Parklands in WW2

By Malcolm Prosser and Jonathan Coope.

Early roles for the parks

As in WW1, Goose Fair was cancelled pretty much automatically. And in May 1940 the Council refused to overturn their earlier resolution from April 1927 which prohibited games in the parks and recreation grounds on Sundays. They relaxed this only so far as to allow the ATS at Chilwell Depot to use the tennis courts at Highfields (provided they paid for the privilege). So, at this point in the war, the parks were no longer quite the place of fun and recreation they had been.

As you’ll know, there were broadly two types of bomb shelter: a) domestic shelters such as the Anderson shelters that people had in their back gardens and, b) public shelters which were intended for people in the streets caught away from their homes during an air raid. Some of the parks were being dug up as early as August 1939 for this purpose.

As in WW1, large tracts of land in Nottingham’s parks were dug up for allotments and food growing. An Evening Post article from 1940 notes:

The Nottingham Corporation Parks Committee are to plough up another 60 acres of public parks in their dig for victory campaign and will buy a tractor to go with the job … Mr W Hooley, chairman of the Parks Committee told a “Post” representative, last night, that an inspection of the various parks was made yesterday afternoon, with a view to ascertaining what land could be ploughed up.

Parks during the war

Iron railings removal, The Forest, 1940 Courtesy of Nottingham Evening Post and www.picturethepast.org.uk

Iron railings removal, The Forest, 1940
Courtesy of Nottingham Evening Post and www.picturethepast.org.uk

During the war, The Forest was handy for public demonstrations – by the fire service, for example. But also, rehearsals for invasion by the Germans. As late as 1942, invasion exercises were being carried out on the streets and in the parks of Nottingham:

Nottingham citizens saw many instances of hand-to-hand fighting in the streets yesterday, when large-scale invasion exercises were held. One enemy force was completely wiped out in a fierce scrimmage at the junction of Mansfield-road and Gregory-boulevard.

The enemy had advanced behind a screen of civilians along the boulevard, killing isolated defenders at the road junction … Guns popped and the enemy were forced back against the Forest railings and annihilated … Fighting went on under the trees between the bowling greens and Mansfield-road.

But sadly as we know some of the Forest’s railings were removed for the war effort. Interestingly,

“The Parks Superintendent read a letter from the City Engineer stating that he had been compelled to schedule railings on the Waverley Street frontage of the Arboretum.

RESOLVED that this Committee are strongly of the opinion that these railings should not be removed in view of the fact that the Arboretum is completely surrounded by property with the exception of this frontage and if the railings were removed it is probable that the Arboretum being so close to the City Centre would become the resort of undesirable people and that the Emergency Committee be asked to make representation to the Ministry of Supply that if at all possible the railings be deleted from the schedule.

Towards the end of the war

By mid-1942 the war was slowly beginning to take a more favourable turn and in July 1942 the Council at last relaxed their ban on Sunday games and there was a growing demand for less austerity.

Additional jollification was provided by a daylight only Goose Fair – remember, blackouts at night were still in place – it was held for a week in August and attracted thousands of visitors who were complying with the official policy of “holidays at home”.

During the August Bank Holiday weekend of 1943, Wollaton Park hosted what was claimed to be ‘The Greatest Wartime Show in the Country’ – an agricultural, horticultural, cattle and horse show. The proceeds went to the Nottinghamshire services and Prisoners-of-War Comforts fund.

In March 1944, 2000 soldiers from the US army encamped at Wollaton Park – from the 82nd Airborne Division of paratroopers. This did cause some disruption. On seeing the herd of red deer at Wollaton Park, three parachutists shot and killed two deer. Also, and rather more tragically, while visiting the path by the lake in the park one day, a little girl who was excitedly running ahead of her parents found a live hand grenade lying on the path and pulled out the pin. The inquest blamed the billeted division, who had been exercising mock battlefield manoeuvres around the wood and lake on quiet weekdays when the park was rarely, if ever, visited by the public.

A repetition of the daylight only Goose Fair in 1944 was even more successful than the first. An article in one of the local papers at the time stated:

Nottingham well-named ‘The Paris of Britain’ has just ended its second summer Goose Fair on the Forest. It has lasted for a week and the curtain fell on Saturday night at black-out time amid scenes of unprecedented gaiety …

This year Goose Fair was swollen by many thousands of visitors from the neighbouring towns and villages and also by the thousands of evacuees who have been billeted in and around the city as a refuge from flying bombs. “It’s not so good as Hampstead Heath” said one juvenile critic, forgetting that in wartime the succulent Brandy Snap and Grantham ginger-bread, to say nothing of ice-creams and real Ginger pop, are no longer available.

Certainly, judging by the Parks Committee minutes, there is increasing emphasis on making the most of the parks for the holidays-at-home policy during the summer months – in 1944 the six weeks from Sunday 16 July to Saturday 26 August covering the school holiday period. It would include:

Military bands

Concert parties to give two performances on the Arboretum on each Saturday…

Open air plays including Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor

The Parks Superintendent suggested that outdoor dancing displays by pupils of local Dancing Schools should be arranged at various Centres for a period of approximately three weeks and that in the final week an All-Schools Dancing display should be given on the outdoor platform which will be erected in the Arboretum.

In 1945 a prisoner of war camp was set up in Wollaton Park to house German prisoners. At one time 4,000 prisoners were housed there. The public were not allowed to enter Wollaton Park from the Wollaton Road gateway when the camp was occupied. This entrance wasn’t reopened until 1948.

News of Germany’s surrender reached Nottingham on 7th May 1945, and formal celebrations of VE Day on the following day began in the afternoon. Schools were shut for both days.

There was a heavy storm and The King’s speech was broadcast in the evening and after that Nottingham revellers had the shock of their lives. The street lights were switched on … for the first time since 1939. More than that, the Council House was floodlit, and so were the Arboretum gardens – with the trees illuminated – and the Memorial Arch on the Trent Embankment thousands of people resumed their dancing, gazed at the floodlit buildings, and the illuminated trees in the Arboretum. As the Nottingham Journal described the scene:

… Then dark, and the floodlighting, the Council House and the Castle dazzling white, rainbow fountains and gardens of paradise in the Arboretum, bonfires flaring in every street

[DRAFT. This is an extract of a forthcoming article by Malcolm Prosser and Jonathan Coope. Please do not quote without permission of one of the authors. Comments welcome at jonathan.coope@nottingham.ac.uk]

 
 

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