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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CDs will also be available at our next talk.

Interview with Joan Freegard

Home 9 World War II Project 9 Audios & Interviews 9 Interview with Joan Freegard

Dilton Marsh History Society 02.06.2014

You’ve lived in Dilton Marsh all your life?

— We moved here on my 4th birthday from Bath.

You said your parents were from Bath?

— Yes.

So what brought them to Dilton?

— My Dad’s work, he worked on the railway.

And did he do that all his life?

— Well he didn’t before he went in the First World War and he came out and he couldn’t get a job and then he got on the railway. He did office work before that.

So what age were you when the War started?

— I was 17 in the June as the war started in the September.

So now you’re…?

— I’ll be in 92 in 3 weeks time.

So you’ve got some really long memories cos I think you said you were working somewhere locally during the war?

— First of all I was working at Boultons Glove Factory until I was 19 and then some of the girls were called up but I wasn’t quite old enough and we were advised to get a job near to home so that you didn’t have to go away from home so we got, a lot of us left the factories here and went into Trowbridge and worked in Haydens In Silver street, lane it was then.

And what did they do?

— Well what was it? It was something to do for the Navy it was what the submarines shoot.

Sort of like missiles? Um like torpedoes…

— That’s right yes torpedo’s it was.

So you were helping to make those?

— Yes one part of the torpedo.

Did that have any particular dangers for you?

— No it was just working machines and sometimes we had to smooth parts with emery paper and you would do that to get al the rough edges off.

So that was a whole group of young girls that…

— Yes there were a lot of us in there.

And any other particular memories of the war? You had brothers and sisters?

— Yes I’ve got 2 sisters and 1 brother, well I haven’t got them now but I did.

And were your sisters older than you?

— My older sister she was actually called up but George gave you her call up papers, George Path?? He told me he gave you her call up papers. She went into munitions but she went into training and where did she go? I can’t remember but she ended up at Bath. Once she had to do so many weeks training and then she up at Horseman’s Gear at Bath.

Was that where she stayed?

— That’s where she stayed all the War yes.

Making munitions again?

— Yes.

What was her first name?

— Her first name was Ruth but her surname was Brown because she was my cousin really but mum adopted her. My auntie and uncle died you see.

So what was your maiden name?

— Freegard, I’m not married, Freegard. That was the family name.

So then another sister?

— Yes, Margaret.

And she was…

— She’s Mrs Mead she’s in a home at Warminster.

And what happened to her during the War?

— Well she was 4 years younger than me so she wasn’t very old she didn’t get called up at all.

She was still going to school presumably

Well when the war broke out yes,

And here in the village or did she have to go over to Westbury to go to school there?

— Oh yes, when we were 11 we went in the village at the little school at the bottom you know the one I mean somebody lives there now don’t they?

Did they call it the Free school or something?

— Well the people who went to the chapel went to the school and the ones that went to the church went to this school. It was divided like that then.

So then you stayed there until

— We were 11 then we went to Westbury.

But that wouldn’t have been called Matravers then would it?

— No it was called Westbury senior school.

Ok so that’s where she was during the war and then left school at what 15 or something?

— Yeah that’s right yeah.

What did she do once she left school?

— She worked at the Cheddar Cheese factory. Up on The Ham. They made Cheddar Cheese up there.

And your brother what happened to him?

— Well he was 7 years younger than me so he was at school.

So he would have probably been visiting the troops that stayed up on the, cos there were American troops weren’t there up at the farm up the road up The Hollow was it?

— Yeah they say there were I didn’t know about them but…

You didn’t know…

— I asked my sister and she said yes there were some up there somewhere.

But you never met any of them?

— Well you see the war was getting on a bit when the Americans came into it and by that time I was ill I was in hospital nearly all the time so i didn’t know much about the Americans.

So how did you get ill then?

— I had heart trouble.

So you had to give up work as well then?

— Oh yes. I was in hospital a lot you know.

So from what age…

— I was about 21, just over 21 when I collapsed you know and…

But here you are at 92?

— Yes it’s Marvellous.

Do you remember at all in the villages them having the dances; you wouldn’t have remembered the dances for the troops or anything

— My sisters used to go to them.

So they told you about them?

— Yeah. Tupenny hops.

Tupenny hops, that’s how much they paid was it?

— Well I didn’t know they used to call them something I think it was tupenny hops.

