Rachel Bowditch



JC My name is Jenny Cuthbert and I’m talking to Rachel Bowditch in Beaminster.  

It’s May, 2005, and Rachel is going to tell me a little about her childhood in Beaminster and what she remembers about the war years and about some of the members of her family.

So, Rachel, can you tell me when you were born first of all, and where you were born?

RB Well, I was born on the 24th March, 1931 and I was born here, 60 East Street, Beaminster.

JC And, your family.  What members of your family were around?

RB Well, as I remember, there was mother, my father had died when I was five so I didn’t have great memories of him but, of course, I remember my two brothers.  One was a step-brother, Arthur, which was my mother’s son and Kenneth and I which were my mother’s children. And my father, who had been married twice, also had ten children before meeting my mother but they were so much older than me so they weren’t really an integral part of the family.   

JC And were they living in Beaminster?

RB Oh yes.  They lived in Beaminster.  They all got married and lived locally and of course they are all dead and gone now unfortunately but oh, yes, they were around when we were growing up.

JC So, obviously, you were a young child when war broke out.  What do you remember about the start of war. What do you remember about it beginning?

Well, I remember, I really remember, the day war broke out.

JC Really?

RB Yes I do and, you know, mother obviously was devastated at the thought that, you know, what was going to happen to us.  To us all, really.  But the first thing I remember about being associated with war was all the servicemen being brought back from Dunkirk.  Yes, and they were all, you know, they brought, I don’t know how they brought them back.  They must have brought them back in small boats etc. must have come in to the coast.  But they were all sitting here in East Street and I remember vividly my mother making a big jug, in those days it was an enamel jug, of tea for me to take out to give to the troops who were sitting all along here and all down the street until they got transport to move them away.  That was my first memory of it being, of us being at war.

JC And, as a child, do you remember things like rationing taking place, like the blackout, like the things people associate with the Home Front in wartime?

RB Yes I do, and of course the thing that upset our family, not upset but, in as many….. but in that text, but of course was the arrival of the evacuees.  In, it must have been September, ’39, when all the children, not all the children, were evacuated to Beaminster.

JC So, as early in the war as that?

RB Oh, yes.  Oh yes.

JC And were there a lot of them evacuated then?

RB Oh yes.  There was a whole school brought down from London.  John Perrin’s School in Acton were all brought to Beaminster.

JC And presumably they were billeted out with families?

RB Yes, and this is why our family was disrupted you see.  My mother was a rather….. belonged to everything there was to belong to, so my brother and I sat here whilst mother went off.  Supposedly she was going to come back with two little girls.  That’s what she was prepared to look after.  Well, when she came back, about 10 o’clock at night, she came back with four teenage boys.

JC But this is a little cottage.  (Laughter)

RB I know, I know, so at that time of night she was….  we had to turn round, and turn to, to make beds for these four teenagers.   Well, you can imagine what problems they caused.  I mean they didn’t know what country life was you know.

JC So it must have been a big shock for them?

RB Oh yes, oh yes.   Even at school you see, going from one little class, I mean the classes were doubled or trebled in size.

JC So they went to local schools?

RB Oh yes.  They went to the same school as us you know.  But …………………….

JC So they were the first evacuees your mother had but I gather from you that she had more than just those four?

RB  Oh yes.  As they were………… Of course, being teenagers, when they left school you see they went back, they didn’t sort of stay, it was their choice to go back.  They could go back which was what some of them did.  So as some went back they were replaced with others.   And then, not only did they come in from London, like the first batch, then we had evacuees that came in from Southampton.  So, all in all, yes, she had 30 children during the war.  And one particular family that we had was the Broadley family which was, Joyce was the eldest, Peggy was the next and Bob was the young, little boy.  Now Joyce went back because while they were here their own mother died so Joyce went back to look after her father but mother kept Bob and Peggy for years.  She virtually brought them up and I’m still in touch.  Peggy unfortunately died last week but I was talking to Bob yesterday and Joyce yesterday so, after all these years we’re still in constant touch.   So they were just members of the family.

JC  So, having evacuees in the town must have changed things quite a lot for the children that were here already.   All these new faces?

RB  Yes, and the thing was, it was really comical because they didn’t understand the rules of the country you know.  I mean they would (Laughter) sort of go to the Manor House and pick their prize apples because they thought they were growing wild and they were……. anybody could go and pick them.  They didn’t realise that the fruit belonged to the Manor and, you know, for them to come home to mother with all this lovely fruit.  ‘Course poor mother had to take the brunt of it all but she got over it like she got over everything.  But, what I was going to say was, to recollect on these, with all these children, how hard it must have been.  My mother, there wasn’t, you couldn’t turn on a tap for hot water.  That was number one right?  So every drop of water you wanted heated had to be heated.  So it was either on the gas stove or paraffin stove in those days and my recollection of mother, on a Monday morning doing the washing.  She had a copper, I don’t know whether you know what a copper is like, but we had to light a fire underneath it to heat the water in the copper.  That virtually had to be lit.  So we’d fill the copper Sunday evening before we went to bed, you know, one of us would fill, not me ‘cos I was only little, but one of us filled the copper and on Monday morning mother always got up at 4 o’clock to light the copper to heat the water.

