Wednesday, 21 May 2014

More war-time GI memories

THE more I listen to the war-time memories of Lyme Regis people, the more I realise what an easy life my own generation has had. 

I was born three years after end of hostilities and whilst rationing was still in operation, I have no recollection of those difficult times and the grief suffered by those families whose men never returned to their  hometown.

I have never really appreciated either how frightened local people were about the propsect of a German invasion, especially because of our position on the south coast where Hitler was planning to land his Stormtroopers.

The presence of hundreds of American GIs in town in the run-up to D-Day would have heightened that fear.

But there can be no doubt that generally the young men from across the Atlantic were welcomed into our town, shown kindness by local families and they reciprocated in many generous ways.

This came over very strongly when I spent a fascinating hour chatting to Irene Catley last week, known to many locals as the former Miss Rene Williams who lived at 34a Coombe Street, next to the fish and chip shop, the daughter of well-known bus driver Glyn Williams and his wife Emily. She also had a brother, Raymond (now deceased).

Irene was 11 years old when the GIs arrived, having just passed her 11-Plus school examination.

Many of the American troops were billeted in and around Coombe Street and she struck up a friendship with two of them in particular, both of whom showed her great kindness. The nearby Monmouth Hotel was also utilised as accommodation for the troops.

Irene recalls that one of the soldiers  had a girlfriend back home in the States called Mary and he named his jeep after her, often taking Irene down to Jordan to wash the vehicle in the river.

The other GI was called John with a girlfriend named Opal. John had a photo of his girlfriend and Irene remembers going to Boots in Broad Street to buy a photo frame for him.

The troops set up a cookhouse in Cats Park (George’s Square) and Irene has particular memories of the wonderful smells that wafted over Coombe Street. On one occasion they gave her a large piece of steak for her father. With strict rationing, meat was in short supply and the whole family were treated to a steak supper.

The Williams’ responded by inviting George and John to Christmas lunch with Irene’s mother managing to get hold of a poussin from a local farm.

Irene told me: “I can remember talking to them about me passing my 11-Plus and saying I was a bit frightened about going up to the Grammar School. They encouraged me a great deal and even used to clean my school shoes.

“But one day they just went and we did not see them any more.”

The GIs were always telling the locals that they would kill a German for them and a few weeks after leaving Lyme Irene was thrilled to get a letter from John, postmarked France, in which he enclosed a badge from a German uniform.

“I told you I would kill a German for you,” he wrote. 

“I was very thrilled to get a letter but I can’t remember what happened to the badge,” she said.

Irene says she has thought about her two American friends many times over the years but has no knoweledge about whether they survived the war.

After the war, when she 18, Irene moved to London to live with an aunt in Streatham and work as a telephonist with the GPO.  The first thing she was told to do was to lose her Dorset accent and she now speaks with a cut-glass BBC accent. 

She got married in London where she lived for 50 years,  having enjoyed a career in aviation before retiring back to Lyme in 2000. 

Irene now enjoys the community life of Lyme, having recently returned from a trip to Bermuda with the Lyme Regis/St George’s Twinning Association.

When Lyme commemorates the D-Day landings on June 6th she will almost certainly say a little prayer for her two wartime buddies, John and George,  hoping they made it through to 1945 and were able to return to their sweethearts in America.


I REPORTED last week on the decision to scrap the toast to the Press at the mayor-making ceremony to avoid any potential conflict due to the uneasy relationship between some councillors and the Press (i.e. the View).

It was all done to ensure that Mayor Sally Holman would enjoy her big night.

How unwise, therefore, for Councillor Lorna Jenkin to use her response to the toast to the town council to slam the Press for causing all the council’s woes, accusing us of exaggeration and not reporting any good news. Change the record, PLEEEEASE!

What a wasted opportunity. Councillor Jenkin, a hardworking councillor, particularly behind the scenes, could have used her five minutes in the spotlight to expand on all the great things the council are doing, of which de-facto council leader Mark Gage spoke with such pride at the recent town meeting.

Before a sparse audience of about 40 (the lowest attendance for many years, if not ever) she squandered that opportunity by making another cheap jibe at the Press (she meant the View so it was a bit unfair on the Lyme Regis News).

In the process I believed she contravened the council’s new Communications and PR Policy (clause 3.2 actually), not that anyone cares and it only goes to show that the council’s new code of conduct ain’t worth the paper it’s written on!

COUNCIL QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Never mind about tradition, let’s bring the council kicking and screaming into the 21st century.” - Terry O’Grady

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