The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Ferndown’s secret war

Brian Davis looks at the war in Ferndown through the eyes of an evacuee

Leaders of Group 1 Home Guard, which comprised patrols based around Wimborne. Front: Sgt Geoffrey Tice(Ferndown), Sgt Maurice Tory (Spetisbury), Lt Williams (assistant group commander), John Charter (group commander), Sgt Ernest Hoare (Charborough),Sgt Edwin Fooks (Corfe Mullen).Back: Probably Sgt Frederick Jeanes (Merley), Unknown, Cpl A.H. Webb, Cpl E.W. Christopher (Manswood), Sgt Montague Greenwood (Manswood)

Leaders of Group 1 Home Guard, which comprised patrols based around Wimborne. Front: Sgt Geoffrey Tice(Ferndown), Sgt Maurice Tory (Spetisbury), Lt Williams (assistant group commander), John Charter (group commander), Sgt Ernest Hoare (Charborough),Sgt Edwin Fooks (Corfe Mullen).Back: Probably Sgt Frederick Jeanes (Merley), Unknown, Cpl A.H. Webb, Cpl E.W. Christopher (Manswood), Sgt Montague Greenwood (Manswood)

Eddie Grubb, his parents, four brothers, sister, two aunts and uncles with their families all lived in Southampton, but when the town suffered heavy bombing, they decided to find somewhere safer to live and moved to Ferndown.
The six adults and fourteen children crowded into a corrugated iron building called Etalue Studio in Ringwood Road on the corner of what is now Longacre Drive. ‘We called it our tin house,’ said Eddie. ‘There was just one room lit by gas and candles, and a small kitchen. It was a bit of a squeeze, to put it mildly. One day, Mum and Dad were very excited because they had found an empty house in Ringwood Road opposite Hushers Farm and had permission to live in it for the duration of the war.’
From a council house with a tiny backyard, via a tin shack, Eddie’s family moved into a big house with a huge garden containing eighteen apple trees, four pear trees and a plum tree. ‘It was an unimaginable new world. Dad grew vegetables and we kept pigs, chickens, guinea-fowl, ducks, a goose and lots of rabbits.’
Eddie started at the main council school in Church Road and the headmaster asked if he would like to look after the school animals. He was responsible for feeding and cleaning them out, not only at school but also at weekends and sometimes during holidays. ‘Two or three times a week two of us were allowed to miss lessons and spend an hour cooking swill from the school kitchen.’
One lunchtime, a teacher, Mr Billett, said it was about time Eddie learned about caring for the bees, and should accompany him while he checked the hives. ‘These were near the trenches where we would go during air-raid warnings,’ said Eddie. ‘The trenches had been dug as zig-zags to guard against blast, and covered with wire and heather. Mr Billett put on gloves and a protective hat with a net attached, and I thought he would give me one too. But all he did was light a little contraption which began billowing smoke. This should have subdued the bees, but suddenly hundreds, thousands of them rushed out – straight for me. I just took off at high speed into the trenches with the angry swarm behind me. I hit practically every zig-zag side of the trenches trying to get away. Quite a lot of bees attached themselves to my clothes, but amazingly, I was not stung.’
Eddie was one of a gang of boys who got into many scrapes together, but his biggest and lifelong pal was Charlie Hayter. They met one day on the way home from school, and kept in touch until Eddie’s death in 2013.

