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Written By: Edward James Gilbert-Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

Date: February 28,2017


American Ambulance, Great Britain (AAGB) (sometimes referred to as the Anglo-American Ambulance Unit) was an humanitarian organisation founded in 1940 by a group of Americans living in London for the purpose of providing emergency vehicles and ambulance crews to the United Kingdom during World War II. The idea for the service came from Gilbert H. Carr during a meeting of the American Society shortly after the Dunkirk evacuation.

The idea was formulated by Mr Gilbert H,. Carr at an executive Committee meeting of the American Society in London in 1940. Just after the evacuation of Dunkirk the committee met to discuss the celebration of Independence Day but Mr Carr suggested instead that be dispensed with and it was decided by the committee to raise a fund for the purchase of ambulances for Britain. All American organizations in London were asked for their co-operation in raising the necessary funds and the appeal soon spread to the USA itself.

In June, 1940  the Field Service was asked to act as U.S. agent to solicit contributions for cars---ambulances, surgical cars, and mobile first-aid posts-for the American Ambulance, Great Britain (AA, GB), headed by Wallace B. Phillips. This had been organized in London earlier in the same month with the assistance of the British Ministry of Health. Joseph E. Kennedy, American Ambassador to Great Britain, had accepted the position of Honorary Chairman, and it was sponsored by prominent American organizations in Great Britain.

Funding came from private donations, both from Americans expatriates living in the United Kingdom and from the United States and the organisation was headed by Wallace B. Phillips  as Director- General. Joseph E. Kennedy, then United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom, was Honorary Chairman.  Gilbert H. Carr was the Treasurer and Mr C. Glidden Osborne was the Director of Operations. A few months later Mr Phillips resigned because of his return to the USA and Mr Carr became Director-General.

Within six weeks of being set up 140,000 pounds had been raised. By the end of 1940 the organisation had raised $856,000.

American Ambulance, Great Britain eventually operated a fleet of around 300 vehicles, comprised of ambulance, surgical units and firs-aid-posts. Many of these vehicles in use later on bore the scars of their use during the blitz of 1940-1941. During the course of the war, three members of the organisation were killed on active service. Two in London during the Blitz of 1940-1941 and one in Exeter.

The American Ambulance, Great Britain, operated from 17 stations across mainland Britain with five located in London and one each in Cardiff, Cambridge, Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Reading and most notably in Tunbridge Wells.

A film without sound can be found on the internet by British Pathe entitled “American Gift to Britain’ dated 1940 which shows the presentation of ambulances to Britain by Mr Wallace B. Phillips on behalf of the Ambulance for Britain Fund with the gift being received by Malcom MacDonad MP who gave a speech. Joseph P. Kennedy, the American Ambassador is shown in the background.

A number of interesting images pertaining to Betty Bacon, who was one of the drivers in Leeds, from a recently discovered archive of material, are presented in this article, including the one above showing a group of them in Leeds. Shown below it is a photo dated 1944 showing casualties being carried by Civil Defence stretcher-bearers past an Austin K2/Y ambulance of the American Ambulance Great Britain following an devastating V1 attack in the Highland Road and Lundam Road area of Upper Norwood.


The ambulance staff were British women aged between 18 and 45 and numbered around 400, some of whom were seconded from the Mechanised Transport Corps (for Women) and the Women's Transport Services (FANY). Members of the AAGB wore the tunic and skirt uniform as worn by those in the FANY but with crossed British and American flags on the sleeve.

Members had the ranks of Lance Corporal; Corporal; Sergeant; Ensign; Lieutenant; Captain and Commander, much like those in other parts of the military service.

Decorations were given to Senior Commander K.M. Farrar M.B.E. and Commander M.I. Watkins M.B.E (In the June 1944 Birthday Honours).


There was no issued of uniforms but there was a standard uniform which the members were required to purchase.

