WW2 The Marshall's Experience


Marshall of Cambridge was established in 1909 by David Gregory Marshall as a car vehicle business, specialising as a chauffeur drive company. It was located in a small lock-up garage in Brunswick Gardens. Marshall’s first involvement in aviation dates back to 1912, when its mechanics helped repair the engine of a British Army airship, the Beta II, which had made an emergency landing on Jesus Green, just behind the Marshall garage. The family purchased the house and land of Whitehall Farm and in 1937 the new Cambridge Airport opened.

With the Second World War in 1939, the aerodrome soon became involved in war work; training pilots and repairing airplanes. Whitehall Farm was sold to build houses for Whitehall Estate and Peverel Estate, but the Marshall aerodrome buildings and runways expanded to become a complex at the top of Newmarket Road.

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Marshall of Cambridge, established in 1909, was a major engineering works by the beginning of the Second World War. Cambridge Airport had been built two years earlier, allowing Marshall to become a vital part of Britain’s war effort by training air crews. 20,000 Marshall trainees eventually fought in the war which lasted from 1939-1945, some of whom helped to hold off the threat of German invasion during the Battle of Britain. They included Johnnie Johnson, the top scoring fighter ace of the war, as well as a number of female fighter pilots such as Freydris Sharland, who flew Spitfires for the Air Transport Auxiliary aged just 21. In the course of her difficult, often frightening work, she delivered over 100 Spitfires across the world, negotiating barrage balloons and bad weather, without navigation equipment or radio aids, which were strictly forbidden, and using only a map and instructions to fly below the cloud. In spite of their excellent training and experience, these pilots often faced unfair treatment as Freydris remembers: “I had one man who refused to fly with me, because he said he wasn't going to be flown by a woman. I remember being absolutely furious!”

Even with the protection of locally-trained pilots, Cambridge fell victim to German bombing raids. Several attacks between 1940 and 1942 killed 24 people, injured around 70, and destroyed or damaged over 1,000 homes. On the night of the 18th June 1940, an attack on Vicarage Terrace destroyed numerous homes and killed 10 people, including 11 year old Gladys Clark. Barbara Wright, who was six at the time, recalls it vividly: "We were grabbed and my father said 'Quick - to the stairs'. It was an old two-up and the stairs were in a cupboard off the kitchen. We huddled there, my father in front with my brother Stuart and sister Anne, then mother with the baby and me behind them and it went quiet. Suddenly there was a huge noise, the actual walls on either side came in and practically touched us."

In the face of such danger, families had to take precautions when the air raid siren sounded, spending nights in specially-prepared shelters in their gardens or in basements. Neville Wilson remembers how “we always had to carry our gas masks with us at all times in case of a gas attack, which fortunately never happened. The air raid sirens were a daily event and warned of German aircraft in the area. It could sound at any time - when we were on our way to school or home we would run to take cover in the bomb shelters at the closest place. If the warning sirens were sounded whilst we were at school we had to gather in the playground and were taken into a large concrete purpose made shelter. Inside we sat on slatted wooden seats and I remember singing songs like ‘Ten Green Bottles Hanging on the Wall’ to pass the time away until we heard the ‘All Clear’ siren.”

To help protect people from the attacks, a blackout was strictly enforced, which Neville also remembers: “At night people called Air Raid Wardens patrolled the streets to fight any fires caused by the bombings and to ensure the blackout was maintained. People had to keep their curtains shut tight and lined with black material to prevent light from escaping from their houses because this would alert planes to possible targets. There was no street lighting allowed at night, cyclists did not have lights and cars had blinkered headlamps.” It must have been tricky getting around the city in total darkness!

However, at the beginning of the war Cambridge had been chosen as a safe haven from the bombing. In September 1939, around 3,000 children were evacuated to Cambridge, leaving their families in cities such as London, Manchester, and Birmingham. They were temporarily adopted by local residents. Donald Loveday and his two sisters arrived in Cambridge, finding themselves lonely and sad, separated from their family and friends: “I went to school, collected our emergency rations (gas mask, drink, chocolate etc) and then we were taken to the station with the rest of the school not knowing what our destination was to be. We ended up in Cambridge. All the children sat on Parker’s Piece and the residents came up and collected children to take to live with them. Offers were made for either my sisters or for me by myself but we refused each time because we wanted to stay together. It started to get dark and we were the only ones left when a Mrs. Fordham, who already had several children from previous evacuations, agreed to take us until someone else could. We stayed with her for a few weeks but because of overcrowding we had to be split up. My sisters went to one family and I to another who had an older boy and a younger girl of their own. I stayed there for 3 years, but would have rather been at home; we missed mum and dad who did try to visit when they could. We ran away several times only getting as far as the railway station.”

As well as evacuees like Donald there were lots of other new faces in wartime Cambridge. Men and women from across the country arrived to work on farms or in factories, whilst American troops and German prisoners of war were also based in the area. Refugees also arrived, including Ruth Neumeyer one of the German Jewish children rescued from the Nazis by the British government in the so-called Kindertransport.

When the war ended in the summer of 1945, great celebrations on Victory in Europe Day and Victory in Japan Day were had by the people of Cambridge. These men, women, and children had suffered many hardships in the fight against Nazi Germany, not least the loss of many lives. Their sacrifice can be seen in the nearby Cambridge City Cemetery, where graves honouring the dead from both world wars include those of Polish, Indian, and Australian descent.

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