Home Front

In 1939 the government introduced National Registration Identity Cards.

The identity card below belonged to Margaret Ross, midwife in charge of the maternity unit at Cottage Hospital, Wantage. It was issued on 26 June 1943 not long after the blue registration card was introduced for adults. Prior to 1943 children and adults both had brown cards.

Margaret would have had to carry this card with her at all times to show who she was and where she lived.

Margaret Ross’ Identity Card, issued 26th of June 1943, D/H15/4/1/14

In January 1940, the British government introduced food rationing. Margaret’s ration book shows she registered with W H Palmer, Wantage as her butcher and Albert Miekle, Grove Street, Wantage for bacon, butter and margarine. These basic foodstuffs could only be bought with the exchange of coupons.

Front cover of Margaret Ross’ Ration Card, DTJC/170/3


It was important that everyone at home played their part in supporting the war effort.

The poem below entitled ‘Serving England’ was published in the 1941 edition of the Bisham Abbey Journal. This was a magazine produced for and by patients and staff at the Red Cross convalescent home, which occupied Bisham Abbey during the Second World War. It celebrates just some of the roles Berkshire residents assumed during the war regardless of age or gender.

‘Serving England’ poem, published in the
Bisham Abbey Journal, 1941, D/EX73/4/7/28

This celebration was an important part of demonstrating how every small gesture could help the war effort. Now is our chance! A call to all women, by Gertrude Bennett of Waltham St Lawrence illustrates that, as do the card and booklet below, issued by the Army Blood Transfusion Service.

Front page of ‘Now is Our Chance!’ by Gertrude Bennett, D/EX2095/1/2 and
Publications from the Army Blood Transfusion Service, D/EX886/3/1

Pangbourne Methodist Canteen: Home from Home

Wartime canteens were set up across the county to provide meals and much needed respite to those who were very busy during the war.

Billie Perrall, a teacher at Whitchurch-on-Thames primary school, and her sister Ivy opened such a canteen in the vestry of Methodist chapel at Pangbourne.  This offered warmth, newspapers, tea, yellow buns and rock cakes.

Pangbourne Methodist Canteen Visitors Book, 1940, D/EX2760 acc.10549.1

Its visitors book was signed by the soldiers who passed through.  There are entries from men across the UK, Commonwealth and the USA. Below are some further extracts from the Pangbourne war canteen visitors book.  They provide an insight into the soldiers’ hopes and wishes.

Extract from Pangbourne War Canteen Visitors Books, 1939-1943, D/EX2760 acc.10549.1-6

The letter below is from R. Yeantes to the Pangbourne Methodist Canteen, and is just one of many which were received when the news broke of its potential closure. The letter captures the importance of the canteen to soldiers stationed in the area.

Letter from R. Yeantes to the Pangbourne Methodist Canteen

Military Preparations

In October 1939, the Royal Engineers arrived in Pangbourne.  They practised bridge-building on the river meadows.

According to Maisie James, in her memoir, Thames River Girl, the meadow was equipped with girders and platoons which had to be lifted into position by twelve men. As the bridge progressed across the Thames the Sappers would have to row sections into place.

Photograph showing The Royal Engineers practicing bridge building, D/EX2760acc.10577

Reverse reads: “To Dear Ivy & Billy Love, Harry”.

Photograph of Harry Wohlgemuth, American Royal Engineer, in France on 9th July 1944 who later married Joan G Purvey, a Methodist canteen worker, in 1945, D/EX2760acc.10577.11

The various Engineer companies based in Pangbourne drew pictures to adorn the vestry at the Methodist chapel.  These drawings suggest a strong sense of regimental identity as well as a strong sense of humour and an affinity with home.