article specially written by Elizabeth Gale
her schoolday memories during WW II.
We are very
grateful to Elizabeth for this fascinating contribution.
September 1939 to July 1944
"We are at war with Germany";
sitting with my mother that Sunday morning, the 3rd September
1939, I remember hearing those words on the wireless. At five years old, I was
too young to understand the serious significance of it. A few days later I was
for the first time.
In the Infants' classroom, we sat at low tables, in twos, our exercise books
and pencils stowed away in strong wooden boxes with leather hinges underneath.
These boxes were made by the older boys in the woodwork lessons.
Mrs. Colenso Rodford, née Marsh, a local woman, was the Infants' teacher.
She was a good, interesting teacher, strict and a little inquisitive.
Mrs. Rodford - Infants' teacher (photo courtesy of Allan Rodway)
We started the day with prayers. "Hands together and eyes closed", said our
teacher. Our lessons consisted of the three Rs, (which
were driven into us), religious knowledge and drill every day. We did physical
exercises, ran around with beanbags, skipped, played with hoops and had team
races. We wore coloured braids across our chests to show which team we were
in. The playground was rough and in places, covered with clinkers from the gas
works. We learnt the Times Tables and The Lord's Prayer. Reading was done phonetically and great care
had to be taken with learning to write - joining writing. There were two blue
lines across the paper, with red lines above and below. The small letters went
in between the blue lines, and those with 'heads or tails' had to reach to the
was time for 'hand-work' when, with small, blunt scissors, we cut out boats
and bowls of oranges, drawing, painting, knitting (even the boys did it), sewing
and wool sorting. I hated Friday afternoons when it was wool sorting. All colours
and shades had to be sorted into the correct piles. Now I can boast a good memory
for colours. We had 'object lessons'. This consisted of talking, reading and
writing about a certain object such as a windmill. Object lessons were as old
as the school itself. My grandfather (1860s) and my father (1890s), had them as well.
evacuees came, in 1939/40, we had our lessons in the mornings. They,
with their own teachers, worked in the afternoons. I remember we went for Nature
Walks some afternoons, and Mrs. Rodford threw apples, brought from her garden, for us to catch.
immunised against diphtheria, and the school Medical Officer, with a nit nurse,
came regularly and examined everyone in the school, as did the dreaded dentist.
From US army material taken in the war. Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum
& Bridport Museum
a U.S. Army Officer, whose brother was principal of a school, gives a talk on
the USA to the more senior children at Burton Bradstock School.
to R) Back row : Elizabeth Buckler - John Riggs (evacuee) - Bernard Thorner
- Tony Legg
row: Jimmy Churchill - Andrew Collins - Enid Price - Bobby Cammell - June
Downton - Gordon Legg
row: Fred Kerley - David Kerley - Ben Bryant - Pamela Darby - Alice Legge
- ?Unknown? -
Mr. Robert Howarth (standing)
As it was
wartime, we carried our gasmasks all the time in cardboard boxes slung over
our shoulders. Sometimes there was an air raid drill. As a little girl, I did
not realise that it was only a practice, and I was so worried as to whether my parents were alright. The windows
of the school were stuck over with crisscross tape
in case they shattered if there was a bomb (see photo above).
into the Juniors, early, at the age of six, and I sat
at a double desk, beside Andrew Collins. We had School Inspections a couple
of times. I remember writing out The Lord's Prayer for one of them.
mental arithmetic and spelling tests every week. There was singing and Country
Dancing, with Mrs. Rodford
at the piano. The Senior girls were instructed in cookery
and domestic crafts, by Mrs. Howarth, in her home
or the WI Hall. The 'big' boys went to the School gardens in Annings Lane, and
dug for victory or had woodwork lessons on the premises.
row, L to R: - ??? -, Lilly Brine, Irene Coombs, Dorothy Collins,
row: Betty Mullins, Marjery Collins, Marjory Northover
the Head Master, made us very aware of the war and that we had to help the war
effort. We were encouraged to save each week in the National Savings' scheme
and some years there was a drive in the district to collect huge sums to buy
a spitfire or battleship. We all did our bit. We wore little red lapel badges
to show that we were a 'cog in the wheel'.
waste paper. Alice Legge and I were about eight years
old when we teamed up to collect the paper in huge Hessian sacks. Our route
was along Southover and up over the cliff, to the
Villas. We went on Tuesdays after school in all winds and weathers. It could
often be extremely windy on the Cliff Road. There was an eerie, camouflaged,
gun emplacement on the top of the cliff with cellars. Fortunately, we never
saw anyone about. We took our collection back to the creepy, dark school store
from where it was taken for recycling. I then had to walk a mile home alone,
but there was little for a young child to fear in those days in Burton.
In the early years of the war, there was a fortnight's holiday in the autumn
for potato harvesting. The older children helped on the farms to get in the
crop. Until around 1945, the pupils stayed at the school until they were fourteen.
Some came from Shipton Gorge. Other children walked from Bredy and Marsh Barn.
At eleven, those who had passed the scholarship (few parents could afford to
pay fees), left for Bridport
the years that I attended the School, we had religious instruction every day.
In the Top Class, sometimes the Vicar came to talk. We ascended the Church Tower
on Ascension Day and observed Empire Day. For both occasions we enjoyed a half-day
off in the afternoons. School dinners, at 4d each, did not start until the early
1940s. I took my own lunch for the first few terms, done up in a napkin, Dick
Whittington style. The dinners arrived mid-morning in large, metal canisters.
I remember the very first school dinner. It consisted of macaroni-cheese which
none of the children had ever eaten. It was a disaster! The cooks in Bridport
got the hang of what country children would eat eventually, but I remember there
being dollops of rose hip syrup on semolina pudding and lots of fatty, chewy,
minced beef. We drank water from thick blue beakers.
Howarth was nearing retirement as I came to my tenth birthday when I left the
School to attend the Grammar School. He often left us younger ones to our own
devices at the end, whilst he took the older boys off to the gardens. We worked
through our arithmetic book, did sewing, and read up on history and geography,
overlooked by the teacher through the partition in the next room.
For my last term, in the summer of 1944, a completely new style
of teacher came from London
as the Head Teacher - six feet tall, Miss Body! Her surname did not help matters.
She revolutionised, in my eyes, the whole system that had existed happily for
some forty years, although Audrey Huxter, who had
been evacuated to stay with her relations in the village, benefited when Miss
Body raced her to the Eleven Plus Exam. Miss Body forced
us to use a style of writing called 'pot hooks'.
Prior to their embarkation for the Normandy Beaches, the American soldiers visited
the school and took photographs, which were sent back to the USA, a PR job
for the folks back home. They organised parties and film shows in the village
for us, and the local boys watched them do gymnastics and played baseball with
them. One day they were everywhere in the village, then on the night of the
5/6th June, the planes droned on and on overhead and the soldiers from the whole
of the area sailed for the Normandy beaches
landing at dawn on the 6th June 1944. The village was as if dead. They were across the Channel fighting
for our freedom, along with our own troops and those of our other allies.
I was very happy at Burton
but some children were frightened of the strict discipline, and many of the
boys were smacked across the hands or backs of their legs with a ruler, or the
older boys were caned by Mr. Howarth with a whippy, ash stick that he had cut
from the hedge.
School days are always memorable for one reason or another. For me the happenings
of the war and how it affected us, remain with me vividly, to this day.
A year later, in 1945, I watched my parents
with other, happy adults, dancing the 'Four Handed Reel', in the road outside
the village school, when peace was declared.
© Elizabeth Gale, néeBuckler.
written for use on the Burton Bradstock
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