second world war

EXACTLY 75 years ago – 6 June 1944 – a massive Allied invasion force descended on Normandy in France.

D-Day, Operation Neptune, as was its official codename, was the largest seaborne assault in history.

Woking Electric Supply Company’s wartime fire crew, with William Francis standing second from left

It was the beginning of Operation Overlord, which aimed to liberate western Europe from Nazi control.

News & Mail reader William Francis was an electrician in the RAF around the time of D-Day.

He was stationed at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire. Although officially assigned to a training wing he recalls loading aircraft with bombs.

Before he was called up, he worked for the Woking Electric Supply Company.

During the Second World War it had its own fire service. Employees were formed into two crews who alternated keeping a night-time watch in case the works was bombed and set alight.

He recalls they had a covered cart with a ladder attached and all their own equipment including a pump.

An underground storeroom was used as an air-raid shelter where they could also get a bit of sleep.

He said: “I spent most nights on duty there until I was called up. But sometime after D-Day we were surplus to requirements in the RAF, so I transferred to the Fleet Air Arm and ended up in Scotland before returning to work at Woking Electric.”

For the full story, see the 6 June edition of the News & Mail

CELEBRATED - Ockenden International

THE rich history of a ­refugee ­charity started by three ­Woking ­school teachers has been celebrated at a special lecture at Oxford University.

Ockenden International was set up by Joyce Pearce, Ruth Hicks and Margaret Dixon in 1951, with the aim of helping displaced children after the Second World War.

The charity, originally called Ockenden Venture, was named after Joyce’s house in White Rose Lane, Woking.

A bus-load of Ockenden’s ­local supporters ­travelled to Lady ­Margaret Hall College, Oxford, for the ceremony, headed by the university ­chancellor, Lord Patten of Barnes, and ­Surrey-based BBC ­presenter ­Michael Buerk.

In his speech, Lord Patten ­recalled seeing Ockenden International programmes when he was  Overseas Development Secretary during the Thatcher government.

He praised Joyce and the people of Woking for giving such help and support to displaced and disadvantaged people in many parts of  the world.

The lecture marked the establishment of a Junior Research Fellowship into refugees and forced migration in memory of Joyce, who graduated from Lady ­Margaret Hall in the 1930s and was one ­of the early supporters of the ­university’s Refugee Studies ­Centre.

More than 150 guests watched a 1950s newsreel of Joyce and volunteers from Woking showing the  film actor Richard Todd around the first project which broughtrefugees to the UK from Germany.

There was also a tribute to a young Woking volunteer, Adam Rock, who died tragically two years ago and left a large bequest to the charity. He worked with Vietnamese and Eritrean refugees during his gap year at a reception centre in the Woking area.

Ockenden International has now changed direction and will be giving annual grants to British-based groups that promote self-reliance in their development programmes.

Mr Buerk announced that the ­charity will be giving an annual prize of £50,000 in recognition of innovative work among displaced people around the world.

Bequests Charity trustee Stephen Claypole said: “There’s been a lot of talk about the big society in recent years but the people of Woking and the wider Surrey showed they were big-hearted 60 years ago.

“The support given and money they have raised have helped tens of thousands of people in the world, often in remote places overlooked or forgotten by larger agencies.

“The Ockenden International Prize has been made possible by contributions and bequests over many years. We shall continue the work started in Woking by Joyce.”