George Brooke, described by the Western Flying Post as ‘A bill sticker, an old man well known in the town’, appeared before the Yeovil Town Magistrates on Friday 14 September 1866, charged with stealing the sum of six shillings and three pence (6s 3d) from Jane Kean.

Jane Kean told the Bench that on Wednesday 12 September, in company with George Brooke, she had gone into the Half Moon Public House in Silver Street, and called for two half quarterns of gin. She had taken a golden sovereign (£1) from her purse to pay for the drink which came to six pence, and the defendant had received the change of 19 shillings and 6 pence which he had put in the purse and given it back. Jane Kean stated that she had then gone into the parlour and sat down with the old bill sticker. Later, when she had looked into her purse, she found that 6s 3d was missing but had to admit that she was very tipsy at the time. In reply to George Brooke’s solicitor, Mr S Watts, Jane Kean also admitted that she could not remember whether or not she had invited the defendant to accompany her into the Half Moon, but she was certain that she had not given him her purse – he had taken it and put it in his pocket.

The next witness was the barmaid of the Half Moon, a Miss Cross, who stated that George Brooke and Jane Kean had come in together, and the woman had called for gin for which she had paid six pence. The couple had then gone into the parlour and shortly after Jane Kean called for two more half quarterns of gin for which she emptied her purse containing one sovereign onto the table. Miss Cross took the coin and returned with the gin and 19s 6d change in silver coins. She saw George Brooke put the coins into the purse and hand it to his lady companion. Later however, Miss Cross, who could see into the parlour from the bar, observed the bill sticker take the purse and put it into his pocket. He had then shaken the pocket, pulled out the purse and hand it back to Jane Kean. The barmaid told the Bench that she had become suspicious that something was not quite right, and when George Brooke made to leave she had told him to sit down, and she sent for the police. Miss Cross went on to say that Jane Kean had been drinking and did not seem to know what was going on.

Police Constable Everley told the Bench that he had been called to the Half Moon, and found the defendant and Jane Kean, who was drunk, sitting in the parlour. George Brooke was sober and when questioned denied having any change belonging to the woman. Despite this denial, the constable searched the defendant and found 6s 3d in silver coins in his pocket.

Mr Watts then addressed the magistrates on the defendant’s behalf. He admitted that his client had the woman’s money, but he had been holding it at her request. He could only account for the change being found in his pocket was because the purse had no fastening and some of the coins had fallen out by accident. Mr Watts stated that his client had a good character for honesty, and if the charge was proved against him he would lose his club benefit.

The Mayor, who was Chairman of the Town Magistrates, asked the defendant if he had been in Sherborne on the day in question and how much he had drunk?. In reply, George Brooke confirmed that he had, and stated that he had drunk two half pints of  ‘half and half’. When he had arrived back in Yeovil he had seen Jane Kean who had called out to him ‘Come here my dear, and show me the way to the Half Moon.’ George Brooke told how he had taken the woman to the public house and had accepted her invitation to have some gin ‘provided she paid’. They had both gone in and Jane Kean, who was very tipsy had sat on his lap and twice fallen off. The defendant explained that when he handed back the purse after paying for the gin she had said – ‘Thee shall have it and I too.’ Every time he tried to leave Jane Kean had pulled him back and would not let him go.

After a short consultation with his fellow magistrates, the Mayor addressed George Brooke saying that this was one of those drunken cases which perplexed the Bench as to how they should deal with it. With the exception of being too fond of drink, the defendant had a good character, and it was because of this the Bench was inclined to be lenient. Believing that the money might have been accidentally emptied into his pocket, and what he had done was through drink and not with any felonious intention, the case was dismissed but at the same time George Brooke was cautioned to keep out of bad company, to give up drinking, and avoid ‘lovely women, fair but false’.

Jack Sweet
February 2018

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In the summer of 1893 gangs of poachers were at work in the Sherborne and Yeovil areas and the local police were on alert. One suspected poacher, Frederick Moors of South Barrow had been seen in Sherborne on Friday evening 14 July, and his horse trap was parked in the yard of James Lyne’s house in Bristol Road. Lyne was a convicted poacher and the local constabulary suspected that something was in the air.