The AAGB uniform was very similar to that of the First Aid Nursing  Yeomanry (FANY). It consisted of a hat, blouse and skirt. The AAGB Blouse had a pair of collar dogs 30mm in diameter and secured with two lugs and a split pin. The buttons on the blouse consisted of the crossed flags logo. There was also a Cloth badge that was worn on each sleeve. The cap badge was the same as the collar dog however it was 36mm in diameter with folded metal fixings instead of lugs.The belts used were mostly modified Sam Browne’s. Driver Bacon of Leeds wore her father’s first world was belt during her service with the AAGB.


In the earlier days the training was carried out at a training school in Leeds, where the drivers had to pass a very severe test before qualifying. Their period of training lasted 2-3 weeks.


The American Ambulance, Great Britain, operated from 17 stations---five in London and one each in Birmingham, Tunbridge Wells, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Bristol, Cambridge, Nottingham, Reading, Cardiff, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. By the time the Manhattan had reached New York with the 28 AFS volunteers returning from France, 46 cars were in service in England, including 10 ambulances that had been on the way to France and had been diverted.

The work of the women drivers was varied, performed under all conditions of weather and hazard, and often heroic. A few quotations from their occasional reports to the donors of their cars will show their extraordinary spirit. As noted from the Betty Bacon archive and Id card was issued to each driver. Shown below  right is her id card.


During the course of the war, the gray vehicles with their red stripe and their emblem combining the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes became known throughout England, Wales, and Scotland. Shown above left is a first aid kit carried in the vehicles. It’s a very basic one containing bandages and slings and related items and was supplied to them by St John Ambulance.

Mr. Phillips was succeeded as Director General of the American Ambulance, Great Britain, by Charles Glidden Osborne, who was later followed by Gilbert H. Carr. The units worked with the Emergency Hospital Service and later with the Blood Transfusion Service, as well as coping with the results of local air raids and the flying bombs. Several sections were reviewed by His Majesty the King and members of the Royal Family, as well as by various noble personages. Its early average of 50,000 miles a week was later raised to 77,000 miles a week. On 23 June 1944, at the end of its fourth year of service, the Right Honourable H. U. Willink, the Minister of Health, estimated that the American Ambulance, Great Britain, had carried 550,000 hospital patients, had made nearly 200,000 journeys, and had covered a total mileage of "no less than 10,500,000 miles."


All the AAGB's vehicles were painted grey with a red strip and an emblem featuring the British and American flags. Depending on the purpose several types of vehicle were operated by the AAGB.

The three most predominant makes of vehicle used was the Austin K2/Y produced in England and Fords and Chevrolets from the USA. The Austin ambulances had been funded/bought by American companies and donated to the effort. Not many Austins saw use and were outnumbered by other makes.

The first cars were sent July 3.1940 , and ultimately 149 of the total of 260 vehicles in this special civilian relief service were donated by the AFS.

Most of the American made vehicles were sent completed but some were just sent as chassis and were given bodies in England. The first completed cars were on active service by mid-July 1940 , driven by English women of the Mechanized Transport Corps (for Women) and the Women's Transport Services (Fanys).

Ambulances attended bombing incidents and transferred casualties to local hospitals and first aid posts. The vehicles were also used to transfer patients (often over great distance) requiring specialist treatment.

Various types of vehicle were contributed to serve different purposes. The ambulances served as clearing vehicles, carrying patients from hospitals in the large cities to ones in less dangerous areas, as well as moving air-raid casualties. They also carried children and the sick and infirm, and they made special journeys, sometimes of great length, to transport patients needing specialized treatment. The mobile first-aid units were small trucks on half-ton chassis, designed by the Ford Motor Company in England especially to be able to travel over rough ground and on streets encumbered with the debris of air raids. They carried equipment capable of treating up to 500 casualties on the spot and were always accompanied by a personnel wagon with an operating crew of 7, including doctors, nurses, and stretcher-bearers. The surgical units were limousines of high horsepower and were used by officials of the Ministry of Health or by the head surgeon of the local hospital. These too went to air raids, as well as carrying the officials and transferring sitting patients.

The AAGB's mobile first-aid post Ford Motor Company trucks were specially adapted to navigate along roads strewn with rubble and debris following an air raid. These units were able to treat several hundred casualties. These mobile units were accompanied by a truck carrying doctors, nurses and stretcher-bearers.

