Memories of Burton Bradstock During WW2

- As Recalled by Tony Legg and John Riggs -



Tony has lived in Burton Bradstock all his life, first at No 1 High Street (1930 - 42) and then at The Brambles. He lived with his Mum and Dad, and his two brothers who were in the Navy. Tony knew John through school.

John was an evacuee. Born in 1931, he was 9 years old when he was evacuated in 1940. He remembers going to Paddington Station with his mum one morning and getting on a train. Each time the train stopped, the last carriage was left there. Two carriages were left when the train reached Maiden Newton; John was in the one that was left and he and his mother were put on a train to Bridport. The train stopped at Bridport and John and his mother were taken to a caravan site at Bradpole for the night. The next morning Mr Dittmar, the vicar of Burton Bradstock, took four or five of the evacuees to live in the cottage at Grove House. John and his mother lived there for about 18 months while Mrs Riggs worked at The Rookery. Later, John made a last move with his mother to a cottage at Berwick on the Litton Cheney road.

Tony remembers evacuees coming to Burton Bradstock in 1939, but most went home again during the Phoney War. Both men remember eight or nine evacuees staying for several years with only four or five seeing the war out in Burton Bradstock. John and his mother had to stay because their home in Blackheath had been damaged by a Doodlebug. John's father was at home at the time; a Doodlebug hit the house opposite and blew in the front of their house. Mr Riggs, sheltering in a Morrison Shelter in the house, escaped with only a broken finger.



Tony says the villagers were 'apprehensive' about the evacuees and remembers friction among the children in school. John remembers 'hostility' at first; he says they were frowned on. Openly, people were quite friendly but if anything happened, like broken windows, the evacuees were always blamed. Both men remember that there were about 60 children at the village school split into two classes. At the time, the school was just one large room divided by a sliding partition into two classrooms. The infants were taught by Miss Rodford who would bike from her cottage in Shipton Lane, reaching about 40 miles per hour by the Village Green! Mr Howarth, the Headmaster taught the juniors. Mr Howarth decided the school couldn't cope with the influx of the evacuees and the village children, so the village children went to school in the morning and the evacuees in the afternoon.

John and Tony both thought this was a good idea and they would go to 'help' on the farms or play on the beach, until the defences were put up after Dunkirk. The boys would play in the two empty houses on Burton Cliff (now Burton Cliff Hotel and Billy Bragg's house). Both remember that the school had allotments where Howarth Close now is. On Tuesdays, the pupils went up there to tend the vegetables and hoe the plots. John remembers that for the first few months, the evacuees had to hoe the paths as they weren't given allotments. John asked for one and the land was then redistributed.



Tony remembers British troops being in Burton Bradstock from 1940. Some were in Nissan huts on both sides of the road at the village end of Annings Lane and the Durham Light Infantry lived in bell tents on the playing fields. The Essex Regiment was also here but neither John nor Tony remembers there being many soldiers around until 1943. There was a gun emplacement on the brow of the hill on what is now Beach Road manned by two or three soldiers and a search light battery on what is now the National Trust car park. Soldiers were on guard duty up Bindbarrow and along Burton Cliff. The beach was covered in scaffolding, all red rust and the boys used to climb it. John climbed up one day and one big section swung over, trapped his finger and cut it off. He tore a piece of canvas off one of the boats there and wrapped it round the stump to try to stop the bleeding. He found his finger but it was crushed so he ran home to show his mother, who promptly fainted. The stump healed well but John got blood poisoning from the boat canvas he had used!

"Dragons' Teeth" defences were use on the beach - concrete blocks to stop tanks - and lots of barbed wire. White tape showed the edges of the mine fields either side of Beach Road. Tony clearly remembers millions of tons of shingle being excavated around Cogden with hundreds of lorries working on this. Two concrete paths were laid here in 1942 down to the beach.


Americans come to Burton Bradstock

Tony thinks it was in July 1943 that the first Americans arrived in the village and suddenly GIs were everywhere. There were two camps; towards the bridge to Freshwater with the Cookhouse being the first building, and on the Weymouth road just either side of that road - billets on the right and the cookhouse on the left. Both Tony and John remember where the cookhouses were as the Americans used to give the children cookies! They remember a lot of coming and going of troops and something always seemed to be happening. The Americans were very friendly and generous and there was no hostility to them from villagers. The GIs would mix in; an American Band came to play on the playing field and the Americans organised parties for the children in the WI Hall. At these, all the children were given two shillings and a bag of sweets, great riches as sweets were rationed. John remembers chocolate bars and little packs of sweets which you couldn't get in Britain. The Americans showed films - Mickey Mouse and Popeye, and organised dances for older people in the WI Hall. The children watched through the windows, seeing their parents 'jitterbug' to jazz and jive music.

