In June 2017 children from Shapwick School interviewed 4 locals form the area who had lived during WW2 on behalf of WarGen.
Bold type: Interviewers (schoolchildren); Frankie Bull, Charlotte Madigan-Nicol & Kerry Ann Bake
Bold italics: Interviewer; Lisa Pool (teacher)
Regular: Interviewees; Mrs Peggy Long, Tom & Jane Warden & Mrs Dora Watkins, all local villagers
Tom: …you couldn’t go any higher up, that was the top.
Who did you live with?
Tom: Which time are we talking about? Where are we going back to? The beginning of the war?
Tom: At the beginning of the war I lived at home with my five-six brothers and two sisters.
That’s a good size family!
Tom: Well that sort of family in that time was about normal … in the area where I lived, families of about six or seven were the norm.
Where did you fit in? Were you the elder or the younger?
Tom: I had five older brothers and one younger brother of the six. The eldest brother was Jack, then it was George, then it was Bob, then it was Ivor, then it was me and then there was my younger brother Gerald, there were six of us. And then I had two sisters. The eldest was Alice and the youngest was Betty. The only survivors now are my younger sister Betty and myself. The rest have all passed on. During the war I lost two brothers. One was killed in Africa in 1943 and another brother was taken a prisoner of war, was captured in North Africa by the Germans and was a prisoner all through the war.
I think these girls were really sensitive, they didn’t want to ask you anything directly about family, or casualties or anything, but obviously it sort of makes the big picture doesn’t it? Unfortunately…
Tom: It doesn’t worry me at all, because I’m ninety years of age now, so nothing worries me! And I did 22 years in the Royal Navy in that time as well. I joined the navy when I was fifteen and I went to pension when I was fourteen. So that was fifty years ago when I went to pension.
Wow! Wow you’ve kept yourself busy then!
Where did you live?
Peggy: When I was a child, I lived in a place called Christchurch, near Newport Monmouthshire. Because there’s two Christchurches aren’t there? I was the fifth of seven children, I had three brothers at the time and two sisters. And then I had a younger brother much later. I lived there until I was about six, and then we moved to the edge of Wentwood, which was forty square miles of wood and we used to run wild. But at the beginning of the war, we’d just moved right out to the country, and we could hear these sirens going even from there, because they were going in Newport. We could hear the sirens going but we didn’t know what they were for. Until my father came home and said that war had broken out.
Were they distant? Or did they sound quite close, the sirens?
Peggy: Well we could certainly hear them, but they were about eight miles away.
That’s quite unnerving.
Peggy: It depended where the wind was. If the wind was behind, we could hear them quite well, but if the wind was the other way, we hardly heard them at all.
Quite unnerving though.
Peggy: Yes, when they went in the dark, which meant there were bombers overhead.
Guys, you know when you did the Bristol Blitz, the term before last? This is obviously the same time – so when Tom was in Bristol, that’s what you were studying… anyway, come on girls, keep it rolling!
Where did you live?
Jane: I lived on the outskirts of Bristol. On a council estate, about three or four miles out of Bristol.
Who did you live with?
Jane: With my parents and my brother.
Names? Dora, Peggy, Jane, Tom.
Dora: I lived in the village here, with my parents. Until we had evacuees in the village. And I had two instant brothers!
Did you get on with the evacuees?
Dora: Yes. We had forty in the village, and only three of them were girls!
Wow! It must have been a good time to be a young lady.
Dora: Yeah! We won’t go there!
Peggy: I don’t know if you’re aware, but Shapwick is what we call a thankful village. Even though some of the men went to war, everybody came back. So it’s called a thankful village. And there’s only twenty-four of them in Britain. So people are very thankful. I didn’t live there, but Dora did.
Dora: There’s a plaque in the church to say so.
It’s quite special isn’t it? It’s a shame it doesn’t say it on the village sign. Because Rodney Stoke, I think they say ‘we are a thankful village’ on their village sign. It’s quite something to be proud of.
Dora: Yes because everybody doesn’t go to church to see it.
Peggy: There’s no war memorial in the village obviously.
What is it like to be at a school in World War Two?
