished in the War. Read about those listed on the Memorial
The Maritime Regiment – the unit known locally as ‘the Maritime Regiment’ had its headquarters in Kyneton House, Kington. Several properties in and around the town were used by the Regiment for accommodation and training between 1941 and 1945 when the unit was disbanded. Thornbury & District Museum has on display a 6th Regiment Roll of Honour which carries the names of 181 dead. This was formerly displayed at Kyneton House until the closure of Westwing School in 2001, and is a copy of an original which hung in Thornbury parish church until 1980.
We have two accounts of the history of the 6th Maritime Regiment.
Tortworth Court – outside of Thornbury Tortworth Court played an interesting roll during the war years. At the start of the war the 5th Earl Ducie who owned Tortworth Court was resident in Australia. It seems that he first offered the property to the Royal Australian Navy as a hospital. The offer was initially accepted but Commonwealth troops were sent elsewhere for their treatment. The Royal Navy took it over in 1940 and it became known as H.M.S. Cabbala. We understand that it was a secret signals and and coding training establishment. We have read on the internet that ‘secrecy was so tight that the daily “Colours” ceremony (hoisting the ensign ) was conducted in what is now the hotel reception area so as not to be seen by the public.’
Doreen Cooksley has also told us that landing craft called ‘ducks’ were tested on Tortworth Lake. It seems that they were either built or tested in a purpose built shed on the edge of the lake.
In 1942 HMS Cabbala was relocated to Lowton St. Mary’s in Lancashire. The house was then taken over by American servicemen. A hospital was built in the grounds (staff were housed in the Court itself) and there the American wounded from the North African campaigns were treated. We understand that ‘on the 26th November 1943 the 91st and 128th Evacuating Hospital Units arrived with hundreds of wounded from the North African Campaign. ‘ Trains would arrive at Charfield and Thornbury full of wounded Americans. From June 1944 until March 1945 other American General Hospital units, including 224th and 225th, were temporarily stationed in Tortworth Court. The Americans also had a hospital at Frenchay and after the war they donated their equipment to England. Equipment left at Tortworth Court was apparently sent over to Frenchay.
Civil Defence – we have collected information about the groups providing first aid, fire and rescue services and even hot meals to local people under the threat of bombing and perhaps invasion. This includes descriptions of the defensive measures taken, including gas masks, air raid shelters and road blocks. Click here to read more
The Auxiliary Fire Service – set up in 1937 so that volunteers could help the existing fire service in time of war. Since most young men joined the armed forces the Auxiliary Fire Service had to rely on those too old or young for military service. In Thornbury Arthur Wilkins, who despite advancing years was full of energy and enthusiasm, was in charge of the training of the volunteers to the Auxiliary Fire Service helped by the Thornbury Rural District Council Voluntary Retained Firemen. The outbreak of war was followed by some six or seven months of the so-called ‘Phoney War’ during which regular training was interspersed with the occasional civil fires of grassland, hay ricks, chimney fires, etc. However eventually the real thing began in the district with the dropping of incendiaries at Hallen. From then on there was plenty of activity. Click here to read more
The Railway – in the Second World War soldiers were brought to Thornbury station straight from Dunkirk. Later wounded American soldiers were brought from the D Day landings on this line to the American hospital in Tortworth, partly because it was not busy and there would be fewer delays. The heavy guns of the Ack Ack used by the 52nd and 54th Regiments were also loaded onto the train at Thornbury for the Dunkirk landing. Read about the railway in war time
Prison of War Camp – in the Second World War there was a camp for Italian prisoners of war in Gloucester Road. Click here to read more
Evacuees – in 1940 twenty-two children were the first batch of official evacuees to arrive at the Council School in Thornbury from Harwich. Many others were to follow. We have a list of evacuees copied from the School’s admission registers. Click here to read the list ” Unofficial” evacuees of all ages from nearby Filton and from much further way also swelled the population of Thornbury. Read more about the evacuees
Feeding Thornbury in WWII – rationing was re-introduced in 1940 and the country had to take steps to increase the food grown at home. Click here to read more
Jack Pridham’s memories – Jack’s memories of his childhood includes several detailed accounts of how Thornbury was affected by the Second World War . Click here to read more
Henry Hugh Thomas’s memories – an account of growing up in Thornbury which ‘Harry’ posted to the BBC website ‘People’s War. The story is copied here with the family’s permission. Click here to read more
Various fund-raising activities went on during the War. In June 1941 Thornbury District War Weapons Week was held to raise money. A pageant with a display of massed bands, chorus of 50 singers etc in the grounds of Thornbury Castle. Other events included an evening serenade concert with a programme of music, speech and songs by members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. In August 1941 a sum of £50 10s was raised for the Air Raid Distress Fund as a result of two open-air ballet performances of ‘Sleeping Beauty’. They were produced by Mrs F. H. Grace and the costumes, dances and stage groupings were designed and arranged by other members of the Grace family. In 1942 the Thornbury Youth Services organised a toy fair which raised £220 for the British Red Cross Prisoner of War Fund. Members had collected toys from around Thornbury and beyond and spent several weeks repairing them for sale.