It is rumoured that this same weekend in 1940 an air raid on the city was thwarted, writes CHRIS KOENIG

Why were Oxford and Oxfordshire bombed so little in the Second World War? Rumour had it that a squadron of Heinkel III bombers on their way to obliterate the Morris Radiators factory in Woodstock Road, Oxford, and probably the Cowley works, too, was on August 30, 1940, itself attacked and turned back over Surrey.

But despite the presence of such obvious targets, the ARP throughout the county was in much the same state as that reported in Benson. Namely, in "constant preparation against air attack, which mercifully never came".

Dr Malcolm Graham, Head of Oxfordshire Studies at Westgate Library, in his invaluable book Oxfordshire At War, remarks: "No further raids seem to have been launched against these important targets and the city's escape from 'Baedecker' raids has never been satisfactorily explained. . . "

Received wisdom among Oxfordshire people in the years following the war was that Hitler had in mind turning Blenheim Palace into the HQ of a Nazi Government in Britain. Mr Graham goes on: "More plausibly perhaps, Oxford was spared because it would have been a vital centre of communication in the event of an invasion."

In any case, early in the war Blenheim became home to boys evacuated from the public school Malvern College, Worcestershire whose buildings were occupied by the Admiralty from October 1939 until July 1940. They learned their lessons in staterooms still bedecked with tapestries - one of which, of course, commemorates the Battle of Blenheim, fought in 1704 in Bavaria, Germany.

After the school moved back to its own premises following the construction of air-raid shelters at the Admiralty, Blenheim, like Cornbury Park, Charlbury, was taken over by the War Office.

The county was early in 1939 designated a reception area for evacuees from London, most of whom were children or mothers with babies or toddlers. Already by the autumn of 1939 Oxfordshire County Council Education Department had 58 per cent more children on its books than it had had in July.

In addition to the 'official' evacuees billeted in Oxford and Oxfordshire homes, there were tens of thousands of unofficial evacuees: people who simply left London to stay, perhaps with relatives, in the comparative safety of Oxfordshire. Then the the population of Oxford itself was further swollen by staff from London hospitals and Government departments moving into colleges. London University medical students took over Keble, Wadham and St Peter's Hall. Balliol became host to the Royal Institute of International Affairs and St John's to the Director of Fish Supplies (causing Oxford to be dubbed the centre of the fishing industry).

The largely masculine atmosphere of the colleges was suddenly transformed by a feminine invasion of women clerks, Mr Graham remarks in his book.

As for Oxford University, it seems to be capable of withstanding temporary emergencies. It emerged more or less unscathed from the Civil War in the 17th century and it did much the same in the 20th century.

But for an account of the life of a wartime student, Philip Larkin's first novel, Jill, is the book to turn to. He wrote in the introduction to the Faber & Faber publication: "This was not the Oxford of Michael Fane and his fine bindings, or Charles Ryder and his plovers' eggs. Nevertheless, it had a distinctive quality." (Michael Fane was the hero of Sinister Street by Compton Mackenzie, and Charles Ryder, of course, was the hero of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisted.) As for the evacuees, there were of course good and bad host families. But spare a thought for the six year-old boy from Poplar in London's East End who was killed in bed when a dummy bomb fell from an RAF plane and crashed through the roof of a house in Stanway Road, Oxford.