Lest We Forget
It is a matter of profound regret to me (writes Mr Hubert Harrison of 2 Newburgh House, Highworth) that I never met earlier Mrs Mabel Stranks, who was introduced to me one day in 1971 in a local shop, as she was an interesting person with a distinguished record as a local sub-postmistress for more than 50 years, but even more for her secret role in the Resistance organization during the Hitler war. She invited me to visit her in her comfortable flat where she lived alone at the age of 88, having been a widow for many years. She kept the place spotless, managing without spectacles except for reading, had a nice garden largely tended by herself, was fully conversant with current affairs and had a lively intelligence. It was only an insignificant link in the Resistance, she explained, due to her skill as a Morse code telegraphist, acquired during her service in the Post Office since her girlhood, her father having been a sub-postmaster in Dorset. It was unusual for girls to follow any other occupation in those days except domestic service or perhaps a children's nurse or governess for those with some education. The local headquarters of the Resistance was at Coleshill House, though Mrs Stranks did not know this at the time. Her chief role was to pass on suitable agents who were instructed to report themselves at Highworth Post Office in High Street. Then Mrs Stranks telephoned a secret number (not in the directory); she had no idea where the place was situated. In due course a car was sent to collect the person, with blacked-out windows took the passenger by a roundabout route to Coleshill House, a stately mansion surrounded by high walls.
Here instructions in sabotage, the use of explosives and even silent killing were given, the mystery bangs in the night being explained to local people and even the police as being due to the Home Guard practising. Somehow the Germans got to know about Mrs Stranks as time passed and she explained that she was on the list to be shot forthwith when Hitler's army occupied Britain. After this interesting conversation Mrs Stranks invited me to call on her again when she would give me tea. Alas, I never did as, some two weeks afterwards (September 3rd, 1971), 1 learned that she had died in her sleep, having shown no signs of illness.
Mr Hubert Harrison was a retired journalist and a very good friend of my father.
Thirty years after Mrs Stranks death, a plaque in her memory was unveiled by her great-grandson Elliott Stranks above the entrance of the old post office in Highworth High Street. Also to her memory is a small private housing estate called Stranks Close, which is situated just off Shrivenham Road on the south side of the town.