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History - The Wars
St James church Aston Abbotts
Few places in England could avoid being affected by the two great global conflicts of the twentieth century and Aston Abbotts was no exception. In the Great War of 1914 to 1918 men from all over England signed up to go and fight in the trenches of France and the men of Aston Abbotts responded with patriotic enthusiasm. But the protracted trench warfare was to see waste of human life on a hitherto unimaginable scale. Hundreds of thousands perished as the battle lines moved backwards and forwards by tiny amounts. When the conflict was over many villages in England wished to honour their men folk who had laid down their lives for their country and Aston Abbotts, in common with so many other villages, erected a memorial to its war dead. The Aston Abbotts war memorial was erected in 1919 and is on the right at the entrance to the churchyard. It is inscribed with twelve names. The sheer horror of this sacrifice comes home when you consider that the male population of the village was around 125 at that time and that perhaps a half of those were of fighting age. Then you realise that Aston Abbotts lost about 20% of those eligible to fight - nearly 10% of its male population - in the Great War. Unlike the First World War, when the carnage and horror was distant and for those at home realised only through newspaper reports, the Second World War saw all people in England being touched more directly.
Older residents joined the Home Guard and prepared to ward off an expected invasion from Hitler's forces, whilst the younger men went off to fight. Farming became a reserved occupation as food stocks dwindled and rationing was introduced. A bomber crashed in a field below Norduck Farm (this was later revealed to be a British bomber shot down in error by a British Fighter). The airfield at the nearby village of Wing brought a lot of military activity to the area. Evacuees (children fleeing the bombing of London) arrived in Aston Abbotts. The Abbey, the largest house in Aston Abbotts, became the wartime home of President Benes, the exiled president of Czechoslovakia. His government occupied Wingrave Manor in the neighbouring village a mile to the South. Czech solders were billeted in Nissen huts in the Abbey grounds and on Norduck drive. One of these huts is still there today. When Benes returned to Czechoslovakia in 1945 he made several gifts to Aston Abbotts, including a bus shelter which still stands today at the Wingrave crossroads, a road junction on the A418 just south of the village. As the fighting finished in 1945 German prisoners of war were moved into the Nissen huts formerly occupied by the Czech soldiers and a tented prisoner of war camp was created along the drive to Norduck Farm. This was known as POW Camp 268. Over 250 prisoners were kept there. They were required to work and some worked on the local farms until they had been gradually repatriated over a two-year period.
In 2014 - the centenary of the outbreak of World War 1 - a commemorative booklet was delivered to each house in the village. The booklet - The Soldier Lads of Aston Abbotts - was the culmination of several years research by Simon Guy. In the booklet Simon presented short biographies of each of the soldiers named on the Aston Abbotts war memorial. You can now read the booklet on the Soldier Lads page by clicking its picture on the right. We are extremely grateful to Simon for making this available and also grateful to Richard Clarke for sponsoring the distribution of the original printed booklet.
Click the picture to go to the booklet