Evacuated to Stur
David Coleman writes a thank you to the town that kept him safe and educated him during World War 2
Published in December ’15
On Sep 3 1939 as a three year old I was evacuated from London with my mum and four siblings to Dorset. We were the Coleman family. An aunt and her two children, the Braddells came as well. For six formative years I grew up as a Dorset lad.
The teaching at the local junior school must have been really first class for I returned to London able to read and write fluently and adept in long division arithmetic, to boot. That I received a school scripture prize remains however a source of puzzled amazement. It might be because, unbelievably, we were read A Pilgrim’s Progress in class. Raffia classes, I remember, were a no-go, but well done Maggie Rose, the old Headmistress and all her staff.
Later at Grammar school in London my familiarity with harvest fields, graphically transferred to paper, led to GCE passes in Art, for originality, whilst my descriptions of the old Templecombe to Bournemouth railway line, loaded one way with tanks and guns and the other with hospital carriages full of wounded, served me well in English compositions.
In a moment of drama at school in Sturminster, a Lancaster bomber exploded overhead raining debris down but as well-drilled kids we were under the desks in a flash. Usually with air raid warnings we filed quickly to the dug-outs behind the playground. Treasure hunts included keeping an eye out for butterfly bombs, but I don’t recall any of us ever finding one. We continued to scrump – farmer Knott’s apple trees overhung the lane – collect conkers and rose hips and salvage for the war effort.
We lived at first at Goffs (or Butt’s?) Corner, opposite Matthews the coalman’s fields which hosted the annual circus, whilst further up the hill was the market where I remember Italian POW’s engaged in friendly banter with youngsters. We later moved to the bungalow at the end of Church lane. Outside was a stile and a shortcut over the railway line to the Milk Marketing Board, where my mother worked after finishing her duties as school dinner lady.
Training for D Day, American troops set up a machine gun post outside and sprayed the fields with live ammunition – a real racket. Around this time in Lyme Bay, 950 Americans perished, but the rumour put about the town was that our secret weapon – setting the sea on fire – had annihilated a Hun invasion attempt.
Meanwhile at our London home, V1s and V2s continued to flatten Camberwell, Peckham and Deptford. Edgy times to be a kid.
Back in Dorset we stood mouths agape as the walls trembled to the roar of hundreds of bombers and gliders overhead on D Day and six months later en route to Arnhem.
Peace came and I went home, sadly leaving all my Dorset friends, never to be seen again, but there is
In 2010, on a holiday in Milan my wife pointed out a young couple in the group and said: ‘They’re from Sturminster.’
Glory be, sharing a bench in La Scala, did I bang their ears with stories of days of yore. I left them with copious notes. I thought little more of it but then out of the blue I received a letter dated 25/12/10:
I’m sorry I didn’t write to you before. It was a little time ago that Richard Williams told me he’d met you while on holiday. His mother lived near you in the thatched cottage opposite, she was one of the daughters of the old couple whose name was Garrett.
‘I was your paperboy and did Church Street, Penny Street and Goffs Corner. Your sister Iris visited my sister while she was in America. She died a few years ago. A lot of the people you mentioned have sadly passed away. One that is still in town is Marion Short, now Shephard. She had eight children that are mainly in the district.
‘I went to school with Alan Braddell. I know his younger brother is dead, but know nothing of Alan.
‘The bomber you mentioned exploded above us while we were in school. It was a Lancaster, so not American, with mainly New Zealand or Canadian crew.
‘The town has altered over the years with the loss of the railway, the market, the milk factory. Most of the sites taken up with housing.
‘I did my National Service in the navy and afterwards went back to being an electrician. My wife was in the land army. She came from Hayes (Middlesex). We have been married for fifty eight years. We had four children, three boys and a girl. They all live locally.
The airman you mentioned was Dennis Barnett.
That’s about all I can think of for now,
Yours sincerely Jim Hatcher.’
I would like to say a belated thank you to both the local school and the Town Council. With eight grandchildren of our own and a further couple of dozen from my siblings, spread all over the world, it is a late acknowledgement of the cement that Sturminster provided for this family’s future. ◗