Audrey Welsford WW2 Memories (1926-





JC  First of all, how old were you when war broke out?  That was 1939.

AW  13

JC  Right.  So, from age 13 you were based in Beaminster the whole time?  You didn’t go away to school or………… so you were here and saw it all.

AW  I was here at the Grammar School.

JC  Right.  So, first thing, can you remember the day that war was declared in September?  Is that cldear, what were you doing?

AW  Well, we were supposed to be going to church but church was suddenly cancelled and we were at home.

JC  Yes, because it was a Sunday wasn’t it?

AW  Yes.  Sunday morning.

JC  And was it on the radio or …………..  Were you expecting it?

AW  Oh yes.  Well, the reason was my father was called up again in 1938 and he was in the navy for a few…………..  He completed his 22 years ten years before and then he was called up in ’38 and sent to a munitions dump.  But then he was sent home after a couple of months and then he was called up again in ’39.  So we were well aware of what was going to happen.

JC  And how many of you were there at home?

AW  My father and mother (? unclear) my younger sister and younger brother.

JC  Gosh.  Now when it sort of happened, there are lots of things I’ve got written down that I’ll mention.  A lot no interest to you or you can’t think of anything about them……………  But, what about evacuation?  Because I’m aware that Beaminster took evacuees during the war and did you meet any, what happened to them, when did they come?

AW  Well, they arrived rather late at night, it was dark, and some people near us were going to take two boys and there were these youngsters up there crying and I begged my mother to take some in but she said ‘Well, I can’t even look after you’ because she was very ill.  She said everything depends on you and I cannot expect you to look after evacuees at the age of 13 obviously.  So we didn’t have any but we had quite a number around us and they integrated.

JC  Oh they did?   Because you do hear some horror stories about how awful it was.

AW  No, I wasn’t aware of any problem at all.

JC  And did they come to the school.  Did they go to school with you?

AW  They didn’t go to the Grammar School of course.  I didn’t come up against them but my sister did because she didn’t go to the Grammar School.  So they used to come home and perhaps have tea with us but I didn’t know them as well as some because of going to the Grammar School of course.

JC  And what about things like the blackout.  I mean, to me this is such a rural area, did you have to go through all the palaver………….

AW  Oh it was very rigid.

JC  Right.  So what happened in your home?  What did you have to have done?

AW  We had these black curtains, we bought the material from Reynolds as it was in The Square, where 21 is now because that was haberdashery, etc. So we could buy it by the yard and make it.

JC  And did you have ………….. was anyone coming round to check?  Did you have air raid wardens in Beaminster?

AW  Oh yes.  They would come round and, if you had a chink, you’d get a knock on the door.

JC  You were saying about the shops in The Square.  Presumably you could get most of the things you needed but what happened with regard to rationing and were there shortages as the war progressed?

AW  Well Beaminster did not suffer.  We had access to rabbits of course which augmented meals quite considerably.  And we, most of us, grew our own vegetables anyhow and we would make our own butter from the milk.  Keep churning, churning.  Only little pats but at least it augmented what we had because we, as children, had to give up our butter ration to our mother because she couldn’t eat very much you see.  So really bread and butter was her staple food.  Because she had the butter.  I hated margarine.  So having this little pat of home-made butter was a luxury.  But most houses in Beaminster didn’t have it because we had access to milk.  We had our own chickens so had plenty of eggs.  We used to give them to neighbours.

JC  And did you still have to have your ration books?  Did you use them in particular shops or could you just go anywhere?

AW  Mine came from Pines.  No, you had to be registered and we were registered with Pines which wasa in Fleet Street.

JC  And, in terms of things like clothing and fuel and all the other things, was Beaminster fairly comfortable or was it, you know, comparatively?

AW  Oh, well, when I’ve heard of stories in other places, we were really quite all right.

JC  And how did  you manage during the blackout with things like transport?  I mean I’ve read that they took the signs away to places.  Did they do that here as well?

AW  Yes, they did.

JC  So how did everybody find their way around in the dark?

AW  Well, unless you lived in this area, you didn’t (Laughter)  Because we weren’t allowed to tell anybody if they asked the way.

JC  Oh, right.

