Stories from Hobbs Barracks

Stories from Hobbs Barracks

Increase in trade
Number 4, (Rowplatt Lane), had a lean-to room on the side and in 1925 we decided to start a small shop in it, and with £11 capital we bought a small set of scales and weights, board for shelving and counter and a small quantity of cigarettes, tobacco, sweets, and some home-made marmalade. We gradually began to stock biscuits and mineral water, and eventually it was a full grocers shop. In 1929, my mother-in-law passed on and we had the shop enlarged and a room built over it for granddad Wheeler (Tom). Progress still came our way and in 1933, we bought the News agency for the village with 190 customers on the books. Soon after, Hobbs Barracks were built in what was previously known as Goldhards Wood and having got the custom when the troops came in, our business increased considerably.
Memories of Mrs C Wheeler, 1965

Clearing Stratfords
My father was asked by the Sanderson’s of Stratfords to collect and delivery a few bits of furniture when they moved out of their property before being turned over to the military in 1938/9. When he drove down to the house he was rather surprised to find that the military had already felled some of the trees and started to bulldoze the site ready to build Hobbs Barracks. He felt this to be rather strange as the Sanderson’s had not yet moved out, still he continued on down to the house. On arrival he discovered it was not a few bits and pieces but the whole house that needed clearing, with instructions that this bit of furniture was to go to this address and that to another, and so on. So he loaded up his lorry and preceded to delivery the furniture to the various addresses in London. The stuff that wasn’t destined for anyone he had to dispose of, so he brought it back home. Mind you the iron beds came in very handy when we had an evacuee family stay with us during the war.
Doris Jenner,

Easy Target
Mr Warner explained that Felbridge was a wartime target because of the nearby Hobbs Barracks, which could be an easy target at night owing to ‘the shining mirror’ of Hedgecourt Lake. The nearby Rowfant petrol dump was also always a worry. Mrs Warner used to serve in the Golards Farm Shop opposite the barracks and remembers the Irish Guards coming in for their supplies.
Taken from: Felbridge in the ‘Good Old Days’, The East Grinstead Courier, 28.5.81

How noise travels
I was only in my early teens when war broke out so I had little to do with Hobbs Barracks, although I do remember that you could hear the Sergeant Major shouting out his commands on the Parade Ground, and also the sound of the rifles on the rifle range from where we lived in Furnace Wood!
Ken Housman

Netball and the Sergeant’s Mess
After being kicked out of the Blacksmith’s Head of a summer evening, we would wander home to Wire Mill Lane, and on moon-lit nights, we would often challenge the ATS girls to a game of netball, as they were usually on their break between batches of baking bread. They’d hoist up their skirts and tuck them in their bloomers, the netball being played on the quadrangle between the Static Bakery and wire Mill Lane that had a couple of netball posts on it.

Several of the married Officers from the Irish Guards that were stationed at Hobbs Barracks during the war lived in Wire Mill Lane. Sgt. Maj. McCleery, lived at Mill Pond Farm, Sgt. Kilduff in a cottage attached to Garden Cottage, and Sgt. Henry at no.6 Wire Mill Lane. On occasions we would go over to the Sergeant’s Mess at Hobbs Barracks and have a drink with them during the latter part of the war.

There were also several barrage balloons around in the area during the war.
Ernie Borer, 1940/45

Boxing Champs
Two of the Irish Guards, Arthur Danahar and Paddy Roach, who were stationed at Hobbs Barracks during the War, were National Boxing Champions. Arthur Danahar was boxing circa 1938, until circa 1946, and was famous enough to appear as card no.10 in a collection of Churchman’s cigarette cards of great boxers in 1938, and Paddy Roach became the Welter Weight Boxing Champion of Ireland in 1942. Both men were given time to pursue their boxing careers whilst in military service and members of the 1st Felbridge Scouts used to be taken to train with them at the barracks.
Brian Roberts

