Bobby Brown



‘Bobby’ Brown was born Margaret Grace Poole in Cardiff on 15th October, 1931.            

She married, on 7th January, 1953, George Edwin Brown, who was born in Somerset.

JC  This is Jenny Cuthbert talking to Bobby Brown (who was Bobby Poole) and it is July, 2005.  So Bobby, can you tell me first of all how you came to be in Beaminster and when that was?

BB  I came to Beaminster in 1939 when my father took over the licence of the old Crown Inn and we came from Cardiff.

JC  Do you remember the journey?

BB  Yes, I remember the journey on the ferry on my 8th birthday with my birthday cards all round the car windows and the young soldiers coming to wish me a Happy Birthday.

JC  And had war been declared then or was that before September?  

BB  Yes, that’s right, I think it was September wasn’t it?

JC  Yes

BB  So that was October.

JC  And so war had just been declared?

BB Yes, just started.

JC  And the Crown Inn in Beaminster, where’s that?

BB  Well, it’s no more, sadly, it was just down North Street, just past the paper shop.  I think it’s now Angel Cottage and The Waggoners.  (Laughter)

JC  And your family came?  Was it just your mum and dad?

  My mum and dad, my brother and sister who were a lot older than me.  (Laughter)

JC  Wwhen you arrived in Beaminster was it a bigger or smaller place than you’d moved from?

BB  I couldn’t believe my eyes coming from the City of Cardiff and going to a really big school, learning Welsh and everything.  There was this Square which was really lovely with all shops around.  There was a cannon on a big cement plinth with all the names of the people who died in the Great War and there was a horse trough in front of it and that’s about all there was really.  Not masses of cars like there are now.

JC  So you went to the Infants’ School?

BB  Yes, well, the Girls School then, I was 8 you see.

JC  All right.  And how big a class were you in?

BB Oh they weren’t very big.  They were very small really.  20-25 I expect in my class.

JC  And did that change when the evacuees arrived?

BB  Well, yes, a bit.  Yes.  

JC  Only did that put the numbers up or did they have schooling at different times?

BB I can just remember giving up one afternoon for them to have our classroom while we went up to the Old Mill and we all had a mat, one of those mats that you sit on.  We had to take this mat with us.  I can’t remember a lot about that but I do remember walking up Fleet Street, up to the Old Mill on a certain afternoon every week because the evacuees were using our school.

JC And did you have to carry a gas mask?

BB  Yes.

JC  And that was quite strictly followed?

BB  Carry a gas mask and an identity bracelet.

JC  Right.  

BB  They were provided.

JC  And did you have to do any drills, or what happened in case the air raid siren went off or anything like that?

BB  I can’t really remember much about that but I’m sure we did.

JC  And what about the pub itself?  I mean you obviously were in the middle of the activity in the town.

BB  Yes it was

JC   And before the Americans came were there other soldiers around the town?

BB  Oh yes.  All the English regiments and the Welsh and the Scots who used to play the bagpipes every morning in The Square.

JC  Really?

BB  Lovely that was.  Really lovely.  And they were there for six months I think they stayed.  They were training and then another lot would come.  We were always with soldiers.  You know I literally grew up with soldiers.

JC  And spoilt to death by them I expect? (Laughter)

BB  Yes I was.  Sometimes one would catch hold of me and give me a great big hug and say ‘Oh you remind me of my little girl’ or ‘You remind me of my sister’.  You know.  And they were all so nice.  We could walk around Beaminster in the blackout, complete blackout.  If you showed a chink of light you’d be for it by the Air Raid Warden.  So in the winter it was completely black and us kids used to be all over the place.  You know, we didn’t worry about it.  If it was moonlight, fine, but everybody else didn’t like the moon because of the planes you see.  And we lived so near the factory my parents were a bit worried about that because it had its huge great chimney behind the milk factory.   And when the siren used to go we didn’t have an air raid shelter but we had really, really thick walls.  Very thick.  I think it was the oldest pub in Beaminster actually.  We used to all gather there in the middle part.  So if the air raid siren went when the customers were there they just stayed there?  Drank more.  (Laughter)

JC  And in terms of getting supplies of drinks how did your father manage, was it difficult?

BB  Yes we used to get the dray man, used to come every Monday, with, I think it was more or less rationed because we usually sold out before they came again.

