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.
Rumination from locals
Extracts from the interviews specific to American troops.
Below are extracts from interviews with a number of local people. This highlights the sometimes common feelings regarding the troops and the impact that they had on the village in the short time they were here.
Interesting statements regarding the way they interacted in really different ways with local people; seems that the more adventurous youngsters had a lot more to do with the troops than others.
Also seems to be a theme with a couple of people that the troops suddenly were here and then they all disappeared!
Lewis Bull was born in Dilton, now lives in Warminster. He was 8 when the war started. He lived in the local pub with his gran, his uncle and his 2 sons, his Mum, Dad and his sister (4 years at the start of the war).
So what’s your most significant memory of the war as a child?
………………………………… Another time was when all the Yanks came down from Briggs field from Michael Briggs on Old Farm, they used to come down… how many you could get on a jeep god knows but they used to come down to the pub to see if there was any beer. But 9 times out of 10 there was a notice on the front door saying ‘sorry no beer’ everybody ran out you know, they didn’t cater for god knows how many hundreds of Yanks there were out there.
Was this them coming again prior to the D Day landings?
That’s right yes they were there for some months I suppose in the sort of bivvies’, tent type thing and us as kids used to go up there and talk to them I don’t’ know what we used to talk about but there were quite a lot of black ones amongst them cos it was one of the few times they were integrated.
Yeah that’s very odd as everywhere else in the country seems to refer to certainly black and white soldiers being totally segregated but you remember them being together…
Yes together up there, whether they were separated in lines I don’t know.
So they all had tented accommodation it wasn’t like the white soldiers were in…
Oh no they were all in the same and then all of a sudden they were all gone. There were all the queues beside the side of the road the tanks and the things that were lined up on the side of the road for few days before the D Day all just disappeared.
And they went and never came…
No they went down to the south coast they were backed up as far as Dilton and I remember Salisbury and Wilton they were backed up there.
So do you remember the American soldiers, I mean we had no beer but they had things that as a family you didn’t have?
Well they were very well fed they never seemed to want for anything and they certainly didn’t bother us for food well we didn’t have the sort of food to give them anyway we were on rations.
And were they giving away things to you as children?
Um not really they kept them for girls I think.
Yes cos there were dances in the village.
Yes lots of dances we as kids used to sit on the pavement to watch them go in.
And was this black and white soldiers going into the same dance or different?
Well they certainly didn’t have different nights whether the black soldiers come down or not I don’t know. I know several girls in the village married or went out with Yanks but I don’t think any black ones. It was a difficult time at that time; it wasn’t till later after the war that they were allowed to do anything.
And you say some of the girls married?
Yes a couple of the girls got married.
Did they go to America after the war?
One I got a cousin who went to America yeah Nina Bishop but never heard from her since, well only through family who kept in touch we weren’t that close in family………………………………
Lesley West was 9 years old when the war started.
You mentioned earlier something about the American troops. Do you remember any sort of connection that you had with the troops, talking with them or…
……………………….Yeah, we used to um, when they first came up into the wood, one of the woods up there, and I can remember it now they’d say ‘would you like some tea or coffee or something or other’ and we’d go ‘Oh yes please’, in these mugs and after it was gone I think there must have been a quarter of a pound of sugar still in the bottom of mug, I thought gosh… and then another time when they were doing their training or some armed combat up in the Park, is it a Park up there? You go through from the… I can’t think of the name of it… Yes I’m sure it’s a Park if you went up through the footpath and get on the road to Chapmanslade there’s a Park and quite a big one and they were up there.
Is that on the left hand side going towards Chapmanslade?
No if you come from the Village through The Firs straight through up the footpath straight into it and the footpath goes right through the middle of it. And you have the small wood on your left and the big woods on the right. It belonged to Lord and Lady Cybil Phipps (?) cos we used to creep up there to have a look at the peacocks without getting caught.
So they were up there doing training and we was there one day when it was meal time and they had the dishes with their first course on and towards the end of the line they slop down– I can remember it now – put all the pieces and custard on top! They said Oh there’s nothing wrong with that it all goes down the same way!
Did they ever give you anything?
No, no we didn’t get anything out of them. The only thing we used to scrounge was gum. “Any gum chum?” You used to get the Yankee sticks whereas I can remember the English gum was little white tablets covered in sugary stuff. Theirs’ was stick form as you buy it now today.
That was a treat though wasn’t it?
