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Village Life - from Evacuees to the Americans

by Bridport Museum

Contributed by 
Bridport Museum
People in story: 
Gilbert Legg
Location of story: 
Symondsbury, Dorset
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A3943433
Contributed on: 
24 April 2005

Interviewee : Mr Gilbert Legg Date of Birth 1929

I was at school at Symondsbury. All my wartime memories was as a kid at Symondsbury. There was seven of us in the family. One left still, now. It was good times then really for kids. You know, if you didn't have the responsibilities of the war. like.

I remember the evacuees coming. I can see them coming into school with their gas masks. And some of them stayed. One of them was a Bridport Town Councillor I remember. Colin Crossley, ex-Mayor of Bridport! He was an evacuee.
There was three teachers. The headmaster who, can I say, was a miserable bugger! he was one of the old school you know. Go down the pub at playtime and dinnertime, and he'd come back , you know ... We had a new, talking about evacuees, the next schoolmaster that came, Mr Rose, he came from Gravesend with a school. They were evacuated down in Devon, and he came with the school and picked up a local paper and saw the Symondsbury job going. And he applied and got it. And best chap, best schoolmaster I've ever known. I learned more in the few years that he taught me than I did - the school weren't very good actually, during the war. I mean education wasn't very good. I spent most of the time haymaking and, you know, getting a load of dung for the school garden with a horse and cart. That sort of thing, you know.

By the time the war came my elder brother was twenty-odd. He was in a deferred occupation. My father told him never to volunteer for anything. There was always the Territorials at that time, they were anxious with Sir Philip Colfox. He rounded them all up and said 'You're in the Terriers'. My old man said "Never volunteer for anything' and wouldn't let him join. Wasn't very patriotic I suppose. And there were a number of farmer's sons that volunteered anyway. You know they went on their own It was an experience for them and that's why they went. I mean, this was in 1938 - 39, and they didn't know what was going to happen.

As the war went on you could get a lot of things. They (the Ministry of Agriculture) ran a service where they would come and cultivate your ground. They'd bring a tractor on a trailer. There wasn't many trailers about that could haul a tractor in those days, so that was a unique experience for a lot of people. And of course, it was still horses a lot. My father was still driving horses. The War Agricultural Committee, they were all-powerful. A lot of them were local people. A lot of grudges were - it's true, I know from first-hand experience. I mean, they could almost evict people overnight if they didn't think they were doing the job that they were told to do. I mean Tyneham was one of that - in a different way. The whole lot of people in Tyneham were turned out. On the Lulworth shooting range.

Farming was in decline at the time. In the thirties it was very bad, I suppose when they had to plough up land they had a choice - you could either grow five acres of flax or five acres of potatoes, or something like that. And that was all new to them. I mean they'd probably only run a few cows before, and milked them by hand. At harvest time you only had the binder, which was imported from America anyway. Until they had the combines, you know it was tipping them out in sheaves and hand-loading them on wagons, and ricking them. The War Ag, they had a threshing machine, a small box, that they sent round, and you had to wait your turn to have it and you did it yourself.

The Land Army girls were a great asset to agriculture. Not only that, they were great for their looks and youth as well! A lot of Land Girls are still friends now. They came, and married and they were billeted on different people. Sometimes they lived in the farm house.

When the Americans came there was literally thousands of 'em. I can remember going up to one of them - we moved to Chideock when I was twelve. In 1943 I started work, I was fourteen then. I took two horses up the smithy - that was going from one end of the village to the other. And then, when I was going back with them a jeep came on with a green flag, and he said 'Quick, get 'em off the road'. I went down an alley and I stayed there for an hour and a half before I could get out. That was a convoy of tanks and armoured stuff, you know. You just had to stay there and wait for them. And when the Canadians practised for the Dieppe raid, they practised in this area, they just drove around across crops and fields and gates and gates - straight through. When they landed at West Bay in the practice for Dieppe, Tan old chap up the village there, he was going on duty, down at Seatown. He came out of his cottage and forgot his cigarettes. So he leaned his rifle against the gate and went back in to get his cigarettes, and when he came out the rifle was gone. The Canadians had come up and had it! Nobody knew they were there. They'd come up the river from Bridport and from West Bay and they were in the middle of the town before anybody knew

My brother, being in the Auxiliary Unit, he kept his revolver and knife and that - we had a grandmother clock with a door on it, and he used to keep it in there. I used to take it out and load it and put it back - I mean you didn't have anywhere to lock it up. Nobody seemed to worry - nobody shot anybody. Accidents did happen

Now rationing wasn’t so bad. Not really, for country people, I don't think. We had rabbits and most of the population done rabbits. My dad, he'd go out ploughin' and he'd be in the same field two or three days and carry on a few rabbits. He used to have a rabbit hung on when he came home. And nobody could make rabbit stew like my mother.

I remember there was Spitfire Week and things like that. I remember I was turning some hay in a field up near Symondsbury there, and we'd finished it - we'd finished the field and the next day was for the school party, on the Rectory lawn. And we were all waiting for the prize giving and a Hurricane came over with smoke billowing from its tail, just over the trees, and of course all of the older boys was gone! A half a dozen boys were the first ones there. And of course that frightened us a bit when we got there because it had turned over, the pilot was hanging with his head down. Anyway my brother and (a pal?) was cutting corn a couple of fields away and they got there and then the Army arrived and they got him out. And that was an experience. I had a day off school when they loaded the plane on the trailer, and he sat me in the cockpit and they towed it up and loaded it in the road. For a kid, anybody that didn't have the responsibility of anything, it was a good time.

There were two cinemas then, the Lyric and the Electric. If you couldn't get in one you went up - but you couldn't get in sometimes because there was a queue, especially when the Americans and that were here, they went right down the street.

And the pubs. If they knew a crowd was coming in they'd draw thirty pints and put them on the bar, before they pulled the bolts back. But I think that a lot of the stuff was watered down - they didn't know any different.

My first job, I started work in 1943, I milked cows twice a day and in between times we made cider, in the cider-making season. And we had two cider presses going and that we supplied pubs in Bridport. Put a barrel on the horse and cart and unloaded it in the 'Plymouth Inn' which was on West Street. But of course, after the war they stopped that.

I know what I did on VE day! The only pair of shoes I had - my best pair - they opened the pier at West Bay and they had dancing and I wore me shoes through - the only pair of shoes I had! I can se them now, they were black suede. And then J night we had a good bonfire on Quarr Hill. We were on Quarr Hill, me and my brother-in-law, on D-Day plus two or three. And the ambulances were coming
- they had a big hospital at (indistinct) and you could see the convoy comin' in over Stoney Head and the first ones were comin' up through Chideock - nose to tail. (That would be a convoy some two miles long)

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