Part 1 of the West Horsley Place in the Second World War Series.

On 15 March 1939, streams of German soldiers swarmed across Czechoslovakia and that evening Adolf Hitler entered the city of Prague. In doing so, he had invaded lands that contained no German people and showed the world that the German Army was prepared to invade any country. On the last day of that month, the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain gave the British government’s guarantee that they would uphold the independence of Poland and come to her defence if the country was invaded. On 27 April, war drew closer as an Act was passed in Parliament that would see all men aged twenty called up for six-months training in the Armed Forces, after which they would serve in the Reserve. This was the first ever Act of peacetime conscription in the United Kingdom.

Amongst the growing political tensions, and the often-reluctant disappearance of young men into the army, in April 1939 the bookkeeper at West Horsley Place, Thomas William Imms, recorded the order of 80 yards of black Italian cloth which was purchased for £6 and 5 shillings from Gammons Ltd. It was possible that this cloth was used to make blackout curtains for the many windows in West Horsley Place. In the Second World War, a blackout was enforced across Britain as it was feared light escaping from homes would attract the German bomber planes. They thought that the lights would help direct them towards their targets.

However, the instructions on how to make an adequate blackout were not provided until July 1939 when the Public Information Leaflet No. 2 was sent to every household. It suggested that ‘the most convenient way of shutting in the light is to use close fitting blinds. These can be dark blue or black or dark green glazed Holland, Lancaster, or Italian cloth.’ Maybe there was a very organised, forward-thinking member of staff at the house!

However, in June and August 1939, an order was placed at Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler Ltd for £19 4 shillings and 9 pence for the making and supplying of white taffeta curtains. Possibly the black cloth was covered up with prettier looking curtains around the house. The garden account shows that by 31 August 1939, 50 more yards of sateen had been supplied by Gammons Ltd for the blacking out of the windows as the household staff now had the government guidance to follow. As this was in the gardens account book, possibly this material was used to blackout the greenhouses. 

By Hannah, student recipient of the Bamber Bursary

Picture: A blackout message written on the wall of the attic at West Horsley Place