The AAGB also ran dedicated surgical trucks which were detailed to a local hospital. They attended at air raid incidents and were used to transfer patients to hospital.

The cost of maintaining the vehicles was met via subscriptions managed through the British War Relief Society of America.


Maintaining this magnificent fleet of vehicles was born by American subscriptions handled by the British War Relief Society of America. The vehicles were fitted with the newest appliances available at the time.

For a while the AFS also supplied maintenance, but later this was taken care of entirely by the British War Relief Society. The cost of maintenance worked out as 2,150 pounds per week.

Shown above is a 1940 photo of the Mechanized Transport Corp at work maintaining one of the ambulances.


On October 24,1945  members of the AAGB gathered at Buckingham palace for their stand down parade. They were inspected by various dignitaries including HM Queen Elizabeth (Queen Mother).A photo taken at the event shows the ladies under inspection. A cutting from the evening standard reads:

“THE QUEEN REVIEWS 200 GIRL DRIVERS…….Two hundred girl drivers of the American Ambulance were being reviewed to-day by the Queen at a stand-down parade at Buckingham Palace. The service will be disbanded on November 3. Among the drivers – representing units from all parts of England and Wales – are girls with whom the Queen talked during her tours of the bombed cities with the King. The service was formed in 1940 with funds raised among Americans living in Britain. Latter it was supported by the British War Relief Society of America at a cost of more than £2000 a week. Its fleet of 300 ambulances have covered a total of 17 million miles."


In this section I present a series of photographs of the AAGB taken in Tunbridge Wells between 1941 and 1945 which were part of a larger series of photographs of Tunbridge Wells from the War & Peace website.  The other main source of information is from other articles I have written about events during WW II and also from Ann Bates book ‘Tunbridge Wells During the Second World War.

Shown from top to bottom left to right are the following photographs.

  1. ‘American Ambulance 19’- Photo dated circa 1941
  2. ‘American Ambulance 20’-Photo dated 1941
  3. ‘ American Ambulance 21’- Ambulance drivers at junction of Queens Road and Amhurst Rd Tunbridge Wells c1945
  4. ‘ American Ambulance 22’-Same location as image #3
  5. ‘American Ambulance 23’- Parade of ambulances with drivers c1941
  6. ‘American Ambulance 24’- Chevrolet ambulances c1941
  7. ‘American Ambulance 25’- Ambulances etc c1941


Apart from photo 3 and 4 the location at which the photos were taken were not described.


It was noted from the RAF Diaries of WW II  the following entry for Tunbridge Wells dated September 12,1940. “ At 1725 hrs, 12 HE bombs and a large number of incendiary bombs, demolished a warehouse, a private house and the casualty reception Depot of a hospital (Kent & Sussex Hospital) and damage was also done to the local Headquarters of the American Ambulance Great Britain and a major fire and many smaller fires were started but have now been extinguished”. Shown opposite is a photograph with text about this bombing but unfortunately no photo was found of the AAGB damage at their headquarters. Shown below are two other photos, one showing the damage to the hospital and the other a AAGB ambulance at the scene.

In the next section you will read about a driver with the AAGB who along with other drivers was staying at a hostel for the AAGB at Dingley Dell Cottage on Langton Road and who shot herself In September 1942 but survived. This hostel was only one of several that had been established to house the drivers.

Dingley Dell itself is an interesting building which first appeared on a map of 1867 and was known as ‘Peerless Corner’. It was built at 1 Rusthall Road right on the north east corner of Langton Road and Rustall Road and along its Langton Road and Rusthall property boundaries was constructed a substantial sandstone wall, about half of which fronting on Rusthall Road still exists today. The home itself was enlarged in 1936 and since that time has undergone significant internal and external Alterations.

From the files of the Planning Authority it was noted that applications to demolish the house date back to 1989 but despite repeated applications in the following years it was not until April 2008 that approval was granted to demolish the house and replace it with one of modern design.

Dingley Dell was described in a number of Planning reports as being in the ‘Tudor Revival Style’ or in the ‘Domestic Revival Style’ or ‘Cottage-Ornee’. Its most distinctive features being its unusual styled chimney stacks of ornate brickwork and timber gable work and had “rustic charm and character”. Shown below is a photo of Dingley Dell.

