Can anybody help Marie find memories of her wartime hostel in Colnbrook?

Can anybody help Marie Rowell, who lived in Colnbrook during the war years, with memories of her ‘Colnbrook hostel’?

During the Second World War Slough experienced a series of air raids, most frequently in October 1940.

During the Second World War Slough experienced a series of air raids, most frequently in October 1940.

It’s been a little while since we had a request to help reaquaint someone with their memories of a bygone time in Colnbrook.  A Philip Taylor has been in touch and wants your help.  He wants to help his mother, 91-year old Marie, with memories of her time in Colnbrook. 

Marie Rowell, now Taylor, frequently talks about being in a hostel in Colnbrook, during World War II.  She worked as a welder from 1942, until she met and married Philip’s father, Robert, in 1946 and moved to Cleethorpes in Lincolnshire.

With tales of three years of partying, a movie star best friend, and a wartime romance, any mention of Colnbrook today causes Marie’s face to light up and Philip wants to help her remember her ‘Colnbrook hostel’.

I don’t know exactly what went on in Colnbrook but my mother said that she feels guilty as the war raged on; those in and around the hostel had the most fantastic time.  It seemed like there was no war going on in the area that she was involved and it seemed like party time for 3 years for her.

He says:

“I would love to locate the property and show my mum a picture of it as she talks about the great time she had living there”.

There was a wartime hostel in Colnbrook, a National Service Hostel that opened in May 1945 – one of 155 hostels across the country.  By the end of the war, the National Service Hostels Corporation was providing accommodation for 36,000 industrial workers, 17,500 miners and over 18,500 building workers.  Under the Government scheme workers slept in single bunk cubicles and there was a sick bay, dining room and welfare facilities. Charges ranged between 25-30 shillings a week and included 2 full meals plus a snack daily.

NBP-3887-lo

In Colnbrook, then with a population of just 1,500, so many Irish workers were stationed here that, according to one account, the hostel had its own mass.  Could this be the hostel that Marie refers to?

The ‘good times’ that Marie experienced may also provide a clue.  Maintaining morale for workers during the War was of paramount importance: clubs and recreation centres were opened, the Entertainments National Service Association extended its music and film shows to munitions workers and the BBC broadcast Music While You Work twice a day. 

Following a ministerial announcement in November 1954, the hostels programme was reduced, and progressively the remaining hostels were closed.

Amateur history website blog Edith’s Streets suggests that Crown Meadow was the location of the Colnbrook hostel and that this survived until the 1970s, but this is not attributed to any source.  Described as ” large hutted ‘hostel’”, the site claims it was still housing a large number of single working men when closure was announced in 1972.  Another site locates the Colnbrook hostel on the Old Bath Road.

Do you have any memory of such a hostel in the village, and can you help Philip and Marie out?  If so, please share your memories below or pass them to moderator@colnbrook.info and they will be passed on in confidence.

Guilty pleasures and good times: Marie Rowell’s Colnbrook years

Philip Taylor says:

Mary/Marie Rowell came down to Colnbrook from Sunderland in November /December 1942, her sister Dorothy Rowell had already moved down earlier as she was her older sister. Mary/Marie was 18 years old when she came down, she stayed at what she called ‘Colnbrook Hostel’ though it was not a hostel as we think of one today, my brother said it is still there but it is a block of housing with people still living in them today. 

She used to push-bike over the runway at Heathrow airport on her way to work, often she would wave to the pilots as they took off and flew above her head.

She does not remember any person in particular, other than a group of girls on VE day went to Buckingham Palace and was one of the people who saw all the Royals and Winston Churchill come out onto the balcony that day, which was all filmed.

She said she worked in Feltham, her memory is not so good now as she is 92 this November, but she says that she was a welder and she remembers working on some sort of housing, my guess is that this might have been towards the end of the war. 

New recruits on their way to a National Service Hostel in 1942

New recruits on their way to a National Service Hostel in 1942

She met a Robert Taylor from Cleethorpes who was also training to be a welder, when the war was over they both moved up to Cleethorpes and married there, and Mary/Marie had 5 boys.  Her sister Dorothy stayed and married and lived in Slough till her death some years ago; I never did get the chance to find out about Dorothy other than her living in Slough but she did have children and there is every chance they still live in the area.

Her real name is Mary Rowell but she preferred to be called Marie, but this might not have been the case when she was younger.

Her best friend was a movie star in the 1940’s called Christine Norden, however her real name was Mary Thornton, my mother called her Molly rather than Mary.  They were stood in a cinema queue in London in 1944  when someone spotted Molly and as she had striking good looks she was offered an audition and that changed her life, and sadly left my mum without her best friend.

… each time I mention Colnbrook her face lights up … so there was definitely something special about the place …

I don’t know exactly what went on in Colnbrook but my mother said that she feels guilty as the war raged on; those in and around the hostel had the most fantastic time.  It seemed like there was no war going on in the area that she was involved and it seemed like party time for 3 years for her.  

Maybe she was so young and away from home that she has this view as I am sure it was as tough there as any where else in the Country, but each time i mention Colnbrook her face lights up and she says all those people who were her friends should all be ashamed of themselves, so there was definitely something special about the place, though as her son i am not so sure i want to know.

If anyone could find a picture of the Hostel that would be fantastic as it is as mentioned still there.

Posted by | View Post | View Group
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rate this Article
Rating: 5.0/5 (2 votes cast)
Can anybody help Marie find memories of her wartime hostel in Colnbrook?, 5.0 out of 5 based on 2 ratings
Thanks for rating this! Now tell the world how you feel - .
How does this post make you feel?
  • Excited
  • Fascinated
  • Amused
  • Bored
  • Sad
  • Angry