At about 5 o’clock the next morning, Sherborne constable, PC Payne, was patrolling the Bristol Road when in the early dawn light he saw a trap coming towards him at a fast pace. As it drew nearer the constable recognised Frederick Moors as the driver and James Lyne in the passenger seat but as he shouted ‘Halt’, Moors whipped the horse into a gallop and disappeared down the Bristol Road. However as the trap passed, PC Payne glimpsed a large sack bag in the back of the vehicle.

Five miles away at Yeovil Bridge, four police officers were also on poacher alert; PC Meech of Yetminster and PC Miller from Nether Compton were concealed behind hedges at the bottom of Babylon Hill and PC’s Marsh and Wise from Yeovil were on the Somerset side of the bridge.

At about 5.30 the officers saw a trap being driven quickly down Babylon Hill and as it approached the bridge, the driver and his passenger were recognised as Moors and the convicted poacher Lyne; a large bag could also be seen in the back of the trap. PC Miller ran out into the road with raised hands shouting for the driver to stop but Moors swerved the trap around him and urged the horse into a gallop. At this moment PC Meech rushed from his hiding place tried to seize the reins from the driver but missed and fell under the trap. The constable was knocked unconscious, dragged for several yards but as his body was freed from the trap, one of the wheels of the speeding vehicle ran over him.

The trap raced over Yeovil Bridge and PC’s Marsh and Wise were forced to jump for their lives as it drove furiously towards them and disappeared up the Sherborne Road to Yeovil. Despite their narrow escape, the two constables had time to glimpse a large bag in the back of the trap.

All this was witnessed by Thomas Score, the dairyman at Yeovil Bridge Farm, who was standing on the bridge at the time, and who would later corroborate in Court the statements of the policemen; he would also confirm that there was a large bag in the back of the trap.

PC Meech recovered consciousness but was badly hurt and bleeding heavily from a head wound. He was taken to Dr. Williams in Sherborne, and after treatment for severe lacerations to his back where the wheel had gone over him, a deep scalp wound and heavy bruising, the constable was taken home.

Later that Saturday, Frederick Moors and James Lyne were arrested and taken into custody. On 20 July the two men were brought before the Sherborne Magistrates charged with causing grievous bodily harm to PC Meech and assaulting the officer in the execution of his duty. The events of the Saturday morning were recalled by the prosecution who stated that the police officers had tried to arrest the prisoners on suspicion poaching. The four constables described their actions and those of the prisoners and Thomas Score recounted what he had witnessed as he stood on Yeovil Bridge. Yeovil solicitor, Mr. W. Marsh, defending, stated that before the police had the right to stop his clients, they must have good cause to suspect that they had come from land where they had been in search of game. The fact that James Lyne had once been convicted of poaching did not justify the attempts to stop his clients without proper authority and the police must take the consequences of their actions. His clients had been lawfully driving to Yeovil, the constables had suddenly jumped into the road, frightened the horse which broke its rein and ran away out of control accidentally knocking down PC Meech. Mr. Marsh therefore sought the dismissal of the charges. However the Magistrates committed the prisoners for trial but allowed bail at £25 each with two sureties of £25.

Frederick Moors and James Lyne appeared at the Dorset October Quarter Sessions but despite further pleas that there was no proof that they had been on a poaching expedition, the sack contained mushrooms, and the because the police had no authority to seek to arrest the two men, the injuries to PC Meech had been the result of an unlawful act on his part and therefore accidental, they were found guilty and sentenced to nine months hard labour.

PC Meech made a full recovery from his injuries.

Jack Sweet
January 2018

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For those of us who grew up and lived through the Cold War Years, when the threat of nuclear holocaust was only too real, there could always be a fear working away in the far recesses of the mind that one day, one day ‘the balloon might go up.’

In September 1958, 150 Civil Defence Controllers, Heads of Sections and Volunteers from Chard, Crewkerne, Ilminster, Langport, Wincanton and Yeovil met in the Territorial Army Drill Hall in Southville to study the problems which a nuclear attack could cause.

‘Operation Sextus’ envisaged the explosion of an H-Bomb over a large city and the radio active fallout had severely contaminated the Yeovil area. The exercise divided into six syndicates and showed that although a great deal could be done to lessen the loss of life following a nuclear attack, the need for more volunteers to join the Civil Defence Corps was as great in peace as in war.

Many former National Servicemen will remember going on a couple of weeks’ civil defence course at Chorley in Lancashire just before they were demobbed; for some reason this did not apply to the Regulars.

