THE DAY WAR BROKE OUT
LDVs at Montpellier Gdns
Home Guard 1944
In September 1939, when Chamberlain made his heart-breaking announcement that we were once again at war, the people of Arle, no less than anywhere else, were ready to fight. Nay, long before war broke out the country had anticipated such an event and the first conscripts had been called up. Plans went ahead to provide Identity Cards for everyone, sandbags were hastily filled to protect vital buildings, rationing was being planned and blackout material being stockpiled ready for the fatal day.
The people of Arle and Hesters Way were ready. An A.R.P. post was set up and those men too old to serve in the army became ARP Wardens. Some of the younger chaps joined the 'Home Guard' or Local Defence Volunteers (LDV), whose task it was to guard places of strategic importance and, in case of invasion, to repel the enemy. At first they had no uniform or weapons and used to drill at weekends in the Drill Hall in North Street and parade in Montpellier Gardens. At first people did not take them seriously but once they were 'licked into shape' and had uniforms and guns, people began to respect them.
There was a certain amount of rivalry between the ARP and the Home Guard, and many of the ARP chaps tried to transfer - attracted no doubt by the uniform and the guns. But some people did not take them seriously enough, for the Echo in 1940 quotes two cases in Gloucester where people ignored their challenge and were shot, one fatally.
f the Arle men who gave up their spare time to be Wardens or Home Guards, we know of Mr Raechell, Mr East and Mr Kearsey, but there may have been others. Other men and women also gave up their spare time to drive ambulances, or give up one or two nights a week to the National Fire Service (NFS).
We know of some who served in the forces. The Fletcher men of Hesters Way were some of the first to serve. Mr M. Fletcher served in the desert in Italy (see Volume 2). His brother, Eric Fletcher, was in the RAF. Fortunately both of them survived the war and returned to live in Arle.
Sadly, another of the men from Arle who was in the RAF was killed over Malta in February 1941. He was Phillip Kearsey, son of Mr and Mrs F. Kearsey of Springbank. The island of Malta was later awarded the George Cross for standing up to constant bombardment by the Germans.
Another son, Albert W. Kearsey, Pilot Officer, survived the war and returned to Cheltenham.
Albert Leslie Iles, Pte. RAOC, who died on 16th April 1945, aged 43 was the son of Albert and Bertha Iles of Cheltenham. The Iles family lived for a time in The Old School House, Arle.
Christopher Henry Betteridge, Pte. 2nd Bn Argylle and Sutherland Highlanders died on 7th January 1942, aged 27. He was son of Christopher and Elizabeth Betteridge of Cheltenham, grandson of Mark and Alice of Arle. He was buried at Taiping War Cemetery in Malaysia.
Lawrence Hazell of Pitman Road, although born in Sussex, came to Cheltenham when his family was evacuated in 1940. He spent all subsequent leaves in Cheltenham, met his future wife here, who he married in 1943. Lawrence had volunteered for the Navy in 1938, and after finishing his training he went to Portsmouth with a crew to HMS Hawkins - a cruiser, and then to the Iron Duke, and old battleship named in memory of Wellington.
From there he was drafted to the Mediterranean fleet, based at Alexandria, Egypt. When war broke out he was on war footing on the destroyer, HMS Afridi in the Red Sea, shadowing enemy ships. Able Seaman Lawrence Hazell was part of a boarding party carrying out the arrest of a German freighter. He concealed himself on the bridge from where he could observe the charthouse. He noticed that the captain was drawing elaborate sketches of sections of the Afridi. Despite his youth (Able Seaman Hazell was 19), he realised that these were for the benefit of German High Command. He smashed the door open and butted the captain in the stomach with his rifle and locked him in there. The Admiralty interrogated the captain and it subsequently transpired that he had been engaged in espionage. The outcome of the boarding was that the ship's Lieutenant was given a Distinguished Service Cross for Able Seaman Hazell's quickness of thought.
Seaman Gunner Hazell [right]
After this Seaman Gunner Hazell served on destroyers including HMS Mohawk in the Norwegian Campaign and in the North Sea around the Low Counties in the Hook of Holland. From here it was back to the Mediterranean to tackle the Italians who had just entered the war. The Mohawk was involved in a number of skirmishes with Italian ships in the Mediterranean. Off the Straits of Messina, along with 15 other destroyers she engaged units of the Italian Fleet, backed by the Italian Air Force, forcing them to flee back to port.
Seaman Gunner Hazell was by way of being quite an artist and used to paint pictures of the various ships he had served on. One day when serving on the Queen Elizabeth battleship, in the mess he met one of only three seaman survivors of HMS Hood (in all 1413 men perished on The Hood when it was sunk by the Bismarck in the Atlantic). This chap watched him painting and produced a postcard of his old ship and asked if Lawrence would paint a picture of it. He was only too glad to oblige this brave man, who he named as Bill Tilburn. After many offers by officers to buy the finished painting, Bill felt that Lawrence himself should keep it. This he did until the late 1970s when on holiday in St. Agnes, Cornwall, he called in at The Railway Inn, where he found it run by a retired Lieutenant Commander who had a display of wartime memorabilia. They compared accounts of what had happened to the Hood and despite its demise, the part it had played in the crippling of the Bismarck which had gone down a couple of days later. Lawrence decided that The Railway Inn was a suitable place for his painting.
