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 and phone contact is 01373 858561.

CDs will also be available at our next talk.

Interview with William Lesley West

Home 9 World War II Project 9 Audios & Interviews 9 Interview with William Lesley West

Dilton Marsh History Society

How old were you in the war roughly? You’re 83…

— I would be… if you go back, I can remember I left school in 1945 at 14. I left straight from school and went straight onto the Great Western Railway following the family tradition, and I was the fourth one, the fourth generation in line to work on the Great Western.

Ok, so in other words you were 14 at the end of the war.

— At the end of the war, yes…

Great, so that’s got that out the way.

— You see originally I came, we came from… what we sort of done, Father was on the railway he got promoted to a Shunter at Westbury and we moved to Park Road well it was council houses at the time and um this was about 1938 I had one year roughly at the infant school and then went up to the Junior school at the start of the war.

So what school was that?

— The Church school, in the village. The head teacher was a Miss Bartram and she lodged at the bottom of Park Road in one of the cottages round there, but who the other teacher was that we were with I can’t remember.

Do you remember anything interfering with the day at school or was it just normal school days…

— Just normal school days.

Nothing massively happened because of the war do you think?

—- Not that I know of… as I said… during the air raids well we went into the Church and climbed underneath, got underneath of the pews. And the Infant School opposite The Firs, in The Firs itself, they dug a trench out just inside The Firs itself for the children to go in, but whether they used it or not I don’t know cos as I said I’d left that school by the time the War started.

So you didn’t have to actually go in that trench yourself?

— No, No I never but if you can find somebody that’s still about that was at the Infants School during the war possibly they can confirm it.

Just changing the subject a bit, 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…  (Laughter) 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 any other boys that used to go up with you?

— Yeah, um one of my mates his father actually turned out to be…  he came to be the village policeman, He was in Westbury when the war started and was due to retire but they asked him to stay on and they transferred him over to Dilton. And the police station, you go up Park Road to the top, turn right and the police house was on the far end and had the notice on the side, Police.

What was his name do you remember?

— Macey but I can’t I don’t know what his name was, Douglas, but he’s passed on now he was a bit older than me. There was Douglas, he had two sisters I can’t think of their names now but anyway there’s Douglas err who else was there, quite a gang of us there used to be in fact we were split up into 3. Top end of the village you had one gang, we were in the middle then there was another gang down the bottom end of the village.

Was John Bishop in your gang?

— I can’t remember.

Or someone called Geary?

— Geary…no….

Oh don’t worry, but gangs anyway…

— Well sort of gang anyway you know. Our favourite trick if you went fighting, we’d have a stick and you’d find a nice cow pat that was better than stones cos you could wash it off afterwards..

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?”

— Yeah.

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.

Would that be German POW or

— Yes,

Or Italian POW or

— Bit of each I think. Cos we heard some naughty… we didn’t know what it meant but some naughty Italian words and we used to shout out at them and run. I won’t say what it is cos somebody might understand Italian. The Americans they used to cruise through in their jeeps in the village, American police with their spats and white helmet by the centre pub by the junior school there was a gate leading up into the fields and we used to wait behind the hedge and as they go down we used to shout at them White Heads are for Horses and ?? and they used to stop and we used to run they never got us.

We were naughty boys

Now you think back can you think of any big impact on your mum and dad?

— Well dad was, when he went to Westbury as a Shunter then during the war he got made up as a Goose Guard?? Well when he went to work we see him when he got home.

How did your mum manage?

— She managed the best way she could. Stuff was short. The only think I can remember was that St Marys lane, I don’t know if the pubs still down there or not there was a chap, Bull? Ball? His name was and he had a smallholding beside the pub and he used to come round on bike with big cans of milk and measure it out into your jug. Then we used to put it in the pantry window to let it stand then after it had stood for a while you could have the cream on the top. Then we used to get, he used to bring in some powdered egg, mix it up with a drop of milk or water and make a pancake type of thing.

What did you think of that sort of food?

— Well it was better than nothing! We tried to grow stuff ourselves but the ground wasn’t all that brilliant over there but we managed.

