Phyllis UPFIELD

In 1992 several villagers were interviewed by Morgan Witzel about their wartime experiences. One of the interviewees was Miss Phyllis Upfield who lived in Wood End, Green View Avenue.

Her family had come to Leigh in the 1930s and her father, a retired schoolmaster, had had their house built on a generous plot of land at the end of the road. He died early in the war leaving his wife and daughter (Phyllis) alone in the house. Phyllis worked ‘in town’ at the old London County Council offices and commuted there for some 23 years, riding her bicycle every day to Hildenborough railway station. She recalled the Sunday morning, September 3 rd 1939 , when war was declared – the verger, Charlie Ingram, interrupted the morning service to whisper the news in the vicar’s (Rev. Sealey) ear. The service was immediately terminated and all told to go home. For several months the ‘phoney’ war continued with people apparently still travelling to the continent for a weekend in France . She recounted seeing the trains with evacuees from Dunkirk going through Leigh Halt, with one soldier even throwing out his kit bag for the Leigh stationmaster to take home. Phyllis remembered the stick of bombs which fell along Green View Avenue with one uprooting an oak tree, damaging the house windows and tiles. Her mother kept a flourishing kitchen garden with some ducks and plenty of vegetables so food was never a problem.

She witnessed many dog fights in the skies above Leigh with one German plane being brought down near the Old Barn. The pilot survived but was immediately put under arrest. Another German pilot’s body was buried in St Mary’s churchyard, just inside the gate up Church Hill but after the war it was returned to Germany.

All the time Phyllis continued to commute to London although there were some difficult days following bombing raids; on one occasion she had to resort to six different vehicles as so many stations were closed. One night after her fire duty shift in London , she arrived at Charing Cross station to find it closed and was instructed to walk to Cannon Street as the bridge over the Thames had been hit. She saw the railway lines hanging over the side down towards the water as she walked along the Embankment.

Back in Green View Avenue she recalled watching the flying bombs on their way to London although on one occasion she witnessed one falling into the field on the far side of the railway line. Later in the war German POWs were put to work on the farms around Leigh and she remembered one in particular who was pleased to come across a local inhabitant who could speak some German. Indeed he presented her with a small bracelet when he eventually returned to Germany after the end of the war. When peace was eventually declared she remembered the shock of seeing house lights after several years of blackout.

n the years that followed she became the church treasurer until 1974 and was a very regular member of the congregation. An accomplished instrumentalist she also played in the Tonbridge Philharmonic Orchestra for many years. Phyllis died in 2003, aged 94, much missed by those who remember her kindness, quiet wit and service to the village.

Parish Magazine Article: Mar 2007: by Chris Rowley

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