The Wartime Memoirs of Emily Dunning

Dorset was a hub of military activity during the Great War, and the experiences of the local civilian population is often overlooked. Emily Dunning was a young girl who lived in Longham, then in Wareham during the war. Her wartime experiences were recorded in 1972-74 and generously shared with us by her family. In addition to this, Emily collected a fantastic group of photographs (which can be seen below), mainly of military friends she made whilst they were stationed in Dorset.

Emily before the war

This really is a fascinating account, and well worth a read! Our thanks go out to Ms Lucy O’Leary for sharing the account and photographs with us.

Any text in blue has been added by us, as additional historic notes.

Extract from the memoir of Emily Elizabeth May Dunning (1893-1996).

The unpublished memoir remains copyright of Ms Lucy O’Leary.

Transcribed by Lucy O’Leary (great niece) and edited, for punctuation only, 2020.

Auntie Sis was born on her grandparents’ farm in Talbot Village – her parents were not married at that time although they subsequently married and went on to have 9 children, 5 of whom survived to adulthood and 4 of whom lived to be 100 or more.  Her mother seems to have been incapable of looking after the children, and they were farmed out to various relatives. From about 1909 Sis lived full time with her Uncle Will Elliott and Aunt Emily at the King’s Arms, Longham.  Uncle Will was a keen drinker and it appears that Emily and Sis did much of the running of the pub together with Will’s brother, Uncle Jack. This extract covers WW1, during which time they moved from Longham to the Railway Inn at Wareham.

Emily (centre front) aged 87 in 1980 with her siblings Frank, Jack, Lin and Meg

Well so life went on at Longham until 1914 when the first world war came.  As time went on it made a lot of difference to our trade, but we did have quite a lot of soldiers.  I remember we had a phone message to know if we could supply tea for a brigade of soldiers on the march from Wareham to Ferndown to be billeted.  Well it was terrible, we had coppers, kettles, anything that would hold water on to boil.  Some of the poor men got tea, others didn’t.  Why we were asked to do it I do not know. 

These are likely to have been men of the 52nd Brigade, part of the 17th (Northern) Division. They had been billeted in Wool/Wareham from late September 1914, and moved to the Wimborne area in January 1915. The 12th Battalion Manchester Regiment were among these troops. Emily was given several photographs by men of the battalion, which can be seen here.

The Cooks of the 12th Battalion Manchester Regiment, Bovington Camp, Dorset 1914

Emily’s photos from the 12th Battalion Manchester Regiment can be viewed here.

I cannot remember the names of the regiments of which there were four.  I know one was the Manchesters.  As time went on they were our customers and we became very friendly with quite a lot of them.  One in particular got very friendly with me.  He was a Jew named Samuel Bertie Tavinsky, but he used the name of Jackson in the army.  He was a very nice young fellow.  He used to spend most of his leave at our house.  I sometimes went walks with him and was very friendly, I think he thought quite a lot of me.  When the time came for him to go to France, I used to write to him & send him parcels.  He came to our house for his leave.  Poor fellow, I remember what a state he was in; wanted a good bath which he had very quickly and got into clean clothes.  He brought things for us all, at least all but me; some lovely field glasses for Auntie and leather coat for Uncle, wrist watch I believe for my sister Meg, cannot remember what else, but I know he did not bring me anything, but wanted me to take his wallet which was full of money to buy whatever I wanted, of course I would not do that, anyway the time came and Sammy’s leave was up, we packed him off with lots of good things and of course he promised to write and that he would come back again, but he never did.  I am sure he must have been killed very soon.  I can seem to see him now waving farewell as he rounded the corner.  I remember on one occasion whilst he was home, my sister called him a black headed Prussian Jew.  He went white with passion, why she did it I don’t know, she was quite young having just left school.  Anyway it passed over & we were all sorry we did not know the end of him.

I believe Sammy to be 4174 Pte Samuel Jackson 12th Battalion Manchester Regiment.

Sammy was born in Leicester on the 1st April 1886 and registered with the name of Samuel Bertie Jackson. His mother Betsy Jackson was a shoe fitter from Nottingham. In 1902, he joined the Royal Navy and served until 1907. He was eventually discharged for having a bad record, and had spent periods locked up in prison. By 1911, he was working as a hotel porter in Liverpool. When war broke out in 1914, he was still working as a hotel porter, only by now in Leeds. He enlisted into the army on the 27th August 1914 in Douglas, Isle of Man, but gave his religion as Church of England and had stated he had no previous military service! We know that he had a dark complexion, dark hair and hazel eyes, standing at 5 foot 4 inches tall. Sammy also had a tattoo on his wrist, a heart pierced by an arrow.

