Second World War
The Second World War received the same attention from the people of Wokingham as from those who had responded loyally in the First World War.
Accommodation was organised for evacuees, and National Savings and fund-raising campaigns, mainly to provide weapons and fighting equipment, were efficiently organised. Many joined the Local Defence Volunteers, or L.D.V., nicknamed Look, Duck and Vanish, which later became the Home Guard. Several buildings became emergency hospitals. A number of women joined the Women’s Land Army and gardens and parks in the town were turned into vegetable allotments.
As a town, Wokingham suffered very little from the ravages of war. The planes of the Luftwaffe could often be heard passing over to London and other prime targets but only on very rare occasions were bombs dropped in the vicinity of Wokingham. One major incident occurred when a plane released an aerial torpedo which travelled over the town and landed in the field now occupied by St. Crispin’s School.
Because the residents of the District of Wokingham succeeded in saving the required £400,000 for a destroyer in the Wokingham Week for Warships National Savings Campaign held in February 1942, they were given the honour of adopting an existing destroyer. They chose H.M.S. Garth, a ’HUNT’ Class escort destroyer. The exchange of a replica of the ship’s badge and a commemoration plaque from Wokingham took place in Wokingham Town Hall. The Captain of H.M.S. Garth and some of the crew came to Wokingham for the ceremony. A copy of the ship’s badge and of the Wokingham plaque hang in the annex of the Main Hall of the town hall.
The residents of Wokingham kept in touch with the crew of H.M.S. Garth throughout the war and sent various comforts, including board games. They also provided a fund from which the officer commanding could withdraw for the men to provide financial assistance.
The girls of The County Girls’ School (now The Holt School) knitted socks and balaclavas for the crew and collected money towards starting a ship’s library which they called The Ocean Library. In return the crew presented the school with a model of the ship which still stands in the school library.
On January, 26th 1945 Commander, Captain W. Grono Davis D.S.C., and men of H.M.S. Garth made a second official visit to Wokingham to present the residents with a German ensign that had been taken from an E-boat that the Garth had sunk.
Although Wokingham is well inland it still had a part in the lead up to the 6th June 1944 D-Day. Of course, most preparation was going on along the coast but Wokingham was one of the selected areas for the build-up of allied troops and their vehicles and munitions prior to the invasion of Europe.
During the months building up to D-Day, which was the first day of the allied invasion of Europe, hundreds of soldiers of different nationalities including those from the United States, Canada and the Netherlands were billeted in the Wokingham area. Every available building was used to accommodate the troops. Equipment too was stockpiled in camouflaged dumps. According to Cecil Culver long lines of tanks, armoured cars and trucks were hidden beneath the trees of Wokingham’s avenues on the evening before the invasion.
The many American and Canadian troops who were stationed in Wokingham together with the local population enjoyed many happy hours at the fun fair that seemed to be permanently on waste land in Cross Street (since re-routed and developed). As D-Day approached it was very apparent that something was going on. For many, many hours, tanks, lorries and heavy equipment rumbled through the town, much of it travelling down Denmark Street on the way to the coast. Suddenly all the troops and vehicles that had been in the town had disappeared overnight. (Information courtesy of Ken Goatley)
The 5th (Hackney)* Battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment landed with the Canadian 3rd Divisions on Juno Beach on the 6th June and remained there as part of a Beach Group with the responsibility for the landing ground. Despite technically only a Beach Group they served as infantry in the Battle of Normandy and by August 1944 they were down to 16 officers and 136 other ranks. * The Hackney is because they were re-designated from the 10th Hackney Battalion of the London Regiment in 1937.
At the end of the war on August 9th and November 1st 1946, The Mayor, Cllr. David Goddard presented a wallet – Wokingham’s Welcome Home Fund – to each of the returning ex-servicemen and women at two gatherings in the Ritz Cinema. The wallets were of brown pigskin and were embossed with the crest of the Borough and endorsed with the initials of each recipient across the corner.