AW  In case they were Germans, or whatever.  So you had to ‘Keep Mum’ – you know, the signs were up, ‘Keep Mum’.

JC  So there were some of these wartime posters and things around the town because I know there was a lot of, sort of, propaganda publicity, to make sure……………..  Did you have a gas mask?

AW  Oh yes.

JC  Now where did you get it from and how did you get it?

AW  Well, they were issued and we had a gas chamber in Beaminster.  Has anyone ever told you that?  It was up in the Manor grounds and we would go up there to test our gas masks and it used to get in our clothes and then your eyes ran for hours afterwards.

JC  And where did you collect your gas masks from?  Did you have to go somewhere or ………..

AW  The Public Hall.

JC  Oh right, so you all had to go down and line up to get gas masks.  No, I hadn’t heard about the gas chamber at all.

AW  Yes, up there, the Manor’s set back and then just a bit further, double green doors, and it was in behind there.

JC  Right.  Now was there things, as far as you’re aware, things like fire watching going on because I know there was…………  so people were fire watching in Beaminster.

AW  Yes.  Not a lot.  Not like London.

JC  Well, this is the thing.  You read so much about places but, not of course, about rural centres and what it was like.  I know that there was the milk factory and the pig depot and that sort of thing.

AW  Yes and the egg depot obviously had to close down.

JC  Did it?

AW  Yes.  Well, they didn’t get the eggs you see because you couldn’t get the chicken feed.  Our hens we had at home were fed on potato peelings and all the rubbish from the garden virtually.  (? unclear) So they (? unclear) that closed down and my husband took it over for the Air Training Corps.

JC  Oh right.

AW  To train these young men but then they had to suddenly move because the Americans wanted it so Norman took the Air Training Corps up to the Whitcombe Road, that three-storey building – and they took their engines up there (I’ve got photographs of them I could show you).

JC  Oh I must see those.  And, in terms of the sort of secret Home Guard which I have read about in the paper, did anyone know anything about it or was it really that secret?

AW  Well, not in this place.  

JC  Well, that’s what I thought.  Because everyone knows everybody here.  (Laughter)

AW  It was difficult.  I can remember when they thought the Germans were arriving they came and knocked on our door because of course we had no man at home and we were young children or, you know, teenagers, and they came and said ‘We’re going to look after you because you haven’t got a a man in the house’ and they were outside with their rifles patrolling up and down but, of course, it didn’t come to anything.

JC I gather that there was an Invasion Bell rung or something at some point but again, there seems to be a lot of dispute about when it was and what it was?

AW  Yes.  Well that was the day that Norman…………. well the night that Norman arrived in Beaminster.

JC  Oh, so it was the night that you………………  

AW  He would have known that.  He arrived with his mother because she, they were living in London and they’d been stuck in a shelter for quite some time and his father said ‘You’d better take your mother down home’ because they came from this area.  Norman could never understand why this was ‘down home’ when he was home in London.  So he remembered it was that night that he arrived in Beaminster.

JC  Gosh.  And talking of shelters.  I mean did people have air raid shelters?

AW  I’ve been thinking you see so that I’ve got things to remember to tell you.  The school had their trenches up where The Beeches……….. the entrance ………….. as you turn off Tunnel Road you’ve got that steep road haven’t you.  Our trenches were along there lined with timber and we only went up there twice.  But you had to go from school and walk up there and so that’s where our trenches were.

JC  Did people have home shelters of any kind?

AW  Well a couple of people did but they built it themselves.  A neighbour of ours built one and shared it with somebody else.  I never went inside it though.


JC  And were there any air raids here?

AW  Oh yes.  We had air raids.

JC  So how did those happen?  What happened because again that’s something outside my ………………

AW  There would be a hooter that went.  There was one on  top of what became the food centre but it’s now where the council offices are.  And it’s outside the museum.

JC  Oh, the (? unclear) thing.  The hooter was on top.   and what did everyone do?  I mean was there a sort of set pattern, did people ignore it or ……………?