Jane: Ah, well it depends on where your school was I suppose. I passed my 11+ the year before war broke out, and I driving across Bristol to the grammar school, and I had to travel into Bristol and get another bus up to the new school, and that’s the most vivid memory I have I think of the war, is going in during the Blitz in 1940 and everything – got into a market in the centre of Bristol and everything was on fire, everything was blazing around me. So I got back on the bus and went back to where my mother was at work, everybody had to go to work then. And my father was there as well, he also couldn’t get to his place of work, it was quite – we were much tougher in those days I think than we are now, because we took things … in our stride.
Do you think Bristol recovered quite quickly when it had the Blitz, of its own? Do you think it managed to keep going quite efficiently?
Jane: Oh yes. Oh yes, Bristol is pretty tough, always has been.
Are you going to ask that question to somebody else then, Kerry-Ann?
What was it like being at school in World War Two?
Dora: In the September that war broke out, I started school at the street school… the grammar school.
There were no school buses then.
I bet the road was safer!
Dora: Hardly any cars! And I hadn’t been there many weeks, but it all changed. We had to start school at 8 o’clock in the morning and finish at dinner time. South East Essex Technical College to go to school in the afternoon.
So they relocated?
So that must have been lovely having a half day.
Dora: Yeah but we couldn’t have the nice lessons – drama and music. They had to be cut out, for the things like Latin.
How would that work for you, girls – if you finished school at 12?
Oh that would be good! … But then you have to get up, so – at 8!
Dora: And you had to walk down the street before that!
I’d do that, if I got to finish at 12!
Would you? You think that would be bearable?
What was it like being at school in World War Two?
Tom: Oh, for me it was fire. I went to a school in Bristol called Fairfield, which was built just above a railway line. So all our lessons were often interrupted by the sound of a steam train going past. And everybody used to look out the window to try and see what the engine was on the steam train that was going past … we were at school then from 9’o clock in the morning till 12, and then we’d have a lunch break from 12-1, and then be back at school at 2 o’clock and then we’d go on until 4 o’clock. And then we’d go home. So that was our school day. And I had to travel about an hour to school in the morning, and an hour home. And I had to walk all the way, which is about three, three and a half miles. Walk to school and walk home. No buses or cars, or anything.
Did your brothers go to the school with you?
Tom: No, no I was the only one that went to that school. Remember all my brothers were away.
Only my younger sister.
Was the train line ever a target?
Tom: All railway lines were targets during the war. But luckily for us there were no bombs dropped near the school, though Bristol was very heavily bombed during the war.
How was school with you?
Peggy: It varied considerably. When I was young I went to Christchurch school … and then we moved and I went to a horrible little church school which I didn’t like at all because there was once class facing that way and one class facing that way and the teacher … with the infants in a smaller room. But I didn’t like that at all. When I was about nine we moved back to Christchurch and I loved that because I loved being in school, and I was very fortunate because my sister… I had longed for a baby sister, so she sort of nearly brought me up and she taught me to read very early, so I could read in class when I was quite young. But at the beginning of the war the classes were separated. There were some special shelters built at the bottom of the playground, some of us had to go to the church and some were somewhere else. And I was one that went to the church and I remember seeing a dog fight – a spitfire and a Messerschmitt fighting overhead. And what surprised me was that you could see the bullets and they were coming across in pairs, two together. And that was very exciting for me, because you don’t think about the danger at the time. So that was great, but the master who was in front said “Get back!” So I had to peep round him to see what was going on.
How was it if you had a job in World War Two?
Peggy: Well I was still at school until I was fifteen.
Did your teachers at school make it clear what was going on in the war? Did they keep you informed? Or was it something they didn’t talk about?
Peggy: They didn’t talk about it, no.
Tom: The school I was at, we were all old enough to understand there was a war on and we were fighting the Germans, because all our relatives, brothers and that had all gone off to join, so we were pretty well clued up with what was happening.
I guess being in the city, being in Bristol, made it a little bit closer to home, maybe?
Tom: It was, because Bristol was very heavily bombed. And air raids were a quite frequent occurrence from about 1940 onwards.