Beware of the wildlife!
My visit to Hobbs Barracks was short and very busy preparing to go to Germany to join the 2nd Battalion of the Irish Guards (Armoured Division). I only remember Irish Guards and the Racecourse being next door, and scary moments with the wildlife on Main Gate guard during the middle of the night. The dark nights meant that we could not see very far and things used to creep up on us. All I know is that we didn’t get much time to think about where we were before being whisked off to the Welsh mountains for live ammunition training and then Germany in the summer of 1945.
Irish Guards, Gdsn. Ivor White, 1944-45

Driving Licence
I enlisted on 16th March 1944, and after Caterham, trained at Fairmile Head, Edinburgh, before going to Hobbs Barracks. I think we were all ‘Micks’ at Hobbs Barracks. I must have been there only for a Carrier Driving Learners Course, admiring the countryside instead of the road. Think I must have been shipped to Stobs Barracks, Hawick, Scotland, as soon as I passed, before going to North West Europe on 24th April 1945.
Irish Guards, Gdsn. Ivan Burman, 1944

British Island in a Canadian sea
During the War, Canadian forces surrounded Hobbs Barracks creating a British island amidst a sea of Canadians. Canadian troops were camped in Domewood and most large houses in the area had been commandeered, including the Grange in Crawley Down, Rowfant House in Rowfant, and East Court in East Grinstead. There was inevitably much rivalry between the two nationalities and it was guaranteed that a fight would break out between the two forces if they met in East Grinstead, generally on a Saturday night. Who needed the war? We had one on our doorstep!
Jean Roberts

Army Romance
A Romance, which started at Hobbs Barracks, Felbridge, resulted in the wedding at Felbridge Parish Church on Saturday between ATS Private Irene Foden of Birmingham, and Bdr. Frederick John Purcell, of 10, Southwater Road, St Leonards-on-sea. The vicar Rev RE Theobald officiated. L/Bdr. Macdonald gave the bride away. She wore a blue costume and pale blue hat, with a spray of pink carnations.
Taken from The Sussex Courier, 6.7.51

Huge quantities
The recipe book my husband’s father [WO II Thomas Jenkinson] used to use when baking had huge quantities for the ingredients – Take 300lbs of flour, all he did was cut them down when baking. This always puzzled us but now knowing that he was in charge of the Static Bakery at Hobbs Barracks it all makes perfect sense, he was obviously still using his old recipes.
Sally Jenkinson

RASC Command Supply Depot
During my time at the camp, [Hobbs Barracks], May 1953 to Jan 1955, I was a private with the RASC Command Supply Depot. We supplied the Army and Navy, South East Command with provisions, meats and bread, the bread being baked at No.1 Static Bakery, which was situated approximately 250 yards from the main gate, right hand side of the road heading towards Godstone. The man in charge of the bakery was CQMS Paxton, one of the army’s few, true gentlemen. He was in turn assisted by Corporal ‘Curly’ Watts, not so much a gentleman, but he got the job done. The CSD as a whole was commanded by Captain Edmond ‘Spike’ Hughes, an understanding officer who had worked his way through the ranks. His only problem with life were National Service Officers, he hated them and showed it.

Other units at Hobbs at that time were 43 Coy. (MT) RASC who supplied transport, including ambulances to the command. A REME Light Aid Detachment of Royal Artillery Light AA Battery, and a company of WRAC working with the RA’s.
Royal Army Service Corps, Command Supply Depot, Pt. Albert Merriman, 1953-55

No.1 Static Bakery
I started working for my father in a village bakery near Hitchin, Hertfordshire, and studied part-time day release at Luton Technical Collage. I started my National Service at Willemo Barracks on 4th November 1954, where we were kitted out and taught to march. After about four weeks we were moved to the Barracks in Aldershot for ‘Trade Training’. The buildings were built, so they told us, for the Duke of Wellington’s Army, and it was still Hell on Earth! We lived? there and were marched each day to the Aldershot No.1 Bakery, which had a training bakery at the side. Regardless of civilian experience we were given the full army training. We also did an exercise with the army mobile bakery. I think we were there about three months and then we were offered to as Grade 3 Tradesmen.

We were sent, (three of us), by train to Shorncliffe in Kent, which was Hobbs Barracks Command Supply Depot Head Quarters. After about three days we were sent by train to Hobbs where we stayed until November 1956. Looking back, I would say that three quarters of our unit at Hobbs had trade Experience and a quarter had not.

