Woburn Sands and Aspley Heath War Casualties
Between the Wars
The clock of the village Memorial was already cause for concern by 1920, as it could not be kept running on time. Mr William Janes, the local watch maker, was put in charge of it. In 1922, repairs were carried out by the manufacturers, costing £7.10s, which were attributed to the mechanism being damaged by brick dust from the local yards. In 1926, it was decided to replace the weight driven clock with an electric one, controlled by a master clock to be housed in ‘The Swan’. Tenders were invited for the work, and the local watch and clock makers, Thomas Emms and his step-brother Erasmus George Dovey, undercut the original clock suppliers. The new clock cost £46.16s.7d to buy and install, and the cost was met by subscriptions from the villagers.
The Second World War
When Britain was plunged into the Second World War, warning lamps were placed around the base of the Memorial due to the blackout regulations, and kept in order by Leslie Leigh-Lancaster, who had his shop close by. The parish names cut into the inscription were also filled in, by Mills and Son of Woburn, under the Defence Regulations, so that should invasion occur, the enemy would not know where they were!
The end of the War was marked in style in Woburn Sands:
"The news of the surrender of Germany was the signal for flags, streamers and bunting to appear in all the streets and on all buildings. Thanksgiving was, however, uppermost in the minds of most people, and services were held at St. Michaels Church, conducted by the Rev. F. Y. Orlebar, and the High Street Methodist Church, conducted by the Rev. Josiah Martin, on Tuesday afternoon.
Many local soldiers returned with stories of their adventures, like Corp Derek Hawley, formerly a provisions shop assistant:
HE WAS CAUGHT IN ENEMY TRAP - MEDITIRRANEAN ORDEAL OF WOBURN SANDS CORPORAL - By a Military Observer.
But some did not return. By the end of the war, there were more local men who had lost their lives in the service of their country, and their names had to be added to the Memorial. Mrs Hunt, of the Welcome Home Committee suggested adding the names in April 1946, and there was no objection from the council. The inscribed panel was fixed to the Memorial in October 1947, and officially unveiled the next month by Mr C. Hart, an ex-POW of the Far East, in the presence of the Rev. Frederick Bowler of St. Michaels, and the Rev. Arthur Manley of the Methodist chapel. The seven names added were:
Mr Emms retired from looking after the clock in 1947, so Mr Janes stepped forward again, until someone else could be found. In November 1952, an enquiry was sent to the Parish Council as to why the name of John Shelton had been omitted from the Second World War names on the Memorial. The Welcome Home Committee were asked to explain, and said that the name had been put forward at the time, but after investigation they had decided he was not eligible, as there was doubt that he was actually serving at the time of his death. The council decided to stand by this decision. However, in January 1954, Mrs F. Marchant raised the subject again, and provided a letter from Major General Bailey, of the War Office, which confirmed John’s military service. With this evidence, and acknowledging the fact that John was not listed on any other Memorial in England, the Council decided to act, and in March they instructed Mills and Son of Woburn to add the name, and so an eighth name was added to the Second World War names. This had definitely been done by August that year.
There are also two names recorded on a plaque in the NatWest Bank, on the High Street:
SERGEANT HARRY WILLIAM MAYNE, No. 1176480, RAF Volunteer Reserve. Died 19th August 1942, aged 30, and buried at Eyeworth Churchyard, Bedfordshire. Son of Robert and Lilian May Mayne of Eyeworth. No further details currently known.FLIGHT SERGEANT JOHN JOSEPH O'BRIEN HEADY, No. 1615776, RAF Volunteer Reserve, 153 Sqn. Killed 14th February 1945. The 153 Sqn. were flying Avro Lancasters, and according to their history: "14th February, the city of Chemnitz received its first major Bomber Command attack, but due to extensive cloud cover, allowing the use of sky-marking techniques only, bombing proved mainly scattered and ineffective. The Squadron suffered another loss when NN 803 (P4-2ndO) crashed over East Germany, whilst on its first operation - in fact, it had recorded only 64 hours of total flight time prior to take-off. The crew, on only their third operation, comprising F/Lt Clem Mills with 4 fellow Canadian and 2 RAFVR members (of whom the F/Engineer, F/Sgt J J Heady, was a remustered pilot) were all killed." The RAF index records that his plane, NN 803, took off from Scampton at 8.05pm and continued "...as part of the second wave. Crashed, burning fiercely, at 0044 between the villages of Arnsfeld and Grumbach, having being targeted by Ofw Ludwig Schmidt piloting a Ju88G-6 from 2./NJG6.' Remainder of summary as reported. Apparently, a man from the nearby village of Mildenau recalls that a friend of his, at the time aged 14, was drawn to the crash site as he had heard that RAF airmen were issued with chocolate. The lure of this induced him to search the badly burnt wreckage which was lying in woodland. However, on seeing two of the crew still strapped in their seats he quickly left the scene and never returned. He said, however, that he saw unexploded bombs." [Jörg Helbig and Rene Siegert]
Heady appears on the Leighton Buzzard Cedars School Roll of Honour, and also on Linslade Memorials.
