Six evacuees killed as mortar exploded in camp dormitory

A picture believed to show the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Denis Daly, visiting Marchants Hill, 1940
A picture believed to show the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Denis Daly, visiting Marchants Hill, 1940
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I recently interviewed a woman who is a former Londoner. During the war she was evacuated to this area and has remained here ever since. She now lives at Havant.

Lillian Stone was born in 1932 in the East End and was evacuated to Marchants Hill, a former hutted TB hospital just up the A3 near Hindhead. The camp comprised five large huts, two for girls and three for the boys.

Most of the children were from London but in 1940, 150 youngsters from Portsmouth were evacuated to the camp.

In November of that year some of the boys went out searching for shrapnel and bullets at a nearby Canadian army camp near the Devil’s Punchbowl.

One of the boys found a live mortar shell and carried it back, no doubt ceremoniously, to the dormitory where about 20 boys were billeted.

It appears they began tossing the mortar from bed to bed when suddenly the worst happened. It exploded killing at least six of the lads and badly injuring many more. Mrs Stone remembers one lad who managed to raise his torso up to a window and swing himself over the sill to get out. Both his legs had been blown off in the blast.

I am researching the incident and hope there may be one or two senior readers who might have been at the camp when the incident occurred or at another time.

I believe the photograph was taken when the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Denis Daly, visited the children in 1940.

• I see there is a new rule for football referees. If spectators invade the pitch the referee will now be allowed to abandon the match. So what’s new?

I refereed more than 750 games of football at all levels between 1975 and 1985, sometimes four matches a weekend plus a midweek game.

One thing I used to hate was filling in forms. This had to be done if a player was booked or sent off. I would do anything to avoid booking someone.

I remember one game in which two players tangled, fell to the ground and started fighting. The players gathered around and, with a raised voice, I told them to stand away.

I then grabbed hold of both players by their hair, pulled them apart and stood them up. I said to them: ‘If you want to fight see me afterwards and I’ll take you both on. While you’re on my pitch you’ll play up and play the game. OK?’

I then warned them about their future conduct and told them I would send them off if I had to speak to either of them again. No more problems. Mind you, I was then more than 18 stones, was 6ft 4in and dressed in black. Johnny Cash eat your heart out!

Another game I remember was in an area where the atmosphere was tense as the week before the two teams had played in a cup-tie with one side losing to a penalty.

The game was kick and shove from the start with foul after foul. After about 15 minutes I called the captains together and told them to take their teams into their penalty areas to sort themselves out. If not, I would send off five from each team and as a side had to have a minimum of seven players I would abandon the match. ‘Now, I’m going for a smoke on the half-way line. You decide how it’s going to be.’ The crowd couldn’t believe it.

Five or so minutes later the two captains came to me, apologised and we had no more trouble for the rest of the game. And no forms to fill in.

• I see the Queen’s Birthday Honours List contained all the usual suspects, but again I see there is no Petula Clark on the list of newly-made dames.

In her time appearing in the UK hit parade, as it was once called, she had two number one hits, 12 top 10 hits and 21 top 40 hits plus nine top 40 albums. She also had nine hits in America not to mention all over Europe.

She has appeared in numerous films and hit theatre shows and still she appears to be ignored.

Come on whoever puts names forward, let’s have Petula up there with the rest.