As I said earlier, after Trade Training at Aldershot we became Grade 1 Tradesmen, which increased our pay a few pence above the basic 28/- a week. At Hobbs we again trained to Grade 2 and a small pay rise.

Life at Hobbs, after work time, was a bit thin. We could spend our evenings sitting in the billet, or go to the camp NAAFI, or the camp cinema, go to the local pubs, or a visit to East Grinstead and the cinema there. To see films soon after their release we used to travel to Purley or Croydon, and thus we had seen the films by the time they arrived at East Grinstead.

During 1956, it was the Suez Canal cock-up. The main part of Hobbs was RASC Transport and so all the lorries, (Bedford three tonners), were sprayed sand colour and moved out. The Government set up the AER (Army Emergency Reserve), which we were all in for, (I don’t know how long), and Shorncliffe office sent and said they wanted Sergeants made ready for the AER. So an Officer came from Shorncliffe to Hobbs and in five minutes I was a Sergeant, and I was on Grade 1 pay. About three months before my de-mob, the office in the Barracks was short of a civilian clerk and I was put in there.
RASC Command Supply Depot, Sgt. Don Hares, Baker, 1955-56

A Story from our Churchyard
In early April 1954, Malcolm was the junior NCO in charge of the medical centre at Hobbs Barracks, under the control of an itinerant medical officer. The barracks was occupied mainly by three heavy anti-aircraft batteries of Royal Artillery personnel. The medical centre was, if you like, an outpost of No.10 Company, RAMC, which had its headquarters at the then military hospital at Shorncliffe near Folkestone.

Malcolm did not know Brig. Morgan very well – hardly anyone did. He was a solitary, rather remote figure, a long-serving ‘regular’ soldier, who showed little interest in mixing to any great extent with those around him. He was always perfectly civil but, aside from the conduct of his duties, tended to be somewhat taciturn. As a substantive bombardier he occupied a small private room, known as a bunk, separated from the main barrack room. It was here that Malcolm discovered his body one morning in late June or early July, after being summoned from the medical centre by a young gunner from the main billet. The bombardier had died of natural causes at the age of forty-six.

Later that morning Malcolm had the task of transferring his remains to the nearest civil mortuary – at which juncture, apart from giving evidence of identity, Malcolm’s involvement was brought to an end. The Rev Theobald, vicar of St John’s, was honorary chaplain at Hobbs Barracks and Malcolm knew that he expected him to attend the funeral, but the War Office in its wisdom had already earmarked Malcolm for an overseas posting and pulled him out at very short notice.

Malcolm served the rest of his National Service in Singapore where he met and married Eileen, a nurse from New Zealand to which country they returned and set up home. Eileen died in 1995, and as Malcolm was retired and had no family in New Zealand, he returned to live in England. However, the memory of the lonely death of Brig. Morgan had remained with him though he was aware that most of his actual contemporaries were now dead and that he was likely to be the only person remaining who remembered the bombardier.

Malcolm travelled to our St John’s and with the aid of Stephen Bowen he found the bombardier’s unmarked grave – there was nothing to commemorate Brig. Morgan. But there will be, as Malcolm gave sufficient to plant a tree as a living memorial to both Brig. Morgan and to others who have no one to remember them.
Taken from St John’s The Parish News, Dec2000/Jan2001
(Brig. Reginald Fielder Morgan was buried by on 19th August 1954, in grave no. E 59)

Post Script: The vicar of St John’s, Felbridge, acted as the OCF (Officiating Chaplain to the Forces) for Hobbs Barracks during its existence.

