Sam Gibbs (1937-




JC  So Sam, can you first of all tell me when you were born?

SG  I was born in Beaminster in 1937 over the butcher’s shop actually.

JC  So that was the butcher’s shop that was in Hogshill Street?

SG  That’s right.

JC  And was that your father’s shop and there was you, your father, your mother and brothers and sisters?

SG  One sister, Margaret, who still lives there.

JC  Right, so after all these years, she’s still in place.  And so you were born really only a couple of years before the war started.  So what was your earliest memory of the war years in Beaminster?

SG  Well, must have been when I was about – between 4 and 5 years old – with my Uncle Bob up towards Bowgrove Farm which is just past the Comprehensive School and we had to stand in a ditch while planes were flying overhead shooting at one another.  And the ditch is still there now, I can take you and show you the very spot.  That’s one of the earliest memories I’ve got of what was happening.

JC  And you went to the Infants School did you, in the town.  How big a school was the Infants School in the war years?

SG  I think it was about 130 children.

JC  Oh really?  And that would be all the children in the town and the villages……………..

SG  And evacuees.

JC  And evacuees as well.

SG  Not from any villages around because they had their own schools.

JC  Right so it was really the town and the surroundings.  And how many evacuees do you still remember.  Do you remember any of them?

SG  Oh yes.  One or two worked for my father as errand boys.  For the butcher’s shop, delivering meat.  In fact, one chap called here within the last year, knocked on the door and he’s pretty old now and he said he was Bob, Bob Beardley I think his name was.  And he used to work for my dad and he came back to Beaminster and sought us out and we had a chat.  That was this last winter.  And there was Alfie Hollinson(?unclear), he was…………. I remember him quite well.  And then Ken Cleoll (?unclear), you met Ken Cleoll didn’t you?

JC  I didn’t meet him but I met his sister and I read something that he wrote about working – I didn’t realise then it was your butcher’s shop.  Working in the butcher’s.

SG  Well, he worked for my father.  He actually worked in the shop before he went in the army.  Yes, he was in the Airborne. 

JC  So with the evacuees in your class in the Infant School, did they bring their own teachers with them or did they…….

SG  No, no.

JC  They just joined in with you?

SG  That’s right.  

JC  And were they country children or town children?

SG  Oh no, mostly from London. 

JC  How did they settle in?

SG  Well, they seemed to settle in quite well.  There’s some still in Beaminster today.  Living here.   My aunt, up in Newtown, she had a girl stopping with her. They were all over the place.  Quite a lot of children.  Some of them weren’t very old. 

JC  Were they here with their mothers?

SG  No, just on their own.

JC  Just on their own.  Gosh, that must have been quite a big thing for these young kids to come to stay with strangers.

SG  Yes, right out in the country.

JC  Goodness.  A very different life for them.  And during the time that the war was on, did you have to go through all this thing………. carrying a gasmask.

SG  Oh yes.  Mickey Mouse gasmasks.

JC  Why were they called Mickey Mouse gasmasks?

SG  I don’t know.  That’s what they called them.  The ones the children had were a smaller one with, I think it was bright red rubber on them.  They were quite funny looking things.  Mickey Mouse ones they called them.  And the other ones were a bit drab, what the adults had, drab grey ones.

JC  So did you have to be trained how to put them on and did you have to practice with them or did you just carry them around.

SG  I can remember having to put it on yes.  Can’t remember carrying it round though we must have done.  Yes.

JC  The town itself, during that period, was it a quiet place or was it a bustling town?

SG  It was fairly quiet.  It was a fairly quiet place, Beaminster.  But we had the Home Guard there you see and they had their exercises and I can remember them letting off some sort of incendiary devices in the streets, on the pavements,

JC  Really?

SG  Yes, I can remember that and the marks stayed on the pavements until, well, until they renewed the pavements in the last few years.  There were the marks of these things burnt into the stone.  There was one right by the existing Post Office now, that was there for years.


JC  And did you have Air Raid Wardens in Beaminster?

SG  Oh yes, ARP.  Yes.  Air Raid Wardens and an air raid siren on top of the, what is now the Yarn Barton Centre, the siren was on top of that right on the pinnacle of the building.  I think you’ve got that at the museum?

