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Dolly's War Days

by Thanet_Libraries

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People in story: 
Dolly (Dorothy) Coombs
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18 March 2005

Dolly Coombs told her story to Helen Kemp (CSV Volunteer for Thanet Libraries) at the Summerlands Nursing Home in Westgate-on-Sea, Kent.

When I was born in 1911 my mother said I was a dolly at birth so I became Dolly always. We lived in No. 3 Grosvenor Cottages in Acol. My Auntie Millie lived at No. 2. At one time my Aunt Sally lived at No. 1, she took in foster children and cared for them. She was 94 when she died. My Great Granny lived in No. 3, she was born in 1850. Later my uncle built two houses in the village by Margate Hill and we moved into one of those. At one time my father worked for “Snuffy” Watson delivering corn in the first Ford truck to be seen in the area. In about 1925 a Mr Walker used a charabanc to start the first bus service which ran from Minster to Birchington. Before the war there was a free bus service from Birchington and Acol to RAF Manston and this was used by the younger members of the villages to get to the dances held in the camp.

I went to school in Park Lane and left when I was 14 and started working for my grandmother in Westage in 1925. I later worked mornings only at Minnis Bay in a household that looked after elderly ladies — I got 2/6d a week. At the same time I worked from 1 pm to 9 pm in the nurses quarters at Hill House Hospital, Minster. I used to go to work by bicycle and continued in much the same way until 1939.

There were soldiers billeted at the bottom of our hill and at the top there was a look-out post surrounded by sandbags. Eventually the soldiers had to construct an air raid shelter. The shelter they built was up at Quex Park and was big enough for all the villagers to be able to stay overnight. They provided my gran with a Morrison shelter but as she was unable to get under it she commented that “Hitler would have to kill her in her own bed”! We had a good laugh about that and still do to this day.

I can remember an occasion when my friend and I were out walking. We had not heard any warning of a raid but, as we got near to the top of the hill, the air raid warden came riding down on his bike waving at an aeroplane and shouting to us “take cover in the trees”. We thought it all a bit of a laugh even though a German fighter plane was shooting at us. The funniest thing was the air raid warden’s helmet. To us they “looked like white enamelled wash basins”.

I was a clippie on the buses in 1941. When we started we had men’s uniforms. When we eventually got skirts, the men would always whistle when we went upstairs to collect the fares. In those days the buses did not have doors on the back. It cost 1s 6d for a circular ticket. The circular route started at Margate and would go all around Thanet calling at Broadstairs, Ramsgate and on through to Sandwich, Ash, Wingham, Birchington, Westgate etc.

One day, when we were going along the Sandwich Road to Dover, all the telephone lines were broken and ended up wrapped around the bus. The passengers were taken to Dover and other vehicles were waiting at the other end to bring them back. The roads were all blocked.

Gas cylinders were installed at the back of the buses to save petrol. When I had an early shift I would have to leave home at about 5 am and cycle all the way from Acol to Westwood Garage. In those days I walked everywhere, even in the snow.

All my passengers were soldiers. After I collected the fares inside, I went upstairs to collect. Other soldiers would jump on when I was upstairs. Our limit was 12 standing passengers only but by the time I came back down again there were at least 17 standing. This was always happening. I said “are you trying to get me into trouble?” to which a reply would come from the back of bus “what time to you finish then?”

One of our routes was from Margate to Hastings, early in the morning, but when we got to Hastings we weren’t paid for our rest. When I finished at the end of the day my money had to tally with the tickets I had sold. If it didn’t, I had to make it up. If I had more money than tickets sold, I would be given the excess. That didn’t happen very often. I earned 10d an hour but if we were “spare” (which meant going on duty to cover for someone who hadn’t turned up for work) it was 9d. This sometimes meant waiting all day in the canteen to be called on duty.

During the rationing we were able to get sausages on the way back from our Dover route.

I remember on one occasion the No. 58 bus going round Reading Street from Margate to Wingham, when there was an air raid warning. The rule was that we should use our own discretion as to whether to continue the journey or stop. We decided to continue on the Wingham. It took us about half an hour to get there and when we arrived we were told that there had been a direct hit on the Holy Trinity Church in Margate. There was a gardener who used to sit in the garden of the church to have his lunch every day. However, on the day of the air raid, the gardener went off to have a pint of beer, something he rarely ever did. If he hadn’t, he would have been killed. There Vicar of Birchington, Granville Sharp was a very nice man. After the war he used to play a dame in the Birchington Village Guild of players.

The Regal Cinema in Cecil Square, Margate, finished its film showings at 10 pm in the evening. On one occasion, just as everyone had come out and the cinema was empty, it was bombed with a direct hit and just blew apart. The film that evening was called “Target for Tonight!”

Bessy was a conductress in charge on the Ramsgate to Dover route. I remember one particular day the bus was full of soldiers and, for a joke, they tied her up and put her under the gap by the stairs. The driver waited for the bell to ring to go and couldn’t understand what the delay was. When he went round to see what the problem was he found Bessy tied up under the stairs!

I got married in 1939 but sadly the marriage didn’t work out and we parted after 4 years.

When the war ended I left the buses in 1971 after 30 years. I then went to work for Boots the chemists.

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Dolly's War Day

Posted on: 19 March 2005 by Joan-Elizabeth

Hello Dolly Coombs,

Thankyou for your lovely story, I so enjoyed reading your memories!

Kind Regards,


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