When I was working in the Town Clerk’s Department of the old Yeovil Borough Council, I was standing in for a colleague who was clerk of the Council’s Civil Defence Committee, and went to Crewkerne with several Town Councillors for a private showing of The War Game . This was a documentary-style film depicting the effects of a nuclear attack on the United Kingdom and which for many years was not released for public showing as it was considered too graphic and not good for public morale. I must admit that it was pretty scary and a nightmare scenario because it could have been all too real if war had broken out. However, the film was finally released and broadcast on BBC 2 in July 1985.

Exercises such as ‘Sextus’ were regularly held in the following thirty or so years of the Cold War, but now the nation’s civil defence services as they were then organised have all but disappeared, and the local command bunker under the Ambulance Station on Reckleford was closed down over 20 years ago.

Jack Sweet
Decmber 2017

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Walter Raymond (1852-1931), wrote many popular books and articles for over 30 years, but today, sadly, he is almost forgotten, even in his beloved Somerset.

For sixteen years, Walter Raymond rented a cottage in Withypool, which he named ‘Hazelgrove-Plucknut’ in the many articles he wrote about the Exmoor village for national newspapers and periodicals and in the two much-loved books published in the early years of the last century – The Book of Simple Delights and The Book of Crafts and Character.

The following extract from The Book of Simple Delights, first published in 1906 and which ran for at least four editions, describes the gathering of whortle berries or wurts on the moor above the village on a warm summer day. The village children have just started their summer holidays and with three youngsters the author sets out to harvest some wurts.

‘For the whortleberries – wurts they called them, and even “hurts” – were turning purple-ripe on the moor, and the holidays had begun. Those summer holidays, that began on no fixed date, but were a removable festival, changing according to the season, so that the children might gather the wild harvest of the moorland. There were little more than a score though they made enough noise for a hundred as they ran down the village street.

‘I have an affection for this moorland village street. It is so far away, so quaint so old world.

‘It runs along the hill-side, with little by-ways up the incline, so that the houses stand one behind and above the other. But the squat embattle tower of the old grey church rears higher than them all.

‘Before each cottage is a slanting garden. Ranks of peas and tall scarlet runners, laden at the time with flowers, as well as files of broad beans with black bulging pods left too long without picking, run parallel with the path of flat stones from the front door to the hatch. There are tall hollyhocks, groups of blue monks-hood, and here and there a fuchsia bush, bearing tiny red flowers less than an inch in length.

‘All sorts of creepers clamber over the white-washed fronts and geraniums blind the downstair windows. There is a clothes-line, too, from which, when the air is drying, household clouts and wonderful garments of many hues and sizes flutter gaily in the wind. The faggot pile and dark brown stack of turves stand close by. The smoke that rises out of the chimneys is blue and has no smuts.

Down the valley, merrily humming around rocks and boulders, leaps the silver river; and above the woods and the enclosed fields that skirt its course, both before and behind the village, lies the broad moor where the whortleberries grow.

It is quite a little industry, this picking of wurts, though it lasts only about three weeks. No other fruit possesses so unexpected a flavour. None gives so fine a blend of with the scald-cream, which is one of the most admirable institutions of the neighbourhood. So there is invariably a great demand. And when the crop is small, why, the price goes so much higher. We must all go a-wurting. If not for trade, as a sort of picnic.

‘To Norton Moor we went.

‘We began with a mile of lane. But a glorious lane between walled banks with sheltering beech hedgerows high above. On either hand were bright green ferns and tall purple foxgloves, to which great bumble-bees paid visits, buzzing from flower to flower all up the tapering stem, and silent only went they crept in to drink. Wild strawberries, with deep crimson fruit, sprang from the crevices and hung ripening above the mossy stones. Wild raspberries, too, on Lillipution canes, drawing an ancestry, it may be, from bird-carried seed of a more cultured stock, flourished in profusion,

‘Out of the shady lane, by a narrow pathway up the slope, where bracken grows waist-high after the old heather has been burnt off, we climbed to the ridge of the open breezy moor. Masses of purple heather and the paler-coloured ling were in full flower: and growing amongst them, and intermingled everywhere, was the little dark green myrtle-shaped myrtle-shaped leaf, that half conceals a berry almost the size of a black-currant and covered with a thicker bloom than the wild sloe. Honey-bees were humming on all sides, and butterflies went flitting by in the sun. Upon the brown hill-side of the next ridge, where wild ponies were dotted about and here and there broke the even line against the sky, was passing the dark shadow of an August thundercloud.’

