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Exeter Stories

Exeter folk and friends in their own words - 1890's to the 1990's │ << Previous story │ Next story >>  │

Also see St Sidwell's and Sidwell Street

Mrs. E. Dolman - Bombed and machine gunned in St Sidwell's


My husband was sent to Carlisle for his job and he was guaranteed to be there for three years. I arrived there the last Saturday in August and war was declared on September 3rd. So the next day he was sent right back to Taunton and I was left in Carlisle. After a time he managed to get me some lodgings to come down to Taunton and I stayed there for a while. Then I thought I might as well go back home and start a home, for my children. I went in one room in Oxford Road first; then I managed to get a flat, two rooms over in Verney Place.

Run to the shelter

Course the war was on but nobody ever thought it would come to Exeter - we really didn't think it would hit us. But I always used to keep everything all packed up in a bag so on the night of the big blitz when the siren went, I just snatched me bag with me ration books and the children's clothes in and ran up the road. There used to be a Co-op on the corner of Verney Place and you used to have to go down over the flight of steps and go underground; they used to have like an underground cellar and we used to go down there. Then of course they really started bombing. They set fire first to the Co-op and there must have been barrels of sugar up over because when the bomb dropped there were these barrels rolling down over. Everybody got in a panic but I held my children back because I'd read so much about people racing to an exit and getting crushed. Me and my friend Nell with her two children, we stayed back. We said, "Alright, let 'em go." But a bomb dropped and I think it shut a great many in the exit. Anyway, we didn't know how to get out 'cos all these barrels of burning stuff had come down into the shelter. They were all right the other side 'cos they were able to run up the other way. Anyway, PC Barrett come down and he saw we were trapped both sides so he said, "Now you stand there and throw the children." And you know he caught all five of them. We had to pick 'em up and throw them over the barrels of burning stuff and he caught 'em. I could no more tell you how we got over or around that fire...., never... my mind is a complete blank to that.

Anyway, we went to run across the road to the Odeon to get in behind where they had the big pillar's - a was the only place we had to run. My oldest son, he lost his shoe and running up through in all that broken glass I thought, "Oh my, his foot. It'll be cut to smithereens." We met this young boy who lived just near us - he was worried 'cos his mother and the rest of the family were in this street shelter in the main road. And all of a sudden he fell on the three children and me and layed on top of us. I didn't know that they were flying low and machine gunning the street and I honestly believe if it hadn't been for him we should have caught the fire: I think I should have walked right into it, not knowing what they was doing. Anyway we got in behind the Odeon. I had on a pair of black suede shoes and they were cut to smithereens and yet my Roy had one shoe on and one off and he never had one mark on his foot.

Laurel and Hardy

Now just before all this, we'd queued up to watch Laurel and Hardy down where the old Hippodrome used to be. In the film they were supposed to be dying and 'e was trying to get this drink up to his mouth, sort of holding onto the end of his tie and trying to get the drink up. Well after the all clear went Mr Hicks, the butcher and all they, put us in the church where they had camp beds layed down where we could lay the children. Our homes were gone; we never had nothing, they destroyed the lot. I suppose after it all I was shaking, so Mr Hicks gave me a drink of water. And could I get that cup up? Course Laurel and Hardy come back to me and I just stood there and I roared. Course he thought I was hysterical really.Then I said, "Don't worry, Mr Hicks, it's just a funny film that us have seen. He shook so much that he couldn't get the drink up and now me." It was so funny.

Course Sidwell Street was flattened; the Bristol Inn was gone, Old Coach and Horses, New Coach and Horse, the Acland, everything. There was one man I felt very sorry for, Fungo Morelli: I know he was an Italian but held been here a long, long time; he used to keep an icecream business and a little restaurant in Summerland Street. I really was upset when I heard that they'd interned him. He was such a nice man. We were all upset; I don't think 'e would have done anything.

Then we had to go and get our army pension 'cos we didn't have any homes to go to; luckily I 'ad me bag with me pension book. Then my friend that lived down below and her mother and children went back up country. And I thought the only place I can go is down to Barnstaple, so I'd be near him. Of course at Barnstaple they could see that there was something going on and 'e asked the postman where was the bombing and of course he said Exeter. Course my husband got permission and got a train, but they could only bring 'Im so far and then he had to walk. Well of course I was on my way going to Barnstaple, and me husband was in a dead panic, wasnt 'e?. 'E couldn't find me and of course 'e saw Vernay Place destroyed. 'E, went everywhere. They said I'd gone to a church and he went to the wrong church. So you can imagine what condition he was like. 'E come back to where 'e was based, Iddesford. I think it was,

... Mrs Dolman then went to Barnstaple to live before returning to Exeter...

Then a notice came out from Exeter that all Exeter people should put in an application to return to Exeter again. I had a sister lived up Buddle Lane and I said to her, "That's the little cottage I would like" - where the medical health centre is now in Cowick Street. "That's the little one I would like".

And do you know it's the one they allocated me: I couldn't believe it.

I've never gone up there since, not to go right up to the Fountain. I don't there now really.

© 2007 Jenny Lloyd

These Second World War memories are taken from the contributon by Mrs E Dolman to the People Talking project that was created by Jenny Lloyd in 1976.
The full transcript, and other People Talking memories are available at the West Country Studies Library or the Devon and Exeter Institution.

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