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.

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Interview with John Bishop

Home 9 World War II Project 9 Audios & Interviews 9 Interview with John Bishop

Dilton Marsh History Society 18.06.14

—- Well as a family for food we did pretty well cos we were a big family there was 8 of us now but the 2 oldest boys were in the army so we only had 6 rations books but we had a big garden and father used to do all the veg digging and we used to help, if we didn’t we’d get a slap round the head and he’d say ‘get on out and help with the digging and the weeding’, but he did all the digging himself we just did the weeding and pulling all the weeds an veg.

Had to do it though…

— From what I remember we were a very close and happy family for them what were there. On June 1941 we had the second sister born June on June 19th 1941 so that was another addition to the family.

At home

— At home yes.

So that’s 2 wartime children born?

— 3 there were. The next was 1942 December 13th that’s that part of the family history.

I left the Church of England school at the end of July, we had our holidays then I went to the Westbury senior school, which is now Matravers. In the class I was allotted there were a few of my old school in Dilton there so we had girls I knew. Phyllis Lowler now Phyllis Harvey, Mavis Goff now Mavis Back and Lily Millard now Lily Carter we were all in the same class so we stayed in that class all through school we went from 1 a to 2 a to 3 a from 11 to 14 years we were all together in the same class so the girls all used to keep together pretty well and the boys did as well.

So that was close to the end of the war when you left

— From 1941 to 44… now mischief…. What we got up to, we as young boys had a little gang of about 6 of us; Ivan Barnett, Bill Millard, Sid Bull, Eric Mead, Ian Compton and myself. One of the things we used to do was Bill Millard used to stick a penny on the pavement and we’d get behind the walls on the houses and we’d see these people come and try to pick the penny up, we had to laugh about it. Another one he had a penny with a hole in with string and we used to throw it out on the string and wait to see people try to pick it up then pull the string.

They were innocent games

— Ye, they were good but people twigged on after a while and knew what we were up to so it didn’t work.  Another thing we used to do was over at the Kings Arms, which was a pub, an older pub, they used to come out of the bar and go out to the toilet round the back. They couldn’t get through the bar as that was the only way in and during the winter we’d make snowballs and snowball them out there. Another thing we did was when we got to the ‘Kinger’ we used to tie the bar door cos they were old fashioned doors to the jug and bottle door and they couldn’t get out but that was only the once we could do it.

Did you get any memories about the American servicemen here?

— Yes I’ve got it all, I’ll come to that.

When you like yeah

— 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.

Any names?

— 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 Lena 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.

So getting round during the war… travel

— I used to have to walk to Westbury School but Harry Millar, Bill’s father with the garage he used to have a utility charabanc and that was the modern one with the wooden slat seats in it.

And where did he take people in that

— To Westbury school cos if you lived beyond the bottom school or were disabled in any way you got a free ride to school, I used to try and get on but he’d say ‘you’re alright you can walk’. And they had a lorry they delivered coal around the village, Hopkins Huntley used to do that, they were partners Millard and Huntley and they used to run buses through the village but the village was like a dirt road through like a stone and dirt road in the early part.

Do you remember the lack of signs for directions?

— Yes they had to take them down because I can remember them taking the one down at the crossroads up there to the Hollow, St Marys lane and to Westbury cos there was a green there a triangle green and in the middle of it was a signpost stating where it was going Chapmanslade, Warminster… and they took that down.

But that wouldn’t worry you

— Not at that time –  9 years old I was going up enjoying myself getting chestnuts in the wood they were on the floor they were in their cast but you’d bring a load home and roast them.

One person did say a bombing that took place in Leigh road

— Yes it was a bungalow along there I don’t know if it hit the house or the garden but I can remember vaguely it was big news.

Did you ever see aircraft?

— Going over Dilton yes. I can recall there was a bit of an incendiary bomb dropped down at red pit with Mrs Bathurst behind her house anyway that’s bit of a poor memory but my sister went to a dance at the you know where the convalesces the RCB well there’s a big theatre in there where they had dances during the war and when they came out there was a plane pulling down on them they could see his face they were worried sick it was like a spitfire but it was a Messerschmitt a German fighter but he didn’t shoot at them just came down but they were terrified.

Do you remember any American service people in Westbury?

— No only when they came for the dance cos a few used to go out with the girls in the village. Another thing I can remember is the land army girls came here there was a girl married to Roy Bush there was Margaret Jones down the road in one of the council houses what was, its her own house now, Dick Jones Andrew Jones uncle he married a land army girl there was Mrs Ball used to work at the big farm in Bembridge.

