Debenham had a population during the War of approx 960 people. Most of the working population was employed in agriculture in the surrounding area. The village was situated at the junction of the old main road from Ipswich to Eye and Norwich and the main road crossing mid-Suffolk from east to west passing through Stowmarket, Bury St Edmunds, Newmarket and Cambridge. The River Deben flows through the village.

The expected enemy action was:

  • By bombing with the aim of either disrupting military traffic passing east to west or vice versa or as a preliminary to an actual attack in the village with the aim of seizing a valuable road junction.
  • The landing of airborne troops to the north and west with the objective of seizing an aerodrome
  • An advance of mechanised troops from the east if landed by sea or if airborne from the west with a view to attacking the coastal defences in the rear.
    • Debenham was a nodal point and as such was to be held to the last man – it was not situated on a main essential traffic route but on a local essential traffic route.

      Civil Defence Plan

      The main aim of the Civil Plan was to:

      • Provide such assistance to the military as required to keep open the roads to allow the movement of troops and transport – this was to take priority over all other requirements
      • To coordinate the response of the various Civil and Voluntary services to maintain communications and supplies and relieve the Military Commander of any such concerns.
        • This may well have to be carried out in conditions of the village becoming isolated due to enemy action. The Invasion Committee Headquarters were to be based at Messrs Aldous and Hammond. Official Notice Boards were located at the Post Office and Police Station.

          The Police station was located at the north end of the village where the Wetheringsett road meets Derry Brook Road. The Police Force consisted of one Constable, one War Reserve Constable and six Special Constables. The Constable and five of the Specials had cars available for use in cases of emergency. Duties included traffic control, guarding road craters and other obstructions, enforcing the ‘Stand Firm’ policy, immobilizing vehicles, evacuation of property required by the military and law and order (especially action against Fifth Columnists and suppression of rumours). For immobilization of vehicles, police patrols would be stationed at Stowmarket Road, Ipswich Road and Aspall Road in order to stop any persons attempting to avoid immobilization.

          Warden Service ARP:
          The HQ was situated at the old Guildhall in the centre of the village. Personnel included a Head Warden, Deputy Head Warden and six Wardens. The nearest ARP report centre was located at Framlingham. Duties included reporting incidents, guiding rescue parties, assisting police with guarding damaged or contaminated areas and assisting with clearance of roads.

          Rescue and Decontamination:
          The main depot was located at Sharman’s Yard, Gracechurch Street. Personnel of seven men with a lorry and equipment essential for rescue work were available. In cases of contamination the responsibility was with Gipping Rural District Council (nearest depot was at the Water Works, Framlingham) although this squad along with the Fire Service would improvise in emergency.

          Fire Service
          The engine was located at Cross Green near the centre of the village. A crew of 12 men was available and a duty shelter available at White Horse Road. The equipment included a Dennis 24 hp motor engine capable of supplying four jets and a manual trailer (although it was noted that none of the men had been trained for this). The water supply was described as ‘precarious’, the only source being various ponds and the river.

          Food Supplies
          In case of emergency the parish had been divided into six districts. Food cards had been issued to every household showing quantities of food to be issued per head and from which depot they were to be drawn from along with coupons to prevent fraud or duplication. Emergency feeding for the homeless was to be provided at the school canteen, the school domestic science building and at the Cheery Tree Inn. On ‘Stand To’ shops were to be warned to ‘Stand Still’. On ‘Action Stations’ the order ‘Stand Still’ would be issued to shops. They would be required to fill in and return stock forms from which FIXED RATIONS would be drawn up. Shops would then re-open and could sell goods for credit or cash based on FIXED RATIONS.

          First Aid
          There were two first aid points – The Vestry of the Congregational Chapel (capacity 12) and Cherry Tree Inn (capacity 6-8). The defence scheme notes 15 people trained in first aid (including the district nurse and two ex nurses). The number was likely to be increased by the training of members of the WVS by a local Red Cross detachment. The nearest ambulances were based at Framlingham but two improvised car ambulances were to be stationed at Gracechurch Street within 70 yds of the ARP post. The Home Guard had no First Aid measures in place except for six stretcher bearers. Any First Aid arrangements for the Home Guard would fall upon the Civil Authorities – it was planned to move the Post at Cheery Tree Inn to the Forester’s Hall within the Defended Perimeter if necessary. Home Guard causalities would either be removed to hospital or to beds in private houses depending on conditions.

          Six labour gangs were organised (duties to include repairing roads, removing rubble etc, extinguishing fires and assisting with community feeding). Two depots were situated at Gracechurch Street with other depots at Chancery Lane, the Red Lion, White House Street and High Street. When requested tools promised for use in emergency should be taken to these depots.

          Water Supplies
          The defence scheme notes that there was no piped water supply but that there were at least 90 wells in the parish and that no home was far from a water supply. No emergency water supply was considered necessary.

          Households were advised to make mutual arrangements with their neighbours in the event of their own home being destroyed or required by the Army. Emergency housing was to be provided at the Memorial Institute (40 persons), the Area School (100-150 persons – also the Rest Centre) and Gull Farm Barns (40 persons). Personnel for dealing with the homeless would be provided by the WVS. Adequate cooking facilities were noted as being present. In case of invasion food and fuel for the Rest Centre would be provided by commandeering the school’s supply. A list of temporary shelter was also drawn up.

          All sanitation was of the bucket type with no provisions required except in the Defended Perimeter were Field latrines were to be provided.

          The Mortuary was to be located in Water Lane. As well as the Church Yard, alternative burial grounds were to be provided in gardens adjoining the churchyard.

          Military Defence Scheme

          Debenham had a garrison of 99 Home Guard (89 Class I and 10 Class II). The main role of the Home Guard was to deny the roads to the enemy, report on enemy movements and to keep the roads open for Home Force troops. HQ was at The Limes. The force was organized into:

          • Keep garrison - 64
          • Mobile reserve – 17
          • Defended locality (Stowmarket Road) – 18
            • Road Blocks
              There were three of the bent rail type situated at Stowmarket Road and two on Crossgreen.

              Observation Post
              To be established in the church tower.

              On ‘Action Stations’ two recce patrols were to be sent out every two hours by day and every hour by night.

              Immobilization of petrol pumps and cars
              The Home Guard would assist in the immobilization of petrol supplies and cars if ordered by the police. Immobilizations would be ordered by the Home Guard Commander on his own initiative if capture by the enemy was considered imminent.

              Assistance to Civil Authorities
              After ‘Stand To’ the Home Guard would render such assistance as necessary to the Civil Authorities to keep road open with priority being:

              • Framlingham Road
              • Stowmarket Road
              • Thorndon Road
                • On ‘Stand To’ 25 men, already detailed, would report for duty. HQ would be manned on a skeleton basis. On ‘Action Stations’ all men would report for duty although the Commander could then release those not required on a temporary basis on 24 hours notice. A representative of the Invasion Committee would report to HQ. On hostilities breaking out in the local vicinity all defence posts would be manned and patrols maintained.

                    Above: Combined Civil and Military Defence Map - Debenham

                  Debenham Invasion Committe papers, SRO


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