Yate Heritage Centre: Britain's most famous wartime evacuee

March 31 2021
Yate Heritage Centre: Britain's most famous wartime evacuee

How Britain's most famous evacuee made her presence felt in the Yate area during the Second World War, by David Hardill and John Penny

IN our Second World War research into the Yate area, it is difficult to avoid the looming presence of Queen Mary, the mother of King George VI.

She was based at Badminton House throughout most of the war and was a regular visitor to sites around Yate.

George VI was keen to see his mother moved from London, and she became Britain’s most famous evacuee, staying with her niece Mary Somerset, the Duchess of Beaufort, and protected by the local Home Guard.

She arrived in September 1939 with an entourage of 63 servants and dependents, and 70 pieces of personal luggage. When her equerry was asked in which part of Badminton House the Queen would be living, he replied: "All of it."

The Duke and Duchess were reduced to having only their bedrooms and a small sitting room, but the royal servants considered the house too small.

In 1940 Queen Mary further annoyed her niece by organising work parties to tear down the ancient ivy enveloping trees and outhouses on the Badminton estate, which she considered unattractive and a hazard.

In support of the war effort she paid morale-boosting visits to troops, hospitals, rest centres, schools, and numerous factories, including Parnall Aircraft and Newman Industries in Yate.

Queen Mary inspecting local Home Guard troops in Chipping Sodbury

While travelling in her Daimler car she was known to offer lifts to soldiers she spotted on the roads.

She also took it upon herself to direct the gathering of scrap metal for the war effort, but embarrassingly it was soon necessary to return neighbouring farmers' field harrows and other equipment which Queen Mary, who had no experience of country life, had thought to be discarded.

Hitherto an entirely urban dweller, Queen Mary grew to love the rural life, once remarking to her niece during a stroll in the countryside: "Is that what hay looks like? I never knew."

On 2 May 1945, it was officially announced for the first time that Queen Mary had been staying at Badminton House for almost the whole of the war.

Finally, on Saturday June 2, 1945, she paid a farewell visit to Bristol before, on 11 June, the Court Circular announced that “Queen Mary returned to Marlborough House from Badminton, Gloucestershire, today”.

Main picture: Queen Mary greeted by Hedley Newman on a visit to Newman Industries in Yate. Photo courtesy of Creda Archive

 

Diary dates for April

*Easter Holidays: Easter Egg Workshop on Yate and District Heritage Centre YouTube and Facebook

April 7, 10.30am or 2pm: Zoom chocolate craft workshops. Contact info@yateheritage.co.uk.

April 23-25: Online St George Weekend, including lecture, Tudor family comedy, activities and performances.