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Walford House in WWII by Dave Caddy

Dave Caddy

Dave Caddy

This article is based on an interview with Dave Caddy by Nigel Finch in January 2010 where Dave describes his memories of American soldiers, Italian and German Prisoners Of War based at Walford House, Walford Cross.

Dave was 4 years old when he was evacuated with his mother and two sisters, Marion 14 and Ann just 1, in 1940 from his home in Southampton to join his two brothers, Harold 13 and John 10 who had been evacuated to Castle Villa, Creech Heathfield in 1939 just before WWII broke out. Dave was considered too young to be evacuated with them.

Walford House 2010

As children, Dave and his brothers were fascinated by a stream at Walford House and a quite impressive waterfall of some 6ft just where the stream passed under the A38.

In those days the A38 was much lower at this point and there was quite a steep hill up to Walford Cross.

The dip at the bottom of the hill was filled in the early 60′s when the junction at Walford Cross was reconfigured. This meant the end of the waterfall.

The hill was that steep that Western National double-decker buses, powered by producer gas, going to Bridgwater could not get up the hill unassisted.

A single-decker petrol-driven bus was parked outside Walford House and was coupled up to the double-deckers to get them up to the top of Adsborough hill. This was great entertainment for children in those days. No Xbox, no Wii, no Sky or even television in most homes!

African American soldiers arrive

During 1940 the waterfall provided a fun place to launch sticks and race them over the falls, under the road and out the other side. All changed suddenly one day in 1942-3, when an American pioneeer corps arrived to install a huge tented encampment in the grounds of Walford House to accommodate hundreds of black African American soldiers as an American base in WWII.

There was very little security at the camp, Dave and his friends were able to just walk in and often used to fetch the ball in baseball games in the grounds of Walford House.

In the 40’s there were very few black people in the UK. It seemed strange, especially to children, to suddenly see hundreds of black people in the Creech area. The African Americans were very friendly and frequently offered chewing gum to Dave, his brothers and friends.

They stayed under canvas in the encampment and were a frequent sight, especially on Sundays when hundreds would walk all around the Walford and Creech Heathfield areas. The former Crown Inn at Creech  Heathfield was very popular and the gardens were packed with American soldiers all enjoying English ale.

White American soldiers arrive

 

 

As suddenly as the African American soldiers arrived, some 6 to 12 months later, they moved out and were replaced this time by white American soldiers. The white American soldiers were just as friendly and always were offering the kids gum. Dave recollects they would often ask if he ‘had any sisters?’. As an innocent 5 year old he was always puzzled why they would want to play with girls!

On one occasion Dave recalled how he and his bother John were walking up to Walford Cross and, just like any other day, there were hundreds of soldiers on the roads. Suddenly a jeep with military police red caps arrived and he could not believe just how quickly people could disappear! They jumped over hedges, over gateways, into ditches and within seconds you couldn’t see them anywhere. Clearly they should have been elsewhere!

Security to get into the camp was much tighter now and the gate was always guarded so it wasn’t possible to play baseball with the soldiers. During the war there was an adverse camber on the A38 bend at Walford Cross and this was particularly difficult for a half-track personnel carrier coming downhill from the North Petherton direction and bearing right at the junction to Glastonbury. Dave remembers several half-tracks overshooting the bend and ending up in the orchard where Camping and Leisure are now. The then owner, Mr Best, put up a skull and cross bones to mark the danger spot. It remained there for many years after the war.

The American soldiers were based at the camp in preparation for the second front in the war. Just before D-Day June 6th 1944 the soldiers left in a huge convey that stretched from Walford to Henlade.

Italian Prisoners Of War arrive

Shortly after, Italian POWs arrived and were held in the encampment.  Security was not that tight as they had no real reason to escape. In fact on Sundays they were allowed out and walked in pairs around Creech. They were very friendly and enjoyed practising English with children and their parents.

Each morning the POWs were taken to help dig the Sedgemoor Drain that ran to the Bristol Channel just north of Bridgwater.

Many were artisans and skilled in making trinkets and bracelets out of any scrap of metal. If you gave them a three penny bit, or shilling, they would return the following Sunday with an attractive silver looking ring. After the war it is believed a few Italians returned to the area and married locals.

German Prisoners Of War arrive

Following the surrender of Italy in September 1943 the Italian POWs were all repatriated by 1945 and then quickly replaced by hundreds of German POWs held in the tented encampment.

Security was now much tighter and the Germans were confined strictly to camp. No trinkets or baseball any more!

The German prisoners were similarly taken every day to continue building the Sedgemoor drain.

After the war the Germans were repatriated and nearly all left. However, Dave remembers one named Joe who stayed behind and started to work for Tom Richards at his market garden at Heathfield Lodge, Creech Heathfield.

Joe joined the local cricket team, and Dave, then aged 10, remembers how Joe never quite got the hang of bowling over arm and just insisted on simply throwing the ball!

Thank you Dave most kindly for your memories of Walford House in the Second World War.