AW  Well if you were at school you went up to Tunnel Road but otherwise you stayed indoors.  You didn’t wander around too much but you used to look up and say ‘Now is that a friendly one or not?’  and then you’d think ‘Yes, that’s the Germans’ but I think we were so lucky.  But to get back to the Home Guard they used to have booths (? unclear) which were supposed to be secret and I used to have to cook the breakfast for them at 4 o’clock or half-past four in the morning and we would go down to the bottom.  There was the big drill hall which now’s been demolished and a small one but there was this big drill hall and I used to go down there with the Girls Training Corps and we used to cook the breakfast for all these hungry men.  And the smoke from these big fires played havoc with your eyes.  But if the siren went we had to dash immediately and put water on it so that the enemy couldn’t see the flames.

JC  So you belonged to the Girls Training Corps?  What was that?

AW  I’ve got photographs here to show you.  And can I tell you a hint, or a song, that we had about us?  Because i don’t think anybody else in the country has got one.

JC  Well may I just check then that the recorder’s working?

AW  I’m not going to sing it.

JC  No, I need the words.  Looks like it’s recording so let’s hope it is.

AW  Well, I was the Sergeant here at the time.  The Guides had folded in 1942.  We were very restricted because we couldn’t do campfires and things like that and then so they decided to start the Girls Training Corps and I joined and I became a Sergeant.  We had two ladies, a Mrs. Violet Hurst, who lived up Whitcombe Road, and Mrs. Tennant from Ham’s Plot and they started it off and they would undertake it together and Mrs. Hurst was very good and I’m going to try and remember this because you must remember it was ’42.  (Laughter)

‘Sing a song for the girls of England’  No it’s just gone and I was singing it this morning.  Can I come back to that?

JC  Yes do.  I’ll write the first line down so I know I’ve got that.  So, ‘the girls of England’

AW  ‘So they’ll stare and sit and they’d do their bit, to keep their country ……..  No, it’s gone.  I’ll come back to that. 

JC  That’s fine.

AW  It said at the end ‘We will say it was all worth while’.  But I’ll remember it……………..

JC  Yes, do.  Because we can always, you know, talk again at some stage.

AW  I’ve been saying it all morning.

JC  People will think you are very strange going round singing songs!  (Laughter)

AW  No-one would hear me would they.

JC  So what did the Girls Training Corps do.  What were their activities?

AW  We did a lot of marching.  We had our own rifle club and we used to do rifle shooting down in the Drill Hall and also at the Training Corps headquarters.  We were the best in the county virtually.  We were only young but we did enjoy it and we used to go to different places marching…………

JC And did you do things like First Aid training?

AW  Oh yes, all that sort of thing.  We were all trained in First Aid.

JC  That sounds fascinating because I didn’t know about that.  

AW  Of course that might have been Beaminster, you wouldn’t have got that in cities. 

JC  No, I wouldn’t have thought so because I was going to say what was going on, I mean was there the WVS and WI and I do know that in some parts of the counry the Girl Guides and Boy Scouts were sent out to do things like salvage and collecting things from the hedgerows for jam making.  Did anything happen like that you’re aware of?

You weren’t sort of organised to do that?

AW  No well we did our own thing.  We would go out and pick and come back and make in our homes.  We weren’t organised.

JC  It wasn’t a thing that everybody had to go and do?

AW  No.  

JC Because I was reading, was it Mr. Stoodley’s book from Broadwindsor, and he was talking, he reads bits out of the school log book which said they all suddenly went off flax picking for the afternoon or potato picking.

AW  Well I didn’t do flax but apparently it was just over the hill there but it’s something I don’t know anything about.  And I’ve asked various people and they didn’t know about it either so I can’t think how it escaped us quite.

JC  Because it was over the hill probably.

[00:15:36]  (Laughter)

AW  Of course we did a lot of net making and Pullthroughs.  

JC  What are Pullthroughs?

AW  You’d clean the rifles.  It’s made from twine and  you would have three little, sort of notches and then you’d put your oil rags through them and you’d pull this up and down to clean your rifle.  It was from Bridport they used to come over and bring it to us and bring these huge bales of yarn and we’d have five shillings a hundred.  

JC  Was that good or not good?

AW  Well I thought it was good.  I didn’t get pocket money so that was my pocket money.

JC  Did a lot of young people do that if they could?

AW  And old people.

JC  And older people?  Presumably all these all went off to the forces…………..

