Troops opposite Sylvesters in the 1930s
Troops opposite Sylvesters, Lower Froyle
Bill Elstow remembers the coming of the Second World War to Froyle.

“Before the war at the end of the summer the army would hold its manoeuvres in the country side around the village. The army was still not fully mechanised at that time and there was always plenty of cavalry around with their wonderful cross lanced badges (see picture). And in those wonderfully balmy, phlox scented, long summer evenings after the days games were finished the grooms would walk the horses through the village to chat with the villagers and their daughters at the garden gates whilst we youngsters would run back and forth to feed the horse with windfall apples which they would eat in one devastating crunch and swallow.

The manoeuvres were always exciting for us, I am sure that there is very little difference in the noise of live ammunition and that of blank cartridges. There were certainly plenty of the latter for us to collect the empty cartridges for our own games. One must remember that blank cartridges still have a wad in the end which can be very painful if it hits you from short range. On one occasion some Infantry were laying prone hidden behind a hedge about three foot above the road when some very important looking map reading officers on horseback turned into the lane. As they reached the middle of the ambush someone started to open fire. There is no need to describe the resulting mayhem of bucking horses and unseated riders to contemplate what punishment was meted out to impress on the hoi-poloi one of the things that one does not do to Officers and Gentlemen but, more importantly, certainly not to their horses.

But all this was to disappear very quickly with the arrival of the Bren gun carrier.

It so happened that I was in Froyle on the first day of the war. It was a Sunday and I was waiting for my parents to arrive to take me back home to start at my new grammar school. My father who had rejoined the Reserve in 1938 to collect what he regarded as the easiest twenty five quid of his life found himself back in the R.A.F. before the ink had dried. He was on leave but in uniform as he drove through London on the way to Froyle that morning.

As soon as Mr Chamberlain had made his announcement the air raid sirens sounded as my parents arrived in their car at Brixton. There they were stopped and my father was told to put his gas mask on. When they arrived at Clapham they were all but arrested.... what on earth did he think he was doing putting the fear of God up everyone. Such was the degree of apprehension that we were all about to be bombed to hell by hoards of Stukas.

In Froyle at about quarter past eleven a monoplane flew low over the village and it is remarkable how many people had clearly seen the black and white crosses on its wings. But it is such things that pub conversations are made of, all enjoy listening to it even if they don't believe a word of it and in any case they were there too and cant quite remember whether it was six or seven that they saw. By turning out time the lone Hurricane had probably become a squadron of German heavy bombers. Little did we know that soon this was to be, for some, the stark reality but not in Froyle.

By the outbreak of war the Army was already a permanent resident of the village in the form of a searchlight battery up Well Lane. They cleared an old gravel working for their generator and provided another topic of conversation in claiming that they had killed over two hundred adders in so doing. The searchlight was further down the lane nearer the village and some of us were playing there on the Friday before the Sunday when a lorry arrived to issue some rifles with the news that the Germans had entered Poland that morning. I am now ashamed to admit that for us youngsters it was all very exciting and something to look forward to. I can only plead an ignorance that would be rectified in the following years.

It was difficult to understand why a searchlight was situated at Froyle, there were no AA guns nearby, unless it was to serve as a beacon for our own aircraft going into RAF Odiham It must have been one of the cushiest postings of the war. That is not to say that Froyle saw no action. A German bomber did drop some bombs up in the woods by the common and a bomb disposal squad had to come and dig them up and let them off. The operation took several days and we used to delight in joining the soldiers at lunch time pulled up in their lorry outside the Prince of Wales, trying to cadge a badge from them. ”