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Dunstable Second World War

Places > Dunstable > Second World War

World War II in Dunstable based on notes from Bernard Stevens

First published in Dunstable & District Local History Society Newsletter
No. 13, March 2000, p. 82

Like all other towns in the country, Dunstable soon showed signs of wartime. Iron railings disappeared from almost all the properties in the town, including Grove House Gardens, from which the large iron gates were taken. Strangely, the railings in front of Montpelier House escaped and survived the war.

As well as blacking out their windows, shops had to provide curtains or some kind of partition just inside the door to stop the light shining out when the door was opened on a dark night.

The Fire Station (formerly behind the old Town Hall) needed more space for additional fire-fighting equipment and moved to a prominent site in High Street North, where North House had stood until two or three years before (where Queensway is now).

Civil defense was considered very important and trained personnel gave instruction to civilians in the use of stirrup pumps and methods of dealing with incendiary bombs. Most able-bodied people were involved in fire-watching rotas on duty in buildings all around the town, while others helped to man an observation post on Lord's Hill.

But many civilians' main contribution to the war effort was through their work in the factories producing equipment for the armed services. Thermoplastics took over the old hat factory behind the High Street North shops (the main entrance was in Albion Street) and made gun turrets for aircraft. Bagshawe's made tracks for tanks, which were dispatched by rail from Dunstable North Station. Part of the Cross Paperware works was taken over by Hughes (instrument makers) who made compasses and bombsights.

The Roller Skating Rink at the top of Half Moon Hill was also requisitioned for production and an electrical manufacturer took over part of AC-Sphinx. Several of the smaller engineering works, including Headly's paper works, provided smaller parts for aircraft.

There was little damage to the town from enemy action. A stray bomb fell in Totternhoe Road and another fell on an old cottage on the A5 in Hockliffe. The small amount of damage was fortunate, in view of the fact that a large number of evacuee children had been sent to Dunstable at the beginning of the war. They arrived in double-decker buses and the Women's Voluntary Service (not Royal in those days) was responsible for looking after them. Billeting Officers were appointed and the Methodist Church Institute on the Square was used as a distribution centre for blankets and mattresses, etc.

The Meteorological Office staff were also newcomers to the town. There were two large gates at the entrance to the new Met. Station, in Worthington Road, which was patrolled by armed guards every night. The whole area of the Met. Office buildings and grounds was covered with camouflage nets, so that if you looked down on it from the Downs it looked like a large hill. The lion carved in the hillside at Whipsnade was also camouflaged because it was thought it would act as a landmark to German pilots. Luton had a different kind of camouflage - at night large oil burners were lit which provided a thick haze covering the town.

Out in the countryside farmers had to plough up grassland and were controlled by the "War Ag", as the War Agricultural Committee was known. There was a ready market for the plum crop from the Eaton Bray area and local nurseries had to go over to food production.

The cattle market became a large centre for the assembling and distribution of cattle for slaughter in towns and cities over a wide area.

Page last updated: 27th January 2014