Oh yeah but other than that um we used to watch ‘em and then get fed up of watching them and then we’d go off on our own sweet way and play cowboys and Indians! Climb trees……….
Do you remember if any of the American troops you saw were there any black American troops?
No the black Americans were stationed in Westbury itself behind what was the drill hall? Because I left towards the 1943 I suppose I joined the army cadets and we used to go there in the drill hall and they were stationed actually behind us.
Were they in buildings or tents?
Buildings if I remember rightly. But how many was in there I don’t know. But that’s where the coloured chaps were.
But the other ones just up from Dilton were white?
They were all, well at the time we didn’t know what was going on but they were all being prepared for D Day that’s what it was. Then one day they just all disappeared.
To you at that age you just said, “That’s it, they’ve gone?”
You didn’t get any names of any of the troops?
No my brother got pally with one he used to come home a couple of times to see mum and dad but what his name was I don’t know.
What for tea or…?
Just a cup of tea and something but I never really got involved with anything not friendly you know but I’d chat to them. As time went on we had the prisoners of war they came over they were based in Westbury you see.
Lily Carter was on of 3 children and was 9 years old when the war started; has lived in the village all her life.
Can you recall American troops?
………………………….Yeah in Hisomley, well, the on the top of the hollow going towards chapmanslade on the left you know where Briggs is well it was the field before that, that’s where they camped.
What in tents?
Yeah in tents. Whether they did have a hut I couldn’t tell you. But it was a lot of Americans what was confined to barracks and they used to get out and come to the village and whats it the MPs the military police would hunt them out and my sister courting her husband who she married, and he was having a drink before he went home and they came down the side of my fathers bungalow and went in the greenhouse and hid. And dad ewere a bit frightened and he said John will you come out , course john were a 6 footer see, not cos he could do much but…
Did you ever go up to see the camps?
No we passed by. They had dances over the hall once a week and I used to stand round the front and watch them going up. Cos I was only a girl see.
But you didn’t talk to them at all?
No. Some did. There was a family of Youngs, Roxy Young, Diana and they lived half way down the village and Roxy went out with one and they gave her father a pair of boots cos they always had plenty the Americans so compared to what the English did. It was snow and he was a signalman her father and walking through the snow the pattern of the boots was US army.
Some stories we have heard say there were black American troops did you ever see them?
At Westbury up on The Ham. If my husband were alive he could tell you although he were in the air force but they were up on the HAM but they were quite big men and one or two children left behind from them but that’ s all I can tell you about them.
And you mentioned the village hall do, that was regular?
Yes most weeks they did have a hop as they called it.
Were there any effects to the hospitals did any troops come back to be treated?
I don’t think so no not at Westbury, the nearest were Bath because it had some wards what they did do more for the cancer and I think that was, oh and also you know the old St Martins at Midford that was the Americans had that and a lot of operating theatres in there like Frenchay that was Americans you see, that was small huts it’s closed now. They done good things down there but it was very old……………………………….
John Bishop was a boy In a family of 8. 2 of his brothers were in the army. Had 3 additions to the family during the war.
Did you get any memories about the American servicemen here?
Yes I’ve got it all, I’ll come to that.
When you like….
Anyway during that time we had my father went to London to help with the Blitz to try and put stuff back together, clear the buildings and such and during that time we had lodgers in our house and we’ll come to that in a minute. In Easter 1945… no better skip that. One of the lodgers used to teach us and people how to dance, he had a school of classes at the memorial hall once a week and all the young people used to go there they were a bit older than me but he taught me cos I helped him take stuff up to the school the gramophones and records etc.
Was that waltzing?
Yes quickstep, waltz and tango – the modern stuff. So every Friday night they had a dance up there called the sixpenny hop and they had a band – a live band the ‘Rhythmic Three’ Alfie Barrto used to play the accordion Alfie Mansell on the banjo and ukulele and Les on the drums. Now I used to go to them dances and I’d sneak in they wouldn’t charge me but I could dance as good as any of them but my older sister says she loved to dance with me. Over time the Americans used to go there but Fred Dredge and Albert Jonae; it was a tanner for us but they could see pound notes in their eyes and they made a bit of money out of that. Now I’ll go back to the Americans.
Yes please, were they predominately white?
