The country is facing an existential threat to its way of life. The government needs to raise millions of pounds a week to spend to counter this threat. Sounds familiar? But this was back in 1941!

Throughout the Second World War the British people were encouraged to save money and invest it in the war effort. National Savings campaigns on service themes were organised each year and local newspapers were full of advertising for them and their associated publicity events.

This National Savings movement was a direct legacy from the 1914-18 war and its main aim was to appeal to the small saver. The purchase of National Savings Certificates was portrayed as more advantageous and sociable than stuffing the notes into the mattress. It became the War Savings Campaign when local committees were organised. Smaller units, such as street and works groups, increased enormously and by 1943 there were nearly 300,000.

It has been suggested that the efforts of these voluntary workers in the savings movements helped more than all the propaganda, BBC broadcasts, films, leaflets and posters. Special campaigns with great local activity were organised annually in the war years, starting with the Spitfire Fund in September 1940 (see Nostalgia September 18, 2020). This was followed by War Weapons Week, Warships Week, Wings for Victory, Salute the Soldier and Thanksgiving Week in subsequent years.

It has been suggested that all these campaigns did was switch existing funds rather than achieve ‘new’ savings, but it seems that they did discourage people from spending on personal items. They certainly did help to sustain civilian morale.

As we saw with the Wycombe Spitfire fund, when a new Spitfire was named Chepping Wycombe, the campaigns provided tangible evidence to the British public of their support for the British Forces.

It was announced in April 1941 that the campaign for that year would be for a War Weapons Week. Nationally fund-raising began immediately.

Plans for Local War Weapons Week

Locally the War Weapons Week (WWW) was held in May, with many places following High Wycombe’s lead for the campaign to commence on Empire Day, Saturday May 24. As the Bucks Free Press reported “Empire Day, May 24, will this year have special significance for High Wycombe and District, as on that day War Weapons Week will be launched”.

The Borough Council and Wycombe Rural District Council had agreed to work together on the campaign.. The week’s appeal would be for investment in Government war securities, and not for actual gifts in cash to the government, as had been the case for the Spitfire Fund.

A Wycombe WWW General Committee was established under the Chairmanship of the mayor, with sub-committees for: Publicity, with Mr R Rivett (the founder and managing director of the Murrays department store) as Chairman; War Bonds; Entertainment; and Schools.

There was much discussion about what the campaign’s target should be. An official of the National Savings Campaign suggested that Wycombe should “aim high, perhaps £500,000”. He pointed out that Slough “had set out to raise that amount, and it was estimated they would finish up with almost £1M.” The target for Wycombe was initially agreed to be £350,000 (throughout this article readers might like to remember that £1 today was equivalent to about £50 back in 1941, so the value of £350,000 today is about £17.5M).

Fund-Raising Begins

As soon as the dates for the Wycombe WWW were announced, plans and events to raise funds were put in place. It was agreed that an Indicator Board would be located in the Guildhall, showing the amount collected, with that figure to be changed each day at noon by a well-known person. A design for the board by a Mr Carew was accepted.

Events to raise funds began immediately, a full month before the launch. The “Dance of the Season” was announced for Saturday April 26. This was held at the Town Hall, High Wycombe, with dancing to the Oscar Rabin band, billed as “Britain’s most famous broadcasting band, and floor show”. About 500 people attended.

The fund-raising was not confined to adults. A meeting of representatives of all the local schools was convened by the borough secretary for education, Mr J W Moss (the BFP report of the meeting contains a list of the names of these representatives). It was agreed that there should be “Thrift Days” in all the schools, when money would be collected from the children prior to the actual Week.

The school-children also raised funds through events such as cricket and netball matches, dancing displays and concerts. A poster competition was also held, with prizes given by the Mayor, Cllr A C White, and Mayoress. The winning posters were displayed in the Town Hall during the Week.

Events During the War Weapons Week

The opening ceremony for the Week was held at 3.30pm on the Rye on Saturday May 24 and carried out by Mr Herbert Morrison, MP, the Minister for Home Security. The Town Clerk had also received a telegram from the Chancellor of the Exchequer Sir Kingsley Wood. At 2.00pm a grand parade consisting of members of HM Forces, including “motorised units”, and of the Home Guard and other Civil Defence Services, had assembled in Mill End Road and proceeded in procession through the town centre to the Rye.

A full programme of events followed every day for the next eight days. The ceremony by a different celebrity to update the Indicator Board in the Guildhall was held at 12.00 noon every day. On Tuesday May 27 the celebrity was Richard Murdoch, who is probably best remembered for his long-running radio show Much Binding in the Marsh, but that did not air until 1944. So in 1941 he was popular for his show with Arthur Askey called The Band Waggon, which began in 1938, in which his character was known as Stinker. The radio show had recently finished following Murdoch’s conscription as an officer in the Royal Air Force.

Two of the main attractions during the week were:

Sunday 3.00pm - 8.00pm, in the Town Hall, a concert by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Mr (later Sir) Malcolm Sargent.

Wednesday 2.00 - 9.00pm, the grounds of Wycombe Abbey School were opened to the public on the purchase of a 2s.6d savings stamp.

The amount shown on the Indicator Board increased by some £100,000 every day. By Thursday it had nearly reached the target of £350,000, so that was raised to £500,000.

A local farmer (un-named) offered to invest on behalf of the government £1,000 free of interest for the duration of the war, providing nine others did the same. Within two days another nine such offers had been made, adding £10,000 to the fund.

The highlight of the fund-raising activities on Market Day, Friday, was a Crazy Auction Sale. Over 80 articles had been donated for auction by trades-people and local residents. For each article the highest bidder received the item free, but donated the amount of the bid to the Fund. The total raised was just under £9,000.

On Saturday May 31 at a ceremony held outside the Council Offices it was announced that the total raised by Wycombe’s War Weapons Week was £728,000. This is equivalent to over £M35 today..

Information about the War Weapons Week in other local towns and villages will be included in next week’s Nostalgia pages.

Understandably, there are not many photographs of the events during the War Weapons Week in High Wycombe. If you have any prints, or indeed memories of any of the events, it would be appreciated if you would contact me on 01494 755070 or by email