The Western Gazette in its obituary to Walter Raymond on 10 April 1931, wrote that he was; ‘A national writer who wrote about Somerset because he knew and loved the county. He made his readers feel and see the places and people they loved so well. He has been described as theThomas Hardy of Somerset.

Jack Sweet
November 2017

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The following notice was given in Yeovil on 31st May 1870:


NOTICE is hereby given that at a meeting of the Council of the said Borough duly holden at the Town Hall on the 30th day of May it was ordered that no bicycles be used in any street, road or highway within the said Borough and notice is hereby given that any person using any bicycle contrary to the foregoing order will be prosecuted according to law.
Dated this 31st day of May 1870
James Curtis, Mayor

A Day Out

At the April 1891 meeting of the Yeovil Board of Poor Law Guardians a suggestion by the Workhouse Master that the aged and infirm inmates should be allowed to go out of the Workhouse on a specified day each month was referred to the House Committee for investigation. (The suggestion was subsequently approved)

Street Names

The Improvement Committee’s recommendation to the Borough Council on 10th April 1893 to adopt the line of two new roads from Huish to West Hendford was adopted. The Committee Chairman stated that the roads would be called ‘Beer Street’ and ‘Orchard Street’ to which one wit remarked that the latter should be changed to ‘Cider Street.’

The Boy Jeans Again

At the monthly meeting of the Yeovil Board of Poor Law Guardians in October 1895, the Master reported that two brothers named Sidney and John Jeans had played truant from school. They had walked to their home at Martock and were brought back by their sister. The Chairman, Mr. C. Trask, enquired whether this ‘was our old friend, John Jeans’ and the Master confirmed that it was. No further complaints had been received about the boy’s conduct at school. The Master stated that as punishment for the offence John Jeans had been kept in bed for two days, but added that the boy seemed to like such treatment.

The Sewerage Pipes

Back in the early 1900’s, the Borough Council had a great problem with the quality of the sewerage pipes bought by its Borough Surveyor, and the long running arguments over this question dominated meeting after meeting.

In the winter of 1902/3, pipes were being laid from the Pen Mill Sewage Works to the town, when a number suddenly collapsed due to defective construction. As a result the battles in the Council Chamber became fiercer and at the March meeting the Mayor, reminded members that there were such things as standing orders and what was their use if councillors would not abide by them. The Mayor added that in future he intended to be more strict with members and hoped that he should not ‘have the misfortune of falling upon them, whether Alderman or anyone else.’

The Council obviously took no notice of this request because after a two hours debate on the pipes question, it was reported in the Western Gazette that the meeting became very disorderly. The standing orders were readily forgotten, several members were speaking at the same time, and everyone seemed to be very confused. Such was the bewilderment, that Councillor Hayward voted against his own proposition and only realised his mistake after Councillor Bradford shouted ‘Why are you voting against your own resolution? What’s the matter with you!’ Councillor Hayward’s proposal that the defective portions of the sewer should be relaid in concrete was lost by a majority of one, presumably by the vote of its proposer!

The war would continue for several more years.

Mr Hayward’s Seat

When newly elected Councillor Mr. A.S. Hayward attended his first meeting of the Borough Council in December 1902, he had the temerity to sit near the top of the table alongside the Borough Officials. The Mayor pointed out to the new councillor that it was the custom of many years that ‘the gentleman last elected should sit at the lower end of the table.’

Councillor Hayward then took his proper place at the far end of the table.

A New Foreman

The Borough Council’s Foreman, Mr Hopkins, retired in September 1905 aged 74 after forty years service, and the Council agreed to retain his services for the management of the stables and general garden work for £1 per week.

It was agreed to appoint a new Foreman at a salary of 35 shillings a week (£1.20) with one shilling (5p) per week extra towards the expense of providing and repairing a bicycle.