Yes most were white and it came one day, a sheet of brown khaki tents over the whole of Hisomley in the farmer Briggs big field. Around that time the Americans moved in and when I finished work I used to go up to say… I’m jumping on a bit…but in Easter in 1944 I left school and went to work at the tannery as a labourer and that was when the Americans in Easter 1944 at that time, or just before they arrived getting ready for D Day I presume. I used to go up there after work they’d give you chocolate and sweets we all used to go up we all had our different tent to go to there were so many of them.
Are we talking 20 or 30 tents?
Oh more than that. Anyway I got taken under the wing of one of the tents and one of the men sergeants. They used to play dice there, craps they called it, dice, they used to let me roll for one of them this sergeant and I used to win all the time for him. When I came away he would give me a few pounds I’d bring it home to mum, we’d done alright and just before they were going disembark I come away with quite a lot of money in them days it was a lot might have been 10 or 50 pounds but it was a lot and I brought it home and she says we’ll do alright for a bit now. But we were all right the lodgers were paying money for their keep.
Did you notice any equipment up there?
No didn’t bother with that just went to get to know the soldiers. But there must have been armaments and lorries what they got.
No I can’t remember nothing bout names cos they were just soldiers. Anyway this sergeant I know his name it was Bill but that was all you know.
And he was a sergeant?
Yes in with the other men. Towards the end of 1944 my oldest sister Nina married an American soldier and he was here because he was at The Ham, on The Ham in the big camp he was like a clerk but a master sergeant. Clyde E Self was his name and my sister courted him for some time they met at the dance at Dilton he remembered me because Gerald Barnett had an old bike – he said if you can sell this John there’s a bit of money in it, well Clyde my future brother in law, I sold him this bike for 30 shillings and it broke down on his way home… the pedals fell off and when he saw me he said ‘you’re the little devil who sold me the bike that broke down’ I said ‘well I was only trying to make a bit of money’ he said I understand but next time don’t pick on me.
Well you didn’t know the pedals were going to fall off…
I didn’t know he was going to be me brother in law either cos at that time that was just the beginning of them coming into the village from The Ham anyway my sister married the American in Trowbridge. Mother was worried because at the reception we were going to have at the memorial hall we wouldn’t have any food cos we had none to spare. Anyway no problem the Americans had seven-pound tins of ham, spam everything we needed was there. They were very good at supplying everything so we had a good reception and the next thing I remember they were married. She moved to London and she was going to America in 1945 and we all went to Southampton to see her off to America on a liner.
With a lot of other people?
With a lot of GI brides and she was pregnant by then 7 months pregnant and we were worried she was going to have it on the boat but her husband wanted her to go to America he wanted the child to be an American subject…………………………..
Swill, I can’t remember if it was delivered to us or we picked it up. But it was 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. American camp in Dilton which I think was up the Hollow at the top, on the right hand side mainly tents etc.
On a more personal item concerning the American transport. Tom and Madge Singer (Bills 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……………….
………………..When I cycled to work in Edward Street, I passed Fontenville House (now the High Street). This was an American army camp with huts (which were used to house evacuated Londoners after the war). This was the first time I saw black GIs. Bowyers House (Tanyard Lane) was occupied first by British soldiers, then by GIs. Courtleigh House, Westbury Leigh, was occupied by British army. The Commission Board, Warminster Road, Westbury was an British army camp during the war. I remember an American army camp on Court Farm, Hisomley and white GIs walking around the village and going to the dances at the village hall every Friday night. Entertainment at the dances was Frankie and Freda’s dance band from Westbury, or Alfie Bartle (landlord of the Bell at Standerwick) on the piano with Alec Withers on the tea chest (homemade instrument with pole and string)! Villagers also performed in concerts in the hall – singing, performing sketches, playing instruments. One of the GIs had a UK wife (from Northern England) who stayed with us when she visited him one weekend. He gave my grandmother some tins of fruit to say thank you………………….
………………I remember seeing trains full of troops passing through the village, especially as D Day approached. Some families had railway workers (mostly drivers and firemen) staying with them as they were moved to Westbury area from other part of the UK. My Aunt had two firemen (from Weymouth and South Wales) lodging with her and her husband. Opposite Westbury station some accommodation was put up to house some of these railway workers, known as the hostel…………………
……………..A few village women married GIs and went back to America with them at the end of the war……………….
…………….Some village boys did a bit of wheeling and dealing with the GIs at Hisomley e.g. Brian Geary who delivered newpapers to the camp and was an evacuee, also my cousin…………….