Almost exactly seventy years ago, the final few of the hundreds of Americans who had been living in Cresswell completed their last parade, and left this parish. They were going home after serving in the war effort.
It’s a fascinating story.
The ‘Chemical Company’ soldiers
We owe much of what we know about how the Second World War affected Draycott & Cresswell thanks to work by local man Barry Phillips – and almost all you will read on this page comes from his researches.
On 29th November 1943, the US Army’s 104th Chemical Co arrived at the custom-built “Bolero Camp” in Cresswell. Pretty much on the site where Rookery Crescent is now, the camp consisted of a series of Nissan huts, and could hold around 300 men.
These specialist units of the American army (which later included the 106th Chemical-Impregnating Co, the 950th Chemical Impregnating Co and the 46th Chemical Laboratory Co, the 130th Chemical Processing Company – and more) were stationed here in order to be just a short walk from the Blythe Colour Works. The works had all the necessary laboratories and expertise to help these units.
What these soldiers did is still a little mysterious. It’s known that they packed parachutes, but also their ‘boffins’ worked on developing the kind of uniforms which could act as protective gear in case of a chemical attack by the enemy.
Former employees of the works remember the Americans being busy at the factory, but – it being ‘secret’ work – were given the official line that “they are only here to use our laundry facilities”!
At home in Cresswell
When Barry Phillips decided he would do a short history of Draycott in World War Two, he not only spoke to older local people, but he tracked down soldiers who had served here; and visited America to see them and get their stories.
What is apparent is that, even though Cresswell was something of a backwater, the Americans loved their time here, and set up little local charities. One local man, Graham Hammond (who still lives in Cresswell) remembers going to parties organised by the soldiers for the benefit of local children.
One story, about a Xmas party at Draycott School, actually appears in the official USAAF written history, stored at NARA (the US National Archives and Records Administration).
The Americans did have one complaint though. They disliked English food: “We didn’t like that darned Spam, powdered eggs, warm beer and sprouts!!” one said to Barry.
The last remaining US soldiers left Camp Bolero in January 1946 – almost exactly seventy years ago.
The site had a useful history thereafter though.
Local families who had been displaced by the war quickly moved into the empty Nissan huts – before the authorities could stop them. The local council, Cheadle Rural, had to accept the situation and so just charged the ‘squatters’ a nominal rent.
Around 1949, the local authority built 42 houses on the site – naming the area “Rookery Crescent”, rehousing many of the squatters in the new homes.
Strangely enough there are still a few reminders there of the past. Some of the houses to the south side of Rookery still have old brick walls in their gardens – part of the old huts. On the north side some old sewerage inspection chambers can be seen and the retaining wall.
However Barry says he has never found any official plans of the site, which would be good to find.
The only other wartime structures surviving in the parish are the two air raid shelters at Draycott College (then a primary school).
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Thanks again to Barry Phillips whose huge research archive and photograph collections form the bulk of this article.
If you want more details, Barry’s researches can be found online. See Cresswell during World War II, and Draycott Parish 1939 – 1945, and Cresswell – War Memories.
Barry has been not too well for a while, and we are all hoping he gets better soon. (STOP PRESS: sad to report that Barry has died since this article was written)
Incidentally, if you are someone interested in local history, you might be surprised that the website Draycott-en-le-Moors – An Online History is back on the internet, after being deleted. We on this village website begged and cajoled the so-called ‘Wayback Internet Archive’ organisation to restore it; and they now have done. (Sadly, without most of the photographs though).
Barry Phillips and Matthew Pointon are the two local men who constructed the original website, back in the 1990s.