Sammy proceeded overseas with the 12th Manchester Regiment on the 14th July 1915. In February of 1916, he was admitted to hospital with concussion and a gunshot wound to the head. He re-joined his battalion but in April was diagnosed with ‘Shell Shock’ and returned to the UK. On the 3rd June 1916, he was awarded the Military Medal. Sammy returned to France in November 1916 and in March 1917 was wounded in the left thigh by a shell. He later transferred to the Leicestershire Regiment as a Company Sergeant Major. He was subsequently awarded a bar to his Military Medal on the 25th January 1918. Sadly, Sammy was Killed in Action on the 22nd March 1918. He is now commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial. He is also listed in the British Jewry Book of Honour.

What Emily was probably unaware of is that Sammy had listed a Ms Violet Arthur as his sister and next of kin when he joined the army in 1914. After his death, Miss Arthur had received his medals and effects, but listed herself as his intended wife, not sister! It appears that Sammy had no family.

My Uncle Will during this time tried to get in the Veterinary Corps.  I remember how we all cried the day he went away to join up.  Anyway he was back the next day, they would not accept him.  One thing, he was over age, and I expect not very fit having taken so much Whiskey. 

A group of men from the Dorsetshire Regiment

By this time supplies were getting very short.  We were sold out quite a day or two in every month.  We had quite a lot of spare time.  I used to cycle up to my Gran’s:  they had by this time retired from the farm owing to my Grandad’s ill health.  They still lived at Talbot Village.

An unknown soldier and his bicycle

Then in 1916 my Uncle decided we should have to move, so he was looking round for another house when the Railway Hotel, Wareham, became vacant, so he applied for it and after Major Groves had been to see us, he & I went to Weymouth to be interviewed.  Why I had to go instead of Auntie I do not know, but it went well and we moved to Wareham in April 1916, and oh what a shambles after our lovely house at Longham.  My two Uncles and I came to take over, Auntie and my sister Meg staying behind at Longham for a month as we ran the two places for that length of time.

Men of the Headquarters Staff, 71st Brigade, Royal Field Artillery

The house was out of bounds at Wareham when we took over owing to bad management, there being thousands of troops there.  Anyway we were soon put back & were very busy, but how we managed I do not know.  The house was in a filthy state.  The out going landlord Mr B Card was so drunk the day we took over there was no sense from him.  Our furniture from Longham did not come along for a while so we had to make do.  I remember I slept on the floor on a mattress for quite a while and what with the trains rushing through & mice running across the floor I tell you I was not very happy, but we were to busy to think about it.  We had most of  our midday meals sent in from Hobbs the Bakers next door and although we were out of bounds for a week or two, we had plenty of Holton Heath workers to keep us busy.  I was just longing for my Auntie & sister Meg to come along.  When they did come with most of the furniture Auntie was ill & had to go to bed.  I think it was just the upset of moving, anyway she was alright in a day or two & we soon got cracking on getting things straight.  We were back in bounds again, that meant we were soon sold out of our month’s quota, sometimes for two whole weeks, as we were based on the quantity of sales Mr Card had been selling before.  The house was under alteration and we soon got it liveable.

Holton Heath was the site of the huge Royal Naval cordite factory.

An unknown sailor of HMS Royal Sovereign

The different troops kept coming in to the camp.  We had hundreds of Australians, some of them very nice fellows.  Some had come straight from the Bush & difficult to control.  We had a nice Dining room with oak beams and on it was screwed Jacko, our pet monkey which had died some time before we left Longham & Uncle had him stuffed.  The Australians unscrewed him & took him away.  We never saw him again.  They also took pictures from the walls which were found hanging in their huts at the camp.  We had them back, so for the time they were there we had to put all things that mattered out of the way & put forms instead of chairs, but we really took lots of money from them.

An unknown Australian Soldier

One of them that we used to call Rush fell in love with me; did not tell me only by letter, he also wrote to my Uncle asking for me, about fourteen pages of it.  It was really laughable, I had never even had conversation with him except for serving him in the business.  I kept the letters for many years, but gave them to my husband to read in later years and I believe he destroyed them, but they were a work of art and I really would have liked to keep them.  I wonder what would have happened to me if I had been so inclined.  He had heaps of money, so I missed my chance didn’t I? 

1567 Pte Arthur Schultz 27th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force. On the back of the card is written “Wounded on Somme 5th of August 1916. Gallant charge of Australians 2 lines of enemy trenches taken and held under heavy shell fire 24 hours. 4 days out of hospital when photo taken.

