Kath Mclaren




JC  Kath, can you tell me first of all where you were born and brought up?

KM  I was born in London, in South East London.

JC  How many were in your family?  Was it mum and dad and brothers and sisters?

KM  When I first left London we went to Devon.  We was evacuated to Devon but the government then wouldn’t let the mothers take the children away.  The children had to go on their own.  So you travelled from London to Devon with a load of other kids.

JC  And were they children that you knew?

KM  No.  All strange children.

JC  And did any brothers and sisters go with you?

KM  My sister Julia, she came with me, and she was younger than me .  She wasn’t very old.  What was Julia? She would have been about three.

JC  Goodness, that’s early to go away without your mum.

KM  I can’t really remember exactly how old she was.  You can put this right if it’s wrong?

JC  Yes. But she was a real toddler.

KM  We were both infants anyway.  We weren’t very old, the pair of us.  We went by bus and I think it must have been to Kings Cross, I can’t remember the station but it definitely wasn’t Waterloo.  And then we went by train to Devon.

JC  Who looked after you on the journey?

KM  I can’t remember.  Teachers I suppose.  Or women that went with us to look after us.

JC  And did you just have a little bundle of your things with you?

KM  Just a few……. yes, a few bits and pieces of clothing.  And a gas mask.  We had the gas masks with us.  And then, when we got to Devon we were taken to Brixham, that’s where we landed up to, Brixham in Devon.  We went to a hall where people came to pick us, choose what children they wanted, and me and my sister was chosen to go with this lady which……. we didn’t like her because she took us on and as soon as we got in the house she said ‘You must have a bath’.  My sister started crying and she said to me, the lady, ‘Will she keep crying?’   And I said ‘Yes’ because we didn’t like her.  So she took us back to the hall and then a fisherman and his wife took us and they were lovely.  They were really nice people.

JC   Did they have any children of their own?

KM   Yes, they had two children.

JC  So they were used to youngsters.  So you moved into their home in Devon.  

KM  It was alright.  It was fine but we still wanted to go back.  We still wanted to go back to our mother.

JC  Did you have any contact with her while you were in Devon or not?

KM  Well yes.  Not a lot really.  But we got in touch with mother and she said we could go home because they hadn’t started bombing.

JC  So nothing devastating had happened.

KM  Nothing had happened.  So she sent the money for our fare and we caught a train from Brixham and went back to London and I think it was Peckham we landed up then.  Went back to Peckham in London and then we stayed there for a bit, but then as soon as we got back ‘course they started bombing.  So then the government said mothers could go with their children – take their children – so then we came to Beaminster.  We left London and arrived in Beaminster.

JC  Why Beaminster?  Any idea?  Or was it just where you were sent?

KM  Just where we were sent I suppose.

JC  So you just turned up. And do you remember arriving in Beaminster?

KM  Well, I remember going to Bridport, the station, and then we was looked at by doctors for………….. our hands had to be looked at and our hair to see if we had nits…………….(laughter) all that and then we was put on buses again and bought to Beaminster.

JC  So did you arrive just in the Square or were you taken to a building?

KM  A school.  The Girls School.  We went there and then we slept in the school for about a week I think it was.  We had little mattresses.  Then we were put into billets.

JC  So where did you get billeted and was it just you, your sister and your mum?

KM  And my brother.

JC  And your brother.  And where did…………….So you all stayed together did you, did they split you up?

KM  We all stayed together then.  But then we was taken…………….. we was put into Hams Plot, do you know Hams Plot?  People who owned it then, the name was Tennant, and Mrs. Tennant got killed during the war.  I expect you’ve heard of that?

JC  She was the lady who had the horse riding accident with the troops, yes?

KM  The Yanks was driving, the horse got caught up in…………… and we went down there.  We lived down there.  Then my father came down from London and then my mother found a little cottage up Fleet Street and then we went up there and lived up there.

JC  So that meant the whole family was back together again?

KM  We were back together then.

JC  Actually now, it looks to have been a pretty strange thing coming to a country town from London.  Did you find it very strange, very different?   Or did you find you settled in very quickly?

KM  Well, we thought it was wonderful ‘cos we were on holiday.

JC  It felt like a holiday!

KM  It was lovely.

JC  Great.  And you got to know people quickly did you?  Did you go to school?

KM  Yes, we went to school. Well, when they had the school back when we’d moved out, ‘cos they could start school again.

JC  And so, did you go to the Infants School………………..

KM  We went to the Infants School.  Down where we was sleeping.

JC  So you got to know people in the town, town people pretty well, town children?

KM  Oh yes, because the kids wanted to know us.

JC  And were you accepted?

KM  Oh yes, some people said ‘Kids from London, rough’, you know?

JC  So they were really interested.