A number of references to ambulance services in Tunbridge Wells were found in Ann Bates book ‘Tunbridge Wells In The Second World Warf’ published 2009 by the Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society. This book can be purchased online from the Civic Society. From this book is the following information.

Women were recruited in the war on a voluntary basis and hundreds of women from Tunbridge Wells responded to the call for volunteers, some of them becoming drivers for the AAGB. By  the end of 1940 some 57,000 women had volunteered for all branches of service, a number which grew to 116,000 by the end of 1941 and over half a million by 1944.

In terms of bombing damage Tunbridge Wells got off remarkably lightly with little loss of life or damage. Some 846 bombs fell on it, mostly in the summer and autumn of 1940 was well as 6 V1 flying bombs in 1944-5; but only 13 men and 2 women were killed and 31 seriously injured and 36 slightly injured; and 13 houses were destroyed, and 113 severely damaged, with a further 5,488 slightly damaged (mostly broken windows). The town was certainly well prepared for whatever came its way with plenty of ambulances, drivers and medical staff etc at the ready. On the internet one can see several photographs of bombing damage in Southborough and some in Pembury.

No. 81 London Road became the Civil Defence HQ of the Womens Volunteer Service (WVS) who largely provided meals and hot drinks to those affected by bombing and had a furniture and clothing distribution centre at 22 Church Road.

First Aid Posts were established at the Kent & Sussex Hospital and St Mark’s Parish Hall and two mobile First Aid Posts were based at The Homeopathic Hospital in Church Road. The ambulances of the AAGB transported anyone requiring hospital treatment to these facilities.

The KCC had made arrangements of aged, inform and chronically sick members of the population and some 1,000 persons were transported for a short period to the Pembury Hospital by motor coach and ambulances.        

During the war ambulances were stationed at the Assembly Hall, the Corporation yard on Quarry Road and the one in Rusthall and at Fonthill on the common (now called the Forum). First Aid Points were set up at Bretlands in Rusthall; 21 Molyneux Park and 74 Warwick Road. First Aid Parties were established at the Corporation yard in both Quarry Road and Rusthall.


An American born married women by the name of Juanita Pagella  first came to my attention as a former driver from Tunbridge Wells by an announcement in the Kent & Sussex Courier dated September 25,1942 when a most interesting account was given regarding her shooting under the heading “Ambulance Driver Found Shot” and stated in part that Juanita Pagella, and American Ambulance driver was found shot at Digley Dell Cottage on Langton Road by a friend staying at the same place who hear Juanita call out for help. Her friend had heard a shot and then a cry for help from Juanita and when she arrived in the young woman’s room found her fully clothed laying on the bed with a gunshot wound to the stomach and a revolver beside her bed. Juanita asked that an ambulance be  sent for and that she be taken to the hospital. She had been shot on September 21,1942, and given as an American woman aged 29. She was reported to have returned to the hostel “about midnight and soon after the shot was heard”, although one account says she was shot early on the morning of Sept. 21.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle of Brooklyn, New York of September 21,1942 fleshed out the story by adding that she was “a pretty 29 year old American and wife of a British Army officer and that friends of her said she had shot herself”.

The Logan Daily News of Logan, Ohio, USA in their article of February 21,1941 gave some background information about Juanita and the photograph shown opposite. They stated “Juanita  is one of two
American women with the American Ambulance Corps in Great Britain. She is the former Juanita Bruton of Palo Alto,California. The Corps is a volunteer outfit supported by funds received in the USA”.

The Pittsburgh Press  of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania dated September 21,1942 stated in their article that “Authorites at Tunbridge Wells said Mrs Pagella refused to give any information about the shooting. She joined the American Ambulance Corp two years ago”.

Dingley Dell was described as being an ambulance driving hostel for the women of the AAGB. She was treated at the hospital but refused to give Authorities any explanation as to how the incident occurred but it was ruled accidental. What a young woman would be doing with a revolver in her room is a bit of a mystery until you look into her personal live and discover  it may have had a lot to do with problems with her marriage.

