Naphill Village Hall Christmas Tree Lights
The Naphill Village Hall Christmas tree is special. It is an Atlantic Cedar and was donated in 1936 by Dilly Knox, who was a true war hero, being one of the now-famous Bletchley Park codebreakers. He lived at Cournswood House off Clappins Lane, Walters Ash.
However, he was not just one of the codebreakers, he was the chief codebreaker for the early part of the Second World War. Dilly Knox made the first British break into an operational Enigma system, during the Spanish Civil War. At the outbreak of the Second World War he headed the Enigma research section at Bletchley Park. He broke the more complicated Enigma machine used by German intelligence. It has been estimated that the codebreakers of Bletchley Park shortened the Second World War by three years. The Germans never found out that we decoded virtually all of their important messages, which gave us an enormous advantage.
Dilly also made a most important contribution to our winning the First World War. Together with another codebreaker he deciphered the “Zimmerman telegram” sent by the German foreign minister to the German ambassador in Mexico, asking him to tell the Mexican government they could have several states of the USA if they came into the war on Germany’s side. Prime Minister Lloyd George went public with the decoded telegram, the Americans were furious and declared war on Germany.
Tragically, Dilly Knox died of cancer in February 1943, but his work was done. He is buried in the wood he planted near to his house. Whilst he was alive – and for a long time afterwards – his family did not know his profession nor of his outstanding contribution to the war effort in two world wars.
The tree he donated was planted during the special public holiday given in celebration of the Silver Jubilee of King George V in 1936. There was a great party at the Village Hall. The tree was planted jointly by Mrs Coningsby Disraeli and Phyllis Smith the Beauty Queen. Coningsby Disraeli was the nephew of the famous Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli who was born in Bradenham Manor and who bought Hughenden Manor where he was buried. Mr and Mrs Coningsby Disraeli donated land in Naphill on which the Village Hall (built in 1928) stands and also the Crick sports field.
About 20 years after the tree had been planted, the tree having grown vigorously, Don Ing decided to decorate it with lights for the Tennis Club dance on Christmas Eve. Don Ing owned Electric Installations in High Wycombe and was assisted in decorating the tree by his apprentice electrician, Alan Wingrove. The tree was then decorated every Christmas for a few years. Tragically Don Ing and his wife were killed in an air crash in Austria in 1964.
There followed a few years when there were no lights on the tree at Christmas. Ray Newell then entered on the scene and, together with his neighbour Alan Wingrove, restarted the tradition of decorating the tree with lights at Christmas. Alan Wingrove did the climbing and the electrical work; Ray Newell organised the team on the ground. When Alan Wingrove left the village in 1976 he persuaded me to take over the climbing job and “managing” the whole operation. Mike Leggett joined the team at about the same time as myself and took over as principal climber in 1991.
I would like to express my thanks to Pam Smith, our village historian, for some of the information given above. Pam Smith is related to Beauty Queen Phyllis Smith who planted the tree.