The “A Village at War “ CDs

The “A Village at War “ CDs are now available from Graham Noble and are free of charge. This of course will be on a first come first served basis, I am available on g.rc.noble at btintetrnet.com and phone contact is 01373 859770.
CDs will also be available at our next talk.

Joseph Wickes – War Memories

Reminiscences from Joseph Wickes, an Evacuee from London who came to live on the farm at Penleigh with his mother.

Swill. I can’t remember if it was delivered to us or we picked it up. But it definitely American as I can remember an unopened catering can of peaches being found, also knives, forks and spoons stamped U.S. 

As a child I can remember standing on the railway path by the farm as the trains with wounded soldiers and trains with American soldiers.  As they slowed down for signals we called out “Any gum, chum” and the G.I.s throwing gum and packets of sweets etc. out to us.

As far as I can remember there was a German Nazi prison camp at, or near, The Ham. It was run by the Americans with machine gun towers etc. There was also an American camp up the Hollow in Dilton, which I think was mainly tents.

On a more personal item concerning the American transport. Tom and Madge Singer (Bill’s parents) were returning home from visiting friends. Driving down the road, it was a very dark night and having only very small dipped headlights, Tom saw a small red light on the nearside. Thinking it was a cycle, he accelerated to pass. Too late he realized it was left-hand drive American lorry and drove in the back of it. Fortunately they were not badly hurt. Although Madge received cuts to her face and head, which resulted in a scar to her face which faded after some years. But she often picked pieces of glass out of her hair for many years after.

American Camp in Dilton – which I think was up the Hollow at the top on the right hand side, mainly tents etc.

German POW Camp -which was built as an Italian camp first. I use go when not at school by horse and cart with Fred Haines (one of the farmhands) to collect the swill.

The chief cook found out it was my birthday and made me a birthday cake . . . sponge and flags of all the nations in coloured icing. I believe it was the Italians who made things out of aluminium, my father had a cigarette lighter for many years.  I still have a ring with coloured pieces of toothbrush handles let into it.  When it was turned into a German camp we still collected the swill as usual. Later on in the War, the prisoners were allowed to work on the farm. They would come down from the camp with a pack of sandwiches supplied by the camp and work in the fields.  They loved it because it got them out of the boredom of the camp.

My mother and Madge Singer would cook extra potatoes, veg for them to eat with their sandwiches, also drinks.  There was an outhouse attached to the farmhouse which had a big low sink in and a big wood /coal washing clothes boiler.  The POW workers would sit and eat their food etc there.  Because I would be out there with my mother, the men would point at me and indicate that they had children of their own and would show Mum photos of their families.  Some POWs could speak a little English.  

One day while they were having their lunch, a couple of German planes flew over the farm.  Probably on the way back home from bombing Bath or Bristol.  One of the Germans ran out into the yard and cheered them and shouted “LONDON, bomb, bomb, bomb”, which upset my mother into tears as my father and family still lived and worked in London. The next day when the Germans turned up for work Mum noticed this one was missing, then one of the prisoners who could speak some English explained to Mum that when they got back to camp the day before, they reported what he had done and they didn’t want him to work with any more, so the camp officials said he would not be allowed out any more.  Some of the Italians and Germans stayed on in England and married English girls.

I believe the only bombs dropped in the area of Westbury and Dilton was by a German plane who jettisoned two bombs on its way back to Germany.  Lucky they both duds and didn’t explode but unfortunately one landed on a cow and killed it.  It was Sharps Farm which was at the Westbury end of the lane leading to Penleigh Farm/ Penleigh House.  Sharps Farm is now houses.

I can’t remember much about rationing, only you had to have coupons to get chocolate sweets.  But being evacuated to a farm to live with a wonderful family was so lucky for my mother and me. The farm had chickens and ducks so we had eggs, also fresh milk because there was fifty plus milking cows. Milking was done by hand twice a day, seven days a week.  Labels were wrote out and tied on to the milk churns which were picked up by lorry every morning. Part of one of the fields was ploughed up and turned over to potatoes under government regulations. Four extra furrows were planted, two for the farm and one each for each of the farm hands.  On the farm we had apple trees, plums and damsons, blackcurrants, gooseberry and blackberries to make jams and pies. Apples were stored in the loft to use over the winter.  We also had a garden vegetable plot with peas, beans, carrots, swedes, cabbage.  Summer crops – tomatoes, lettuce, onions, radish. We also made a small amount of butter to help out our rations.

Clocks were altered in the summer so the farmers could work later in the evenings to bring in their harvest and making haystacks were built in the middle of the fields to stop enemy aircraft landing. There was a chap who lived in one of the farm cottages although he didn’t work on farm.  I believe his was George Cottle. When got older I realized that poor old George had a few mental problems.  But when Tommy and I were younger we thought George was the cat’s whiskers.  He use to wear an army greatcoat and told us that he was an army sniper. He told us that if the Germans attacked he would look after us and defend us, as he had a rifle he shot tin cans with. I think it was an air rifle not a .22 .

My first school was with Mrs Rabbitts, I believe that was how you spelt her name. The school was a red brick building on the right hand side towards the bottom of the village as you went from Westbury.

My next school was near the church. The head mistress was Miss Barcham. I believe the old school is still there but with a new one built behind it. My friend at school was Johnny Maggs. He lived in the village.  We use to wander miles over the fields doing something which is now against the law – birds nesting (collecting birds eggs).

There was a fancy dress parade in Dilton Marsh 1944/45. I can remember what we wore.  I went as a Red Indian with feathers in my hair and a bow and arrow.  Tommy Singer went as a cowboy and rode our pony, which I led.

Madge Singer had a long dress which my mother and Madge altered to fit Joan Epsley (she was a teenager). Joan lived with her mother and two younger brothers, Peter and Brian, in the coach house of Penleigh House which had been altered into living accommodation. Joan and her family were evacuees from East London. She also had an older brother, George, who was in the Navy. Joan went as a rose flower seller.  Mum and Madge sewed rosebuds all over the dress and around the skirt and hem.  She also had a large hat with roses on it and a basket with flowers and roses. Clare, Tommy’s little sister, was dressed as a little flower girl.  She was three or four years old. All went well until the officials made us stop parading down the High road and separate, I think into age groups, which put poor Joan right next to somebody with a goat who kept eating the roses off her dress!