JC  Right.  And was it beer or what?

BB  Big barrels of beer and a big barrel of cider.  That was the cut throat stuff.  (Laughter)  And crates of Guinness.  Things like that and the spirits of course.  But I know they came on a Monday.

JC  And how long did they tend to last?  (Laughter)

BB  Well we’d usually be sold out Saturday night probably.

JC  So Sunday was a much quieter day

BB  Well yes (Laughter)

JC  And, obviously, growing up in Beaminster with, as you say, lots and lots of children around, and so on, they must have found it quite an exciting time.

BB  Well, it was really and then, you know, we had the evacuees came from………..we had a particular one, Evie her name, Evie Frost and she was billeted with a schoolteacher, and her sister and mother, and the schoolteacher used to put the clock on at teatime so that she’d come in earlier.  Which I thought was a bit mean.  She was supposed to be in at 8 o’clock. The clock said 8 o’clock and it was really 7.  (Laughter)

JC  You were talking about coming in for tea.  I mean, obviously food rationing was going on at the time.

BB  Yes

JC  Was it tough getting rations in Beaminster.

BB  Yes you just got what you could really and a bit of black market.  You know.  Somebody would come in with a tin of syrup under their coat and they’d get a pint of beer.  (Laughter)  We didn’t ask where it came from.  Not at all.

JC  And then, in terms of being able to have all the things that perhaps children have today.  I mean clearly there was no television.  Was radio important?

BB  There was the radio.  We had a radio.  My mother always had her head stuck into it listening to the news.  You know, wanted to know what was going on.

JC  And things like toys and presents?

BB  We didn’t have much in the way of anything like that but we were outside all the time.  We had a sort of gang.  We all had a gang and we used to go…….. Our favourite place to go was in the milk factory at night.   Soon as the manager had gone – we used to keep an eye out for him.  When he’d gone we could go in round the factory.  One of the girl’s father used to feed the furnace with all this coal.  They had a huge, huge coal dump down there that they used to fill the furnaces with.  And then we used to go in where they were making the powder.  And they used to do rolls for us, you know on the rollers.  It came down on rollers.  They used to do a roll for us like a stick of rock.

JC  Oh, what, made out of milk powder?

BB  Yes, gorgeous.  (Laughter)  Absolutely gorgeous.


Or we’d have bits that came off the end, some of them were a bit burnt but we’d have those as well.

JC  It was like having your own sweet shop next door.  (Laughter)

BB  We only had I think four ounces of sweet ration you see and we would go round old people and ask them if they really needed their sweet ration and we very often got some more coupons you see.  (Laughter)  I mean, the sweets….. there wasn’t a great variety, gobstoppers and things, bullseyes and things like that.  There were several little sweet shops in Beaminster and we used to get a bit of pocket money.  Not much.  Sixpence was about the limit.

JC  And did you have to do any of the sort of things that I’ve read about in wartime books like, I don’t know, collecting newspapers or salvage or …………………….?

BB  Well yes I did do salvage………

JC  Hedgerow harvesting…………..?

BB  I don’t think I did anything like that really.

JC  Because, you get a hint that there might have been things like the Boy Scouts or the Girl Guides …..

BB  They wanted all your saucepans and stuff like that.  They took all the railings and things like that and I’ve heard that they never used them really you know.  But they all went.  (Laughter)

JC  And do you remember any of the savings drives like War Weapons Week and Spitfire Funds and things?

BB  Yes, we did have that, yes.  We did our National Savings every week in school.  Stamps you know.

JC  And that was an expected thing for everyone to do?

BB  Yes everyone did that.

JC  And then the Americans arrived.  Did life change again then?

BB Yes we had a lot more food.

JC  Really?

BB  Yes they used to come, bring a sack round to us with tinned peaches……..

JC  Had you had much of all those things before?

BB  Oh, no-one had anything like that.  You see.  Awful really.  We had rabbit quite a lot, we had horrible things like tripe and onions and….   horrible really it was.  But you had to eat it or otherwise you’d starve.

JC  So then the Americans started bringing tinned food to you.

BB  My mother was always very good to the troops you know, she looked after them like they were her own.

JC  They must have felt very homesick because they were very young, some of them, weren’t they?