Was there plenty of meat or

— Not really. Everything was rationed. Then I got a job with the, what’s his name? Percy Jones he was a Baker and he used to live in a cottage down in St Mary’s Lane in a small shop next to the War Memorial, no not the War Memorial, the Village hall,, the Memorial Hall, that’s it. Well there was a shop next to there he used to have that and his bakery was I don’t know what the name of the road – round the back way and it was a wood/clagit oven it was like bundles of bean sticks he used to put in and fire it up and get her all hot and…

So what was your job?

— I used to go up Wednesdays and help him deliver all over his rounds. And Saturday mornings my job was to grease the tins and put the bread dough after he’d made it, the seam of it had to go down in the bottom of the tin. If you kept them upright like that you had the rise top and if turned them up the other way you got the sandwich um…

And how did you deliver it?

— Well we had a yellow van we used to go round Westbury Leigh, Dilton all down round Rudge. We went by the Kicking Donkey all round that area. We used to deliver at one house where they used to make rough cider. They used to stop the van and give me a couple of glasses of this rough cider. I can remember walking two steps and where the other two went I don’t know I said ‘What makes it as strong as that then?” and he says “my chickens, they were getting round all the top drinking it and falling in”, course that made it strengthened it you see.

Can you remember anything about what we might call entertainment?

— Well you used to have a do in the Memorial hall once a week or once a month we used to have a band that came over from Trowbridge, Frankie Scott the old band banging away for dance. Then they had, well whether this was after the war or not you used to get this travelling film show, you’d set the camera up and the projector up in the hall.

Can you recall any of the American troops for example coming down to those sorts of things?

— No we never used to see any Americans.

Not in any of the pubs?

— Not as I know of we didn’t go in the pubs, well we used to go in the middle pub as we called it and we used to buy like a penny glass bottle of lemonade. We used to get in there and shut the door up and someone used to have some cigarettes puffing away, Sam Penny was the landlord he always used to choke in the smoke. I was about 14 you see, when I went from the junior school at Dilton to Westbury senior school we had to walk because we was under the 2 and a half mile limit to get the people of the village down the bottom end of the village they got the bus everyday see.

During the war?

— Yeah. Then in the end they gave way and we all went on the bus. Course then we had the evacuees came as well from London…

Did you actually meet them?

— Well we went to school with them. I remember I had one had a fight then we shook hands and he put his arm round me and said that’s it we’re not going to fight no more. I got rather pally with one of the other young girls, I forgotten what happened to her..

In your class were there 2, 3, 4 I mean was it a big number or small number?

— I can’t remember. Just a medium class I suppose, there were boys and girls a lot of them now are gone.

At 14 I guess you wouldn’t have had possession of ration cards or stuff like that?

— Oh, we had, yeah we had ration cards, well mum had them I didn’t but we used to get a cooked meal at school I remember that cos how they worked that is the fact that the girls used to do their cooking classes and they used to cook the dinner as part of their cooking class. I forget how much we used to pay every week but at the end of the… when it was all over… you had a roster so once a week you either wash the plates up , dry em and put em away or do the knives and forks.

So that was a main meal?

— Yeah a meal at lunchtime. A cooked dinner and they had an allotment and you used to try and grow a lot of your own vegetables as well ourselves and we used to have gardening lessons but unfortunately they had a lovely science room but the science master got called up in the army so we never had no science.

That must have been common enough, lots of guys getting called up

— Oh yeah.

What was getting about like in those days travel wise?

— There was a bus service, a single decker bus service. People used to complain because.

The busses start in what we call the bottom of the village, the green and we used to go to the Westbury cinema. Well we used to go there and pile on it but before I got out to Westbury Leigh it was full and standing. Course everybody couldn’t get into town to go shopping could they? Course our favourite trick was to get in and out at the front end of the bus cos the conductor worked out where we were out we’d passed him half way.

Many cars?

— There was a few but not many. We used to get our roller-skates on and skate up onto the main road. You could play in it no problem. Very few cars. Course the petrol ration that er you know you didn’t used to see many cars at all.

The Home Guard, did you ever see a Home Guard?

— Yes, they used to parade in the playing field, the playground of the junior school and I can remember there was broom handles they used to say about it there were no rifles so just had a broom handle.

What sort of numbers?                 

— They had quite a few in there.

But not your dad?