The Sergeant’s wife was French, and they lived in a bungalow in Blindley Heath. One night he had not returned home at his allotted time, so she came down to the bakery and switched off the power.
RASC CSD, Sgt. Don Hares, Baker, 1955-56

Speeding Fine
For exceeding the speed limit in London Road, East Grinstead, motor cyclist William George Ford, of ‘B’ Platoon, 101 Co. RASC, Hobbs Barracks, Lingfield, was fined £3 by East Grinstead Magistrates on Monday.
Taken from The East Grinstead Observer, 27.7.56

On top of the Armoury
The drill was, you did two hours on and two hours off, you see. Now this [the armoury] was solid, about two feet thick of brickwork with an equal thick roof of concrete, and two doors, one in the front and one in the back. Round it there was about ten feet of barbed wire, all the way round, with one little gap at the back. There would be one patrolling round the bottom one on the outside of the wire and one on top, you used to take a little piece out the wire, you’d go in and put a little ladder up against the wall, you’d climb up and stand on the top. You’d be a dead ringer for a sniper, that would be you just finished off on the roof there, but you had to go up on the roof there, you see. You had to go up there for two hours. You’d climb up and then they’d take the ladder away, put the section of wire back and that was it, you’d got to stop there for two hours whether you wanted anything or not, that was too bad. You couldn’t jump off because you had about ten feet of barbed wire all the way round you. I was on top of that when the Suez crisis, 1956, when that all came to a head. There were vehicles, blokes shouting and flashing lights and there was me and my mate Willie Watson, from Liverpool. They lined up all the vehicles in the Parade Ground and sprayed them all sand colour, and the tin helmets. They just laid them all on the ground, taped the windows in, all the equipment and the tin hats and everything, all on the Parade Ground and this spraying team, did the lot, sprayed all the lot.

Then after a few weeks we all took off from the Parade Ground to Lingfield Station, all in double decker buses, you imagine trying to get up on the top deck with a kit bag! And of course, Muggins, I was at that time the RSM [Regimental Sergeant Major] Smith’s Batman, so I was responsible for his kit bag as well! We went from there [Lingfield Station] to somewhere in Wales where we all got ready to take off like and it all calmed down again and we returned to Hobbs. They brought all the vehicles back and sprayed them all green again! Must have cost them millions. There was about 1500 soldiers there [Hobbs Barracks], that’s a lot of soldiers all in one place.
RASC, Pt. Michael Parkin, Driver, 1956-57

Chinese Laundry
One Saturday, when quite a few of the boys had left site and it was nice and quiet, I decided to do my washing and I’d just got it all hung up blowing in the wind to dry when Sgt. McApline came round the corner and didn’t half give me a dressing down. ‘This is not a Chinese laundry, you know, get this lot down!’ I got 7 days CB’s [Confined to Barracks] for that.
RASC, Pt. Michael Parkin, Driver, 1956-57

All for half a crown!
All the barrack block buildings were built about three feet off the ground. They had a brickwork foundation; they weren’t filled in so you ended up with a hollow underneath. It wasn’t funny in those days but it would be hilarious now, you see, the wages, the Pay Parade, you’d have to stand in a queue and the Officer would come along with a table, with the Regimental pay chest or whatever they called it, and dish the money out. You’d have to go up and salute, with your pay book and state ‘Pay correct, Sir’, then after making that, if it was not correct it was too bad! Well, a half a crown in those days was a lot of money, you see. Well I’d just been paid and gone back into the billet, it was when I was courting Jo [future wife], you see. We always used to try and get a lift into Grinstead, because money spent on the bus was gone, it was money wasted you see. Anyway I’d got this half a crown and dropped it. It dropped out of my hands, rolled along the floor and down this crack in the floor. I was so desperate that I got a spade and a pick axe and prised the floorboards up and I looked down in the hole and I could just see this half a crown, it was just balancing on the edge of the three-foot drop. I couldn’t reach it, so I got a long piece of wood, and a spoon, a table spoon, and bent it, lashed it to the piece of wood, all for half a crown, 2/6d, and put it down and carefully hooked it up. I thought ‘Core you’ve done well there Micky’ like, then I replaced the floorboards again. But what a state to get into, but half a crown was quite a lot then, ’cos my pay when I was first married, well I was still in the army as I had several months to, was only about £1. 4s or something!
RASC, Pt. Michael Parkin, Driver, 1957 [picture is in the Billet, M. Parkin is right of stove flue at back]

Cafes and Horse Racing
I arrived at Hobbs Barracks in 1957 from my training at Yeovil in Somerset. When I arrived the at Hobbs Barracks, one of the regiments there was my regiment, 14 Company, RASC. They had just returned from war service in Egypt, the Suez crisis in 1956. We were a Driving Unit attached to the 3rd INF BDE (Infantry Brigade) Group and all the vehicles (7 ton lorries) were painted sandy and camouflaged to blend in with the desert. Before our Company was stationed at Hobbs Barracks I believe it had been a squadron of WRACS that was there, sometime in the early 50's.