Jane: Firton? airfield was quite close to Bristol. And I can remember we used to get Wednesday afternoons off school and i would go over and to do things to help my Mum and I heard this roaring and went outside and there were German bombers coming across, from the west to the east, from across the channel. And dozens and dozens of them and they were going across to Firton and so they bombed Firton. Our head girl was killed in that raid. She was on some sort of special … and she was in the shelters and the shelters had a direct hit. She was killed.
And you can see that image even now? It’s still clear?
Jane: You don’t forget these things.
Did your parents work in World War Two? Did they go to the war – did they fight?
Jane: No, my father was 39 when the war started so of course he was too old. But he did join, he was an amateur entertainer and first of all he and his friends, a group of friends all doing different things, you know … in those days people entertained each other, we didn’t have television or … and he decided to go into ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association) – you wouldn’t know what ENSA was probably – it was the entertainments part of the army. They went abroad and entertained the troops in the camps and so on. And he joined ENSA, and he thoroughly enjoyed that until the end of the war and he came home as they all did and took up his job again.
Did any of your parents work fighting?
Tom: My father was a gas fitter for the Bristol gas company all through the war. He was too old to go to war, he was probably in his mid-forties then, and my mother stayed at home to look after the children that were left, or the boys when they came home from the forces and of course my younger sister. But apart from that, the family size was gone down to next to nothing.
Peggy: My father was a wheelwright in a big steel firm and he was forty-five at the beginning of the war so he was too old to go, but he joined – not the ARP, what was it called? – the volunteers something or other.
Tom: Home guard
Peggy: Yes, and they used to go out at night fire watching, in case incendiary bombs would drop somewhere, and they used to go out with this old stirrup pump, they would take this pump and put out the flames and what have you.
Jane: Not LDV? Local Defence Volunteers?
Peggy: Yes, that’s it. But I had three brothers. Two were in the navy and one in the army, because my baby brother was too young … but I worked on the farm on school holidays, at weekends. And I really enjoyed that. I loved getting the cows in you know, and helping to milk them and all the rest of it. From the time I was about, oh I don’t know, about twelve or thirteen. I did that till I was sixteen.
Did you feel like you, did you want to do that? Or was it a duty as part of the war work?
Peggy: I wanted to do that. I loved being on the farm. And I used to stay there weekends.
Did your parents work in World War Two?
Dora: Yeah, Dad worked down here, there was a sheltering in the garden, and Mum worked down at the convalescent home. In the kitchen, which was a bonus to me, ‘cause she worked down there I was allowed to go down there to see the film they had every week and the ENSA concerts, and my friends couldn’t go!
Were you ever scared that your family members were going to get injured?
Jane: No, I don’t think it really troubled us. You know we were a lot tougher in those days, and we got on with things, and you had to get on with things you know. There was no one, we didn’t — it wasn’t like nowadays when you only have to look around to find someone to help, we had to do things ourselves. I don’t think so, I mean my father was, until he went into ENSA, he was the piano tuner and repairer and he used to travel all over Bristol on his bicycle, …. no, my brother went into the army when he was fifteen, he was a regular soldier so we didn’t have to worry about him, he was okay.
Peggy, did your family ever get injured? Were you ever scared that your family would get injured?
Peggy: Not really, not a lot different.
I suppose the bigger the place, the bigger the city, the more chance there was that something would happen, but I guess it was a way of life, almost – was it?
Peggy: Well even on the outskirts sometimes you’d get the, the bombers would be making for home and they’d drop their bombs to get rid of them on the way
Jane: We had a few like that on the estate, killed three small children once, always remember that.
Peggy: My scariest moment was – because my older brother had had to move in with us, my sister and I were in just a small room above the hall, you know, quite a small room. And I was against the wall. And a landmine dropped, it might have been quite a way from us, but there was a terrific explosion, and I shot out of bed, over my sister and landed on the floor. That was my scariest moment!
Was that quite normal? To drop landmines?
[People talking over each other]
How old were you when you were at the war? When the war was happening?
Tom: When the war started, I was twelve years of age, thirteen.
Peggy: I was ten.