So the atmosphere during the war, your father was working on the railways.

— Oh yes he was on the railways.

And brother, he was gone…

— He was in school.

So did you have any people that you knew that were out fighting or any worries like that or…

— Not in our family but our cousins, a lot of our cousins were in the war and in the later part of the war the 2 men that my sisters married they were in that you know.

So that must have been quite a worry

— Yeah.

And do you remember shortages, not having to go without or

— Oh well the food was short and clothes was short, everything was short really.

You had to make do and…

—  The longer it went on the worse it got really. The couple of years after the war were worse than the actual war for shortages.

Yeah cos you were still on rations

— Very short yeah.

What did you miss most? When it came back what did you enjoy the most?

— Oh gosh everything. Petrol was very short you couldn’t get any anywhere you know.

So for your dad to get to work…

— He used to walk it, he walked from Stormore, cos we lived at Stormore then, right to Westbury station every day. Then we used to work 12 hours a day see.

And when you worked at 17 in Trowbridge…

— Yeah I worked at the glove factory at 17, at 19 I went to Trowbridge.

So how did you get to work then?

— Well I used to have to walk up to The Bell Inn at Chalford by about 7.20 am and then the works bus used to pick us up and go all round the villages and pick people up and we started work at 8.00am and then we worked till 8 at night and then we were dropped there at night at The Bell Inn and we had to walk all the way back. I used to be away from home about 15 hours a day.

6 days a week or 5 days a week

— 5 days a week but on the Saturdays we worked till I think it was one o’clock to on Saturdays.

They got their penny’s worth out of you

— Then we used to have to go in every so often and take our turns to do Fire Watching cos none of these buildings could be left without… in case of bombs… about every 6 weeks we had to go and do Fire watching over the weekend.

Just a few of you together then?

— Yes perhaps 6 in a team and you’d be in different parts of the factory and you had to keep walking round 2 at a time and the other 4 would rest for a couple of hours and then go on like that.

And did you ever have any bombs come close to you or any fires break out?

— We did have, one night when I was at work we were bombed, not in the actual factory, they… I think it was the barracks they were trying to get, whether they did I mean they did get them in the end but I’m not sure if they had them then/

A barracks in…

— Trowbridge.

And was that for British soldiers

— Yes and um well it was at night see and I was on nights that night, we were working and we didn’t even get an alarm or anything, we got just shaken off our stools you know and we rushed down to the shelter and that was it. There were 2 men on the roof Fire… you know watching for it the planes and we said ‘why didn’t they ring the alarm bell’ and they said they couldn’t because the planes swooped right down over the factory and they had to lay flat on the roof, and they said the cheeky things in the plane looked out the plane and waved at them.

And that was a German

— Yes.

And were there any bombs around the village at all

— There was nothing actually bombed but this used to be a fighting area we used to get a lot of shrapnel you know bullets and that and like if they were chasing the German planes and they couldn’t go quick enough they’d jettison the bombs so they’d drop wherever they were you know so there were a few that fell round here but they were mostly in the fields.

Yeah to get rid of them but there would be people around here shooting at them so you’d get the bullets left then

— Yea we did.

Your father was he driving trains…

— He was a cleaner in the boilers he had to get in the boilers and clean them out.

And because of his job he stayed local all through the…

— Yeah well he was too old anyway to be called up like that.

What age would he have been then?

— Forty odd I should say.

Some people look back on the war and say it was a time of great friendship

— Yes it was people all pulled together and helped each other. Surprising how when you get trouble that things get you together.

It’s funny that we need that to make us look after our neighbours but that’s how people remember that time

— Yes.

But also a very hard life because the hours you were putting in do you feel that had an impact on your health eventually or

— Well it didn’t help me you know.

But that was something that was probably always there

— Oh I always had it yeah a little bit but that did make it worse it was bound to have done.

So after a couple of years you had to give up and you were in hospital

— I think it was nearly 7 years I was in and out of hospital. I was really ill you know and I had a rheumatic thing they didn’t say it was rheumatic fever but similar.

And were you in hospital in Bath

— I was in Westbury hospital for 2 months first of all and I came home for a bit and then I went to Bath hospital for 2 months then I went back down in there again I went down in there 3 or 4 times.

And were there any troops or someone being treated there at the same time in the hospitals

— Yeah it was a brain and spine unit down there.