AW  They came and collected them and they put the oiled rags in, we didn’t have to do that.  But you had to splice them you see and I used one of these rug needles, you could pull it through and you got quite quick at it.  And the nets, I made quite a lot for Spitfires.  

JC  Sort of camouflage netting type things?

AW  Yes.  All the yarn was  brought over to us and we completed them and then they went back to Bridport to have the finishing touches done to them.  I can’t remember how much we were paid for a Spitfire net but it was ……….. I imagine it was quite considerable because they were quite big.

JC  Well, talking of Spitfires, did Beaminster have the sort of things like the Spitfire Fund, the War Weapons Week…… I don’t know…………….the something about sailors?

AW  Where (? unclear)  butchers is now was a shop doing Rings for Victory.

JC  Right.  And was that the kind of thing that most people would have got involved in at some stage?  Or……….

AW  Well, it was just a few people running it but everybody contributed.  In one way or another.

JC  So things like National Savings were a big thing?

AW  Oh yes that was very strong here.

JC  And salvaging.  Did people’s railings disappear here?

AW  They did.  Yes.  Oh yes, they all went, saucepans…………………

JC  So, in fact although you were very much out in the country a lot of the big drives were clearly happening here as well.  All the sort of big things that were happening elsewhere.  Entertainment.  What did you do to enjoy yourselves?  Because people who weren’t alive during the war have got no idea of what life would have been like then.

AW  Well, we had quite a bit of entertainment which we made ourselves.  There was a Mrs. Carter who was the wife of the Carters in The Square where the Coop is now and she used to liked to get up…….. she played the piano and she would get us to sing, dance, in the Public Hall and we did it quite regularly.

JC  And what about clothing?  And fashion?  Did fashion pass Beaminster by?

AW  Oh we just went on wearing………… not the children obviously because they grew out of it…………. but we just went on wearing the same clothes.

JC  So was ‘Make Do and Mend’ a big thing.  Everything had to be…………..

AW  Hand made toys. 

JC  Oh, what sort of things did  you make?

AW  Dolls for the children and rag dolls, dress them.

JC  I must admit I’ve got a book at home, a wartime book, that shows lots of toy making things and various things that people would have made because it was difficult to buy them I presume?

AW  It was.  And then – I’m not – just talking from a Grammar School angle because I don’t know much about the other even though my sister was there, you didn’t seem to mix somehow or other, and we made seaboots stockings.  Like knitted, the spirals.  And the big jerseys for the Merchant Navy.  

JC  So how was the wool acquired for that sort of thing?

AW  Oh they gave it to us.

JC  So you could actually get the stuff.

AW  They brought it to us.


JC  Now where am I on my list…………….  Women’s Land Army.

AW  Yes they were stationed here.

JC  Was that a centre for it here?

AW  Yes, they had their kitchen which, do you know Lugs Liver (? unclear) the waterfall?  There, they had their building behind there.  There’s one lady that I know, she came here and stayed.

JC  What, never went home again?

AW  No.

JC  I’m not surprised.  I think it’s a lovely place to be.  And, the Americans.  How did life change when the Americans came?

AW  We weren’t really allowed to mix with them

JC  Well that was what I would have assumed.

AW  Well, most people did but I think my mother was being very protective of us because we had no dad at home.  My sister had raging toothache on one occasion and she was working down in a garage on Prout Bridge and the Americans were stationed behind and they had their dental surgery in there.  So he dealt with my sister’s tooth and it lasted very well indeed.  That’s the experience I had………………. but they had dances that they would put on but we were only allowed to go if my mother was well enough to come with us.  But others………… that was my mum and I suppose with my father away.

JC  And do you know if any black GIs came to ………………..

AW  I wasn’t aware.  Norman’s people, when his father finally managed to get down here, they took over the Star Inn in Fleet Street and of course the Americans used to go up there a lot and they would dish out tinned meats.

JC  I bet they were popular then.  

AW  I experienced one and it was very tasty and I’ve never had anything like it since.  But it had an egg (? unclear) base to it, I can still see it now, and I don’t know what it was called.

JC  So they were obviously able to provide some foodstuffs for the people in the town?

AW  They would hand out chocolates to children.  I never had any but they did.  They were quite generous.

JC  And how did……………. how was the school affected.  I mean did you find any of your teachers disappearing off to war or were they all sort of old enough, the male ones, not to go anywhere?