Other Second World War casualties connected with Woburn Sands
As with the First World War, there are other casualties connected with Woburn Sands. Here are their details:
ALBERT EDWARD NOEL CHAMPKIN, National Fire Service. Died 1st May 1943.
PRIVATE WILLIAM JACK HOOPER, No. 119593, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. Died 23rd March 1947.
LANCE CORPORAL CHARLES WALTER JESKINS, No.1549513, Pioneer Corp., Died 22nd May, 1945. Whilst stationed at Whaddon, Charles fell from the back of an army lorry in Aspley Heath. The lorry was hauling a trailer full of 5 tons of timber. He was taken to Luton and Dunstable Hospital, but died soon after arrival. He was buried at his family home of Marlow. Aged 30.
LANCE CORPORAL JOHN EDWARD KNOPP, No. 5830418, Cambridgeshire Regiment, 2nd Battalion. Died 21st September 1944.
LANCE CORPORAL ALEC (ARTHUR) PEACOCK, No. 855064, is buried in St. Michaels churchyard, Woburn Sands. He was a Military Policeman who died 30th March, 1941, aged 22. He is remembered on the Bletchley War Memorial
FLIGHT LIEUTENANT FRANCIS EVELYN GEORGE RASHLEIGH, D.F.C., No. 41064, Royal Air Force. Died 30th September 1943.
LIEUTENANT JOHN HENRY LLOYD SULMAN, M.B.E., D.S.C. Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, H.M. Trawler Colsay. Died 2nd November 1944.
ABLE SEAMAN ANTHONY JOHN WADE, No. C/JX 336396, Royal Navy, H.M.S. President III. Died 7th December 1942.
After the Second World War
In 1959, the Billiards Room at ‘The Swan’, where the clock controls were housed, was demolished. The licensee, as well as the brewery owners, had to be persuaded to rehouse it in another part of the outbuildings. The council decided to alter the clock to mains power, however, after receiving the quote of £110 for conversion, and about £4 a year for electricity, they decided the old mechanism was good for another 5 years.
The Memorial stood approximately where the mini-roundabout is, outside ‘The Swan’. The traffic flow through the centre of the village had increased greatly since 1919, and in 1961 came the first thoughts of re-aligning The Square, and having proper signs to direct traffic around it. The Memorial was blamed for causing traffic accidents, as it had been hit many times by cars and lorries, but the plans all came to nothing.
In 1962, the clock was again giving trouble, and now the garages housing the master clock at ‘The Swan’ were earmarked for demolition to widen Hardwick Road. The County Council were asked for somewhere to accommodate it, and pay for its removal. The County Surveyor made the first official suggestion of moving the Memorial at a meeting in June 1962. The British Legion was asked their opinion, and they replied that it was alright by them if it was a benefit to the public and met with approval from their own members and the parishioners. Aspley Heath Parish Council objected, saying that it was useful as a pedestrian refuge in the middle of the junction. After a lot of debate, it was decide to leave the Memorial where it was.
It was finally decided to connect the clock to mains power in April 1963, and the work was done by English Clock Systems at a cost of £54.12s.6d, with volunteer help from Councillor Fred Watkiss, who worked in maintenance at Cranfield College of Aeronautics, and Mr Hilton.
In 2000, the Town Council had the Memorial professionally cleaned, and the lettering was re-carved and picked out in black to be more distinctive, as most of it had worn away in the passage of the years.
There were many others with connections to Woburn Sands and Aspley Heath. Some were born here, but moved away before the war, or were well known in the area because they worked here. Some had family connections in the district, or perhaps their families moved during the war, so their names are recorded on other local memorials elsewhere. It is not possible to list them all.
Our War Memorial continues to be the centre of the local Remembrance Day proceedings, and is a focal point for recognising the sacrifices made by others, so that we are able to enjoy our freedom today.