How old were you when the war was happening?
Jane: I was eleven when it started.
Dora: I was twelve.
Dora how old were you when the war was happening?
Twelve, I was.
What shops did you visit, and what were they like?
Jane: Didn’t have a lot of option in those days, just the small shops, the corner shops and so on, there wasn’t really a range of goods to buy then. I suppose there were one or two bigger shops, I don’t really remember.
Peggy: And, we had Marks and Spencers in Bristol then.
What did you do for fun?
Jane: Oh, good heavens – what did we do for fun? Played outdoors, belonged to the Girl Guides – that was fun.
Peggy: I joined the Girl Guides, but I wasn’t really old enough and I didn’t want to go to the Brownies, so I was sort of half and half, tagging along with the Guides. But my brother and I used to run through this big wood that we lived near, and we’d go for miles and miles, we’d just take an apple or something, nothing else. And we’d go for miles and miles and not come home until teatime.
Jane: Oh and in those days you could, children could be out. It was much safer. Either that or we didn’t know so much about what went on. But I think it was a lot safer for children than nowadays. Parents wouldn’t be worried. We used to be out all day and then
Dora: …across the fields for hours
What did you eat Dora?
Dora: Whatever we could get! Bread that was not quite white, but it wasn’t brown. It was quite good!
Peggy: It was more like wholemeal, it was a mixture of brown and white. We had a big garden so we had lots of vegetables.
What clothes did you wear?
Tom: Well in those days all clothes were rationed. You had a ration book, with points, coupons. You had to cut the coupons out if you say, bought a pair of stockings or socks. You were only allowed a certain amount of clothing. And that was all your clothing – suits, shirts, ties. It was all rationed.
Peggy: And all handed down.
Tom: Nothing was for sale in the normal- as you would see it today, everything was rationed.
Peggy: It was handed down from a brother or sister.
What were toys like?
Peggy: Well, I remember there were some toys, because as I say I had a much younger brother. And I remember that somebody gave him a fort, you know with toy soldiers and what have you. But I’m not sure if that was just after the war, but I don’t remember toys except having a ball. We always had a ball.
Something simple, something cheap to manage.
Dora: I had dolls…
Peggy: I didn’t like dolls, so I had a gun. I wore it on my hip.
So you were a trailblazer?!
Jane: I remember playing with my brother’s lead soldiers, and I got told off, because I used to break them.
Dora: I had a little doll … before plastic. And we were up in the attic, playing with a friend and there was the paraffin stove which was about that high, and we were sacrificing it! And I threw it over in the corner where there was a lot of comics, and it caught fire! So we went downstairs and got a bucket of water to throw over it because Mum was out at the time. And the fire went out, but the water went through the ceiling! So when she came home! …
Jane: But you lived to tell the tale!
But the doll wasn’t!
What did it feel like in World War Two?
Tom: For me personally, it was not a very nice time. Although as I was gone to school each day it was reasonably happy. All my friends were around, but all my family had dissipated and gone to all four corners of the earth. All my brothers had gone off to war, even my younger brother, who was younger than me, went off to sea as a fourteen year old boy! He went to sea. So all I had at home was my elder sister and my younger sister. And I didn’t like that very much.
And what did it feel like when you heard your first bomb?
Peggy: We lived miles out in the country, so the only thing I remember is this land mine. I don’t remember any bombs dropping anywhere near us, because we were about twenty miles from the town, you know. And even eight miles from the village, so we were well out in the country and they didn’t drop bombs there unless they wanted to get rid of them on their way home, so. Just a landmine.
Tom: They lived a very sheltered life in the country! They didn’t see anything of the war, it was only the big cities like Bristol where they knew what war was all about, because every night the German bombers were coming over, and at seven o’clock the sirens would go, and everybody would rush down to the shelters. In the country, they’d go straight over heading for Bristol.
Peggy: We had a little shelter, down in the garden, but I don’t ever remember using it.
Dora: They didn’t come this way, sometimes if they were going back, they’d drop bombs on the way back.
Peggy: There’d be shrapnel running down the roof, sometimes you could hear it clashing all the way down. And you found it the next morning, pieces of shells, about that big that had rattled down the roof in the night.
