An article specially written by Elizabeth Gale

on 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 attending Burton Bradstock School, 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 (photo courtesy of Allan Rodway) 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 red line!

There 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.

When the 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.

We were 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.

Photo: From US army material taken in the war. Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum & Bridport Museum

Lt. Walker, whose brother was principal of a school, gives a talk on the USA to the more senior children at Burton Bradstock School.

Lt. Walker, 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.

(L to R) Back row : Elizabeth Buckler - John Riggs (evacuee) - Bernard Thorner - Tony Legg

Centre row: Jimmy Churchill - Andrew Collins - Enid Price - Bobby Cammell - June Downton - Gordon Legg

Front row: Fred Kerley - David Kerley - Ben Bryant - Pamela Darby - Alice Legge - ?Unknown? -

Headmaster, 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).

I moved 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.

We did 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.

Cookery Class

Cookery Class C1934

Back row, L to R: - ??? -, Lilly Brine, Irene Coombs, Dorothy Collins, Dorothy Jones

Front row: Betty Mullins, Marjery Collins, Marjory Northover

Mr. Howarth, 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'.

We collected 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 Grammar School.

Throughout 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.

Mr. 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 in France, 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 Bradstock School, 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 Website.

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