An insight into life at Littlecote during the Second World War can be gained by the following event.
In Jan 2019 John Cowburn emailed from Australia. He was collating his father’s memoirs which included a reference to time he spent living on the Littlecote estate, and referring to a visit by King George VI:
“We lived in Nissen huts on Sir Ernest Wills’s (tobacco) estate at Littlecote, near Hungerford. We were now into summer and a glorious summer it was. Shirt sleeve order was the rule, so long as we wore a regulation leather belt, duly polished; no braces for the cavalry, only for lesser mortals. Sir Ernest asked for some help with his hay harvest and rewarded the helpers with cigarettes - Players. He also put one of his trout pools in the Kennet at our disposal for swimming, which was very welcome. On the way there we had to pass the trout hatcheries and the temptation was too much for one or two people, so we were warned that the swimming would be stopped if any more trout were poached.
On one occasion I was on fatigues in the cookhouse, when, two troopers walked in carrying between them a deer. They had been out with the gamekeeper and had found this which had strangled itself on a wire fence and he had given it to them. They threw it down in front of the Sergeant Cook and said, “There y’are. What can you do with that?”
The cook looked at it, scratched his head and said, “Well, I’ll cook the bugger if you can skin it and cut it up.”
Neither of the troopers could, but one of the other cooks spoke up, “So and so, in the Tech. Stores used to be a butcher in civvie life, go and get him.”
Off they went and came back with the butcher, who, on being given a knife, soon had it skinned and cut up. The O.R.s dined on venison that day.
While we were at Littlecote we had another visit from the King. He didn’t inspect anyone this time. He had been invited to lunch with Sir Ernest Wills and we just lined the route in the park and cheered to orders.”
John Cowburn asked for help regarding the exact date of this visit by the king, and Roger Day kindly responded:
“The King and Queen paid a visit to Southern Command (elements of the British 1st Armoured Division and 1st Infantry Brigade) on 30th July 1941 where they spent the day inspecting tanks, watching dive bombing and tank battle demonstrations and reviewing various units.
They started their tour at Lackham House near Chippenham, Wiltshire, watched the dive bombing on Preshute Down near Marlborough before moving to Hungerford Marsh and then Littlecote.
In the extract [of Mr Cowburn’s memoirs] he says: “Sir Ernest asked for some help with his hay harvest and rewarded the helpers with cigarettes – Players”. I’m surprised he chose Players because Sir Ernest was heir to the W D & H O Wills cigarette empire and Players was a rival brand!
John Cowburn responded saying that his "father was a non smoker so it is likely he never knew one type from another. It could have been his attempt at humour or sarcasm? I favour the former!”
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