Parish War Books

on Tuesday, 09 May 2017. Posted in Archives, Military

I’ve been producing documents for the public from the archives for 21 years, during which time I’ve come to know the collections quite well. There are several extremely interesting collections that are very under used. One particular collection is the Parish War Books (WSRO F2/851/3/1 – F2/851/4/52) which are a very interesting piece of local history.

WSA 2601/5

The Wiltshire Parish War Books have their origins with the Napoleonic Wars when there was a real threat of invasion from the French. In 1798 a plan was drawn up to make provisions in the event of this happening. Titled “Rendering The Body Of The People Instrumental In The General Defence” it laid out three plans. The first was to cut off the food supply to the French by moving all the live stock away from the enemy advancing. Another measure was “Breaking the upper millstone and the crown of the oven are deemed the most effectual and least expensive modes of derangement”. Second, was to supply the number of wagons, carts and horses with drivers and conductors that could be made available to help supply the British Army with provisions. Lastly, a plan for insuring the regular supply of bread to the army with instructions for bakers to bake loaves of three pounds or four and a half. A hard crust all the way around was needed otherwise they would not keep in hot weather.

Copyright Imperial War Museum

Fast forward 143 years and the risk of invasion was once again upon us. By mid 1940 German forces had invaded France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. “Operation Sea Lion” was the code name for Nazi Germany’s invasion plan of the U.K. during the Battle of Britain. In preparation, invasion committees were set up around the country.

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The “Invasion Committees”, (originally called “Defence Committee”) were set up in 1941 by the Ministry of Home Security. A guide was published by the Ministry which set out a list of instructions that the committee were to use in setting up their “general principles”, but they could use their own initiative and be flexible with the rules. Some of the points drawn up by the ministry included:

Restrictions On The Use Of Water:
With the help of the local Military Commander and the Water Authority the committee were to decide when to impose the restrictions and how to issue them.

Working with the Local Food Officer emergency rations would have to be distributed quickly to the local community.

Billeting Of Refuges:
If a refugee situation was to develop, the committee was not to rest until every householder had been told it was their “inescapable duty to provide food, shelter, and succour for any homeless person.

Emergency Labour:
Military labour was not available for civil purposes under invasion only for blitz conditions. The committee was directed to organize, (with the help of the Emergency Works Department, Ministry of Labour and National Service), the voluntary labour, which included the Fire Guard, the Warden’s Service and the Women Voluntary Service.

Instructions for compiling a “War Book” or “Defence Scheme” were issued by the Ministry of Home Security. It set out a list of 22 instructions for the Invasion Committee to use to compile their War Book. It was not intended that they slavishly adopted all the instructions. Large and important towns could amplify it, while villages found some of the subjects inapplicable for them to use.

The War Book was a top secret document. The committee was given strict instructions to destroy the document in the event of an invasion. “The Germans will know that such books have been compiled, and will look for them”

WSA G25/223/1

A few of the points set out by the Ministry of Home Security included:

Part 1. Outline of Problem
- The main role which the locality is likely to play in invasion both from the German point of view and from our own.
- Possible enemy action, i.e. the possible forms of attack the community may have to face.
- Our military plan, including arrangements made for the defence of vulnerable points within the area.

Part 11. Food
- Plans for emergency cooking. Sites for field ovens and list of women qualified to use them.
- British Restaurants and other emergency arrangements.
- Mobile canteens with officer in charge, location, arrangements for stocking up, feeding centres with number of meals each can serve.
- Arrangements for feeding evacuees and rest centre population.

Part 12. Casualty Services
- Hospitals, first aid posts and emergency accommodation in private houses.
- Personnel: Doctors, staff for hospitals, staff for first aid points and persons responsible for organising and mobilising emergency services.
- Equipment: Ambulances, stretchers, beds, blankets, etc.

Part 19. Emergency Transport
- List of tractors, traction-engines, lorries, cars, farm-carts and other horse-drawn vehicles, hand-carts. With names of their owners and location.

Part 22. Burial of the Dead
- Sites earmarked for common graves.
- Labour for collecting bodies and digging. Emergency mortuaries, staff and equipment.
- Arrangements for recording full particulars of the dead and marking graves.
- Adequate arrangements were to be made for dealing with large numbers of enemy dead.

WSA F2/851/4/22

We have a total of 93 parish war books, the majority are kept with the County Council (F2) archives, with just 4 located in other collections. They vary greatly in size and quality, anything from a few pages of notes on an A6 size notebook to a large A4 typed volume with maps of the parish. The Great Wishford book even has an aerial photograph of the parish. They are essentially lists of names of who does what in the event of an invasion, but they provide a fascinating insight into town/village life during the threat of invasion in 1941. For anyone interested in local history, these are a must read.

WSA F2/851/4/48

And one last thing, if you see dead livestock after an air raid please contact the Slaughterhouse Manager AT ONCE!

WSA F2/851/3/9

Ian Hicks, Community History Advisor


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