BB  They were young and they used to go out rabbiting at night and bring back these rabbits and mother used to cook, fry the legs for them.  That’s how they liked them.  In butter they were, in the butter.  And she’d feed them like that.  Sometimes if they had a night off they’d stay in our house because it was quite a big place.  We had five bedrooms I think and sometimes we had evacuees.  We had a family at one time, a mother and little children, you know, from somewhere. They didn’t stay very long but that’s what we did you know. 

JC  And in terms of entertainment, you said you were all out playing quite a lot………..?

BB  We were always out.

JC  Were there any parties and that sort of thing, concerts or anything that went on?

BB  There was the Magic Lantern.  We used to go up to the church, Trinity Church that was, do you know where that was?

JC  Yes I do.

BB  We used to go up there in the blackout and see this Magic Lantern thing.  I think at one time there was some other cinema thing they did – I don’t know how they did it (Laughter) but they did it in the Red Lion I think in the top room.  But you see the thing was everything had to be blacked out.  You couldn’t have anything with any light showing in the winter.

JC  And did you get to travel out of Beaminster very much during the war?

BB  Only on a bike.

JC  Right so that was your mode of transport? (Laughter) 

BB  I had to go into hospital to have my tonsils out and we’d had to put our car away because there was just no petrol so my mother got a taxi.  There was a taxi in Beaminster.   Took me to Dorchester and just left me there.  I never saw anybody again until I came home.

JC  No daily visitors?

BB  And then I had to go in again a couple of years afterwards to have a neck operation and that was longer so my sister and her boyfriend hitched a lift on an army lorry or something to come and see me. But you just took it all for granted.  

JC  Life was really entirely based around the town.

BB  And you could buy everything really that you wanted in Beaminster.  Anything you could get in the way of clothes and shoes, what there was, everything.

JC  And, presumably……. You mentioned the wardens checking the blackout so presumably Beaminster had its air raid warden and the Home Guard……?

BB  And the Home Guard.  My father used to drive the Landgirls to their destinations.

JC  Oh yes, I’ve been told about them going out in gangs to work on ………

BB  He used to drive one lot.  That was his war effort because of course he’d been in the First World War you know and his health wasn’t that good so he didn’t go in the Home Guard.  But I remember one night, it was very dark, we hadn’t opened the pub and we had this banging on the door and my father went out to see who it was.  And these two figures dressed all in black came in and he took them into the back room.  ‘Course me, being me, following on and I was sent away.  And it turned out that it was two of the French Resistance men.  Whether my father had a message for them or not I don’t know.  I rather think he could have done.  When they went out I was still there hanging about and they gave me that……………. (Noise of movement)

JC  Good grief, what’s this?    Resurgem 1940.  How amazing.   And they sort of just disappeared off into the night then did they?

BB  Nobody saw them. 


JC  I must admit I’ve never seen a badge like that.

BB  No my son tried to find out something about it but he can’t seem to.

JC   I’m sure there’ll be a record somewhere there’s such a lot of different people who……..  There’s a chap in Beaminster actually who knows a great deal about badges, Jim House.  I’m sure you know Jim House.  Do you remember Margaret House?

BB  Oh I know Jim.

JC  Well he knows an awful lot about badges.

BB  I’ll ask him when I see him.

JC  It might be worth doing but I’ll have a look in my records and see what else………..

BB  I’ve kept all these Yanks badges.

JC  Oh really.  May I see?

BB  That’s an American Lieutenant’s Bar that he took off his shoulder and gave me.

JC  Really

BB  But mostly – I had ever such a lot but – I’ve given them to my grandson because he’s crazy on all that.

JC  Gosh (laughter obscuring text)……………

BB  Taken off their uniform (laughter obscuring text)……………. given me.

JC  Oh gosh.  Those are absolutely wonderful.

BB  Yes.

JC  So did you find then that, I know that the war was a very serious time for a lot of people but many people I’ve spoken to said that it was fun, it was exciting and particularly because Beaminster was such a quiet place that it did bring lots of different excitements to the town.

BB They did have the one bomb up the Tunnel Road where we all went up scrambling about in the crater finding bits of shrapnel.

JC  Really?  Was this the one that killed the cows?  Or was it………..?

BB  No, that was the one up at Buckham, Buckham Farm, wasn’t it?  On the farm there?