JC  That’s amazing.

RB  Exactly.  And she would still be washing when I got home from school in the afternoon.

JC  So, really, wash day was really wash day?

RB  Wash day was a whole day’s work and you did it whether it rained or shined because you couldn’t put it back a day.  Because if you put it back a day it put the rest of the week out you know.


JC  So how did she manage in terms of feeding everybody.  I know there were rations but it must have been quite difficult for her?

RB  Gosh, it was.  I mean she was fortunate in as much as she had a lot of ration books but I mean, how she coped…..  I mean, she made everything.  Everything she made you know, like cakes, fatless sponges, you know?  Make cakes with no fat and no eggs.  How they made it I don’t know.  But they did.  There were sort of all these wartime recipes brought out and she would make big tins like this of cakes you know and she’d cut them into squares.  We never, I can’t say we went short because we didn’t but it was very simple food.

JC  Not the choice that children have today?

RB  Oh gosh, we didn’t know……. I think it was about two ounces of chocolate a week for each person.  I think it was two ounces.  So once a week, that was a ritual in the family when we all sat.  Friday nights was bath night when, again, the copper had to be filled and lit to get the hot water and we would all have had the bath, you know which was, what did they call those baths, well like the zinc baths.  (?unclear text) That’s right.   We’d call them tin baths so you know we’d have to tip the water from the copper into the bath and then after we’d all, you know, we kept topping up with hot water to get the full bath as good as possible and then that was our treat of the week when we were all nicely cleaned and the beds all nicely changed.   Friday night we would all have our ration of chocolate and I can see us now all sitting round, different stages of baths, one with towels wrapped, some with our bed clothes on.  You know, that was the treat of the week.  Friday night, bath night and a little piece of chocolate.

JC  And what do you remember about any of the things that were going on like salvage drives and waste paper drives.  I mean, was that all taking place in Beaminster?

RB  Oh yes.

JC  And were the children involved in those?

RB  Yes.  Well, we used to have things like Warship Week where they would collect for warships.  I think there was a ship called HMS Bridport, or something, so we all used to, you know, the school would put on fetes and things so we all went to those and did country dancing and what schools normally do.

JC  And presumably the entertainment was very much Do It Yourself variety?

RB  Oh yes.  And, of course, until the Americans came then that changed a lot when we had the big band in the Town Hall.

JC  Really?  Gosh.  Do you remember all that?

RB  Oh yes.  Did you see it………….because the Museum has got a picture of one American band in it and of course that was the highlight – I mean this was when we were older of course when the highlight of the week was the Saturday night dance.  And, of course mother being Women’s Institute, or whatever, she used to do all the refreshments so we used to go along, although we were only small, we used to go along and sit and watch everybody enjoying themselves.  But things were different.  The other thing I was writing (I made a few notes) the things that were, how they coped with clothes you know.  I mean, my mother made everything.

JC  So make do and mend was a real thing in the household?  It had to be I suppose.  

RB  Exactly, I mean, like jumpers for the boys.  She knitted every one their jumper and if one had got too small for one, or whatever, she would pick out, so you were using, picked out wool to make a smaller size for the next one coming along and how they coped and kept so cheerful I’ll never ever know.  But they did.

JC  And did you have a radio?  Because, obviously television wasn’t around then.

RB  Yes., but I don’t remember listening to the radio a lot.  I mean, we were more for playing games you know like Snakes and Ladders and Ludo and all that sort of thing.  We made more amusements rather than sit down and, of course, we always played in the street more than what they do now.  We used to sort of have seasons for different games.  It was either Hop Scotch, and the road would be chalked with squares where all the children were playing and, or, whatever, skipping.  We certainly didn’t sit indoors and listen to the radio like they sit in and watch the tele.  You were always out making your own amusements.  


JC  Sounds fascinating.

RB  It certainly was a different life.

JC  You were going to tell me about your brother Kenneth.  Because, obviously he went off to war and we’ve got a photograph of him here that we are looking at.  Tell me about him

RB  Yes, he…….. at the beginning of the war both my brothers were at the Grammar School and my mother found it very hard because I know they both passed scholarships to go but there was still a lot of things that they had to buy like………

JC  And, she as a widow presumably found it very hard?

RB  All she ever received was ten shillings a week Widow’s Pension and she had to manage on that.  How she ever did it I’ve never, to this day, I’ll never know.  But, of course, the first thing regarding my two brothers – I remember Arthur, when he left Grammar School he went to work in Dorchester.  So he was away before Kenneth.  So that was a big upheaval when Arthur went.  But the next step of course was when Kenneth went into the Navy and he volunteered to go.

