Part 4 of the West Horsley Place in the Second World War Series.

In May 1940, the German Army swept through Belgium and the Netherlands, and Winston Churchill became Prime Minister. The British Expeditionary Force was evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk as France fell to the advancing army. A leaflet entitled If the Invader Comes was sent to every home. That summer, the RAF and the Luftwaffe fought in the skies above Britain. On 7 September 1940, the Blitz began, and the Luftwaffe began to bomb British cities.

West Horsley, as a reception area for evacuees, was considered to be relatively safe and Anderson shelters, the shed-like corrugated iron shelters, were not provided to the people in the village. However, in November 1940, two bombs fell behind West Horsley Place in the fields. The explosion broke some of the windows and sent shards of glass flying. At the end of the month, four bombs fell even closer to the house.

On 30 November 1940, a letter was sent to the Marchioness of Crewe from Messenger and Morgan – a land agents from Guildford. They wrote:

I am sorry to have to report that a bomb dropped last night on the drive close to the back entrance. Fortunately there were no casualties but a certain amount of damage was done. The wall between the outside larder and the back entrance gate was blown down, also the Peach house and frames and half of the other greenhouse. In addition there is of course a large crater on the drive itself. It is a miracle that no damage was done to the house except a few tiles displaced at the East end and a small portion of the scullery ceiling which fell. The wall must have taken the main force of the blast because there are not even any windows broken in the house itself.

If those four bombs had dropped a second sooner, the house may have been destroyed. It’s alarming to think that the house, as it stands today, could have been blown to pieces. Its history, its contents and the stories hidden in its archive may have been lost entirely. 

Following the near miss of the bombing at West Horsley Place on 30 November 1940, the land agent reported that:

I have been over this morning and the Canadians have started to clear away the brick rubble, but we are saving all the whole bricks for re-use. The electric light cable was broken but this will be repaired by tonight… I have seen Colonel Leach and Major Matthews and they say that it would not worry them if all the furniture was removed from the house with the exception of that in the three bedrooms in the west wing, for which they have agreed to accept responsibility… Perhaps now the bombs have got so close to the house, you may not be so anxious to reserve the accommodation for your own use.

Since the start of 1940, Canadian soldiers had been arriving in England. One regiment that was supplied with medium artillery guns – making them the Medium Regiment - travelled from Canada under the command of Lt. Col. Richard ‘Dick’ Leach on the Aquitania. The soldiers came from Prince Edward Island, Montreal, Kingston, and Toronto. They were based in Aldershot in June 1940 where they made a camp to look after and organise British soldiers returning from Dunkirk. Sometime after this, the 1st Medium Regiment was billeted in West Horsley. Their commander was Lt. Col. Richard ‘Dick’ Leach.

The West Horsley Place visitor book reveals that on 30 August 1940, Vincent Massey, the high commissioner of Canada, paid a visit to the house. Massey was accompanied by his wife, Alice. She was involved in a hospital and club for Canadian personnel and was also a member of the St. John Ambulance Brigade. Could this be when the 1st Medium Regiment arrived?

Those in West Horsley had their evacuees replaced by young Canadian soldiers. All over East and West Horsley, in the woodlands along Ockham Road, ‘Bivouacs’, ‘dugouts’ and log cabins appeared. Their trucks and ammunition supplies lined the roads. The village hall became a canteen, and the Canadians brought ‘Coca Cola’ with them, as well as ‘chewing gum’, ‘sweet Caporal cigarettes’, ‘Neillsons chocolate bars’ and ‘oranges’. Some officers stayed in West Horsley Place, making use of the bedrooms in the West Wing and even the attic - where parts of their beds still remain.

In November, Lt. Col. Leach was on hand at West Horsley Place to help after the bombing. In December, Lt. Col. Leach was replaced by Lt. Col. G.W.F. Johnston. He continued the training of the 1st Medium Regiment, and they carried out manoeuvres such as “Fox”, “Dog”, “Horse”, “Waterloo” and “Bumper” (a military exercise at the end of September 1941 which saw 250,000 soldiers engaged in ‘fighting’ a fake German invasion).

On 28 August 1941, William Lyon Mackenzie King – the Prime Minister of Canda – opened a road exchange in Leatherhead and then visited the 1st Medium Regiment. The visitor book of West Horsley Place records his arrival, as well as that of General Andrew George Latta McNaughton – the Commander of the Canadian Corps - Lt Col G.W.F. Johnston – the commander of the regiment at West Horsley – and Pierre Dupuy – a Canadian diplomat who had been on three missions to Vichy France to gather intelligence on the regime. We will never know what they discussed, but it was certainly a significant moment to have four important Canadian figures under this one roof.

The 1st Medium Regiment left West Horsley in early December 1941 and were then stationed in West Sussex. They were mobilised on 1 December 1943 and were sent on active service to North Africa and then Italy. They were the first of the Canadian medium artillery regiments to be sent into the war.

The 1st Medium Regiment were soon replaced by the Royal Canadian Engineers. These Canadian soldiers left their mark on West Horsley Place in the form of graffiti in the attic. Two soldiers left their names and service numbers. The first name is of Royal Brummond, known as Roy to his friends. He served with the 6th Field Park Royal Canadian Engineers (who left Canada for Britain in July 1941 and then went on to fight in the D-Day landings). The second soldier was William Descheneau. He enlisted in the 13th District Depot in Alberta and served in the Royal Canadian Engineers as well. Leaving their mark at West Horsley Place was clearly a good luck charm for these two soldiers as they both survived the war.

By Hannah, student recipient of the Bamber Bursary