JC  Yes, that’s sitting outside the door and I gather it was later moved to the Police Station which is, is that the Youth Club now?

SG  Yes, that was the old Police Station.  Down over what they call Prout Bridge.  

JC  And, in terms of the ARP and the blackout, the blackout must have been very strange or was it because you’d grown up with it you didn’t seem to think it was very odd?

SG  No, we didn’t take any notice of that at all.  

JC  You were used to it all the time.

SG  The few cars and bicycles that there were only had lamps with little slits in them.  Very sparse the lighting was.  and then, of course, there was the Fire Service and they had a new hut built in Fleet Street – the place is still there – it’s right opposite what was the Star Inn which is three-quarters of the way up Fleet Street.  There’s a bit of a gap on the right hand side where they park cars now.  It was new then because of the Fire Service.

JC  So where were they before they had that hut then?

SG In where the Yarn Barton Centre is now, under that archway.  That’s where the fire engine was.  How on earth it used to get in and out of there I don’t know.

JC  So did you have air raid warnings during the war years here?

SG  Oh yes, I can remember the siren going several times.

JC  So what did people used to do?  Did they used to ignore it or stay indoors, or……………….

SG  Well, I can remember standing with my mother and father and sister just under the bottom of the stairs when it went once.  I can remember that quite vividly, yes.  Standing there.  But what would have happened if a bomb had dropped I don’t know.

JC  And with regard to things like food rationing, was there a lot of shortage in the town of things or, because you were in the country, was it easier?

SG  It was easier in the country, yes, because people grew a lot of vegetables and the surrounding farms there was always potatoes and swedes available.  And, of course, people lived on rabbits.  Rabbits were part of the staple diet.  Rabbit stew, fried rabbit, every version of rabbit you could think of.

JC  So being the son of a butcher, presumably you were able to have meat regularly?  Or were you as restricted as everybody else?

SG  Oh it was rationed, but there was no real shortage, not like there would have been in the cities.  And then lorryloads of rabbits used to go from here, from this area, to London.

JC  Really?

SG  Oh Yes.

JC  So who was that doing all the rabbiting then or were they netted or shot?

SG  There was a chap over at Misterton, Bill Sweet, and he was a game and rabbit dealer and he used to have men catching rabbits on the farms and then every afternoon, or every day, the rabbits were collected and sorted and they were – have you ever seen egg boxes, what they put eggs in?

JC  What, like the big wooden boxes………………………?

SG  Big wooden boxes that the trays fit in, well egg boxes like that with two wooden bars and the rabbits, they put them back to back in there and they hung down in the boxes and then they just stacked them in the lorries and away to Smithfield.  I think the people in London must have lived on rabbits, a good part of their staple diet.

JC  Gosh, that’s fascinating to see how…………

SG  That went on a long time after the war as well.  Because the rationing went on…… didn’t finish until ’54.  In fact the rationing after the war was more severe than it was during the war.

JC  And I gather bread wasn’t actually rationed in the war, but it was I think in 1946 they actually had to ration it for a while so it must have been……………..

SG  I can’t remembe the detail.  I know cheese got very scarce and men, if they were working on the farms, they got an extra ration of cheese because they were in manual work.

JC  So, in the town, when the first lot of soldiers arrived – I mean presumably they were all UK soldiers?

SG  Yes, before the Americans.

JC  And I have read that the Square was requisitioned for military vehicles.  I don’t know if that was for the Americans or whether it was for……………….

SG  No I think that must have been for English troops.  For UK troops because I can remember them stopping all up through Hogshill Street, parked up, and they were asking people for hot water to make their tea and ………. that was the first time I saw sachets of what is now Nescafe, but powdered coffee.

JC  It must have been quite an exciting time for a small boy with all the troops around.

SG  And even more so when the Americans arrived because they really flooded into the place.

JC  So what kind of things did they being with them that you’d not seen before, or seen for a while?

SG  Well, I’d never seen any of the tanks and stuff like that that they had with all the equipment and the huge lorries, jeeps with machine guns mounted on them.

JC Where were all these kept?  Were they all over the area?

