Pat Pearce nee Sainsbury gave the following account to the BBC for their website WW2 The People’s War about that period in Thornbury. Sadly Pat has since died and so we did not get the opportunity to talk to her about her experiences
“From the beginning of the war I worked at the Food Office (Ministry of Food). The Food Executive Officer was Reg Millard, who was also a Councillor and public figure. I was seventeen and acted as secretary to Mr Millard. I had been working at the Electricity Board, but we all had to become conscripted, so as I knew Mr Millard I joined the Food Office. There was rationing and regulations — staff had to issue ration books, alter them, and issue supplies certificates for the shops’ own supplies, that is, permits on a per capita basis.
During harvest time special permits for cheese were supplied to the Inns and public houses who were dealing with agricultural workers.
Thornbury was such a busy place. The Bedford Regiment arrived first, and was billeted around the town. Their artillery equipment was stored at Thornbury Castle and probably some of the officers as well. They did not billet at our house as there were two young girls there. For Regimental Exercises they assembled on The Plain at Thornbury. It was most embarrassing for me as I used to carry my blanket up the High Street after ARP duty and I’d hear the order ‘eyes right!’. The Bedfords later went to France in the failed invasion after the Dunkirk evacuation. They didn’t come back to Thornbury, but the Merchant Navy (Maritime) came, stationed at Kyneton House, and after them the Royal Ulster Rifles were billeted here.
I used to spend an evening typing letters for Colonel Knox, of the Royal Ulster Rifles, letters to families in Ireland whose sons had been killed in action; more work in the evenings, you filled in every moment.
The Congregational Church had the local YMCA for the soldiers twice a week, and I helped out there. They always had a radio going on, writing letters, whilst listening to Vera Lynn! We were so busy I never had an evening free. I used to do Mr Millard’s work for the Drainage Board in the evenings, so I was very busy. Every fourth night we had to sleep at the ARP Report centre. On receipt of an Air Raid warning “Red Alert”, we had to come down and man the telephones and send messages. This was at Oriel House in Castle Street, Thornbury. Mr Millard was the local Fuel Officer as well, he issued coal permits for coal to the coal merchants. There was a Milk Officer, Olive Middleton, who gave permits for orange juice and powdered milk for babies.
There was no entertainment other than the pictures twice weekly. The Cinema was run by Mrs Grace. We did a few plays — we took a play to Tortworth Court where the American Army were quartered. You should have seen their food — I remember the peaches. We also took one or two plays to Avonmouth, the Merchant Navy had units there.
The Fire Station in Thornbury was at the very bottom of High Street. After the Bristol blitzes all the poor, tired firemen were given food outside in the street in the morning. I had been on duty all night manning the phone and was called in to help give them their breakfast. This had been cooked by the WVS (Women’s Voluntary Service).
The Home Guard used to put on dances at Cossham Hall. The army held dances too. The Home Guard used to put on exercises and you had to pretend you were dead or injured, and they treated you. In between all this people we knew were dying in the forces — pilots we knew flying in air raids; but we were too busy to grieve.
The odd things you remember… I once had a piece of a blue parachute from a land mine dropped locally, and I cherished it. And here is a story; we were on our way to the Congregational Church in the blackout. My father coughed and his false teeth flew out. He looked for them by striking matches, and actually found them! He was an air raid warden, and our house in the High Street was the ARP Assembly Post. I can remember the tin hats and gas masks hung up in the old pantry. I still have an old gas mask and tin hat from those wartime days.