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15 October 2014
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Evacuees, Pullthroughs and Flax - and the Navy

by Bridport Museum

Contributed by 
Bridport Museum
People in story: 
Mick Norman
Location of story: 
Bridport, Dorset
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
24 April 2005

Interviewee : Mr Mick Norman Date of Birth 1926

I left Bridport when I was sixteen, so wasn’t there when the Yanks were there. I’ve got happy memories of wartime Bridport. I suppose I was fortunate I came from a family that were very pro-British, completely. I remember the school map, and the world, red everywhere! The first thing you had to remember at school was ‘The sun never sets on the British Empire’!

I didn’t join the flax until I was ... eighteen, and immediately I became exempt from National Service During the war it was a case of Government subsidies were put into everything. Government finance seemed to be available. We had to have it. We were building tanks that blew up straight away - that was a lot of money - likewise we had to have ropes and those sort of things. It wasn’t a license to print money exactly, but, it had to be reduced. I know that there was a rumour in Bridport that a very difficult job - splicing ropes for barrage balloons, because the ropes were about that round in size (indicates about nine inches in diameter with hands)
Men were actually going home with sixteen pounds in their pocket at the end of the week and this was when agricultural wages were just over three pounds a week. The bulk of the net and twine industry was women. Outworkers as well. You couldn’t have balloon barrage rope as outworkers, I mean it would occupy this room, and it was heavy work, rope splicing.

After Dunkirk, well Hitler he could have come over to West Bay in rowing boats. There weren’t many people to stop him. We were exceedingly lucky. Well, any way, it was as much because of Churchill’s ‘We will fight them on the beaches’ etc. that frightened the Germans and they never came.

I have attended quite a few recently, school reunions. We called ourselves Bridport Grammar School 43, which was the year we all took our School Cert. And they had a photo of twenty six and we traced twenty one of ‘em. and we’ve had a couple of reunions since. But, talking to those, we all agreed, there was no obesity because there wasn’t enough food. But we never felt starved. And when you see what the rations were, what was available. How our mothers managed to keep us sane and happy is, I mean we did have school meals, and there were British Restaurants available, where people could go and get a bit of suet pudding or something.

I was in the Scouts and at the distribution of the evacuees, I mean immediately, the take over, the arrival of the evacuees more or less, and allocating them out. They called on the Scouts to help. We were down in Bridport. Trains were coming in to Bridport, and the , there were very few cars still in Bridport. Two big hotels in Bridport, the ‘Greyhound’ and the ‘Bull’, they had porters with big hand trucks and they would send a porter to the station to meet a client. And as Scouts we had the loan of these trucks, with biggish wheels. We used those and the W.V.S. would say ‘This lot are going down to East Street and we’ve got so many houses,’ and their luggage, poor old kids all. I mean most of the Bridport lot came from Paddington, a pretty poor area, and they didn’t have very much in the way of belongings, and they were put on the cart and we walked with the kids. I can remember them with boots which we would have thrown off six months before, and they were still having to wear.
Another thing, that I used to earn a little bit of pocket money on, was outwork, and my mother did pullthroughs at five shillings a hundred. We had to put three loops into the end of the pullthrough, and it was a big breakthrough when we were allowed to use one piece of cord, splice it through in the middle - originally we had to splice in three little bits to make the loop. But then, instead of - you had one long one, you spliced it in at the base then you - the distance was about an inch or an inch and a half, I don’t remember exactly - you put it through, the whole core through, and back, because we’d be using three-core twine and we’d put that through ... and that almost halved the work. And then they reduced the price or made it a hundred and fifty (for five shillings), or something like that.

Flax was important, and because of that acreages were ... the farmer had to obey the local County War Agricultural Committee, and that was comprised of a Civil Servant chairman in Dorchester, plus local farmers for each region. And then they went round actually giving the orders to farmers what they should grow. That would be in conjunction with the flax fieldsman, because the last thing the flax fieldsman would want is bog ground like this (indicates field out of window). They allocated ten acres for flax, they wanted some of the best land., preferably that was available for the transport to move the flax to the factory.

A farmer grew flax and it was controlled price. The moment the mill authorities, the flax process people, they would arrange the pulling. And there were some pulling machines which would be used ... if the crop stayed upright, otherwise it had to be hand-pulled. We used troops on occasions, because they had evenings and afternoons spare, and we could pay them out piecework, cash, if the Commanding Officer allowed his troops to go out and do it, so that what we had to do was convince the Army chief that his men needed the field exercise and he’d be willing to ... some of them did, some didn’t . School kids were used.

One last point - my father was in the Navy and he was very badly injured. He retired from the Navy - in 1939, in January, and he was called up again, prior to the outbreak of war, in the July. So he never had his retirement. He was involved twice in naval problems. The first time was in a small ship - a small trawler I think - but then he was put on board HMS ‘Mendip’, which was a destroyer and he was in the North Sea. They had an air raid, he was the chief engineer - a C.R.A. He’d been on submarines before but they didn’t let on submarines anybody over forty. And there was an air attack and a rather nasty fire broke out and they had to flood the engine room. And as they were doing it somebody said ‘I can hear Des Norman coughing down there” in the engine room. So they went down there and dragged Father out. He was burned on the face and in a very bad way. He was transferred then to a hospital ship in the North Sea. The hospital ship came into Aberdeen and Father was terribly ill, and because of terrific gales they had to take people off on another boat to get - the hospital ship couldn’t get in where it had to dock, and it had to go out again. So Father, the most illest chap on had to go out again with the hospital ship. He was unconscious for three weeks. He was finally discharged from the Navy and I can remember my mother taking us for a few days, in 41, 42, taking me and our local doctor, Doctor Holman (?) in Bridport, said ‘Well, the Navy have sent your husband back, but really I don’t give him more than a few years to live’. That was in 41 - Father lived until he was eighty!

Home Guard squaddies used to have to keep their rifle with them whether they were on duty or not., and they would carry their rifle on leave, going home on the train. Right? Now, the Home Guard (gets map of Bridport) There’s Coneygar Road. Now Watton Hill, which would have been on this map up here, now I told you an uncle of mine lived there (points) and the Home Guard, of course the various troops in Bridport would have had their own storage of ammunition, and at the top of that field they built a little brick base with galvanised iron, shed, to keep their ammunition. And I know this well, because it’s quite steep, Watton Hill, going up to the top, and if you go up there now - I went up there about three years ago - and the bricks are still there, of this little shed. And I was involved because the builders wanted to lug the machinery up there and you know how steep it is. Well my uncle had a horse and trap, and I took the horse with the trap for them to get the material up there. And we were always interested as kids to see what they were doing, and they’d built this little (hut), with wooden shelves, and the ammunition was stacked there on wooden shelves. The .303s, rounds of machine gun. It was just an ordinary key like that (points to mortice lock in door) and the key was kept in the gutter at the top and as kids we used to go up there and look in! This is as true as I’m telling you! You can see the bricks up there. I mean the poor Home Guard had to dash up to the top of that hill to get their ammo!

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