1975: Tyneham’s ration of nostalgia

HISTORY stopped at Tyneham 32 years ago. Just before Christmas,1943, the villagers gave up their homes to make way for an army firing range, and the village died.

The villagers of Tyneham never went back. Their bitter and protracted struggle for possession of their homes ended in failure as the Army retained control over a hamlet of tumbledown cottages.

Now, as Army range wardens are working to clear up the remains of the village, has come a reminder of those early war years.

Ration books for everyone living in the village before they were dispossessed have been found by the wardens, in an old corrugated iron shed at the back of Tyneham post office.

Ration books found at Tyneham

Names like Everett, Longman, Colin Driscoll, the postmaster, and William Holland, who lived at Baltington Cottage, are still clearly legible on the tattered and crumbling orange and buff coloured pieces of paper.

And the injunction from the Ministry of Food to write your surname and National Registration Number on the counterfoil before handing it to the retailer is clearly visible, too.

Coupons for sugar, bacon and ham, meat and cooking fats are crossed off in blue pencil, for these bits of paper are the remains of used-up ration books, thrown into a pile by postmaster Colin Driscoll some time in 1943.

And there, it seems, they stayed for 32 years.

“We found them as we were demolishing the old shed at the back of the post office,” said warden Mrs. Jane Cato. “They were under a pile of ash on the floor, with rat holes all around. I’m afraid they all break up very easily,” she added.

Mrs. Cato, the only woman warden on the army range, took the ration books home to her cottage in Lulworth, and is now cleaning them up.

“We hope eventually to put them on show, wrapped in polythene, at Tyneham Church,” she told the Echo.

The church, deconsecrated some years ago, is planned by the Army as a museum and an information centre for the public who use the Army range walks when the soldiers aren’t firing.

The books will take pride of place in the museum, particularly as little else of value has been discovered in the village by the wardens.

“There was surprisingly little of value in the village – most of the villagers must have taken everything they had with them when they left,” said Mrs. Cato.

From a dump near the stream they found a few bottles and old inkwells, from the greenhouse of Tyneham House they took a water pump in perfect working order, and from a farmhouse they took a pair of Victorian scales.

But they found little else to stock a museum of old Tyneham.

So those who knew Tyneham in pre-war years will have to rely on the names in old ration books to spark off memories of life in the village.

Memories like those of Miss Margaret Taylor, whose name appears in faded ink on one of the ration books. Miss Taylor, who lives with her sister in Corfe Castle, is a frequent visitor to the tiny 13th century church, which is maintained by the Department of the Environment at the edge of the village.

“We showed her round the old post office and she was amazed to see the huge tree growing just in front of the building,” said Mrs. Cato. “She remembered giving it to the postmaster as a six-inch pot plant about 40 years ago!”

Published by Bournemouth Evening Echo, Tuesday 16 December 1975