You are currently browsing the monthly archive for November 2014.
The two million people who still watch the 1960s/70s hit Dad’s Army must be waiting with trepidation for the new film. The remake will need to be really good to live up to expectations, forty years on and there is still an Appreciation Society. What worked well in the original series was that we all knew the outcome of the war and the futility of Captain Mainwaring’s preparations. Back in 1940 the prospect of invasion was a real and present danger. Shooters Hill was one of the main arterial routes into London from the south coast and the 26th Battalion of the Home Guard had a crucial role in preparing for the defence of the city.
London’s preparations comprised of concentric rings of anti-tank defences and pillboxes in and around the city known as Stop Lines. Shooters Hill was in the middle Stop Line. From the top of Shooters Hill an invading army would have clear views of their prize and more importantly it would be within range of their heavy artillery. Remains of these defensive structures can still be found in the local area. In Oxleas woods strange concrete plinths and boxes are still visible which were part of the Stop Line defences.
Close to the former Police Station on Eltham Common, deep within overgrown brambles, is the remains of a spigot mortar, an anti-tank gun, used by the Home Guard. From this vantage point they would have a clear firing line on any invaders coming down the hill.
The proximity of the Royal Arsenal made this area vulnerable to aerial attacks and the Air Ministry bought land in the Kidbrooke area for the manufacture of barrage balloons. The balloons defended London against low flying aeroplanes.
Sir Howard Kingsley Wood, Air Minister, visited Kidbooke in 1939 as part of the recruitment drive for 5,000 men, aged over 35, to join the Balloon Service. The Home Guard was made up of the young, elderly and those in reserved occupations.
Hitler did have a plan, Operation Sea Lion for the invasion of Britain which included 6 divisions landing on the Kent coast around Ramsgate, Bexhill and Folkestone. If this had proceeded I think we can be confident that the local Home Guard were well prepared and wouldn’t be shouting “Don’t Panic”.
The beginning of 1927 saw 1000 people a week die from an influenza epidemic. A terrifying experience when there was no universal health system. More locally the Mayor of Woolwich, Councillor William Barefoot, nominated the Boot and Shoe fund as is charity which provided shoes for local children who without this help would be like their benefactor, barefoot. Unemployment was high as the demand for ammunitions from The Royal Arsenal dwindled after the First World War.
People’s generosity was remarkable that during this period of hardship a local subscription scheme saw the opening of The Memorial Hospital on 2nd November by The Duke and Duchess of York.
The decision to build the hospital was made in 1917. It was to be a lasting benefit for the community and a memorial to the local people killed: 6113 in battle; 100 in accidents at the Royal Arsenal and 14 in air raids.
It would be the first Post War General Hospital to be built in London. In a period when the majority of people did not have access to health services building a hospital with access through a local subscription scheme was enlightened. Even workers who benefited from Lloyd George’s insurance service were not entitled to hospital treatment unless suffering from tuberculosis. It is no wonder that the Duke of York referred to is as a Temple of Healing.
The total cost of building was £210,000 which included the purchase of 13.5 acres of land. The construction of roads, foundations and drains were done as part of an unemployment relief scheme.
Not all went to plan as the amount raised by subscription was £179,000 leaving a funding gap of £30,000. This caused local anxiety as it was always the ambition that the hospital open free of debt.
Woolwich Borough came to the rescue and at a special meeting of the Council agreed a grant to cover the shortfall. Councillor Halse put forward the recommendation stating that he didn’t want to see the hospital opening with “ a loadstone round its neck”. Oh dear what would our forefathers think of PFIs. They may well have raised an eyebrow at the fact we still have hungry children in London.