Second World War - The Home Front
During both world wars, Somerset willow growers and basket makers were very busy. In World War II the making of domestic baskets was for a time, forbidden, and many women were recruited to make the willow airborne pannier baskets used for dropping supplies of ammunition and food to the troops. One such basket maker was Doreen Loveridge.
Doreen (Det) Loveridge was born in 1912. She left the village school in 1926 aged 14 having been taught by Mrs Hector (Nigel’s mother). Doreen was a keen Girl Guide and enjoyed the things you could learn by being part of the movement. Her close friends where Kath and Con Hearn, and Kath Barnett (Hazel Patten’s sister).
Doreen worked for her father stripping withies. They lived at the Old Angel, Woodhill, which her Great Grand Parents had run as a pub. She enjoyed the work but wasn’t struck on the employment package her father offered. She basically worked for her keep and the only way to get some money of her own was to pick blackberries during the summer months. The more you picked the more you got paid. Doreen liked to save her money although there were temptations in the early 1930’s. A chap with a light aircraft used to tour around offering flights at a cost of half a crown (12½ p). This would have been a wonderful treat but she decided to hang on to her money. Brother Ken however was up there like a shot!
In 1930 Doreen moved to Middlemoor, Curload, to take a job as a live in housekeeper. Mrs Hearle had died and Sid and Winnie needed looking after. This worked quite well because she could keep the garden going and still do some withy work which paid for her cigarettes. Doreen smoked 4 cigarettes a day.
When the war came Doreen worked for Gilbert Musgrave in one of the sheds behind Withygrove House. She trained to make panniers and then all types of baskets. Doreen now had two jobs and was earning very good money, up to £3 a week on piece work. She continued to save, and bought Woodbine Cottage in Woodhill for £300.
Doreen at Musgrave’s Workshop During the War
Women Basket Makers Enjoying a Welcome Break
Being a keen gardener; vegetables were always plentiful so the family didn’t go hungry. Clothes were purchased from Stoke shop and the groceries from Arthur Patten’s shop in Curload. She loved the songs that Gracie fields and Vera Lynn sung and generally had a lot of fun during the war years.
She remembered the G.I.’s from Westonzoyland cycling along Curload. They were always keen to give the young ladies sweets and chocolate. Unfortunately Doreen didn’t manage to obtain any nylons. The young Americans were heading for the village pubs and the dances that were regularly held in the village hall. The G.I’s used to park their bicycles outside and while they were inside dancing the night away the local kids would be taking it in turns to ride around the village. She also remembered the terrific bang and how the house shook when land mines were dropped in Northmoor. She and a group of friends cycled over to see the craters the following day.
After the war Doreen continued making baskets for Norman Upham. In her spare time she enjoyed her garden and continued teaching Sunday School at the Parish Church completing over 40 years service. When Jean Hembrow and Brian David married they lived with Doreen. Jean died in 1985 so Doreen stepped in and cared for Brian and his two children Jonathan and Janice.
The Airborne Pannier
This was by far the most important basket developed in World War 2. It was used to drop supplies by parachute, and each basket could hold up to 500 lbs, which made it suitable for use with the Mk1 parachute. Most were dispatched from the side door of a Dakota, the Douglas C-47 Skytrain, often in pairs that separated when dropped.
One half the basket fits inside the other, and can be expanded from 18” to a height of 30”. Dorothy Wright, basket historian, suggests that it was based on the ‘Pilgrim Basket,’ the ancestor of the expanding suitcase made of cane and palm in SE Asia.
A Pannier from Coates Basket Museum
Panniers ready for loading on the Train at Athelney
Whilst many of the farming community joined up in the various armed forces, a core needed to be in the village to keep up the drive to feed the nation at a time when overseas supplies were being disrupted by the enemy. One such was George Hearn.
George lived at Watts Farm, Woodhill. He had been considered a sickly child - his parents had been told that it was unlikely that he would live past his 15th birthday. He was unable to go into the Royal Navy, and the Army decided they could manage without him as well. This suited George because he was quite happy to stay at home and carry on working as a farm contractor. His work varied as to what the ministry decreed necessary at the time.
He worked for Tommy Patten who ran a contracting business alongside his withy growing. They worked between Langport and West Hatch ploughing and preparing the ground.
George recalled dances, called hops, held in the village hall on Saturday nights and get togethers in the Royal Oak, which was run by Alfie Nicholas (Pete Nicholas’s father) at the time. These used to attract the Americans based over at Westonzoyland.
George’s other contribution to the war effort was to be a member of the Home Guard. Leslie Hembrow and Percy Woodland were in charge of the platoon.
George in his younger days. The car was built for George and his brother Frank, who saw service all through the War, including three days and nights on the beach at Dunkirk, waiting to be evacuated.
Don Boon was also a member of the Home Guard, but he and his wife Dorothy were still busy working at Dykes Farm.
Una Middleton (Hembrow as was) lived at Churley with her parents Arthur and Ginny. Una’s wartime work took place at what is now known as the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office in Taunton. In those days it was called the Admiralty and was surrounded in a shroud of secrecy as the establishment had been moved from London to Bath and then to Taunton to avoid the bombing of Bath. The building was built into the side of Creech Barrow, which was then an isolated site. No road to the Great Mills Roundabout, no ASDA. Local people were convinced that a secret chamber had been constructed under the barrow which housed secret bombs. Una’s job was correcting printed charts by hand with additional information so that when they arrived with the fleet the charts were as up to date as possible.