Wicksteed Park’s part in the wartime effort

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When thousands of US servicemen arrived in this country during the Second World War some of them were billeted at the family leisure park.

Last week’s Wicksteed at War event gave visitors to the historic park an insight into what life was like in the 1940s – but some of those visiting were probably not aware that the park itself played a small role in the conflict.

Soldiers marching through Gold Street in Kettering

Soldiers marching through Gold Street in Kettering

When the US joined the war effort, thousands of servicemen flooded into the UK and were billeted all over the country.

Wicksteed Park’s large pavilion was the perfect venue and the park hosted both UK and US units.

Towards the end of the war, between 200 and 300 black US servicemen were stationed there, sleeping in rows on mattresses on the floor.

Their unit performed haulage duties – transporting items to about a dozen US air bases in the Midlands at that time.

In 2000, Kettering man Allah Buksh, who was an evacuee living in Kettering during the war, said he had become drawn to the men and would often visit them there.

He said: “Ingratiating myself into their company I regularly enjoyed eating with the soldiers, especially welcome as rations were short.

“My particular friend was Master Sergeant Andrew Royster, from Alabama.

“His office was in the ice cream parlour. We became close friends and he bought me my first bicycle, he was a regular visitor to the home where I was billeted.”

Mr Buksh said he recalls the soldiers leaving in early 1944, most likely in preparation for D-Day.

He added: “It was a personal loss to me.

“As they loaded their lorries I stood and watched, almost in despair, as the last one disappeared down London Road.

“There were no more dinners, no more Hershey bars, no more American goodies and no more pocket money.”

While in Kettering, the Americans did their best to remain on friendly terms with the population of the town.

A Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph in December 1943 contained a report about a Christmas party organised by the servicemen at Kettering’s Central Hall, which was attended by about 300 children.

The report said the children were served with “doughnuts, jellies and fruit salad” before watching an episode of Laurel and Hardy.

Gifts were also given out and “preference was given to orphans and children of prisoners of war”.

The Americans based at the park during the conflict remembered the hospitality shown to them and in 1947 donated the Mayflower drinking fountain, which is still in situ.

Wicksteed Park has provided a photograph to the Telegraph of the soldiers marching in Gold Street. There are very few photos from the park taken during this period as photography there was prohibited.

While parts of the park remained open during the war years, one of the attractions to suffer was the park’s railway.

The railway had only opened eight years before the outbreak of the Second World War, but petrol shortages meant it was shut between 1942 and 1946 and the popular locomotives were moved into storage.

The war also stymied the park’s growth for a number of years, partly because the young men in its workforce had been conscripted but also because there was a shortage of materials.

One of the attractions not to suffer was the popular Wicksteed ice cream.

The trustees bought a small herd of goats to provide milk.

Discover more about the kettering area during the Second World War at the Project Kettering website.