This tragic event was reported on widely in the newspapers of England, Scotland, Ireland and the USA .Although reported as being in a critical condition she recovered and lived to a ripe old age. It should be noted that most of the newspaper accounts misspelled her surname, as Payella or Pyella when in fact her real name was Pagella.

Juanita Pagella had begun life as Juanita Bruton. She had been born July 26,1912 at Guntown, Lee County, Mississippi. She was one of two children born to Bonnie C. Bruton who had been born in Mississippi in 1890 and Mary Shirley Bruton, nee Banyon, who was born 1893 in South Caroline. Her only sibling was Ray S. Bruton born 1917 in Mississippi.

She had been a student at the Santa Monica High School in Santa Monica California. A group photo from this school shows Juanita and names her in a list that followed the photograph in the schools year book.        

The 1920 US census, taken at Tupelo, Lee, Mississippi gave Bonnie C. Bruton as a clerk in the post office. With him was his wife Mary and their children Juanita and Ray.

The 1930 census, taken at Camfield Avenue, Los Angeles, California gave Bonnie C. Bruton as the assistant post master. With him was his wife Mary and their children Juanita and Ray.

The 1931 directory gave Juanita Bruton at Culver, Los Angeles and those of 1934 to 1937 gave her at Palp Alto, California.

Passenger lists show two trips she made. The first was for a departure on September 3,1938  from London to Marseilles, France on the ship FUSHIMI MARU and that she was a teacher of 8 Scardale Villas in Kensington, London. She was given as a USA citizen and that she intended to return to America. The second trip has her departing from New York and arriving at Southampton July 10,1939 on the QUEEN MARY of the Cunard White Star Line. She was given as a teacher and gave her proposed address as “Amer. Express London”.

In the 3rd qtr of 1939 she married Maurice Rene Pagella at Wandsworth, Surrey, for whom I give more information later.

As the earlier newspaper reports about her shooting confirm she joined the AAGB in 1940 and lived for a time with her husband in London. Her husband died during the war in 1945. After his death she later returned to the USA and remarried. He second marriage was to Kenneth I Tredwell Junior who had reached the rank of Major in the US Air Force.

The Find a Grave Website from which a view of her headstone and cemetery (see below) was obtained recorded the death of Juanita Bruton Tredwell on August 3,2007 at North Carolina. She was given as the daughter of Bonnie C. Bruton (1889-1944) and Mary Shirley Brton Branyon (1891-1970) and the granddaughter of J.E. Bruton whos grave information is shown on the same website. Her spouce was given as Kenneth I. Tredwell (1919-1983) and that her brother (the only sibling) was Ray Shirley Bruton (1917-2005). Juanita and her husband were buried at the San Francisco National Cemetery in San Francisco County, California (Ref. Section I Site C-263).

Maurice Rene Pagella had been born in the 4th qtr of 1907 at Southampton, Hampshire, the son of Francesco Pagella and Josephine Eugenie Emelia Pagella.

The 1911 census, taken at 5,6 and 7 St Lawrence Road at the Providence Hotel, Southampton (photo opposite) gave Francesco as “Francis” born 1866 at Mambercelli, Italy and working as the manager of this hotel. With him was his wife Josephine who was the hotel manageress and born 1866 at Southampton. Also there was their son Maurice and eight servants.

Electoral records of 1931-1939 gave Maurice in London. A listing for 1945 gave him at 98 St Martins Lane in the Covent Garden Ward in Westminster. He also appears at 100-104 Long Acre in Covent Garden with a Clovic E. Pagella.

Military records for the period of 1941 to 1945 provide some information about Maurice’s service with the Royal Marines. In 1941 he held the rank of Temporary Lieutenant with the Royal Marines Forces. A Navy List gave “Maurice Rene Pagella Act. Temp. Major October 25,1943”. Maurice is given in a 1945 record as having formerly been on the HMS Nile and that he had died September 19,1945.        

The HMS Nile was laid down September 11,1913 and launched September 21,1914. The ship was completed November 1915. It had served in many conflicts including the Battle of Jutland May 1916. The Nile was sunk June 17,1943.