So they probably had soldiers or airmen or whatever that were really quite severely injured

— That’s right yeah there was a man the surgeon he wasn’t in a uniform but that was his job a brain and spine surgeon and he brought his own team from London I can remember that cos they used to come round a see us sometimes.

And that was the Bath hospital or the Westbury…

— That was the Bath one there was just ordinary doctors at Westbury.

So they had plenty of hard work to do in those years as well

— Yes.

So any particular memories that stand out about the village during the war years?
If you had to tell a little child now who…

— I think of the air raid wardens and they were the older men were called up the sort of dads army they call them now the home guard. They used to come round the village every night and make sure there was no lights showing and they’d go ‘put out that light ‘ you know and it was…I remember we used to go to the little chapel at Stormore and they made frames for all the windows and covered them in big thick black paper and you couldn’t see a thing it was absolutely pitch black. You couldn’t light a cigarette anybody that did, cos that was a light you see, because of the planes, the bombs.

And what transport there was couldn’t have used lights

— No it was pitch black out all the time you know.

We couldn’t imagine it now could we with all the lights we have in the street

— No, then when all the raids were on all the searchlights used to come up then in the sky.

So did you have some form of shelter at home

— We didn’t  have one no some people did I think.

What did you do hide under the table

— Yeah well they used to say get in the part of the house with the least glass in it and our stairs were going up in a part of the house like that we used to sit in the stairs it was frightening.

So there wasn’t a communal shelter that everybody went to

— Not that I know of. I mean the houses were widespread then there weren’t that many houses here. If you’d have had a communal shelter there’d have been a lot of people…

So where did the sirens go off from then where were they situated?

— I don’t know.

But you could hear them

— Oh yes ever so loud.

And do you remember any of the particular people who were in the dads army or would any of those still be around

— No they’d have been well over 100 now!

But they had their job to do

— And they used to do it as well. The one who used to do Stormore was called Mr Rabbits, he was the headmistresses husband he used to do Stormore all down by our house.

And do you remember many of the young lads of your age going off to war

— Yes nearly all the boys I was at school with went to war.

And some of them not come back

— Oh a lot of them didn’t come back.

So a sad time for some people

— Oh yes it was, course if anything happened in the village everybody knew everybody you know.

So if something happened to somebody you had a recollection of them..

— Yeah I remember, I think his name was Jimmy Sharp anyway there was a young man who was reported killed abroad and a gang of the girls my sister, my older sister included they went to the cinema and they used to show the war news after the film and when they showed the news they saw this chap he wasn’t killed at all he was taken prisoner but he came back after the war and everybody thought he was killed see and they.

And was he in the air force

— In the army he was and they saw him on the film marching with the prisoners.

Did you have to have ID cards for some sort of identity card or was that just your rations book

— Yeah I think we did have an identity card.

You don’t have yours any longer

— I haven’t got anything because I had a lot of nephews and nieces and great nephews and nieces and they cadged all that stuff for their school work and projects.

Somebody mentioned somewhere around the village that there was a spitfire plane or somebody who had a relative who flew a spitfire and it flew over the village once do you have any recall of that

— No I can’t remember that.

And do you remember fights in the air between Germans and British

— They did used to fight over here but of course you had to get in and not stand there watching but you could hear the noise.

And you’ve mentioned there was a very good spirit and people looked after each other but any memories that you think you really prefer not to remember

— When they bombed Bath and Bristol it was terrible.

You were in Bath in hospital did you se what had happened to Bath

— Oh yes it was terrible down there course all our people were down there, luckily none of them were killed yet some of them came up and lived with us for a little while.

Because their houses had gone?

They didn’t lose their houses but it was my dad’s auntie and his cousin they lived where the bombing was bad they didn’t lose their house but auntie was ill and they had to bring her away and they brought her up here. And they all had cellars you know all the houses down there have cellars, and they went down in the cellar and course there were doors in all their cellars that were always kept locked they didn’t have the keys for them, the council had them but when the bombing was on they gave them the keys so that they could get right down under and when they went down into their cellar and they met people coming the other way, all the people had been given keys and that was the subterranean city under there they were all meeting one another all underneath. Well they must have been down there ever so deep cos their ordinary cellars were deep enough. And these were even deeper below that; you went down more steps from the cellar.

And thinking about people who came to live in the village presumably there was some evacuee children

— We had an evacuee yes we did in our house a little boy called John he was and he was a nice little boy.