Altogether, the camp had two Companies of RASC. Mine consisted of A/B Platoon, 14 Company, RASC, our lorries, 40 in total, were parked up on one side of the large parade square and 101 Company RASC were parked up on the other. In early 1958, 101 Company left and were posted to Germany, leaving our Company the sole inhabitants of the camp.

Then in June 1958, we were dispatched to Cyprus on active service to join what was then the most elite and largest contingent in the British Army called 1st Guards Brigade. This consisted of all the Battalions of Grenadier Guards, Irish Guards, Scots Guards, Cameroon Highlanders, Welsh Guards and 1,2 & 3 Parachute Regiments, and we, the 14 Company, had been selected to drive them into battle, if needed to help the late King of Jordan, who was being got at by neighbouring Arab States, similar to the recent conflict between Iraq, except the only attacks we were vulnerable to were from EOKA Terrorists and their Leader Colonel Grivas. This tour lasted until December 1958, and on returning to Blighty we camped on Salisbury Plain, at a place called Winterbourne Gunner.

My recollections of Hobbs Barracks are easy. Across the road from the Guard House and Main Entrance used to be a small wooden Cafe. I remember it well, because I picked out my Horse in the Grand National ‘OXO’, ridden by Pat Taafe, which won at a fair price. If you turned right from the Gate House and walked for about 100 yards, set back from the road, like in a clearing in the woods, (because then in the 50's it wasn't so populated with property like today), was another wooden Cafe called the White Rabbit, which had a Juke Box in the back room. Cliff Richard's first number one was always on it. Then looking from the front of the Guard House to the right and rear of our camp, used to be the training stables of Winston Spencer Churchill. We used to watch on Sunday's as they paraded around the Paddock with blankets over them and WSP embroidered in the corner.

Unfortunately, the CO's are just a scribble in my Red Army Book that lists all my records of service, but my Commanding Officer was called Michelle Bouginet. He was French-Canadian and very Army motivated, a good chap, in fact, when the Iraq war was on, I saw him on the television, and he was a Brigadier.
RASC, Graham Moorhouse, Driver, 1956-59

No smoke without fire!
One morning we were waiting for the sergeant to do kit and locker inspection and having a last cigarette. We heard the shout 'Stand by your beds' rather earlier than we expected. I threw my cigarette out of the open window behind my bed and my friend Pat Ripley in the bed opposite, didn't have her window open so she looked around for somewhere to put her stub. She was about to put it into her ashtray but changed her mind; she didn't want to dirty it.

She looked frantically around but couldn't see anywhere to put it so she quickly opened the top drawer of her dressing table and dropped it in.

The sergeant advanced down the billet checking peoples' kit and furniture for signs of dust and dirt. She got to Pat's bed space and gave a cursory glance at her kit laid out on the bed. She went behind Pat to look in the locker and I saw Pat close her eyes, praying the sergeant wouldn't open the drawer.

Too bad! She did just that and was met with a cloud of smoke from Pat's underwear that had caught fire. When I saw this I couldn't contain myself and burst out laughing. This did not go down well with the sergeant, or the Troop OC when we were up before her on a charge. We got 5 days jankers cleaning out the orderly room every evening after tea.
WRAC Basic Training at Hobbs Barracks, Pt. Vee Taylor, 1963

Helping with the refugees
I was a member of the St John’s Ambulance Brigade in 1972, and one of the things we did, almost on a daily basis, was to go up to Hobbs Barracks and help out with the Ugandan Asians when they were forced out of their country. We weren’t there to administer First Aid, we just helped out as best we could, filled baby’s bottles with milk in the kitchen, filled hot water bottles and flasks to try and keep them warm as it was much colder than they were used to. Those that could speak English chatted and helped us sort out warm clothes and things that had been donated. We went every day and just did what we could to make their stay as comfortable as possible.
Grace Scott

The Hiding Place
My friend and I saw the advert in the local paper, for extras to play the part of women in a concentration camp being filmed at Hobbs Barracks. We decided to go along to the audition held at the Felbridge Hotel, but being quite chubby my husband said he didn’t think I’d stand a chance in hell of being chosen, but I was. Filming started early in the morning and people were coached in from all over the place, even as far away as Brighton. We had to change into dusty, dirty clothes and wrap rags around our feet as shoes. Make-up was excellent with some of the people being given boils and scabs etc.