A petition was handed to the Borough Council at its April 1912 meeting signed by residents of Hendford Hill complaining of the inadequate watering of the road as over 100 motor cars passed in one day and there was a continual whirl of dust. The petitioners pointed out that the Council watered the road so far as the railway bridge but it was not often that the water cart went all the way to the top of the Hill. The Borough Surveyor stated that the road was watered as often as any other on the outskirts of the town. He was supported by Councillor Buchanan who considered that the petition was not factual as he had seen the water cart on other parts of the Hill. Several councillors agreed with this observation and apart from acknowledging the petition, no action was taken.

A Night Shelter

At the Borough Council’s meeting on 10th June 1912, a letter was read from the Commercial Motor Users Association asking for a ‘night shelter for commercial vehicles’ to be provided in the Cattle Market. The enquiry was referred to the Markets Committee for attention.

What no Convenience?

The Improvement Committee reported to the Borough Council in December 1912 on the use of the old fire station in Vicarage Street as a public lavatory. The Committee recommended against such use on account of the cost and suggested that the building should be let. Alderman Boll protested as he strongly believed there was a need for a ladies public lavatory in the town and he proposed an amendment that the premises be let with the exception of a small corner at the entrance to Silver Street, which could be reserved for a ‘Ladies.’

Councillor Higdon considered that this would be a waste of public money and the site was unsuitable.. If the Council wanted to provide such a place there was the ideal spot near the spare wall by the Gas Works.
            After further discussion Alderman Boll’s amendment was defeated, the recommendation of the Improvement Committee adopted, and the old fire station was placed on the market for letting.


The Borough Council was in for a shock at the meeting in July 1922 when a bill for £32 10s. 0d. was presented for providing and fixing two plate glass windows for Messrs Hill and Boll’s showrooms in Princes Street. The windows had been smashed when some Council workmen blew up the roots of a nearby tree without taking the necessary precautions to prevent blast damage. Councillors were more than annoyed to find out that the man in charge of the demolition team had ignored advice on appropriate precautions.

Deadly Flowers

At the May of the Borough Council in 1923, Councillor Card asked if it would be possible to make a special day to clear flowers from the War Memorial as the old flowers quickly killed the new. The matter was referred to the Improvement Committee for attention.


At a meeting of the Borough Council in June 1946, in reply to a councillor who asked who was responsible for allowing the ‘junk sale’ in the Council Chamber, the Mayor said that it had been held there as it was the most suitable place. He explained that much of the material was war surplus already at the Council Offices and the ‘junk’ had raised £500. The Mayor stated that the sale would not happen again unless there was another war!

Jack Sweet
August 2017

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           In the last week of August 1939, and the last week of peace for six years, Yeovil and Petters United Football Club held a ‘Yeovil Football Week’ to help pay the £400 loss incurred during the 1938/39 season. The events included a ‘Get Together Smoking Concert’ and a ‘Flannel Dance’ in the Assembly Rooms, Princes Street. However, the highlight of the ‘Week’, was the Friday evening ‘All Stars Variety Concert’ in the Princes Theatre, featuring Crewkerne-born radio and film star, Ralph Reader, and members of his popular Gang Show, including Eric Christmas, George Cameron, Mac at the Piano and the Twizzle Sisters. Also performing were the BBC singer soprano Doris Waller, The Pocock Brothers on piano and cornet, Paddy Ryan with his ukulele and The Boy Step Dancer, Tony Mogg.

           On the 3 September 1939, the day war broke out, regulations were brought in requiring all householders to curtain their windows to prevent any light showing after dark and which could be seen by enemy aircraft flying overhead. The Yeovil Review of September wrote:
‘Just a week ago, Yeovil with its excellent shops, was ablaze with light. Cinemas were well patronised, village fetes and shows were being organised, football clubs were getting into stride, and summer sport and holidays were in full swing, Now all has changed.

‘Yeovil is and must continue blacked out. Quite a number, in fact there are but few now, who will hear the command of the Special Constable on his nightly beat cry “Put those lights out!” But there are still those few. Just a reminder, to those who think this fuss and nonsense is going a bit too far. The safety of the Town with all its thousands of women and children may be jeopardised by a stray light blazing in the sky, forgotten. Here is a phrase taken from the official notice concerning the “Black Out” – “Any person who permits any glimmer of light to escape from his premises so that it can be seen from the outside constitutes a public danger, matches must not be struck in the open air. Any torches used in the open or in those portions of the premises not effectively screened should be properly screened with paper in the lens or a dark blue bulb.” Note – The penalty for offending in any way against the lighting restrictions is a fine of £50 [average weekly wage £5] or three months imprisonment.

