Caversham’s Second World War
Caversham (and, indeed, Reading) had a ‘quiet’ Second World War (2WW) by most accounts, but war still had an impact.
Far too many years ago than I like to remember, I used to know a chap who’d worked at Thornycroft in Caversham. This was at the end of Wolsey Road, where The Willows is now.
(Thornycroft became Vosper Thornycroft; that became VT … and so on. It’s a fairly long history.)
And I was told by this chap that during the 2WW Thornycroft built motor torpedo boats (MTBs) in Caversham because a) the area wasn’t much caught up in the German bombing, and b) it was the furthest up The Thames that that size boat could go.
So that’s what I thought was the case. And then I tried to find any evidence for what I’d been told years ago, about events even more years ago. And to my surprise, that proved quite hard going.
An email communication with Reading Museum initially drew a blank – the very helpful chap I had correspondence with wondered if I was thinking of Elliotts Joinery, which used to be in the area. (Hence Elliotts Way.) But then, pretty well by chance, I found reference to it in Reading Museum’s photo archive.
At the time of writing, no, I’ve found nothing that mentions MTBs being built in Caversham. But I have proof that Thornycroft were at the right place and hence I’m inclined to think that the recollections I was told are specific enough to be real. *
So, there you have it – a small insight into Caversham at war. Personally, I can’t remember Thornycroft – when I was young the whole site which became The Willows was just demolition rubble – and remained so for many years.
Incidentally, another related story I heard was that when it came to building The Willows, they didn’t empty and fill in the acid tanks used in the boat engine-building work but just capped them. Whether that’s true or not I have no idea but I imagine that’s something that would have reared its ugly head by now if it were the case.
For another personal link to the 2WW, “In a Government Canteen” is a true story about a war widow, an encounter I had in a canteen in Caversham. (This story is on ‘Unstated’, the parent site for Caversham.)
* Since writing the above, I’ve come across mention (thanks John) of Thornycroft making marine engines on the Wolsey Road site, which they took over from Herbert Engineering in 1931. So, perhaps the MTBs were built elsewhere and had their engines fitted in Caversham. Maybe they even hooked-up with Elliotts in Caversham for the boat building, as I’ve now learned that they, Elliotts, made landing craft during the 2WW.