AW  Oh some of them went .  But some of them were older and didn’t go.  But the Headmaster at the Grammar School he was in the T.A. so he went and then we had this old Headmaster (Demules ? unclear) came out of retirement to run the Grammar School.  He came up from Sidmouth and stayed and looked after the Grammar School.

JC  And while you were having your Girls Training Corps obviously there was the Air Training Corps running for the boys.

AW  And Army Cadets.

JC  And  Army Cadets as well?  Were they based at the school or out of the school?

AW  No, the Army Cadets based at the school but the Air Training Corps wasn’t.

JC  That was a separate organisation ?  And Victory Days.  VE Day and VJ Day.  What sort of celebrations took place?

AW  Oh yes, quite a lot of people turned out in Fancy Dress, they made their own.  Put bunting up.  There was a competition  to have the best decorated house.

JC Oh how lovely.

AW  So yes they really did well.

JC  And was VJ Day very much quieter?  Because I always get the feeling that somehow seems to have been a bit forgotten.

AW  Yes, that’s happening now too isn’t it they’re claiming because next year they want to put the two together instead of ………….

JC  Some day in July or something, don’t they?

AW  But somebody – I think the Burma Star people don’t want it to be like that.  They want to have their own day because they said they were still fighting when it was VE Day which they were.

JC Yes, well I wondered if it was VE Day that was celebrated here and if anything happened for VJ Day or if it just……..

AW  I can’t remember a lot but I do have a photograph of me with my mother and she dropped dead just after and so I think it was quieter.  I don’t really remember anything like Fancy Dress or house decorations.

JC  So VE Day was the  big thing at the time.  How restricted were you in the town as regards travel.  Because obviously being so close to the coast I presume that it must have been……….. I mean you weren’t allowed to go to the beach and do what you liked?

AW  We had barbed wire all along the beach and so we weren’t allowed to go into the water but of course you didn’t have the buses.  People didn’t have cars.  You didn’t have the petrol.  Norman had an allocation of petrol for the Air Training Corps and Lady Pinney who lived in Racedown put on this big ‘do’ for the Girls Training Corps and the ATC.  The Girls Training Corps were allowed to sleep for two nights but the boys had to come back so Norman had to drive them back from Racedown, get them back again, and I was absolutely amazed because she produced these huge hams.  We hadn’t seen anything like that.  County had supplied them apparently and we had the most wonderful food.  And I was asked to give the Vote of Thanks.  So of course I’d bought these hams…………...(? unclear) (Laughter)

JC  I’m sure many people wouldn’t have seen food like that for years.

AW  No.  And then we had to get to the little Village Hall in the evening and of course it was absolutely pitch dark and one of my girls fell into the ditch and, she’s dead now, but we hauled her out and we had to carry her back because she’d hurt her ankle.  And we got into the house and I thought I must do some First Aid and Lady Pinney came and said ‘Oh don’t you touch her, my housekeeper’s absolutely wonderful’ a Mrs. Boundy (?).  She said ‘Let her take over’.  So I thought right I will.  And she climbed on a chair to get her First Aid book from a top cupboard to see what she should do.  So I thought ‘I don’t think this is on’ so I said to her ‘I am qualified’.  So then I dealt with it.  And that was quite funny because it was so dark.  Absolutely pitch dark and Norman had to get these boys back to Beaminster.  We weren’t engaged by that time.  We were working in tandem virtually with the two groups.  You can just imagine going on these lanes with no markings on the road because they all had to go.  You didn’t have any white lines, or yellow lines, or anything like that and you’d be walking along and you came out of this building with the lights blacked out and (?) pitch dark.

JC  So why was Lady Pinney hosting this?  Was this a  sort of…………..?

AW  I think they wanted a large house and they said will you let them come?  And she did.

JC  And this was roughly when?  Was it towards the end of the war or part way through?  Did you meet Norman obviously during this period?

