- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Margaret Foden
- Location of story:
- Broadstone, Dorset
- Background to story:
- Civilian Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 28 February 2005
We lived in Broadstone, Dorset, just at the back of Poole Harbour. Since we were so close to the coast it was designated a military restricted area. Everyone who lived in the village had to be security checked and issued with a permit to live there as did visitors. They were so strict that they wouldn’t let in the Best Man for my sister’s wedding because he hadn’t a permit!
The army took over part of our home for the officers’ mess. When he heard that the army were coming to take over the house, my father said to the local handyman, “Harold, bring a good saw and some hinges. I want to cut a trapdoor in the lounge floor.” Everything valuable or important went down there in tin boxes. He even put aside a bottle of champagne for victory. Sadly for us, he died about the time of Tobruk, but he died knowing the tide had turned. We drank that champagne on VE Day.
All of us were involved with the Civil Defence. I helped out at the First Aid Post. Dad was ex-army and Head Warden. He was a very good shot and taught us all to shoot out on the heath. I was a good shot like him, my older sister less so. Her fiancé was a useless shot — a disappointment to Dad.
The incident I want to tell you about must have taken place before 1942, when my father died. I think perhaps it was Summer 1940?
It was summer I think and that night, we had an early warning that an invasion would take place. We heard the church bells ringing from Poole down to Weymouth. Father was in the bath when the alarm first sounded so he shouted his instructions from bathtub. My Aunt was staying with us at the time since she felt it was safer than Swanage where there had been 2 bombing raids. My sister and I had to go to the First Aid post accompanied by her fiancé. With the Colonel’s wife, we scrambled at the ambulance station where we prepared hot water bottles, stretchers and bandages.
We weren’t sure what the invasion would be like, but we had been told to look out for nuns with machine guns. The Home Guard mounted battalion were called to action — a man rode the lanes shouting “Home Guard to horse”. People came onto street with frying pans and pokers.
By then, we knew one another so well that we knew something was up but we heard nothing — no gunfire. At 5am we received a purple warning by phone to the ambulance station — this always preceded the ‘All clear’ by an hour so we knew we could probably stand down. We were still none the wiser over what might have happened, but for months, bodies of dead men were washed up on Sandbanks and Swanage.
We only found out what happened because we used to use the Drama Society Hall as a soldiers’ mess. It was an alternative to the NAAFI and very popular because soldiers could mix with locals there and enjoy civilian conversation. We used to run a little café there for the troops and eventually learned through the soldiers’ gossip that enemy flat-bottomed boats had been in UK territorial waters. The Royal Navy poured oil onto the water and set it alight and around 1000 men burned and died.
After the war, we had confirmation from a French friend who was a nurse on French coast. She told us that around the time of our alarm, there was an emergency and she treated many soldiers with dreadful burns.
[Mrs Foden told her story to a People's War Volunteer at the Age COncern Lunch Club at Longdon. She is aware of the site's terms and conditions.]
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