JC  And how old was he then?

RB  Sixteen.  And, again, broke mother’s heart, you know, when he went but, and I think first of all she tore up the papers because she didn’t want him to go.  But eventually got his own way and and he went and, of course………….

JC  Can you remember what year it was that he went away?

RB  Do you know, I can’t.  It must have been ’39, ’41, ’42 I suppose.  Yes, and then, of course we all knew, you know, that there was something big was happening you know, and Kenneth unfortunately was…… as I say he volunteered for the Navy, and he was posted to, above all places, to the Orkney Islands which as you know is………..

JC  A long way from Beaminster (Laughter)

RB  A long way from Beaminster, and at the time they were calling for volunteers to come to Poole in Dorset so Kenneth’s ears pricked up and he thought right, Poole’s on the doorstep, I’ll volunteer.  So he volunteered to come to Poole.  But little did he realise that what they wanted was, actually was 500 men picked to go into D Day on……. first into D Day.  There was 500 men picked.

JC  And he was one of them?

RB  And he was one of them.  

JC  So he landed, in France, on the beaches on D Day?

RB  His job was, as a wireless operator, was to direct the remainder of the ships in.

JC  How old was he when he did this?

RB  He was 17 and he had his 18th birthday while he was over there.  His birthday is in June and he had it over there.  But of the 500 that went from his mob, whatever you call it, 6 came back. And he was one of them that fortunately came back.  But we all, you know, I remember so vividly when it was D Day when all the planes, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of planes that went over carrying all these troops.

JC  And presumably you noticed the American convoys leaving…………..?

RB  Oh, they’d gone.  Beaminster was, after being so packed, you know about a week before D Day, Beaminster was empty.  

JC  So everyone knew that …………..

RB  Everyone knew something was happening although nobody told, you know, they didn’t know what.  They knew something was happening.

JC  But how long was Kenneth away for?

RB  Well, he was supposed to have only been away for three days because he wasn’t trained to fight.  He was just trained you know, his job was just to see everybody in, but in actual fact he was over there for 6 days and then they brought him back.  So after that he came back to London actually, he was…… managed to get home after that.  But after, unfortunately, he went to India, and was away for five years.  So he was away for the whole of the war.

JC  The families in Beaminster, their young men and husbands and brothers really could have been away for a long long time.

RB  Well, as I say, like Arthur and neither of them came back to Beaminster to live.

JC  So, for those of you that were here during the war years, do you remember things like the air raid sirens going and any incidents or bombs……….. ?

RB  Yes, I remember bombs dropping.  We had one, well, it was what they used to call a string of bombs you know and one landed just in the fields up the road here.  I remember that with the….. looking out the window actually when they landed, when they dropped.  And that was a hairy situation.

JC  Did you have your gasmasks 

RB Oh yes, we never went anywhere without gas masks.  You know, to school, we always had gas masks.  I remember one incident when, I don’t know what troops it was but, they had what they called a mock air raid and, with all this gas.  And us, as children, we had rabbits in the garden and of course when we got up the next morning all the rabbits had been, all our pet rabbits, had been gassed which was a rude awakening to show that gas actually killed.  

JC  So they’d obviously used real gas.

RB  Oh yes, they must have done.  They killed all our pet rabbits.  As I say, it’s history now and you can’t believe really that you lived through it.  No, it’s well ………………….

JC  Well, I’m so grateful to you talking to us about …………..

RB  The other thing I was going to say.  Like I said that Bob, who was with us, he married a Landgirl and another chap that was with us he even brought his wife back here on honeymoon years after the war had finished.  I mean, that’s how friendly we all were.  We were still so close, we were just a family, a big happy family really.  Although we had such hard times.

JC  Well, it sounds a remarkable set of memories, and thank you ever so much for sharing them with us.

RB  You’re very welcome.  There was, can I just say, there was one other thing which I feel is worth mentioning.  You say about what we did and what we didn’t do and I remember for Christmas, (I’ll just make a little note of this), my Christmas present was a Gollywog.  Now, do you know what a Gollywog is?  Well that was made out of a pair of black stockings and this is how women compromised.  Because you couldn’t buy it.  It was a pair of black stockings with two white linen buttons for eyes and black wool for hair and yet you treasured that.  I treasured that Gollywog for years.  I never had a bought – anything bought – everything was just made.  

JC  Amazing.

RB  It is amazing.

JC  A different world.

RB  It is and how can you…. if you gave a child that today what would they do with it? 

JC  They wouldn’t think much of it.  (Laughter)

RB  They wouldn’t think much of it.  

JC  Thank you so much Rachel.

RB  You’re very welcome.