AW  Yes.  I wouldn’t have done if he hadn’t come to Beaminster.  And then, of course, I was in the office as well where he was, which I hated.  And then of course it was through the two groups…….. because I became the Commandant.  Oh, I must tell you this bit.  That Mrs. Tennant, who I said lived in Hams Plot, she was a great actress and her father was Sir Walter Alcock the organist at Westminster and her Godfather was Stainer (the Crucifixion) and she was a wonderful character, she had a lovely red face.  But one Sunday we were due to go down there to rehearse and I met Mrs. Hurst and she said ‘Oh Audrey, it’s off tonight because Mrs. Tennant has just been thrown under a tank on the Bridport Road’ and she died.  So I had to lead the cortege from Hams Plot up to Holy Trinity.  I’d never been to a funeral in my life.  

I went up across the field here and a Mr. Colbourne came up to teach us how to slow march because we hadn’t done that.  We’d done the ordinary marching but we’d never done slow marching and Mrs. Hurst said ‘Well, you understand, I can’t come’.   So it was down to me.  And I had to slow march all the way up through town until we got there.  And of course we were all young and I couldn’t think any of them had been to a funeral before.  It was quite something.  And I had to be careful that I didn’t get too far ahead and I wasn’t allowed to turn round and I used to swivel my eyes to see if I’d gone too far and, if I’d gone too far, then I had to come back with all these girls.  And then I took over as Commandant.

JC   How had she had the accident.  Was she riding?

AW  She was on a horse and of course the road in those days was very, very narrow.  They’ve widened it considerably since – you know, before you get to (? unclear) Lane?  Well it was there.  These tanks came on, American tanks, and the horse shied and threw her under the tank.  That was 1944.  I suppose I was one of the few who’s father was away the whole time.  Because most of them you see were working on the land so they weren’t called up.

JC  So in fact, really it was an all young people and mum’s household for the whole of the duration of the war.

AW  Yes, it was.  And she dropped dead as soon as dad got home.  1945.

JC  So when your father came home that must have been quite a thing after him being away for so long.  Did you all, sort of feel you knew him  Your younger sisters and brother it must have been……………….

AW  Yes.  My mother made sure because we had no telephone but they wrote every day so that we had these letters and mum would send like my Reports to him.  Oh yes, we stayed very much as a family.  That’s why I can’t understand today when they talk about one-parent families because we were virtually a one-parent family but it didn’t seem to affect us like that.  He was very much there and, of course, on Sunday evenings we……. because of the bomb that dropped we slept all in one room and my mother’s neighbour came in, because she was a widow, with her son and we all slept in this huge room downstairs for safety.  I slept under the stairs.  And we used to have this little service at half-past eight which came on the radio and we all used to join in and mention my father in our prayers and he, wherever he was, he could listen.  He did.  So we were connected in that way.

JC  So presumably the radio was a big thing at that time because of course you’d no television, telephone.

AW  Apart from when we did the things in the Public Hall.  And they were quite frequent.  I don’t think we had a bad war.  I can’t look back and say ‘Oh it was dreadful’ because it wasn’t.  And on one occasion my father sent home, I don’t know how he got them, a huge crate of oranges.  My mother said ‘Now who do we know who’s ill?’  and she bagged  up these oranges and I had to go round Beaminster to take oranges around to people who were feeling poorly.  We ended up with hardly any.  But we had our own eggs so of course we didn’t really have problems like some people did.


JC  And in terms of the war period itself, I get the impression that it didn’t change Beaminster fundamentally.  I mean there was obviously change but it wasn’t huge, a completely new world from day one?

AW  Not really.  I suppose the Americans being here livened the place up quite considerably. 

JC  I bet it did!

AW  They had dances and they had film shows that you could go to.  We had a Fish & Chip shop here in North Street, where it is now, and two brothers Alfie and Ernie Winters ran it.  But the thing was, if you went down there you’d possiblty stood in the queue for two hours.  (Laughter)  Well, it augmented your rations and I can see myself now standing, it seemed as if it was taking all night to cook these fish and chips.  There was a huge queue and then you had to hurry home because we weren’t allowed to eat them in the street.  Oh no.  You had to hurry home so that they were still quite warm when you got there.

JC And during the war years did you go away from Beaminster at all for days out or anything like that?

AW  Only the Girls Training Corps.

JC  It was very much life focused in the town.

AW  I suppose if my father had been  – I don’t know.  I don’t think we would have gone anywhere.

JC  May I ………………………………………………..

Recording ends very suddenly.