- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Mrs Madge Mignot
- Location of story:
- Weymouth, Dorset
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 27 June 2005
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by a volunteer from Age Concern, Dorchester on behalf of Madge Mignot and has been added to the site with her permission. Mrs Mignot fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.
“I was 15 when war was declared and worked at Plummer Roddis (Weymouth) as an apprentice; my wage was 7/- per week. At 17 the apprenticeship ended and I went to the Bon Marche as 1st Sales. We used to have to take turns with all the staff to “firewatch” on Sunday mornings (no pay) which involved a stirrup pump, bucket of water and sand on the roof. During that time, with girl friends, we went swimming on the beach, climbing through the metal railings erected to stop invading boats, to get to the deeper water. I remember one Sunday morning having just swum to the raft when the siren went and a terrific dogfight involving Spitfires went on above me. I remember thinking how awful, a lovely sunny day, me enjoying myself and young boys above me fighting for their lives and our country.
Then the Government decreed that all 18 year olds would have to join the Forces or some kind of essential work. My mother didn’t want me to go in the Forces and spoke to a Charlie Massell who was a foreman at Whiteheads Torpedo Factory and he got me a job in the Toolroom. This entailed working from 8am to 5pm and sometimes overtime until 7pm. It was precision work and there were only three other girls — the rest of the “shop” were men. I was lucky not to have to do shifts as most girls did. I found it quite stressful. One tool required working to one thousandth part of an inch which meant the radius had to be magnified and the steel filed with a stone until it fitted into the magnified radius. This involved two cubicles. Everyone hated this job and it was often given to me because the boy apprentices used to make a mess of it (on purpose) and I was too proud to do the same. I remember sitting on an air vessel outside of the “shop” having a coffee break when Dunkirk took place and watching a long line of ambulances coming across the Portland Road, and the shivers going through me thinking of all the badly injured. The tool I was writing about was used for turning the air vessel, for the torpedo, in the next shop, but if it went blunt a very high pitched screech began and it couldn’t be renewed until the end of the cycle. This had a bad affect on me (it also affected the men) and I began to get migraines etc and I was eventually signed off and allowed to work at V H Bennetts.
I remember when the Americans came to Weymouth and they took over the Alexandra Gardens which became a Mess where the officers fed. Also the Pavilion was used for the latest American films to be shown, again for officers; girls were allowed if escorted. A lot of their work was repairing MTB boats alongside the harbour. On one occasion after the air raid siren went, they decided to make a smoke screen over Weymouth and let off smoke canisters along the then Portland Railway between Newstead Road and Rodwell Road. There was low cloud and no wind so the black smoke hung over the town and nearby for hours. I lived at Knightsdale Road and it seeped into the house and I was fighting for breath and my parents put my gas mask on me which made it worse and it was touch and go all next day. I was coughing up black phlegm. I think several elderly people died. They didn’t repeat the episode, thank goodness ! Also, along the railway were Beaufort guns and it was quite exciting to watch the tracer bullets being fired when a plane (German) was in the middle of the searchlights.
My mother had an evacuee billeted with us from Plaisters Grammar School, and after they went home we had a Commando (No 3) aged 21. He was killed the frst day of D Day and his body never found, but I understand his name is on the Bayeux wall. How sad. The day before D-Day our bay was full of ships, barely a space available and everyone was wondering what was going to happen. There seemed to be an eerie silence everywhere and then in the small hours of the next day we woke to a heavy droning noise and the sky was black with aircraft and eventually we were informed that we had invaded France.”
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