Probate records tell an interesting story for no mention is made of his wife Juanita. It states that Maurice Rene Pagella O.B.E. of 22 Nonsuch Court Avenue, Ewell, Surrey, died September 19,1945 at Lodi Northern Italy and that the executors of his 7,614 pound estate was his mother. One has to wonder if Maurice and Juanita got divorced sometime after 1942 and it is speculated that there was some marital discord which might have been behind Juanita shooting herself in 1942.        

A newspaper report on his death stated that he died on the date given above as the result of a motor accident near Lodi Northern Italy and gave him as Major Maurice Rene Pagella O.B.E. with the Royal Marines, aged 37 the youngest son of Mr and Mrs F. Pagella of 21 Nonsuch Court Avenue, Ewell, East Surrey.

From the Find a Grave website he was given as Major Maurice Rene Pagella born 1907 Southampton who died September 19,1945 at Lodi, Lombardia, Italy and that he was buried in the Milan War Cemetery in plot J.C.12 and that he was with the Royal Marines.  The CWG website gave him of the HMS Nile and listed his parents and that he had the rank of Major.

The announcement of his OBE appeared in the London Gazette June 15,1945 and gave “ Major Maurice Rene Pagella –Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire-for courage, skill and inspiring leadership in special operations following the Italian Armistice”.



Written By: Edward James Gilbert-Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

Date: July 1,2018


The use of camouflage and deception became important aspects of war as a means of hiding military assets and confusing the enemy. The use of camouflage exploded with the introduction of aerial photography during WW 1  as a means of hiding from enemy view military camps, guns, equipment, ships etc. It expanded during WWII with camouflage uniforms and specific training in the use of camouflage. This  training was provided at various Camouflage Schools in Britain, one of which, under the South Eastern Command, was established in the 1940’s in the Borough of Tunbridge Wells. Although the exact location of this school was not established by the researcher, a recent ebay offering of photographs taken at the school provide an interesting insight into the facilities and training conducted there. These images, which are presented in this article came from an album that once belonged to Capt. James Harcourt Coatts (1909-1997) who was with the Pioneer Corp and served as an instructor at the Tunbridge Wells School during part of WWII.

In addition to information about camouflage and deception and images of the Tunbridge Wells Camouflage School, information is also presented in this article about Capt. Coatts.


The first successful flight in an airplane happened in 1903. Just over ten years later, when WW1 broke out, it was clear that the use of aircraft would require changes in the way wars were fought, For the first time, troops and their movements could be surveilled from the air and thus it became necessary to find ways to hide what they were doing behind the front line.

Camouflage-a French word- was a new idea for many in the British establishment. To demonstrate the importance of camouflage in the war and to develop the necessary new techniques for concealment and disguise, a Camouflage School was founded in Kensington Gardens in March 1916.

Those working at the Camouflage School came up with many different ideas for disguising, concealing and misleading the enemy. When WWII broke out many artists and others skilled in the art of camouflage and deception played an active role in refining these techniques. In addition to uniforms in a camouflage pattern extensive training was carried out at these schools to made military personnel less conspicuous. Apart from personal camouflage ,measures were taken to not only hide military assets from view but also to deceive the enemy through the installation of dummy tanks, buildings etc on the home front and on the battlefield, intended to confuse the enemy and make him think that the allies military might was greater than it was or located in places that it wasn’t. Camouflage schools employed artists, set-painters, theatre designers, sculptors, photographers, and craftsmen to develop techniques for disguse. With their experience of creating lifelike images on flat surfaces, painters had the skills to mimic tanks on canvas, while set designers, who were used to making props.        

Among the many Camouflage Schools established in Britain during WWII was one called The Tunbridge Wells Camouflage School.  Efforts by the researcher to establish where exactly this school was located were unsuccessful but obviously it was located in a rural part of the Borough of Tunbridge Wells. Shown above is an aerial view of what was described as the location of this school from a recent sale of photographs of the school from an album of Capt. James Harcourt Coatts (1909-1997) who was with the Pioneer Corp and served as an instructor at the Tunbridge Wells School during part of WWII.