How old was he

— About 8 or 9 he stayed for several years.

And did you keep in touch

— We lost touch now but we did since we lived here he came to see me and mum and dad and brought his family here from London to visit.

And was he happy here

— Yes ever so happy here.

Any sort of odd, well some children would have come and never seen the country or

— Oh no he never had.

So any surprises for him

— He could not make out milk not coming in bottles it came out the cow, and get it from a farm in a jug, he couldn’t make that out, he didn’t know where any food was coming from. And when he first came he wouldn’t eat anything and we couldn’t work it out and one day mum said ‘why won’t you eat it love, try it’ and he says ‘my mum said if I didn’t eat it you’d be angry with me and I don’t know if I’d like it’ he’d never had anything, apparently they used to give him some money and he’d go and buy a faggot or some fish and chips he’d never had anything like a dinner he didn’t know what it was. When it came to it he liked it all but he was afraid to try it in case mum was mad with him if he didn’t like it.

But you became attached to him in the end and he brought his family to see you

— Yeah.

And did you grown your own vegetables

— Oh a lot we had to.

But he wouldn’t have seen that and if you hadn’t grown your own stuff you wouldn’t have had a good diet

— Yeah.

Mum during the war, with a couple of children at home and school, Ray and Margaret, mum was at home did she go out

— She didn’t go out to work she was 3 years older than dad she was a tailoress she used to do some sewing at home.

And make all your clothes

— Yes not that we could get much it was rationed with coupons.

You didn’t do the drawing the line up your leg to be your nylons

— Yes we did and then some times if we laddered a stocking we’d have a bit of silk and work a clock on the one ladder and do the same on the other one to match it and make a pair you had to do something see.

So clothes were short food was short but you all got through it

— We used to make all sorts of stuff whatever you could get sometimes they’d be lucky enough to get a parachute and then you’d make blouses and what have you with that.

— I don’t know where they got them.

This was your mum who got those or friends

— I don’t know where they got them.

Anything you want to tell me that I haven’t touched on

— I can remember I was in Bath hospital there was Combe Park hospital but there were all separate hospitals there was the Royal United, Forbes Fraser that was private, then they built Combe Park hospital and the Yankee soldiers were in there and they used to bring over all sorts of stuff for people but I wasn’t allowed anything with acid in. They brought great big oranges from California and make orange juice but one day there was so much there was enough for one for each patient and the sister said ‘It isn’t fair Joan you cant have your orange.’ Well it was funny a couple of days before mum had come to see me and she told me that a friend of mine in the village was in bed with kidney trouble she had to lay on her stomach and wanted oranges but couldn’t get them. So I said to the sister ‘Oh I wish I could give it to my friend’ and I told her all about it, it was just as if it were a lump of gold, she said, ‘Oh I don’t know if I’m allowed to do that I must ask permission’. So she asked and they said she could have it so she kept it on a cold slab in the pantry till mum came to visit the next time and it went home to her. In the meantime all the women used to go to Warminster shopping if you saw a queue you didn’t know what it was for but you’d stand in it and get what was coming you know, so this girls mum the neighbours used to go and sit with her 2 or 3 at a time cos they were afraid to sit with her on their own and let her mum go to Warminster once a week to give her a break so he went to Warminster and stood on the end of a long queue and when she got to the end of this queue it was herring, course you couldn’t get fish cost of the bombs at sea but he had some herrings and you were allowed 2 a family so she brought it home and in the meantime the specialist had told mum was that one of the best things I could have was herring so this girls mum cut the middle out of one the herrings and mum brought it down to me to Bath hospital for me. They cooked it for me tea.

So the Americans by being up at the hospital actually did provide a lot for the other parts of the hospital in the way of food

— They used to do all sorts cos they could get anything you see.

And it’s funny that if you see a queue you get on the end

— Yeah cos you never knew what was there whatever you got you were grateful to get.

People cant imagine

— No you cant now.

What did you girls do did you colour your hair and make up

— I never used make up we used to curl our hair in pipe cleaners you couldn’t have anything made of metal all the metal was for the war they took up all the railings round the houses, course there was no plastic.

Didn’t make your own butter

— No it was all rationed.

So what happened to the cheddar cheese your sister made?

— Cheese was rationed but maybe it went to the forces.

And that was on The Ham

— Yes.