- Contributed by
- Bridport Museum
- People in story:
- Sir john Colfox
- Location of story:
- Symondsbury, Dorset
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 24 April 2005
Interviewee : Sir John Colfox Date of Birth 1924
I can remember September 3rd 1939 at eleven o'clock, there was matins in Symondsbury Church, and I went to church with my mother, and my father stayed behind to listen to Chamberlain, who, it had been announced, was going to declare war at eleven o'clock, which indeed he did. We came out of church and I spoke to my father, and he said 'This is the end of the world as we know it, it will be all very different when this is finished.' And I can remember those particular words. Then the Phoney War went on for 6 months when nothing much happened, except that, I believe there was an aircraft carrier torpedoed off Portland Bill, I seem to remember - it was HMS Courageous, torpedoed in the Bristol Channel on 17th September, 1939.
And then -even as a fifteen year-old boy - I said to myself 'This is getting serious', as opposed to being nothing at all. Then the war began about six months later, and nothing happened in Bridport as far as I know. Then six months after September 1939, in Spring 1940, when we'd sent the Expeditionary Force across the Channel, we had Dunkirk. Dunkirk happened in June, during the term time when I was away from home. My father was still the sitting Member of Parliament, and when the war began, he told the whips that he though he could be much more use in Dorset than he could be as a backbencher in Parliament, so he became the head of the Home Guard in West Dorset. The Home Guard headquarters was in the Manor House, where we were living at the time, and so it was in the summer holidays of 1940, just after Dunkirk we were on a military footing. ... And it was very interesting. General Horrocks was the Army Commander of Southern Command at the time and he came and visited the Home Guard, and I acted as my father's ADC. I remember going to dinner in 'The Greyhound in Bridport, and they were talking about the defences, which was, of course, interesting to a sixteen year old.
When I came home for the summer holidays I was aged sixteen, so I joined the Home Guard in the school holidays. I remember being ticked off by my father for taking out the BSA motorbikes, putting on my Home Guard uniform and pretending to be a soldier and having a chance to ride a motor bike!
And I remember the evening parades of the Home Guards - the sixteen year olds and the under-eighties! All strutting up and down There was old Charles Wills, who's granddaughter is still in the parish. He was about five foot tall, and looked very incongruous as a Home Guard soldier, and Harry Pitcher who had been in the First World War, and his job was working horses. And he said that when he'd been ploughing all day and walking all day he didn't want to do too much Home Guard drill in front of Symondsbury Church. We started off with pitchforks and any agricultural tools, because there weren't any armaments. I remember feeling “this is the real thing now”. We issued ourselves with Molotov cocktails, which were beer bottles filled with petrol I think, and there were amusing characters.
Symondsbury got bombed. A bomb landed in front of the Moorbath cottages and blew the front out, and sort of destroyed half of it. It wasn't occupied at the time thank goodness-and that's been rebuilt as it was. It had a large hole in the front garden ... (indistinct) ... And I remember riding round the place on my pony, and going behind a wood called Eight Acres, where I suddenly saw a large hole in the ground,about the size of this (indicates a two-foot diameter table -centre) and ... looked down in it, and it was where a bomb had dropped. And another one had landed in the wood, and there was a big crater in there, so that caused a bit of a stir for the bomb disposal people. They had to come and dig that out.
One of the things that my parents did was that they provided a home for foreign, Allied, officers to come and stay when they were on leave - foreigners. And a whole series of Poles came through -I was in touch with one within the last ten years - and of course they had to bring their ration books - that was the point.
As for the evacuees, my mother was responsible for billeting them in this area, Symondsbury Parish I imagine. And I remember seeing them arrive at Bridport Station. Bridport Station was built for an engine and two carriages and this train was about six or eight carriages long and seemed to finish somewhere in Uploders! And anyhow they unloaded them all, and there were buses and cars to take them. The Manor, which was a big house, didn't have evacuees. it was a the Home Guard Headquarters and various people were billeted with people in the village. And there was one lady called Flora Fairbairn who was a ballet teacher and she turned up with her ballet school, or some of them. There were two young men, I suppose they were my age - boys - and they worked on the farm. I don't think they ever got called up because they were working on the farm. Anyhow, Flora Fairbairn
was known as Flossy to us. She was an enormous lady with long skirts and wore flat straw hats, sort of Mary Poppins type. She then started dancing classes, and I remember my younger sisters ... she was a bit of a charade really.
When I went to school I was kitted out, yes. I went to Eton and in my last year I remember using up some clothing coupons to have a new Eton suit - aged seventeen. That lasted me until - I got married in it in 1962 - and it lasted me until about 1990! And then the trousers got the moth not long ago, so I had to have a new one. One only used it for weddings, so it didn't get a lot of wear. I hoped it was going to see me out, but it didn't!
Yes, clothes rationing.... I joined the Navy in 1942 and came out in October 1946 and when I came back from sea they forgot about me. I was living at home on full pay, and I wrote to the Admiralty .. when one was in the Services I don't think we had clothing coupons - and I'd run out of clothing coupons and wrote and said could I have them and they wrote and said, 'No, you'd better come and be demobilised' I finished up with a demob suit! That didn't last so long!
I remember terribly clearly, before the war, being the son of a politician, the strife and political differences very very clearly. And I also remember, very very clearly, that all that went out of the window, and we were all in it together. It was, I remember it as a sixteen year old, the whole atmosphere was different. We were not a divided nation, we were a united nation.
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