The Americans mixed in well, going to drink warm British Beer at the Three Horseshoes and the Dove, which was their favourite. Villagers invited the "Yanks" to tea and made them welcome. They gave the girls nylons and chocolate and kept the villagers supplied with cigarettes. American officers, billeted in the two houses on Burton Cliff, gave talks in the village school about America and let the children wear their caps.


Preparations for D - Day

Both Tony and John watched soldiers at target practice on Cogden beach using dual purpose anti-aircraft guns which would fire at mortars. They were 200 mm guns; a mortar would be fired out to sea and the guns -seven in a line - would fire at it. John and his friends used to take the jettisoned unfired bullets and try to make fireworks! Sometimes, a plane towing an inflated balloon sleeve would fly out to sea and the soldiers had to shoot it down.

As D-Day approached, Burton Bradstock became a "restricted area". John's father had to get a special permit to come down for a visit and the village policeman came to check it within a few hours of his arrival. Tony's brothers were in the Navy and MPs checked them and everyone else coming home on leave. No cameras were allowed so photographs of this time are virtually non-existent.

The night before D-Day, the village was packed with trucks and American servicemen. The "Tank Buster" Regiment came through from Beaminster with lots of tanks and jeeps on transporters. Also thousands of aircraft came over; all had had two or three white lines painted under the wings to distinguish them. John remembers the planes dropping lots of silver strips to foil enemy radio waves.

D-Day itself was very quiet. For nearly a year Burton Bradstock had been a hive f activity; now nothing. No boats went from here - all went from Portland. Two days later, John remembers two big ships standing off while landing craft brought the first of the dead back via the concrete paths laid at Cogden. He remembers bodies in bodybags coming off for a long time.


Other Wartime Memories

Tony and John, remembering 1944 in general, said that there wasn't much food around but being in the country meant you could supplement your rations. The Mill was working so there was bread and you could get fresh milk from Mr Hawkins who came along with his milk churn and ladle. There were lots of vegetables from the allotments and most people had half dozen eggs a week - a lot more than the ration. In addition, you could catch rabbits. The American soldiers gave children bananas and oranges which some hadn't ever seen before.

The village was so short of farm workers that both Tony and John worked on the farms when they could. When John was eleven years old, he went to Bridport Grammar School but from 1942, he could have 13 hours a week off school to work on a farm. The pay was 6d an hour. He loaded carts with potatoes and mangolds and took the horses up and down to the fields. Tony remembers potato picking and other such jobs as back breaking and, from 1944 when he left school, he worked on the farms full-time. As both said, you couldn't go down the beach to play so you might as well "earn a few bob" although there was nothing to spend the money on. The boys worked with British soldiers who helped on the farms when they could. The farmed areas were also tended by a few Land Girls. The farmer had to sign a card to say you had turned up for work which squared things with school. John worked at Shadrach Farm - herding cows along Annings Lane on his bike! He also remembers Mr Lenthall who had Manor Farm. At one time, John was given 10s 6p all at once because he hadn't been paid and it was the first time he had a 10/- note of his own.

John remembers playing with his friends, Roy Nethercott, Bob Cammell and Denis Burton from the Blacksmith's house and learning to swim off Burton Beach using lifebelts washed up from merchant ships. One day, probably in 1944, John and Bob were walking along the cliffs to West Bay when they saw a German plane flying so low and so close that the boys and the pilot waved to each other. John says these were "nuisance" raids rather than the real thing at that time. Again in 1944, John remembers one of the landing craft from Slapton being washed up here. John says he had a "lovely war" and really enjoyed life in Burton.

Tony, when he was living at No 1, High Street, went into the field at the back one night and saw a German plane flying low in line with what is now Burton Cliff Hotel. It fired a stream of bullets to the East; he learned later that a boy in Swyre had opened his door, and by that light the pilot fired at him and killed him. He also remembers stray bombs being released by German planes as they flew home. One German aircraft crashed at West Bay and it was found to have some sort of radar on it - at a time when the British thought Germany hadn't developed such a thing. Tony has never left Burton Bradstock but John had to go back to London in the summer of 1945. He has been coming here virtually every year since the 1950's and loves to visit all the old places he remembers with such fondness.

With thanks to Tony Legg and John Riggs for their time in talking to me about their memories.

Interview by Susan Moores. May 2004