Hook Norton Brewery – Christmas 1939.

Any visitor to the brewery in December 1939 could be forgiven in thinking they had come to an army camp. This is because based here at that time were elements of the Durham Light Infantry.

Fortunately for us historians the head brewer at this time, Bill Clarke, has written some comments about the early war years in the brewing log books so we can pick up the start of the story from there;

‘Oct 20th, Contractors at work on the stables for troops’. This is reference to the stables being converted into temporary living accommodation. The conversion involved using timber planking being removed from the malt store.

‘Oct 24th, 95 Troops arrived [last] Sunday morning [22nd] 6th Durham Light Infantry’.

‘C’ Company of the 6th Durham’s, a Territorial Reserve Battalion, had been mobilised at Spennymoor at the end of August and were moving South in readiness for service in France. During their 3 month stay at the Brewery they would train and re-equip. They arrived as an Infantry unit but converted to an Anti-Tank role whilst here, equipping with the Boyes Anti-Tank rifle and Hotchkiss 37mm machine gun. Fields at the rear of the Brewery became practice areas and ranges, the trained eye can still spot the site of the odd fox hole and gun pit.

The odd Football match was played against the village team and lectures as well as social events took place in the village hall. Come Christmas, those soldiers who were unable to return home on leave were taken in by local families. Private Henry Ferguson was one such soldier; he spent Christmas with Harry Gardner and family living at Park Gate.

On January 17th the Durham’s paraded at Chipping Norton to be inspected by H.M. King George VI, three days later they were off to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. The next time the Gardner family heard from Henry Ferguson, it was via a letter from P.O.W. camp Stalag XX1D, he like many others were captured in the heavy fighting that lead up to the Dunkirk evacuation.

Today we can still see evidence of the Durham’s stay at the Brewery. There is the Malt store where one can see where the timber was taken from to convert the stables, then there are traces of digging in the field behind the brewery and in the village museum there is a model aircraft carrier ‘HMS Improbable’ complete with aircraft made by the soldiers.

James Tobin.

Sources;
Hook Norton Brewery brew books and Museum.
Henry Ferguson letters and photos kindly loaned by the Gardner family.
‘Hook Norton at War 1939-1945′ a talk by James Tobin.

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