Eddie takes things easy as he plans his next adventure

Eddie takes things easy as he plans his next adventure

The pals used to collect rose-hips and acorns to aid the war effort, and when there was a paper drive they would go round the village with a trolley, collecting books. Their collecting was not always for the greater good, though. In the build up to D-Day, Canadian troops had small camps dotted around the common. Being daredevils and looking for adventure, Eddie and his mate peered inside one of their lorries and saw stacks of boxes of bullets. He said: ‘At the time we didn’t realise that we were being stupid, but we dragged two boxes from the lorry. They were so heavy that we decided to hide one box. We dumped it in a ditch so we could go back for it later. Then we hauled the other box home to our pigsty which dad used as a small workshop now the pigs had gone. We put them in a vice and fired them with a screwdriver and hammer. They shot round and round the pigsty like rockets. We did this dozens of times – I don’t know how we avoided injury.’
Eddie had bought a two-valve radio, but it was not very loud as he needed an aerial. Eddie recalled: ‘When we saw two soldiers laying telephone wire from one camp to another, we waited for them to go round a corner and then broke the wire. As they laid the wire from a reel, we were coiling it up behind them. When we thought we had got enough, we broke it again and ran home and connected it to the radio. But it didn’t make it any louder.’
As well as spending many hours on the common, Eddie and his pals played occasionally at Belle Vue, a wooded area behind the Angel Inn at Longham. And one day two boys told him they had found a small patch which was bouncy. Eddie said: ‘They had jumped up and down on it and said it felt funny, so after school Charlie Hayter and I and the rest of our gang went over there and found the bouncy bit. I searched around and saw a steel ring poking up from the grass. We decided to pull it, and suddenly the ground gave way and a huge piece of concrete came up and a hole appeared with a ladder going down. It smelled damp and musty, and it was so dark that all we could see was halfway down the ladder. I started to go down, but after a couple of rungs I got scared and we decided to come back the next day with a lamp.
‘This time four of us climbed down and we found ourselves in a space about ten feet by twelve feet with a seven-foot high roof. There was a tunnel low down at floor level big enough to crawl through. It was about 25 or 30 feet long, and the exit was hidden in bushes and trees behind a high bank. We had no idea what it was, but it was to become the best boys’ camp ever. We spent weeks cleaning it out, and it was our secret place for about three years.
‘We would cook things in there. My brother used to wonder why his chickens were suddenly not producing so many eggs. I could have told him!
It was all great fun until one day we went there after the winter and found that it had been destroyed.’
Although Eddie said they believed their den had something to do with the Home Guard, it was more than 60 years before the mystery was solved: it had been one of about 1000 bunkers built early in the war as part of a Resistance movement. Each hideout would conceal an elite group of half-a-dozen local men who would ‘disappear’ if Britain were invaded. They were provided with weapons and explosives to try to hold up the enemy by carrying out acts of sabotage. Their survival expectancy was just two weeks.

The illustration shows what the bunker would have looked like inside

The illustration shows what the bunker would have looked like inside

The story remained untold until 2012, when Lisa Dancer heard of Eddie’s discovery. As a child she had lived in Fitzpain Road, part of a new estate built on the borders of Belle Vue, and she remembered that in the 1980s she and her friends played in the woods around a muddy hill they dubbed Big Mac. She said: ‘We used to ride our bikes up and down the hill, where there was a concrete manhole that was usually covered in dirt and leaves. Some girls said it was an old air-raid shelter and scared us with stories about what they said was inside it. The answer came from Dr Will Ward, a leading member of the Coleshill Auxiliary Resistance Team (CART), which researches the history of the hideouts, known officially as Operational Bases.

Geoffrey Tice, who would have led the wartime Resistance men in Ferndown

Geoffrey Tice, who would have led the wartime Resistance men in Ferndown

He said the Belle Vue bunker was for the Ferndown Auxiliary Unit, the volunteer Resistance group whose members were Home Guard Sergeant Geoffrey Tice, Cpl Alfred Talbot and Privates William Feltham, E A May, P L Blick and Douglas Gabe. The bunkers were abandoned when the threat of invasion subsided and at the end of the war the Ferndown site was filled in, leaving Eddie without a den and Lisa Dancer with a mysterious mound to play on.

Lisa Dancer's Big Mac hill

Lisa Dancer’s Big Mac hill

There may have been other bunkers in the area because Mr Tice’s son, Malcolm, said his father maintained some were so secret they would probably never be found. It is unsurprising that Mr Gabe, Ferndown scoutmaster for more than 40 years, should have been involved in the Resistance organisation. Patriotic, and with a considerable knowledge of the countryside, he would have been a valuable asset to any group of guerillas. Hundreds of Ferndown boy scouts looked up to him and learned from him in the ’fifties and ’sixties, including Eddie Grubb and Charlie Hayter. There were rumours that Mr Gabe had been up to something during the war,’ said Charlie. ‘But little did we know that he was willing to put his life on the line for his country.’ At the end of the war Doug Gabe started a celebration bonfire on the common, igniting it with an explosion. ‘Presumably he had managed to retain one of his auxiliary unit toys,’ said Dr Ward.

• Abridged from FERNDOWN Before the Bulldozers and Builders Moved In by Brian Davis, ISBN 978-0-9529151-3-3. Available at £13.99 + £2 p&p from Brian Davis, 31 Whinhams Way, Billericay, Essex, CM12 0HD.

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