These pages will cover personal stories of individuals – the first contribution to add will be from my mother
Valerie Dowson (Loveday)
The first I saw of American soldiers in Swindon was when my sister Norma and me had been swimming, we were walking back home via Farnsby Street. Some tanks with soldiers had arrived in Farringdon Road, opposite the GWR Hospital. They were billeted at the Community Hall belonging to the church there.
This day as I said we were coming down the backs of the houses when these Yanks started shouting and whistling ‘Hi there Babe’. They were stood there smoking and talking it was very new for us seeing and hearing Americans, before we only knew of them from Hollywood films. It was pretty exciting having them in town…………
Nearly all of the local lads were away either fighting or training, the last we saw of British lads in any number really were those poor souls who came back from Dunkirk earlier in the war – I remember seeing them vividly near the train station as they were dressed in all sorts of clothing including women’s coats. I asked my father who these soldiers were at the time, he said they were some of the lucky ones who came back from France.
The swimming baths also doubled as a skating rink when it was boarded over, these were at Milton Road and the skating rink, later it was called ‘The Majestic’.
Above – Milton Road, Swindon – The GWR Baths (Skating Rink) and former Doctor’s Surgery.
My sister and I used to go skating and slowly some of the American soldiers started to come along, the Paratroopers who wore high boots looked very smart. They were stationed around the area at Aldbourne and Ramsbury nearby to Swindon; from there they used to get passes to come into town.
I remember going out to the camp at Aldbourne for a Dance we were invited to, we travelled back to Swindon in a bus that the soldiers used to have to ferry them in and out. I can’t for the life of me remember how I got out there though?
There were a number of venues for dances in town that we also used to go and these included, the Town Hall, the Playhouse at the Mechanics Institute, the Corn Exchange and the Bradford Hall on Devizes Road.
My Dad Percy used to go for a pint in town either to the Locomotive Pub or the Central Club, one night Mr Langley who ran a Tailors/Outfitters shop in Commercial Road asked him if I could do some sewing work for him. The job was to sew silk braid onto these side caps for the American Paratroops. Dad said he thought that I would be pleased to do it and earn a bit extra money. I was at Nicholson’s factory then making Officers raincoats.
A night or two later Mr. Langley whose shop was next to the Chinese Laundry turned up with a pile of side caps and a large roll of silk braid- light blue coloured.
I must have sewed this braid onto a bout 400 caps using a hand operated sewing machine, there was still some silk braid left on the roll after. I wanted to use some for a waistcoat trim but Dad said no it had to go back!
Mr Langley called to collect the caps which he was very pleased with; he must have had a local contract to get the job done quickly. I never did anymore work for him after this.
Norma, my sister was a little older than me and was working at Vickers Armstrong Aircraft Factory in the wage office, she had met a young Paratrooper from Aldbourne one night at the skating rink he was called Bill Miller. He was a tall lad with lovely red hair and came from Texas. Bill and Norma starting to see each other and became close. As time went on some American Army Officers used to call to the factory office where I worked(Nicholsons) to ask the Manager, if some of the girls would be allowed to come to dances at the camps. I remember us being picked up by a large truck in the yard of the factory, they gave him their word that the girls would be well looked after and would have escorts. We had some good times and they always treated us as ladies and were courteous and polite.
Swindon Borough Council produced this guide booklet for U. S. service personnel in 1943
One time Norma went to a dance with Bill Miller, he picked Norm up in a jeep – after the dance Bill however was unable to drive her home himself. Concerned about her safety he gave her a revolver to carry! – Dad found out about the gun next morning and hit the roof (Not with the gun). He said we would get in big trouble and set off back to the camp and returned it to the guard on duty there…..
During this time there was a scheme called Holidays at Home, as we couldn’t travel far because of the war local events were organised. I remember going with Norma, Wally (Lipinski) and Bob (Lundy) to a fairground event at St. Mark’s Park in Swindon. There were bumper cars, merry go rounds, Gypsy caravan and all kinds of wonderful things to do. We had a good time and spent all my money there.
When Wally had been wounded and returned back to Aldbourne from France I think it was, he had been awarded the Purple Heart. He let me borrow it and take it to Nicholsons to show all the girls at work.
(Walter was also awarded the Silver Star and the Bronze Star I understand – Rodge Dowson)
Playing darts at home in Carr Street was another pastime playing in the middle room next to the inside table bomb shelter – we had no radio at home, cards and darts we played. We did have five cinemas in Swindon then so the pictures were another popular pastime and somewhere else to go.
Another Paratrooper whom we met and used to come and visit with my family was Bob (Robert Godfrey). We all thought a lot of him he was another really polite and lovely lad.
Norma my dear sister passed away in November 2007, she remained single, never had children of her own and never got over the tragic death of her one true love Bill Miller.
I married my husband Ray he was in the RAF during the war and came from Durham. He went on to become a Police Officer in Swindon for 29 years; we had met in Swindon and married there in 1952.
Val Dowson (Loveday) 2009
Val & Rodge – August 2nd, 2009 – my mum just got to talk on the phone today with Bob Lundy after 65 years!