Large swathes of southern England would have started to look like one massive army camp in the months leading up to the D-Day invasions in June, 1944. But you wouldn't have guessed it by reading the local paper.

WW2 bonds
Raising war binds during the Second World War (Farnham Herald)

Six million people took part in the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe on June 6, 2024, with the majority billeted across the southern counties. But while the Herald did feature a weekly update on the war front, it skillfully gave away precious little detail in fear of unwelcome observers feeding back their reports across the Channel.

In the build up to the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings next month, Peeps into the Past will feature a weekly snapshot of the Herald's reporting in 1944 - telling the story of life on the home front during that remarkable period in history.

Below are reports from the May 13, 1944, edition of the combined Herald for Farnham, Haslemere and Hindhead, and the Alton Mail.

“The Russians have won a tremendous victory over the enemy by their capture of Sevastpol, the last stronghold left in German and Romanian hands in the Crimea,” recorded the Herald’s war commentator.

The strategic importance of Sevastopol, the largest city in Crimea, has again come to the fore in the Russian-Ukraine conflict, and this was evident in 1944 too, with the Herald remarking on its worth to the Nazis as a “valuable port on the Black Sea” as well as symbolically.

It continued: “The Germans are not yet beaten, but those of them who really know the facts must be feeling pretty bad about them.

“The Russians have badly beaten them; their U-boat war, on which they had largely counted to bring them victory, is proving a failure; their war factories, railways and military installations are being mercilessly and effectively bombed; tremendous armies are waiting to attack them on their western side; and finally - and most important - their hopes of victory have disappeared.”

It added cautiously “we cannot slacken in our efforts” remarking with ominous foresight that “a wounded wild beast fights hard and is dangerous when driven back into its lair”.

“Our soldiers, sailors and airmen may be relied upon to do their part; let us at home, amid our comparitive safety and comfort, continue to back them up by every means in our power.”

Not all soldiers could be relied upon, however, as another report ‘Soldiers steal glasses from Royal Deer’ revealed, with a John Ernest Hale and Mark Doyle fined £1 and ordered to pay 6s 6d costs each after stealing four one-pint glasses, “together value 5s”, from the Royal Deer pub.

Court action was commonly brought against civilians too for the crime of leaving a light on during the blackout hours, and the edition of May 13 reported that Sophia Drake, of Northside in Weydon Hill Road, Farnham, was fined 20s for displaying a light from her children’s play room during the hours of darkness.

There was happy news too though, even in wartime.

“The marriage took place on Monday, April 24 at St Mary's Church, Woodstock, Oxfordshire, of Mr Geoffrey Edward John Scofield, of the RAF, and Miss Annie Patricia 'Nan' Beckett,” reported the Herald.

The bridegroom, an Old Farnhamian, was the only child of Mr and Mrs Edward Scofield, “late of Pax Hill, Bentley, and now care of Lady Baden-Powell at Hampton Court Palace”. The bride was herself serving in the National Fire Service at Blenheim Palace.

And there was time for light entertainment too.

The Regal Cinema and Cafe in Farnham advertised a technicolour screening of Sweet Rosy O'Grady starring Betty Grable and Robert Young on Monday, May 15, followed by Now Voyager starring Bette Davis, Paul Henreid and Claude Rains on Thursday, May 18.

And the Castle Theatre Club promoted its performance of A Cup of Kindness by Ben Travers from May 16 to 20, with tickets costing 2/ and 2/6.