Altho’ some of the lads were very uncouth I think most of them had a lot of respect for us at the Hotel.  There was two MPs that used to look after our house well.  One night we had a little bother.  One soldier threw a pint cup at Auntie because it was closing time and he could not have any more drink.  Luckily it missed her.  The MPs got him and he had to pay the penalty.  On another occasion I had an order of six pints of beer; they took them and went back to their seats & did not pay, so I just opened the flap and walked up to them and took all the pints away.  They let me have them like lambs:  I have often thought about it, they could have used me rough couldn’t they?  On another occasion one of them used some filthy language to me.  Some of the lads that were there with him took him by the scruff of the neck & threw him out.  We never saw him again.  I can truthfully say, through all my years in the business, that was the only time I was insulted.

A Military Policeman on his horse

Another of the lads, Webber by name, use to give me all his money to keep until he needed it.  Why he should have trusted me I do not know, but he was such a nice fellow, told us all about his home & family.  When he collected his money from me and was going away, he bought me the most beautiful blue silk blouse from Mansfield in Wareham.  Rather a funny present, and it was a wonder I was allow to accept it.  My Uncle was very strict and would not allow any of the staff or myself to receive gifts from them or any of the customers.

Men of the Royal Marine Light Infantry and Royal Marine Artillery. Most likely a gun crew on-board a naval ship

We also had the Ordnance Corps station quite near our house.  Our own boys of course, we were very friendly with them.  My uncle took me on an outing to Weymouth with two or three of them, and with one, Cpl Fred Waddington, I became very friendly, at least more than friendly.  I think he was the only man in my life that I ever truly loved.  He used to take me to the pictures and we went for long walks.  He gave me photos of himself and a nice badge of the regiment which I still have.  But right down deep in my heart, altho’ I knew he thought a lot of me and was a perfect gentleman in every respect, I knew there was something in his life and we could not come together, but I tried not to believe it.  We were such pals.  When his leave came he went to Blackburn which was his home, and for his whole leave he did not write to me until just as he was coming back.  I had many doubts then, but I was so in love with him I did not want anything to part us.  We were together for quite a long while, until he was sent to Sutton Veney.  Then he came down and stayed with us for several week-ends until at last he was sent to German East Africa.  He wrote nice letters to me for a while, until at last he told me that ours could only be platonic friendship.  It was nice letter but nearly broke my heart, so of course I stopped writing until I got engaged.  Then I wrote him one last letter.  He wrote back, saying he was surprised at my thinking of marriage, but I am almost sure he was married, but none of the fellows would tell me.  I believe they did tell my Auntie but no one ever let on. As I write this I feel choked at the age of 80 but there it was.  I did not hear any more of him until a number of years after when Ewart Pritchard came to visit my husband & self at Hamworthy.  He told me then that he had visited ‘Fluff’, the name I used to call him, and he had returned safe and was in Business in Blackburn, but even then he would not tell me if he was married at the time we were so friendly, but there it is.  I suppose we all have very big disappointments in our lives.

I believe Cpl Fred Waddington to be 013040 Fred Waddington Army Ordnance Corps. He was discharged from the army on the 20th July 1919. Unfortunately, several men by the name of Fred Waddington lived in the Blackburn area, and I have been unable to find out any further information.

Well life went on and on and there was one fellow that used to come to our house every day by the name of Jack Phillips.  He was at that time working at Holton Heath for a firm Hobday & Way of London.  He was always wanting me to go out with him which I did eventually.  He knew all about my feeling for Fluff, and I think on the rebound I became engaged to him.  I never regretted it, he was one of the best fellows in the world.  He certainly deserved to be loved more deeply than the love I could give him.  He, after a while, had to go to Devonport, so I went down to him for holiday and after two years I married him in 1919. 

An unknown Sergeant of the Tank Corps, stationed at Bovington Camp, Dorset

My Uncle, Auntie & Gran liked him very much.  I used to visit my Gran with him every time he came to see me at Wareham which was as often as he could get away (by the way my Grandad died in June 1917 so Gran was on her own).  She used to come to us for holidays at Wareham, and she thought Jack was wonderful.  He used to sit & read to her.  I know she was very happy when she knew we were going to be married.  Poor dear, I often wish that I could have visited her more often.  I know she must have been very lonely after Grandad went.

Men of a mounted unit at camp, most likely a pre-war photograph

Anyway time went on.  We were very busy, had hundreds of American soldiers in the camp at Wareham.  We were closed about two weeks in every month, and when we did open it was just like queuing up for a cinema and my word couldn’t they drink Whisky.  During the time we were closed Uncle used to take me to a few dances at the Drill Hall.  I enjoyed that.  Mr & Mrs Walker the Station Master and his wife used to come with us. He and my Uncle were lovely dancers, but they really used to have so much to drink, always made a bee line for me when they came back from the bar, but they always managed to get round the dance floor OK.  I do so much enjoy dancing but married a man that did not dance, so when I married I did not dance again.

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