Seaman Gunner Hazell served on HMS Laconia escorting Atlantic convoys between Canada and Britain and also on Arctic Patrols. While many of our vessels were not so lucky, his ship Laconia survived 18 months of escorting convoys, emerging unscathed. On similar manoeuvres, HMS Jervis Bay, HMS Rawalpindi, and HMS Scotstown, armed merchant cruisers (AMCs) were all sunk by submarines or surface raiders while carrying out the same escort duties. Lawrence has a wealth of stories about his escapades in the Atlantic, including a graphic account of being on lookout duty and sighting a distant object, which on sailing closer turned out to be a ring of merchant sailors tied together by rope. The rise and fall of the Atlantic swell made it appear as if the men were dancing with one another.
After the Atlantic duties, he found himself aboard HMS Cottesmore hunting U-boats, and the E-Boats, which would lie in wait for unsuspecting convoys in the North Sea and the English Channel. Able Seaman Hazell ended his war aboard a depot ship in Scapa Flow, where he accepted the surrender of German U-boats. His long war service saw him decorated with Defence Medal, War Medal 1939-1945, Naval General Service Medal, 39-45 Star, Atlantic Star, North Africa Star, Italian Star and Maltese Commemorative Medal. He left the navy in 1947 and moved permanently to Cheltenham.
Since the war, Lawrence Hazell has run a tireless campaign to raise awareness for all those people like the ARP, Fire Service, Land Army, and Home Guard, who all contributed to the War Effort and had not been officially recognised and receive the 1945 Peace Medal. Despite his best efforts, this campaign has so far been in vain.
Jesse Webb lived at Box Cottage, Village Road, Arle. He attended Gloucester Road School and then the Central School. He joined the army at the age of 18 in 1944. He was in the 10th Battalion of the Glos. Regt. and first went to Colchester. He later went out to India, and from there to Singapore and Malaya (Malaysia), where he spent his 21st birthday. In Malaya there was an airstrip called Kluang, where they searched Japanese prisoners. Jesse was very friendly with a Chinese family there who had two sons who were very well educated. They taught English in a school there.
Jesse was in the Regimental Police and then in the Military Police. The Military Police wore red caps, which, whilst identifying their authority, also served as a beacon to warn skivers or those not wanting to be apprehended.
He came back to England at the end of the war to Plymouth where he was demobbed and given the civvy suit and gratuity. He returned to Cheltenham, to Arle and to his job at the gas works. He proudly retained the telegram his mother received from the Queen when she reached 100 years of age. Not many former residents of Arle can have achieved this honour. Jesse died in January 2001.
Bill Tawney, another veteran now in his 80s, although living in Alstone Lane as a child, vividly recalls Arle Villa as it was before the war. He joined the 9th Lancers, at the time an elite regiment because they had swords, lances and rifles, when he was only 17. Three years later he was posted to India, but because he was a reservist when the war broke out he was sent to Tidworth and eventually joined the Warks. Yeomanry.
By 1939 he was sailing through Palestine and later fought in five different countries. There was trouble in Syria and his regiment travelled on horses from Palestine into Syria and successfully engaged the enemy. Later they crossed the border into Iraq and went to Baghdad. Trouble erupted in Persia (now Iran) and they fought the Persians for some time, later returning to Palestine. He spent his leave by the Sea of Galilee. He was in the 8th Army in the desert and as a Desert Rat served there under 'Monty' and General Alexander. After recovering from a leg wound, he eventually took part in the Italian landings. It was here that he saw the devastation of Monte Cassino. This was a famous battle because it meant the destruction of a monastery high in the mountains where the Germans were holding out. Despite desperate pleas from the Pope and many other heads of state, the decision to destroy it was made. Mr Tawney recalls whilst wandering around the area finding a little shrine to the Virgin Mary, lying intact by the roadside. Eventually Mr Tawney returned to Cheltenham and now lives in Arle with his collection of army memorabilia and his memories.
Mr Halling is another resident of Springbank whose family used to live in Tewkesbury Road. His father gave his life in WW1. Mr Halling joined the service in 1940 in the S. Glos. Regt. and became a driver. He was later posted to India and eventually to Burma and was there until 1942. Conditions were appalling and very hot. When they reached a river, they shed their clothes and jumped in. Like Mr Hazell, he was fortunate enough to survive the war and return to Arle.
Mr Patterson joined the army in January 1940 going into the heavy artillery. He later served on the guns at Scapa Flow. It was here that he received his injuries, as a result of the gun exploding. After being transferred to hospital, it was found that his hearing had been affected and so he was invalided out. He worked for a time at Dowty Rotol and then became a caretaker at Bishops Cleeve School, later moving to become a caretaker at Hesters Way School; (see Volume 1).
These men who survived have many tales to tell and never forget their comrades who did not return and we should never forget them. To all these men and women of Arle in both wars, we owe a debt of gratitude.