— No, cos he was on the railways you see, shift work all the time and that you know he could go to work 2 o’clock in the morning til perhaps 9 o ‘clock at night you didn’t know whenever he was coming back.

Can you remember having to turn lights off during certain times, air raids?

— No,  what we had are blackout but what dad done he got a wooden frame covered in felt and he used to put these outside to cover on the window on the outside, well we had curtains as well but that worked very well.

Did wardens walk up and down?

— Well, I didn’t see any. What we did do, under the stairs which was what we call the coal hole where you kept your coal he cleaned all that out and put some thicker boards on the inside of the door so if the siren went we used to get under there and shut the door up cos they say that was the safest part of any house under the stairs. You used to have an old mattress in there.

You actually had to go in?

— Yes, when the siren sounds the siren was in Westbury but the sound came over the hill quite plain,

And did you see any German aircraft

— Yes. One day when that bomb dropped on Leigh Road we were stood out by the front back garden, the houses here they was the wrong way round because you had the back of the house on to the road and the front of the house down to the garden but there he was and he was going to build… knock the Firs down and build a road right round back onto the main road again so that never did get done. We was out by the front door well back door now looking across back towards Westbury and seen this plane and we could see, well we didn’t know at the time but something come away from it and couple of seconds later bang bang bang and that was the bombs that dropped there. Course then the siren went but it were too late. But I can remember seeing them now drop and come out of the plane for a split second before they gathered speed.

They seemed to think he just jetted them to get rid of his weight. There was no specific target he just got shot of em.

Do you know if anyone got hurt?

— No. There’s some went into that house and then the other side you got a high wall with the which is now was the place with the selection board, with the military and some dropped on there.

But other than that house that got damaged I don’t know what other damage was done.

Do you remember we talked about the spitfire flights? Do you recall anything about anyone working with the factories or

— No there was a chap what was his name he lived at top end of the village he worked on the railway. Now his son was a fighter pilot and he got killed during the war I cant recall what his name was. I didn’t know him because but I knew his father was on the railways.

Did you know any of your mates that lost parents during the war?

— Not that I know of.

What’s your overriding memory of life during the war was it a bad experience?

— No, because we had quite a bit of fun really because you had the blackout and you could get out running around doing all sorts and no one could see you. I was saying about Macey’s father being the policeman we used to split up and in our little gang and some would hide and the others had to come and find them one day behind the gates fences of the Dilton cottages on the main road.

Are they the ones with the long gardens in front?

— No, they aren’t all that big. You know where Park Road was, you go up the road a little bit there, they’re on the right hand side and then we was behind the hedge and it was dark you see and Doug was with us and he said there’s somebody coming he said so he jumps out and he says I got you and it was his father in uniform I had enough sense to stay where I was and he got sent home (laughter). His father was a proper British copper with size 7 boots and he was walking down the village with his pushing bike.

So it wasn’t a miserable time

— What we got up to was not deliberate damage we wouldn’t’ think of that. I mean one set of gates in the village you could take off and switch em round or spirit tapping that’s another thing we used to do that was get a piece of cotton with button on the end pin it with a drawing pin so its hanging down on the window then get another piece near where the button was and go way back out the way and keep pulling it to go tap tap tap on the window spirit tapping they used to come out and look around, nobody there.

Do you remember anything about lets say the post delivery service

— Well there was no telephone in them days you had to go up to post office opposite the church where they had a call box. Put your 2 pennies please plonk plonk and they’d put you through that was the only telephone there was.

Can you recall anything to do with health matters like for you or your family when you got sick?

— You had to go to Westbury, Drs in Westbury.

Was there a hospital in Westbury then?

— Oh yeah, it’s closed now it’s gone.

What was the other one we used to do? oh I know get a hapenny put some silver paper on it and make it nice then stick a piece of cotton on it and stick it down. Course people thought they’d found a shilling and we used to yank it. Or we’d get some little washers and as people went by we hid away and flick it over it falls on the floor they think it fell out of their pocket and they’d try to find what they’d dropped and there’s nothing there. But can honestly say we never used to do no damage to anything. We’d never thought about it.

Do you have any sad memories?

— No. You look back now and think what was the time like: it’s just gone.