Were these girls who came in from somewhere to work here?

— Yes they came in I can’t recall where but they married into the village, Margaret Jones married Alafia Jones, Mrs Ball who was in the bungalow by the hall married one of the Ball brothers at the farm but they must have been single girls and wanted somewhere cos you never heard of them going back anywhere.

What about evacuees

— Yes we had them in school and in the village we had a notorious one he was a bandit a burglar a gangster yes he in later years he was Tony Tarone he lived with Mrs Gerrish on one of the small houses on the left.

Were any in your class?

— Yes but they were in lower classes. But there was Pete somebody lived with the Hunts at Clearwood. You may know the nephew Hunt works in Trowbridge he’s to do with the real beer group. Then one lived with Mrs Gerrish.

How did they get on?

— Aright they mixed in there was a child called George lived in down the road a bit then a girl who I went out with round at Whitechurch staying with the Hilmans there she was a bit flighty but…

There was a chap you mentioned Ryan Geary was he an evacuee

— No he was here but his father was in the civil service and he travelled around London Bath and here he used to live in Brokerswood.

I’m trying to get in touch with him he’s still around

— Yes,  but I don’t have his phone number.

No that fine.

— Well Brian Geary, Davis, Johnny Mags they were another group but I was with them sometimes too because I was in that age group.

Do you know of anyone else who you think would have any memories that you know now

— All I know is her daughter that was Phyllis Harvey there’s Lily Carter there’s Mavis Back nee Goff but she lives in Melksham.

Is she similar age to you?

— She was in our class with Lily Millard and Phyllis Harvey Mavis Goff her name was but she’s under Back and she would know she’s a lively sort with a good memory and mention me if you like cos if you get hold of her.

Small aside now as John just mentioned a shop and I’m getting to grips with where the shops were in the village during the war

Lets start at the memorial hall end

— There was a Millard there in the shop he was a baker with a big house/ bake house??  round the back of that place where Brown is now, he lived where Brown is. You go round the corner there was the Cooperative that’s where the apartments are now as you go up towards Petticoat Lane on the right there was a co-op there. Carry on through the house facing you was where Gill Shepherd had his provisions and bakers.

So is that opposite the church

— No a long way from the church that was the square at Petticoat Lane, Hisomley where the co-op was at the top as you turn the corner into Whitecoft there was Gilbert Sheperds shop and he was also a baker and he used to have his bread customers then go along whitecroft there was the bake house where Percival Sydney Jones used to make bread I worked for him when I was 12 or 13 greasing the tins and taking the loaves out the oven. Anyway that was a bake house it’s still there today along as you go about ¾ of the way along Whitecroft if you come this way it’s on the left. That was the shops there.

Then we go down the road to the memorial hall that was when Millards shop was the baker Millard the baker and the shop now which is Dilton stores come on down past our house onto the Prince of Wales and next to that was Bulls shop Ken Bull and his mother run the ship there big family of bulls.

What did they sell?

— Provisions well anything cheese, whole cheeses etc. then you’d carry on turn the corner at Stormore and the first house on the left was Tommy Allen’s Shop now his was provisions he had a big car to deliver round the village the Bulls had a bicycle with a big basket in the front. Go on down the hill and bottom on the right was a shop Miss Davis and she sold sweets mostly but most were soft as the devil cos she’d had em in the window and the sun had got them but we went to the chapel an with our pocket money for collection but we spent it on Miss Davis.

Now the pubs…

— There was the Prince of Wales pub kept very old not old the building but the inside was proper country pub then come on up was Kings Arms opposite where I live that had a big arch on the side of it where they put the coach houses through and round the back was the stalls the garages for the horse and cart, then turn left at St Marys lane there was The George on a very nice farm not so busy but Mr Bull had a farm which was good for him. Going on up there to Westbury Leigh turn left as if going to Penknap go round there was The Apple Tree run by the Rousels they were people who delivered milk in the village that was it in the village they were this side of the stream that was Dilton Marsh.

What was The Apple Tree like?

— Very old I never went there but my father and older brother  went there.

And did the Americans go up there?

— Yes, they did now the pubs were on rations in the war and Sam Penny over the Kings Arms… my brothers were on leave they asked for a pint he said I haven’t got any beer they said what are they drinking then –  that was the Americans and they said you give us a pint or we’ll chuck this place about so he gave them a pint. I only got this second hand but…