SG  Yes, all around Beaminster, parked in a lot of the fields.  The fields up by what is now the Comprehensive School, they were absolutely full.  That was a huge, what they called a Motor Pool and they had billets at what was the Abbot Brown factory.  That was a big  American billet.  And Parnham House was one of their main centres and the park was turned into a huge camp.  All Nissen Huts built all the way through with…… big place that was.  And then they took over a lot of houses in the town as well.

JC  So, in other words, Beaminster was full.

SG  Yes.  Bridge House, the Red House, opposite Bridge House was some big sort of brick houses there just by the youth place and along the main street here, by just opposite what is now Harold Brooks there’s a house there they had.  Any large sort of house they just took it over.  I don’t know what happened to the inhabitants.  The house down at the milk factory – you know where that is don’t you – down in North Street there, they took that over.

JC  And were they generous folk?


SG Oh yes.  There was no rationing with the Americans.  With them came ample supplies of chocolate bars and chewing gum.

JC  It must have been like heaven!

SG  Yes.  And I first remember tasting pineapple chunks for the first time.

JC  What, tinned pineapple?

SG Never tasted anything like that because we hadn’t seen any oranges or bananas, or anything like that you see.  There hadn’t been anything at all.  The occasional treat you got in Beaminster was when Mr. Hind, who had the dairy, made some icecream themselves and dished out.  The Americans had their own field kitchens and the Town Hall, that was one of their main messes.  

JC  So they did all their own catering for their troops?

SG  Oh yes, they had field kitchens outside the Town Hall in which was, which is now built on, but it was a yard in them days and mobile canteens arrived every day, every afternoon, with hot doughnuts and coffee…………….

JC  And were you allowed to join in?

SG  Oh yes, they just dished it out.  

JC  And in terms of playing with your friends.  What sort of entertainment did the children have in the town apart from eating what the Americans were providing?  Because there was no television then of course.

SG  No, no television, only a few old radios or wirelesses as they were called then.  But I mean, children just made their own fun and entertainment all the time.  We always seemed to be quite busy.

JC  Did you belong to anything in the town like the Boy Scouts or……………

SG  Yes, well there was Cubs to start with.

JC  And where did they meet?

SG  The hut in North Street.  The cubs did.  I think it must have been for the Scouts as well.

JC  And did the children have to get involved in any of the war work that was going on like collecting paper or anything like that?

SG  Oh, paper collection went on all the time and then, of course, they came round collecting saucepans and aluminium and taking off railings outside of houses – all except one house in Beaminster.  The one opposite the Town Hall has still got its original railings.

 JC  How did they manage to hang on to them?

SG  I don’t know that one.  I don’t know the answer to that but they never took those away.  And of course they let you ride in the jeeps and on the trucks and wear the helmets.   

JC  And I’ve also read that they……………….. well I’ve seen one photograph where they show the Americans having some sort of party for children.  Whether it was out at Parnham or whether it was in the town I don’t know but they certainly seemed to like children.

SG  Oh yes, I can’t remember going to any parties but I know they treated the kids ever so well.

JC  And then they were gone.  Did it all happen very quickly?

SG  Just one day.  Everything was normal and then one day – it was quite a warm sunny day – and all the vehicles were lined up along every road and, I mean, Fleet Street was…………. well we used to go mostly as small children because it was only just round the corner……….. and they were lined up all up through the street all their vehicles. Loaded up and everything and then they all just went and that was it.  Then it was very quiet.

JC  Yes, it must have been really strange.  And do you remember the end of the war?  Were there any celebrations in the town either for VE Day or VJ Day?

SG  Yes, for VE Day there was and there was children’s parties for that.  I can remember parties, they used to have, it was more of a bun fight than a party (Laughter).  With jellies and everything.  They just used to sit all the children down and just give them a good feed. 

JC  I’m sure many of them could do with it?

SG  Well yes.  

JC  Well, that’s absolutely amazing.  You’ ve created a lovely snapshot of Beaminster during those years and I think again that’s really important for perhaps children in years to come finding out what it was like.

SG  Well I was nearly 8 when the war finished.

JC  So most of your childhood was wartime?

SG  As a small child, yes.  And of course there weren’t any toys much but one American gave me a super model of a Liberator, a Liberator bomber, and it was a really scale model, perfect.  

JC  Thank you ever so much and I’ve really enjoyed having a chat with you.  Thank you Sam.