Fred Bowden interview: First impressions of Wimbledon

Well, I knew nothing about Wimbledon. It was completely strange, I had vaguely  heard that the Emmanuel Church garden was a hut, a church hall, a wooden church hall, temporary building which was used for local lady volunteers as a canteen providing tea and cake for the troops. And that was where I met my wife. We heard there of a place called Wimbledon Park. I remember coming down with a friend of mine, David Evans, who was killed in Normandy. But David Evans and I, we wandered round looking for this Wimbledon Park, we wandered round and somebody said: “Well there’s a park.” We ended up in South Park down here which was miserable looking, we thought, for this much vaunted Wimbledon Park. Well anyway that was that. That was just a minor thing. We spent, as I say, more or less 12 months in Wimbledon. We trained on the Common.

We came to Wimbledon in an odd collection of vehicles - army lorries, battered old buses and I being in Prince of Wales company, was billeted on Wimbledon Common in West Side House.

West Side House is on the west side obviously, west side of the Common. Half the company was in West Side House, the other half was in Stamford House which is over by Camp Road. And that’s where I was billeted. We were furnished with pallets to sleep on the floor.

We all slept on the floor. I spent my war years mostly sleeping on the floor, on a pallet. And there we did our drilling on Wimbledon Common, just outside the house and the battalion parades. We had company parades on the grass outside, battalion parades. We route marched from Wimbledon up to London every other week, we did a 25 mile march with full kit.