Many books have been written about the wars and the importance of camouflage and deception such as ‘Deceivers Ever; Memoirs of a Camouflage Officer’ by Steven Sykes, published by Spellmount, Tunbridge Wells 1990.  In 1941 Sir Roland Algernon Penrose (1900-1984) wrote the ‘Home Guard Manuel of Camouflage’ which provided accurate guidance on the use of texture, not only colour, especially for protection from aerial photography.


In 2018 a series of photographs entitled The Tunbridge Wells Camouflage School were advertised for sale on ebay. These photographs were offered for sale from a photo album once owned by Captain James Harcourt Coatts (1909-1997) who for a time during WWII served with the Pioneer Corp and worked as an instructor at the S.E. Command Camouflage School in Tunbridge Wells. As you will read in the next section, devoted to Captain Coatts he commenced service in 1939  as a Gunner specializing in camouflage and aerial photography and after his service with the camouflage school he served at the Northern Command Camouflage Factory followed by service elsewhere until 1945.

The Coatts photographs, apart from the aerial photograph given in the ‘Introduction’ above show interior views of the school and various exterior views of buildings and men. In some images the men are well camouflaged and therefore difficult to see, which is exactly why they received this training.

Shown below is a selection of the images in the album;
1) First Row .....artillery targets (left); dummy training buildings (right)
2) Second row.......Camouflaged men (left) ; School barracks (right)
3) Third row..........Workshop interior (left); Mock up buildings (right)




The birth of James Harcourt Coatts was registered in the 3rd qtr of 1909 at Croydon, Surrey and had been born at Croydon June 10,1909. He was the son of William Bentley Coatts who was born 1884 in Catford, Kent. James mother was Marguerite Harcourt Coatts, nee Burrage, born February 2,1885 in Slipstead,Surrey.

The 1911 census, taken at Clevedon House, Cleveland Terrace, Darlington, Durham gave William Bentley Coatts as an ‘insurance official agent”. Living with him was his wife Marguerite, who he had married in 1907, and his son James. The family were living in premises of 7 rooms and the census recorded that by 1911 James was their only child.

In 1930 James was living at 46 Reigate Hill in Reigate,Surrey with his mother. A record from 1939 gave his mother’s marital status as “divorced”, which divorce must have taken place before 1930.

In the 1st qtr of 1938 James married Cynthia Rosalind Hayes (1916-2013) at Croydon, Surrey and with her had two children. Cynthia had been born January 8,1916.

A directory of 1939 listed Marguerite Harcourt Coatts at Four Winds, Lydd, Kent, living on private means, divorced. With her was her son James Harcourt Coatts with the occupation of “ artist camouflage” and his wife Cynthia R. Coatts with the occupation of “ domestic duties unpaid”.

A letter written by James Harcourt Coatts dated 6th November 1956 to the Under Secretary of State, The War Office, London clarified his military service and read “ Sir; Resumption of Commission. A/Capt. J.H. Coatts (321892) R.P.C. Release Certificate AC1 (Officers D) 18th Jan. 46. I wish to offer my services for the duration of the present emergency. I am of independent means and with no Defence or Civil commitments. Commencintg 39/45 War Service as a Gunner specializing in camouflage and aerial photography, I served as instructor at S.E. Command Camouflage School, Tunbridge Wells, Northern Command Camouflage Factory, Pioneer O.C.T.M. Beckenham, African Pioneer Corps in Italy, and finally the 56 Field Co. R.E. from which unit I was released in December 1945. Apart from camouflage and deception I have a working knowledge of Italian, can control native labour and have sound experience of M.T. If there is any way in which I can be useful perhaps you will grant me an interview. I have the honour to be, Sir, Your obedient servant, J.H. Coatts”.

The London Gazette of August 8,1944 listed “ James Harcourt Coatts (321892) Pioneer Corp” and a UK British Army List for 1944 gave “ J.H. Coatts, 2nd Lieut. Pioneer Corps”. The Royal Pioneer Corps was a British Army combatant corps used for light engineering tasks. It was formed in 1939. The Pioneer units performed a wide variety of tasks in all theatres of war, details of which can be read on such websites as Wikipedia. An image of a Pioneer Corps badge is shown opposite.        

