Lest We Forget
At the end of the war there was a Victory party on the front lawn of Herbie and Middie Haines' house in Cherry Orchard, with jelly, blancmange and fancy cakes, and a large bonfire in the Welcome Home field during the evening. In the back garden of the house was an air raid shelter, which has recently been filled in by the present owners Nigel and Lisa Berry.
All the children of the town queued at Mr Hick's butchers shop, where the Jesmond House Hotel is now, to receive a bar of Fry's chocolate cream each. Mr Hick's kept telling everyone not to get back on the end of the queue because there was only enough for one bar to each child. I remember getting on the end of the queue just past the Home Farm gateway, wondering whether there would be any left by the time I got to the front. As far as I know everyone received one each.
At the end of the war Mrs Hollas, at Parsonage Farm, started to make ice-cream and sold them from the dairy and from a shed in the tythe barn field opposite the farm entrance. These were much sought after, because there had been no ice-cream during the war years. Frank and Mrs Turner in the High Street also sold Wall's ice-cream in small blocks, one to each person, sometimes the queue would stretch back to Mr Willis's grocery shop. One very significant incident that happened during the early part of my childhood, was the tragic crash of a Spitfire fighter plane at Stratton St Margaret, with part of the wreckage finishing up in my Grandmother's back garden in Church Street. It was on the 7th December 1941, when a Spitfire fighter plane developed engine problems while circling over Stratton St Margaret. It is believed that the plane had taken off from the nearby Vickers Armstrong airfield on a test flight, and was flying in the direction of Ermin Street from the Highworth Road area, when the plane suddenly crashed to the ground at the junction of Church Street and Ermin Street. The pilot, twenty year old Sergeant Norman William Barbeau, of the Royal Canadian Air Force must have had only split seconds to make a decision where to come down, because at that time there was open fields to his left hand side where perhaps a forced landing could have been considered. Also the airfield was not very far away. It will probably never be known the exact circumstances why the Spitfire crashed. At the time my grandmother was convinced that the pilot sacrificed his own life to avoid hitting the nearby houses, one of which was hers. The following is a description of the plane crash given by an unknown witness in l986.
"There was another more tragic crash almost in the same area. This time it was a Sunday morning. Again I was over the fields, this time with my dog Chum. I heard a Spitfire above the clouds, the engine seemed to miss a couple of times. I looked up and saw it coming through the clouds, just at that moment there was a loud crack and to my horror, one of the wings broke away. At that very instant both wing and aircraft spiralled crazily to earth. There was a loud explosion from the south end of Ermin Street and the black smoke mingled with orange flame which leapt into the air above the roofs of the houses. By some miracle the Spitfire had crashed in the centre of a triangle of houses. He had crashed on the island where the willow (lime) tree stands. The tree was split in two and burned fiercely. The hole where the trunk was separated is still in evidence this day. (1986). To see this tree in summer you would never believe the assault it had survived. Sadly the pilot was killed but the tree still awakens every summer; there could be a meaning there somewhere".
Sgt Pilot Norman Barbeau was one of six brothers four of whom joined up and served in the war. He was nineteen years old when he married his wife Florence and one month later he left Canada for overseas service.
R/88806 Sergeant Norman William BARBEAU, Royal Canadian Air Force, died on 7th December 1941. He is buried in Minchinhampton (Holy Trinity) churchyard, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom, North-West of church. He was age 20, and was the husband of Florence Marguerite Louise Barbeau of Montreal, Province of Quebec, Canada.
1873873 Lance Sergeant Cecil Robert ASHTON. 26 Assault Squadron, Royal Engineers. Killed in Action 6th June (D Day) 1944, Age 26.
L/Sgt. Cecil Ashton was one of many highly trained soldiers who were selected to land on Juno Beach ahead of the 3rd Canadian Division on the morning of D Day 6th June 1944. Their job was to knock out concrete pill boxes and gun emplacements so that the following Canadians could land with as little opposition as possible. Juno beach was wide enough to land two brigades side by side, Canadian 7th Brigade at Courseulles and 8th Brigade at Berniers. The tide, the rough weather, and the high wind delayed the approach of the landing craft. Both brigades touched down ten minutes later than planned, the troops at Courseulles at 07.45, and those at Berniers at 07.55, the last of the first wave to land.
As at Gold beach, the sea was far too rough to risk launching the DD Tanks ahead of the infantry. Most came in by Landing craft, but a few were launched from close to the shore, and reached the beach ahead of the infantry at Courseulles as planned.
As on the other beaches, on Juno the Canadians found that the extra fire power from the DD Tanks, or Funnies often made all the difference between overcoming a German strongpoint or being held up.
L/Sgt. Cecil Ashton was the tank commander of a modified Churchill tank called AVRE's (Assault Vehicles Royal Engineer) armed with a Spigot Mortar or Petard, (instead of a gun) for knocking out concrete pillboxes and gun emplacements. The Petard spigot mortar (or Flying Dustbin) fired a 401b (18kg) charge up to 80yards (72m). The mortar was reloaded through the hatch in the top of the hull. The Churchill Engineer Tank (AVRE) was designed as an armoured carrier for assault Engineers. The AVRE carried a crew of six including a demolition engineer.
L/Sgt Ashton was in 26 Assault Squadron which was part of 5 Assault Regiment, Royal Engineers which landed ahead of 3 Canadian Division on either side of the River Seulles at Courselles sur Mer on what is commonly called Juno Beach. It was during this action that L/Sgt. Ashton lost his life. The tank he was in was blown up by a German mine while still on the beach.
He is buried in Bayeux War Cemetery, (Plot 15, Row A, Grave 5,) alongside Sapper R. Manley, and Sapper A.C. Battson, both Royal Engineers who also lost their lives On D Day 6th June. It is believed they were fellow crew members of L/Sgt. Ashton.
Bayeux War Cemetery lies on the south-west side of the ring road around the city of Bayeux, 100 metres to the east of the junction with Route D5 (the road to Littry.) There was little fighting in Bayeux, and the cemetery, the largest of the Second World War in France, contains 4,648 burials brought in from the surrounding districts and from hospitals that were located nearby. The Bayeux Memorial to the missing stands opposite the war cemetery. Cecil Ashton was twenty-six years old when he was killed in action, and was married to Mrs Joyce Ashton of Park Avenue, Highworth. He was an accomplished musician, especially while playing the piano accordian. He was also a very talented artist.