Some of the extras were chosen to play women who had ‘gone over’ to the German side and they were well chosen. They were tough ladies who played guards with Alsatian dogs and if I ever saw one coming in the local supermarket I felt so intimidated that I would go round the other aisle sooner than meet them.

During filming, Hobbs being under the flight path, we had to stop and wait whilst an aeroplane flew over. In the scenes where you’d been given a number and when it was called out you were for the gas chamber, you were supposed to faint, however, you were only allowed to faint if you had an Equity Card! One scene was shot on a ‘snowy night’, so the set and all the buildings were covered with artificial snow.

You were not always called, so at the end of each day you’d ask if you would be required the next day. Payment was quite good, £10 a day, more if you had your head shaved, and if you were prepared to appear in the shower scenes, which required stripping off, £25. Oh, and you got good food too!

Corrie ten Boom visited the filming towards the end, and yes I did go and see the film at the Radio Centre when it was released.
Beryl Oatey, extra in The Hiding Place, 1974

Icicles at the beginning of summer
I went up to Hobbs when it was being used as a film set for a concentration camp to have a look. It was the beginning of summer and the film was set in the middle of winter. They’d picked off most of the leaves on the trees and sprayed then with fake snow, all the huts were covered with snow and there were large fake icicles hanging down. It was quite incredible.
Ken Housman

Back to 1944
Ravensbruck, the infamous Nazi concentration camp for women, lives on at Hobbs Barracks, Newchapel. With fibreglass fortressing and mock snow, tattered clothes and a tremendous spirit from local people, a tale of faith and fortitude is being shot by World Wide Pictures.

Yet amid the horror and the frightening realism, which the redundant Nissan-hutted barracks easily provides, a splendid camaraderie has developed since filming began four weeks ago. Local women and girls are paid £5 a day as extras and they say they’ve ‘never had such fun’. In an atmosphere of all that drab, forbidding and dreary, the scraggy, the scrawny and the skinny reign supreme; dirt and degradation is painted on by the make-up department along with corn flakes and honey ‘scabs’. And the girls are loving every minute of it.

Some scenes were shot in rain and mud while the ‘prisoners’ pushed a huge road roller. ‘It’s not often you can squelch around in ankle-deep mud’, said Mrs Jenny Mathieson, an ex-actress from Forest Row. She went along with her friend, Mrs Jennie Beale who enrolled after continual taunts that she ‘looked like a Belsen victim’. She’s put on a stone and a half since! A firm of caterers provide menus that the real Ravensbruck inmates might have dreamed about in their lice ridden bunks.

At least two of the extras are Hobbs ‘returnees’- Dutch-born mother of five, Mrs Anna Pearson, an ex-nurse, knew the barracks well when her husband was a regular soldier stationed there. Another extra, an ex-WRAC, was based at Hobbs from November 1963 until February 1964 and met her husband outside the barrack gate. She travels daily from Brighton by film company coach. ‘We have had great fun. Every minute of the day has been terrific’, she said.

Julie Harris stars with Eillen Heskart in the film, set during a four-month period, September to December 1944. She plays Betsie ten Boom on of the two Dutch sisters imprisoned at Ravensbruck whose courage and faith led her to be grateful even for being alive – lice or no lice. Her sister Corrie escaped the female hell, founded a half-way house for survivors of the Nazi camps with the help of rich Dutch friends and lives to tell the world of Ravensbruck’s atrocities.
Written by Virginia Monson, EGC, 6/6/74
Post Script: Corrie ten Boom died aged 91 years, in 1983.

SJC 01/03