KM  Oh yes.  Look over the wall at us and watch us.  (Laughter)

JC  So while you were living in your house in Fleet Street, was your dad going out to work then or was he doing war work in the area?

KM  Yes, he went to work.  He went to work at Netherbury in the Flax Mill there.

JC  Oh, now I’ve been reading about the flax being really important during wartime.  He was part of that?

KM  He was part of that.

JC  And what about things like rationing.  How did that affect families.  It must have been very hard in wartime?

KM  Oh it was.

JC  For a family to feed the children, and clothe the children and so on.

KM  Well, when we came down we had nothing to come down with really.


JC  Gosh it was really starting from scratch for the family.  And what do you remember about Beaminster, the town itself, what were the shops like at the time?

KM  Well then I think it was about 52 shops roughly.  Everything was here.  You didn’t have to go………..well you couldn’t then because you didn’t have all the cars did you?  You couldn’t go to Bridport as such so everything was here in Beaminster.  All the shops were here.  But now I think we’ve got about 21 shops against 50 odd.

JC  Gosh, so it really was a thriving place then at that time.

KM  Yes, Beaminster was.

JC  And do you remembe when the troops started arriving.  I think there were some before the Americans came weren’t there?  I’m not certain who they were.

KM  Yes, there was but I can’t really…… I was too young really to remember that lot.   But yes, when the Yanks came they were like a lot of children really because the Post Office, where the Post Office was in the Square then, they used to feed the machines with money to get stamps to come out.  They thought it was marvellous when the stamps came out of the machines.  

JC  Good grief.  And were they billeted all over the town, the American soldiers.

KM  All over the town.  Parnham……………….

JC  And you were saying to me earlier about a lane near Parnham that they knocked through there.

KM  The road?  Opposite the Police Station.  The Americans made a road going across the fields to the house.  Which is there now, isn’t it?

JC  So that was really their thing to get all their vehicles and their suppplies in.  Were they accepted in the town?

KM  Oh yes, ‘course they were.

JC  Because, people I’ve spoken to seem to think that they really settled in well.  When they arrived here.

And what about all the sort of youngsters in the town.  I mean they must have thought this was really weird all these guys with American accents turning up.

KM  Oh they loved it because the Yanks used to give them sweets and money and all that so it was marvellous for them.

JC  Certainly some of the people I’ve spoken to, who were children during the wartime, said ‘Oh we used to go and play out near where they were billeted.’  You know, get things from them and they were generous with things…………..

KM  ‘Cos the Town Hall, in Fleet Street, they used to go over there and get all their meals and all that.  Used to cook over there see.  

JC  Oh right, so that was where their canteen was, was it?


KM  Yes, their canteen was there. I mean, if they put dances on, ‘cos I mean they was here for a few years, they put dances on.  Us kids used to go round.  You had fish and chips and………….

JC  Where did you get  your fish and chips from?

KM  Well, they went…….. If the fish shop was open they’d go down the fish shop and get loads of them. Loads of them we’d have, loads of fish and chips.

JC  Good grief, that must have felt quite like home then.    (Laughter)  I mean for that to go on.

KM  Well, it was.

JC  So, when you, or when your family were here in Beaminster, did they stay in Fleet Street the whole time then over the war years?

KM  Yes, well, for years and years but then they went up to Fairfield to live.

JC  Right, because you’ve never moved away have you?   You’ve been here ever since.  

KM  Ever since

JC  So was your sister and your brother, or your late brother, did they stay?

KM  No that was another brother.  Dennis was born here.  My brother, Bobby, lives in Plymouth.  He lives in Plymouth, but Julie, my sister, she lives up Gerrards Green now.

JC  So really, the family sort of put down roots here.  And did you ever go back visiting to South London?  (unclear speech from JC and KM) 

KM  Of course I do, yes.

JC  And sort of see people there?

KM  ‘Cos of family, I’ve got aunts and all that up there.

JC  Right, so you’ve still got family.  But you all decided to make your home here.

KM  Yes, yes.

JC  Has it been good?  What was the best bit do you think for you of being an evacuee in a small town?

KM  Well, it was just, we didn’t really know what holidays were until we came down here.  I mean, when I lived in London if we went away it was hop picking in Kent.  That was our holiday.

JC  But that was like a working holiday.

KM  Yes.

JC  I know a lot of the families used to go to the hop picking and so on.

KM  It was lovely.  A lovely life.

JC  So, in many ways you were still used to being out and about in fields and so on, if you’d been away into the Kent country.  So it wasn’t as though it was something completely new to you.

KM  No, but it was lovely to come down out of the bombs.  it was lovely.

JC  Is there anything else that you’ve thought of that you want to tell me or do you think we’ve covered most of it?

KM  I think we have, haven’t we? 

(unclear speech)

JC  That’s excellent. Thank you very much