Jane: You could hear the bombs whining in the night. We had an Anderson shelter.
Peggy: We had one, but I don’t ever remember using it.
Jane: I remember standing in the mud, when the Blitz started, because we hadn’t expected to use it, and it was very muddy. But we gradually got it quite civilised.
Did it get quite comfortable? Even if you never had to use it?
Jane: Oh yeah. Oh we had beds out there eventually.
Did you have to hand the material in after the war? Or did you keep the Anderson shelter?
Jane: I can’t remember what happened to it.
Dora: We didn’t have one! We were in a cupboard under the stairs, that’s what we had! Wouldn’t have done much good though.
Peggy: I remember my father telling us to get underneath the table, because we had a big farmhouse table, which had a thick top you know, six big legs, and we would get underneath the table, because that’s the safest place to be.
Tom: They had air raid shelters that were designed, that you could build under a table in the house with wire caging all around and steel post in the corners.
Peggy: Oh what were they called?
Tom: And you could climb in there, so even if the bomb fell in the house … you’d be tucked away safe in there, and they’d dig you out eventually. And then the Anderson shelters which were built in your garden.
Yeah. Those are the ones that you built girls.
Tom: And then in the streets they built brick-built ones, for the public to go into. If you were out in the street, in public. Brick shelters which were pretty well useless, but that’s what they provided.
And that was just a communal shelter?
Tom: Yes. For everyone to go into, if you were out in the street in daylight. And you either had your Anderson shelter in the garden, or your little steel bomb-proof shelter under the kitchen table.
How loud were the sirens?
Tom: In Bristol? It wasn’t just one siren, there were sirens all over the city. So when they went off, you knew it. There sirens going off right over the city. In Bristol there were fifty or sixty sirens going off, so you’ve got the whole of the city knew that there was an air raid going on.
Was it scary?
Tom: Oh, it was, when you were young. Till you got used to it. Because you got used to it after a while.
Peggy: It was exciting as well, it was different, and I found it quite exciting when things were happening.
Tom: It was frightening if they dropped a bomb anywhere near you – that was frightening.
Peggy: When the landmine dropped it wasn’t exciting – it was terrifying!
Dora: Yeah when they went off when we were at school, we had to – our class had to sit out in the corridor in front of the headmaster’s study, and we were given barley sugar sweets to eat. I don’t know if that was to –
Was that a treat? To take your minds off it?
Dora: Probably, I don’t know! Because we hadn’t done our homework, you know what children are, and I thought here we go I hadn’t done the homework – but he was giving us sweets!
And I wasn’t living in Strait, this was when I was going to school in Strait. The siren was loud, it was in the street, and you could hear it here.
Tom: Another thing that used to be exciting, was some of the bombs that the Germans dropped didn’t explode. And the troops, the soldiers used to come down and dig them out. And we would go and watch the soldiers digging twenty feet into the ground to lift out this bomb, this unexploded bomb. And they’d bring it up and then they’d steam out all the explosives on the inside. And that was something we always used to watch. They didn’t like us standing too close because they were very dangerous, but we were boys… and incendiary bombs coming down. When they had an incendiary raid you wouldn’t see anything, you could hear the whistles – BANG! It hit the ground with a big shower of sparks, and then flames. Set fire to houses and that.
Did they have people in the cities whose was job was to find the unexploded bombs?
So they would have patrols looking round?
Peggy: That was one of the things my father did.
Tom: Sometimes you wouldn’t even know there was a bomb there, because they used to go straight into the ground and get buried.
Well they’re still coming to light now, aren’t they?
They found one in a schoolyard about a week ago. (They had to diffuse it, but it was still a live bomb. I can’t remember where it was, but it was in a school playground. And they had to close the school, evacuate the area. So even now they’re dangerous.)
Tom: They’re still finding them today.
Peggy: Especially on the moors where it was all soggy, bombs went down a long way.
That’s everything? No way! Well, I’m going to hand it over to you girls, because I think you know what to do.
Thank you for coming to talk to us and everything, we’ve got a little present for you.