In the 4th qtr of 1945 James was living on his own at Woodbine, Woodlands Road in Reigate, Surrey. A family tree records that James was married four times. Firstly to Cynthia Rosalind Hayes at Croydon in 1938; then to Jean M. Baldock at Folkestone, Kent in the 2nd qtr of 1955; then to  Inge A.M. Brunn in the 2nd qtr of 1963 in Folkestone, Kent and finally to Beryl Campbell in the 2nd qtr of 1989 at Shepway, Kent. From 1967 to 1982 James was living at Greatstone,New Romney.

Beryl Campbell was born February 22,1936 in Folkestone and was the daughter of Henry Ray and Lilian Anne (Lingham) Maddieson. She received a bachelor of honors at the University Kent, Canterbury in 1982. She became a recreational facility exexutive; a certified private secretary 1978-1979; Borough councillor Lydd (Kent) Borough Council, 1966-1974, Parish Councillor, Lydd Town Council, 1974-1985; deputy mayor 1975-1976 a, 1978-1979, honorary historian since 1982 and a member of the Romney Marsh Research Trust since 1987. She had been Manager of a holiday park in Sussex from 1958-1959; secretary in the Foreign Office in London 1959-1961; a company director of a private holiday company in Kent 1963-1979 and a company director of New Romney Caravan Sites Ltd. Kent since 1989.

On June 13,1953 the company New Romney Caravan Sites Limited (00520605) was incorporated with an address of The Fens, 54 High Street, Lydd Romney Marsh, Kent. James Harcourt Coatts, given as born 1909, was listed as a caravan site operator and director of the company who was appointed before June 10,1991 and resigned November 30,1994.  James died in the 1st qtr of 1997 at Ashford,Kent.

Jame’s mother Marguerite Harcourt Coatts was an author of more than a dozen girls school stories and fifteen children’s thrillers from the 1930’s to 1950’s. Her books were written under the name of Rita Coatts. One example of her books is shown opposite. In 1945 she was living in Reigate,Surrey. From 1953 to 1955 she was living at Four Winds, Greatstonem New Romney. She died in the 2nd qtr of 1955 at Gosport, Hampshire.        



Written By: Edward James Gilbert-Thunder Bay,Ontario, Canada

Date: October 5,2018

The war memorial at Langton Green, Kent, was installed in 1920 in memory of those from the community who were killed in WW 1. The main feature of the memorial is its tall Gothic style cross. The memorial was constructed of sandstone and upon it in stone are the names of the fallen from WW1.

A brass plaque was later added to record those lost during WW2.  Shown above is a postcard view of  the War Memorial by Tunbridge Wells photographer and postcard printer/publisher Harold H. Camburn who photographed most of the war memorials throughout Kent and Sussex, and a few further afield, after WW1. Shown opposite and below are two modern views of the base of the memorial showing the names of the fifteen men who fell in WW 1 and the five men from WW II.

The memorial is described thus; “Tall and slightly tapering octagonal shaft with moulded cap with cross sitting on top. Its own shaft has small gabled buttresses and cross itself a kind of fleuree design. Main shaft in a chamfered socket stone on a tall pedestal with moulded top. Its corners are chamfered. Wider chamfers at top enriched with shields carved with Sacred Emblems and it tapers below through a stop to a narrower chamfer. The plaque on the south side praises the dead of the First World War and plaques on the other sides record their names. Pedestal on an octagonal 4-step plinth on a paved base. A brass plaque on the top step has been set in to commemorate the local dead of the Second World War.”

The War Memorial was constructed in front of All Saints Church. A modern view of the memorial is shown below right. Inside the church are framed memorials to the fallen. Shown below left is an interior view of the church by Harold H. Camburn.


In the Langton Green Village Hall on Winstone Scott Avenue is the handmade coloured roll of honour on which are the names of all those from the area who served during the war. Those who fell in the war are identified by a cross beside their name.

Memorial services at the War Memorial are held each year. The cost of building the War Memorial was paid for by donations.




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