On this oral history interview you can hear a great story about hitch-hiking in the summer of 1944 ‘the buzz bomb summer’ and being picked up by Black American GIs; of the initial shock in this meeting, as he had never seen black people in the flesh before. And how even in the war there was a little bit of Weymouth sand, near the Pier bandstand, you could go on.
Also great to hear how playing with model railway was resurrected in later life. Often hear how our childhood interests are followed up in later life when we have more money, space and time to pursue.
In the summer of 1944 ‘the buzz bomb summer’ I was 14 and my friend Gordon Woolley from the Scouts was nearly a year older. Gordon suggested that we should hitch down to Weymouth to see our old scout master who was in the army stationed in Weymouth and then on to stay with Gordon’s Aunt who lived in Plymouth. My parents agreed perhaps because life in London was about as risky as you could get so the risk of hitching was not too bad. We set off and got to Dorchester by late afternoon. We stood by the cemetery on Weymouth Avenue. After a while a convoy of American army lorries came through and the last truck stopped. We rushed around to the back and the soldiers standing in open trucks reached over and hauled us up by our rucksacks. They were American black soldiers and neither of us had never seen black people in the flesh before. They were very kind and gave us chewing gum and we stood with them and caught the convoy up went round the hairpin on two wheels. We were dropped off in Upwey and we found a farmyard with a barn and slept there. The following morning we made a fire and cooked breakfast. We walked into Weymouth and arrived on the front and it was 3.30pm – we had slept rather longer than we thought! Weymouth was the base from which the invasion of Normandy had taken place (it was now late July) and all the landing craft were lined up on the beach which was very much cordoned off. The only part open was near the Pier bandstand. We went on the beach every day for next week going back to hard floor in barn every night. We called upon the Scout master – his office was right on the front. We met a family, a young woman and two children – the woman suggested we should go to a tea dance at the Pier Bandstand and we did. We got our lunches at the British Restaurant – a publicly organised café where you could get a good cheap meal in King Street. After a week we hitch hiked down to Plymouth and stayed with Gordon’s aunt who had a flat near the Howe and stayed there with his Aunt and Uncle. We watched the Sunderland Flying boats come in at night you couldn’t see them because of the black outs but could see the sheen on the water as they came in. We actually went to the other side of the Sound and went up on the cliffs above where HMS Warspite was moored. We had no communication with family as there were no phones although we might have sent post cards. At the end of the week we hitch hiked back We were usually picked up by military vehicles perhaps because we were in scout uniform.
If my children had asked to hitch to London for two weeks I wouldn’t have liked the idea. At that time we thought we were adults – now 14 year olds are just starting their exams.
After teaching at East Barnet Grammar for nine years I thought it was time to look at other things to do. I wondered about applying to be a deputy head but because I had only worked at one school and had no teacher training I was not likely to get a position as a deputy head. I looked around and found a job as a lecturer in a teacher training college and came to Weymouth College of Education – a teacher training college for 200 girls. I came down and looked at houses and found a new house in Martinstown and have lived there ever since (47 years).
Was there a break in leisure time between being a child and an adult?
Certain things carried on from youth to adulthood – drama, reading and history all continued. There was a distinction between young person and adult – in the Marines I became a corporal in charge of barrack room. It was a minor authority yet my father still treated me very much as a child when I got back having completed national service. It was the subject of disagreement between us.
How about leisure during your retirement?
I retired in 1979 and started the railway in 1990 and it lasted about 10 years. I then started writing books my first book was published in 1990 ‘The Dorset Horn’ (at the request of the Dorset Horn Sheep Association) then I began working on the history of the Dorset Magistrates (‘Dorset Justice’) published in 1999. Since then I have written books on local history and background to community plays.
Your love of history ended up with being your job.
Extraordinary how devoted I became to history, it never seemed like work. When I started teaching history without any training or skill. After three weeks I couldn’t believe they were paying me because I enjoyed it so much. I enjoyed the learning aspects of teaching and found I had an affinity to teenagers. My fiancé was giving me a weekly correspondence course on what I should do next. Education was booming in late 50’s and 60’s. People I was teaching were bright and very keen to get on. I still have great pleasure in going to reunions and they are now all pensioners. It is lovely to share reminiscences. I organised a medieval pilgrimage from Barnet to St Albans. They stopped at places and told stories which they had to prepare and did brass rubbings. I had a very sympathetic headmaster who is still a friend. When I reflect on what I did at that time I realise took risks but didn’t see it at the time. I also did a mock eighteenth century election based on Dickens between the Whigs and Tories. We had bribery and corruption and shouting out their votes. It was a hilarious escapade and the headmaster came to see what the nose was about – but when he realised what was happening he enjoyed it.