The remarkable story of Enham Alamein
PUBLISHED: 11:37 24 October 2017 | UPDATED: 11:37 24 October 2017
The story of Enham Alamein near Andover and its enduring connection with one of the most famous Allied victories of World War Two is remarkable. As Viv Micklefield discovers, this is no ordinary village
At first glance, it has all the trappings of a typical Hampshire village. There’s a Post Office, a doctor’s surgery, a tearoom, a couple of football pitches, a church and a garage. Yet taking pride of place on the village green is the statue of ‘Ned’, an injured World One soldier carved from an oak tree. It’s this which provides a clue that all may not be what it seems in the curiously named Enham Alamein.
Re-wind to October 1919 and Enham Place, previously a 1000-acre country estate within the hamlet of King’s Enham, opens as the site of a pioneering village centre for ex-servicemen. One of the first of its kind in the country, the 150-bed rehabilitation facility is designed to provide medical support and re-training for some of the thousands discharged from hospital following the Great War. With many still suffering from the aftermath of amputations, chronic fatigue syndrome, and shell shock, funding from the Red Cross offers physiotherapy, thermal baths and a gym. Private donations also pour-in, among these £100,000 from King George V. By the end of 1921, over 500 veterans are ready to return to employment or had learnt new skills on their road to recovery.
“We’re like the original Help for Heroes in this sense,” says Sophie Porter, marketing team leader at Enham Trust today. “People back then could be given a house and a job to help them re-enter Civvy Street. And, in many ways, given a new purpose in life.”
As Sophie explains, the Trust’s extensive historical records show that although it was mainly army personnel who came to Enham, they were not the only ones given a fresh start. “It was also for their entire family, as the men’s wives and children would be living here too.”
One of the first of these so-called ‘settlers’ was Walter Saunders, who’d fought and become a prisoner of war. His son Doug, born in 1928, is still an Enham Alamein resident. He recalls: “After a recommendation from a friend, my father applied for housing in Enham and was the second family to move into the village in 1919. Enham Industries, back then, offered ex-soldiers a wide range of skills to train in, including boot repairs, basketry, upholstery, woodwork, painting and decorating. My father became the village cobbler. He was asked to stay as a permanent resident in Enham. I remember my father always said how ‘Enham gave me my life’.”
Walking along the leafy streets today, what’s surprising is how many reminders of these early settlers are standing. Doug’s parent’s home, the Cottage on the Green, for instance, as well as the purpose-built housing that lines Newbury Road. There’s Landale Wilson Hall erected in 1926, where social events still happen; and the former walled market garden, these days a green space for the wider community. In fact, Enham Trust, now a major disability charity, still owns around 80 per cent of the village.
With Enham Place demolished in the 1930s, the stables remain visible. These are dwarfed by newer factory and warehouse buildings belonging to Enham Third Party Logistics – its predecessor Enham Industries having gone from strength to strength. Indeed, after the employment scheme was extended to civilian disabled, during World War Two, Enham’s furniture makers produced wooden gliders for the war effort. Later, an engineering division was created as well as an electronics assembly line.
An expansion, according to Sophie, that owes much to “a substantial gift of £225,000” from the people of Cairo. This ‘thank you’ for the gallantry of British forces at the Battle of El Alamein – where the sons of some settlers fought – saw the entire village renamed Enham Alamein from 1945.
Three years on, the campaign’s commander, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, paid a visit. Meeting the men who’d served under him in the desert, he reputedly remarked: “I have seen a fine set of old soldiers doing a fine job of work. No one seems to have a job that he is not medically fit to do, and I must say they all look extremely happy and content.”
Sophie says: “At one time we had our own flower here, an orchid called the Enham Star.” The links continue as outside Montgomery House, the commercial division’s HQ, stand the Alamein Gates which once graced the Cairo Naval Officer’s Club. A bell from the same building is rung each year on October 23 to mark Enham’s Alamein Day, all national commemorations of the Battle being held down the road at St George’s Chapel. Inside, there’s a stained glass window depicting the armed services and a prayer desk donated by Montgomery.
Post war, Enham’s Trust’s forward-thinking approach enabled an increasing number of disabled people to be supported. It was the first care home in the country to provide individual adapted accommodation and, before long, residential places also became available for women. Recent projects include Weston Court’s wheelchair friendly bungalows, opened two years ago by the Trust’s patron, The Duchess of Gloucester.
With more building planned Phipps House, previously the centre’s TB hospital, has already made way. “It was quite emotional seeing Phipps House being knocked down,” admits Sophie. “I was lucky enough to go inside beforehand and it was like walking through a time warp because nothing had been touched for years.” Workers at Enham’s former candle factory later lived here, she says, pointing out how the centre’s employment opportunities, these days available to adults with a broad range of disabilities, have changed with the times.
“Today, our main focus is supporting disabled people in whatever way they may need to be as independent as possible,” says Sophie. “There are now three care homes housing 57 people and an additional 284 homes in the village. We offer other services across the country; in total, supporting 8,500 disabled people every year.
Those early trail blazers are not forgotten. “I refer to myself as a ‘child of the settlers’, says Doug, who became foreman at the village carpentry workshop and later a rent collector. “Enham’s been good to me. When I retired in 1993, I arranged for a reunion for the settlers’ children and 250 people travelled from all over the world to attend.”
As the statue of ‘Ned’ reminds us, this is a village that remains true to its roots.
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