‘Special Constables have already reported insufficient and inadequate screening of household lights. It is not sufficient to draw the blind and switch on the electric light. Some streets are well and truly blacked out, at least they appear so from the front, but at the back the tell tale glow through the drawn blinds betrays the presence of living accommodation. One must face the facts. It may be you who are placing the town in danger from enemy aircraft.

‘Now, a word to the cyclist who before many weeks will find his ride home from work means travelling in the dark. You are not exempt from these lighting regulations. Front lights must be diffused by the use of paper if an electric light is used, and they are reminded that red rear lamps properly screened are now compulsory.

‘Motorists, too have been warned. Temporary expedients for headlight screening must be dispensed with, side lamps, rear lamps, reversing and “Stop” lamps must be reduced to their proper dimensions and lights diffused by the use of paper behind the lens. Travel by night will become increasingly more difficult. It will be better to keep the car in the garage at night than hazard a journey in the dark.’

The first Yeovil ‘black out’ fatality was Mr Thomas Turner a 51 year-old painter employed at the new Houndstone army camp. He had been walking along Thorne lane back to the camp when he was knocked down and fatally injured by a lorry being driven with screened headlamps. In recording a verdict of ‘Death by misadventure’ the Coroner suggested that pedestrians should wear something white to make themselves more visible during the present emergency.

           The National Registration Bill being pushed through Parliament immediately following the outbreak of war, had three main purposes:

1. To support and facilitate any National Service arrangements;
2. To provide up-to-date man power and other population statistics to take the place of the 1931 census;
3. Other incidental services such as the preservation of contact between members of families dispersed by evacuation, to facilitate proof of identity.

Everyone would be given an identity card after filling in a questionnaire which would be issued and collected in 65,000 districts and severe penalties would be introduced for breaking the provisions of the Bill when it became law.

           Boy Scouts. All Boy Scouts in Yeovil were asked to wear their uniforms during the day ’To facilitate their identification when their services are required for messenger work etc.’

School boy humour. ‘A number of school boys anxious to do their bit were busy filling sandbags with earth from the garden at the rear of the South Street Baptist Church. Passers by were greatly amused to read the notice they had chalked on a piece of cardboard which they had fastened to the wall. It read “DOWNING STREET, One Way Traffic Only.”

Graveyard humour. ‘In Princes Street could be seen a printed announcement advertising insurance against War Risk. Premiums:- Death only 20/- etc., some humorist scribbled his quota to this, so that it read “Death only, Isn’t that enough.”’

ARP Badges. The Mayor of Yeovil, Alderman Frank Beel, presented Air Raid Precaution (ARP) badges to 33 Town Council workers who had passed a full anti-gas course. The men would form rescue and demolition teams and public services’ rescue squads.

Ban on Sounding Hooters. ‘An Order has been issued under Defence Regulations forbidding anyone to sound within public hearing, a siren, hooter, whistle, rattle, bell, horn or gong except in accordance with directions for air raid warning purposes. The Order does not apply to church bells or normal use of bicycle bells or motor horns.’

A Black Out casualty. Herbert Allot who was employed by the Navy Army and Royal Air Force Institute (NAAFI) at the new Houndstone army camp, was knocked down by a car in the black out on the Sunday evening that war was declared. He was taken to Yeovil hospital with a suspected fractured skull.

The last peace time coach trips. On Sunday 3 September, local coach operators, Barlow, Phillips & Co, had a full day excursion to Bournemouth, half day to Weymouth, an afternoon mystery trip and evening trips to West Bay. I’m sure there was much to talk about on these excursions!

           Immediately the outbreak of war was declared on Sunday morning 3 September, the evening services were brought forward to 6 o’clock, so that the congregations could get home well before dark when it was feared the bombing would start. The fear of poison gas attack was also very great, and the Western Gazette reported that many of the congregation in St John’s Church were carrying their gas masks to services.

           The Western Gazette reported that on Tuesday 5 September, Miss Sophia Wyndham Bates Harbin, the only child of Mrs Bates Harbin and the late Prebendary Bates Harbin, of Newton Surmaville and barrister, Mr Cosmo Windham Cooper Rawlins of Alverstoke, Hampshire, were married in St John’s Church. Owing to the outbreak of war ‘The wedding took place very quietly, a fortnight before the arranged date.’ A small reception was held at Newton Surmaville House for relations and friends.

