World War Two Invasion Committees in Ringwood and Romsey – the role of the Hampshire Constabulary
Until September 1940 in the Second World War, there was a real prospect of Germany invading Britain, a military plan known as Operation Sea Lion. However, even after the threat had diminished, the country, and particularly the south of England made preparations for a military assault.
Regional Commissioners established Defence/Invasion committees which brought together civilian expertise designed to ensure that contingency plans were made and tested. Typically, the committees were chaired by military officers who acted as the liaison between rural parishes and central government. Members of the committee included the police, the fire service, air raid wardens, the Food Executive, a billeting officer and the Home Guard.
The Ringwood Committee was chaired by Colonel Edward Geoffrey St Aubyn and the police were represented by Sergeant Frederic Butter. Their terms of reference were as follows:
‘In the event of the Parish of Ringwood being cut off from higher authority, the Committee assumes full executive powers and has the duty of putting into force any measures which they deem necessary to deal with the situation in co-operation with, and giving maximum support possible to, the Civil and Military Authorities.’
The principal matters to be dealt with by the committee under invasion conditions were:
- Distribution of stocks of foods and, if necessary, imposition of emergency rationing
- Provision of cooking facilities
- Provision of emergency water supplies
- Provision of emergency hospital facilities
- Securing accommodation for those rendered homeless
- Securing labour and equipment required for road repairs, trench digging, filling in craters etc. and for the general helping of the military authorities.
- Distributing official news bulletins
Steps taken by the committee included the provision of food dumps and field ovens, the identification of wells in the area to provide fresh water, the court being made available for the reception of casualties, houses identified which could receive the homeless, a list of tools which could be made available and the provision of official news bulletins at appointed locations.
Committees were required to exercise their contingency plans to ensure they would be effective. Such an exercise was carried out in Ringwood – under the title of ‘Larpex’, to distinguish it from an actual invasion – on Saturday 1 November 1942.
The scenario to be tested was as follows:
‘The Germans are known to be massing troops on the north French coast, when the United Nations commence an invasion, and start a second front at various points between The Hague (Holland) and Brest (France). To counter this, the Germans put over an intense aerial attack, and drop airborne troops, to disrupt and sabotage all possible communications and installations, more particularly those upon which the Channel ports depend to reinforce and service our troops in France. The ‘STAND-TO’ is received at 13.00 hrs on the 30th and the ‘ACTION STATIONS’ at 09.30 hrs on the 31st. Evacuated refugees will commence to arrive. In trying to render Southampton, Poole etc useless, sharp air attacks are made on all roads leading thereto, one being made on the Bridges and West Street area of Ringwood at 15.15 hrs on the 31st, and at about 15.30 hrs, enemy air-borne troops, having seized Blashford, are seen advancing on the Market Place deploying tear gas.’
A sense of how the police fitted into this extraordinary plan can be found in the questions levelled at Sergeant Fred Button when he sat on one of the committees during the exercise on 1 November 1942.
Chairman: Have you made arrangements for immobilising cars and how long do you think it will take?
Button: Arrangements have been made to immobilise cars and it will take about 2 hours to do so.
Chairman: Could you indicate to us any special arrangements you have made for the control of traffic.
Button: A policeman will be static on the by-pass and another at Friday’s Cross
Chairman: Have you made any arrangements for enforcing the “Stand Firm” policy and preventing panic?
Button: Police officers will be stationed at key points to advise and assist the public and to prevent interference with military traffic.
Chairman: Have you prepared lists for billeting soldiers?
Button: Lists have been prepared and such billets can be arranged without delay.
Chairman: Are you fully prepared to deal with subversive activities – Fifth columnists etc?
Button: I cannot enlarge on this but arrangements have been made.