JC That was where the aircraft crashed wasn’t it?   So the bomb in Tunnel Road…………  great delight was it to young people? (Laughter)  Because another thing, somebody has kept a record of, or did keep a record of air raid siren soundings and apparently 360 times the siren sounded during the war.

BB  Was it?

JC  Which presumably must have been just planes going over further inland or…………?

BB  We always knew when there was a German plane going over because of the sound.   It made a completely different sound.

JC  Right.

BB  And one time, when the bombing was particularly bad, I didn’t go to bed until my parents went so I had to sleep on a chair down in the sitting room because they were afraid they’d never get up and get me in time.  And I was telling my grandson I was going to talk to you and he rang me up and said ‘Gran, mind you tell her about the time you were nearly shot.  You tell her you were nearly shot ….’

JC  In bed?

BB  Yes.

JC  Well what happened?

BB  They used to stand guard down by the milk factory, the big house where the troops were in there, there was always a soldier on guard and one night it got too much for him when he heard all the music up in the pub, because it wasn’t far, he left his post, came up into our pub.  I was in bed asleep and, apparently, he was fooling about with his rifle with somebody else, and it went off.  And it ricocheted up, up on the ceiling, down on the stairs, up on the ceiling right down the side of my bed like that.

JC  So it actually came through the ceiling?

BB  Yes.  I woke up to see my father standing in the doorway and all these people behind him you see.  And I said ‘What’s the matter’ and he said ‘Go back to sleep’.  He said ‘It’s all right’.

JC  So you had a full audience?  (Laughter obscuring text)

BB  I was never told anything about it for ages until I saw my mother pointing out the holes to somebody in the cot.  (Laughter)  And years after that I was sitting in The Square (after I was married).   I’d been shopping and this chap came up to me and said ‘Are you Bobby’ he said ‘Used to live in the Crown’.  I said ‘Yes that’s right’.  ‘Cos’, he said, ‘I was there that night you was nearly shot’, he said.  ‘We always bring it up at our reunions’.  Because I wasn’t hurt nothing was done about it but I mean he could have been Court Martialled or anything for that. 

JC  (a) leaving his post and (b) nearly shooting somebody (Laughter)  So the war sort of starts to come to an end.  Were restrictions on the blackout lifted in Beaminster before the end of the war?  Were you able to have some sort of lights then?

BB  Yes, I think they were really.

JC  And do you remember anything about either VE Day or VJ Day?

BB  Oh yes.  I remember all that celebrations and I remember getting a flag.  I had two flags on my bicycle (Laughter) rushing around the town on the bike with these flags flying.

JC  And was there any kind of, I don’t know.  I’ve read the town minutes and they seem to say we’d organised a parade to church and the band playing in The Square and sports for the children and so on.  Do you remember all that?

BB  We always had parades because I remember being in them when I was in the Brownies and the Guides and the Girls Training Corps.

JC  Oh so you were a member of the GTC as well?

BB  Yes.

JC  Right.  Because I’ve just been doing a little bit of background research on the Girls Training Corps.

BB  Apparently they’re having a reunion?

JC  Yes, Audrey Welsford mentioned it to me.  I gather Kathleen Tennant was the Commandant to begin with and then she had an accident and Mrs. Hurst and I’ve just got the words for a song that she wrote for the Girls Training Corps.  Obviously there were a certain number of organisations in the town.  Most of the children seem to have had an incredibly busy life as far as I can see.

BB  We did, and we all went to Sunday School and church.  I seemed to live in church on Sunday.

JC  Which church did you attend?

BB  St. Mary’s.  We had Sunday School down there in the morning and we had a children’s service in the afternoon.  If I was unlucky my mother would take me at night as well.  (Laughter)

JC  And presumably the blackout must have affected the church services and going to church.  It must have been very difficult to black out the church?

BB  Yes.  Perhaps we didn’t go in the winter?

JC  Perhaps they had the services early? 

BB  Yes, probably.  They probably had them in the afternoon.

JC  Well, that was just absolutely fantastic, Bobby.  I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed listening to your memories.  I bet you’re going to have lots more after we’ve stopped the tape.  You’re going to say ‘I’ve just remembered’…………..

BB Yes.

JC  But can I thank you ever so much for that because I’m sure people are going to find it fascinating.