On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland and Britain and France were forced to declare war.
What followed was a ‘quiet period’ often referred to as “the phoney war” when Hitler was unable to advance his plans because of bad weather. However, in spring 1940 the German ‘Blitzkrieg’ or lightening war plans swung into action when Hitler invaded France. On May 10, as the attack began, British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, resigned and Winston Churchill became the new Prime Minister.
In St Neots, the Town Council had been busy preparing for war for many months and by spring 1940, evacuees from London had arrived.
The Black-Out was in place, food rationing had begun and men had been called up to fight.
Men like Victor Ekins, who lived in New Street, and whose family ran the cattle market and auction yard.
Bert Goodwin has researched the story of Battle of Britain pilot officer Philip Cardell, of Manor farm, Great Paxton who is buried on the west side of the old village churchyard.
Philip Cardell joined his father on the family farm after leaving school.
He began his pilot training before the outbreak of war when he was described as Airman U T (under training) Pilot. His official call-up came in September 1939 and he was sent to complete his flying training. He was then commissioned and sent to 5 Officer Training Unit on June 10. Then, in August, he was posted to 603 Squadron of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve at Hornchurch in Essex. He was involved in the early stages of the Battle of Britain and was reported to have had several ‘kills’ credited to him.
On September 27, the Squadron was scrambled to intercept a large incoming flight of German fighters and bombers over the Channel. Philip destroyed one enemy plane but his plane was badly damaged and he was wounded. He attempted to return to the coast but was forced to bale out over the sea a quarter of a mile from Folkestone. Philip died before a rescue could be effected. He was just 23.
A funeral service was conducted by the vicar, Rev H L Budge, and the Methodist minister from St Neots, Rev E V Eva on October 3.