           By the day war broke, nearly everyone over the age of five years had been issued with a gas mask, but they would not be available for the under 5’s (your contributor included). The reasoning was explained in the Western Gazette on 8 September: ‘Respirators for children under the age of five will not be issued in the No. 6 Area of Somerset at present. This is because of the children’s relative freedom from danger in the unlikely event of the use of poison gas. Respirators are issued to adults for their use when it is essential for them to pass from place to place, at a time when they have been warned that the presence of poison gas in their neighbourhood is suspected. Young children will naturally be kept in the most suitable refuge room, where plans are carried out to make this room gas proof. In the unlikely event of this room becoming damaged, such children can be safely carried in a damp blanket, coat etc., to an alternative place of refuge.’

However, following a great public outcry, by the following week the Gazette reported that: ‘Anti-gas helmets for babies are being produced as fast as the factories can make them and many thousands have already been issued to the most vulnerable areas. Supplies of respirators for small children are being treated on the same lines as babies’ helmets.’

           Immediately war was declared on 3 September, all Yeovil’s schools were closed and the youngsters enjoyed a longer summer holiday. However, as the feared (and expected) Nazi bomber onslaught did not materialise, most everyday living resumed and the schools went back on Monday morning 18 September.

Likewise, the town’s three cinemas shut immediately, but opened again within the week.

           A flavour of impending conflict (and what would become all too real some 14 months later) was given when an exercise was carried out in the town centre late in July 1939. It was reported that; ‘Yeovil was “reduced to ruins” in the recent Air Raid, when hundreds of members of the A.R.P. and other services came into action in the test of the town’s defences that has yet to take place. As ambulances dashed down Middle Street with clanging bells, fire engines sped on their way to “blazing” buildings, rescue parties and decontamination squads got busy, townspeople were given a glimpse of what might happen in a real raid. And amid all this havoc there was one bright spot of comedy to relieve the tension. One ‘casualty’ who thought he had been left lying in the wreckage of one of the main streets forgotten by the rescue squads, after waiting an hour, made a miraculous recovery and disappeared. When the rescue party for that locality did arrive they found a note instead of a casualty. On it was written: “Bled to Death – Gone Home.”

           From the Western Gazette of 8 September 1939: ‘With a few exceptions, Yeovil’s defences are manned by voluntary service personnel. In the event of a “raid” Yeovil’s defence services would be quickly in action.

‘Hundreds of workers are giving up many hours of their spare time in order to do their National Service tasks, special constables, air raid wardens auxiliary firemen &c., taking their allocated hours of duty as a matter of course. This does not mean that Yeovil has all the volunteers required. The auxiliary fire service still requires men and in the east and north wards there is a serious shortage of wardens. At present there are 210 wardens in the borough, whereas the full compliment is 240. Twenty-one warden posts have been manned day and night since the emergency arose, volunteers doing shifts of four hours in every twenty-four.

‘There are about 30 full-time firemen in the borough, consisting of A.F.S. volunteers and regular members of the brigade. Yeovil V.A.D. Somerset/19 is now about 50 strong and first aid posts are being equipped at Preston Close, Hendford School (South Street), Poor Law Institute, Manor Hotel and Hendford Manor. Yeovil Chamber of Trade has decided that until further notice members of the Chamber should close their business premises at 6 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, 1 p.m. on Thursday and 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.’ [There was no Sunday opening in 1939]

Jack Sweet
August 2017

Now take a look at past articles from C h r o n i c l e our society’s Journal

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Winter Talks-2021/22

Fri 1st Oct 2021 – ‘Henry Hunt’s Mistress Revealed’, a juicy story of Georgian scandal.

Fri 5th Nov – ‘St Ivel the History of Aplin and Barrett’.

Fri 3rd Dec – ‘The Art of Dowsing – Exploring subtle energies in South-West England’.


From the Clynick Collection (1980's) - Cadbury-Camp-2 From the Clynick Collection (1980's) - Cadbury-Camp-6 From the Clynick Collection (1980's)  - Peugout 1904 Brighten Run From the Clynick Collection (1980's) Roman-Pavemant- 8 Arrow-Heads-from-Ham-Hill- From the Clynick Collection (1980's)  - Peugout 1904 Brighten Run