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kingswear at war - medals
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kingswear at war - book cover
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kingswear at war - medals
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kingswear at war - cpl reeves
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kingswear at war - hilda
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Kingswear at war - liz hearn
'Kingswear At War' by David Williams
In the December/January edition of By The Dart, I outlined the overall coverage of the book as well as highlighting some specific stories as told to me by the Locals. In this article I hope to offer a taste of some of the other aspects of life in the village at the time.
Together with the colossal effort that the Women’s Institute put into fundraising, they also had an extraordinary skill in providing community support and immense ability at uplifting spirits. This was always interspersed with the infamous WI teas and cakes. Some things don’t change!
An example of their fundraising skills appears on page 30 where the Kingswear WI and Parish Savings Group raised nearly £3500 in one week in 1944. This was their part of the combined Dartmouth and Kingswear Salute the Soldiers Week. £3,500 at that time equates to about £410,000 in today’s earnings!
The regular monthly WI meetings usually had a guest speaker talking about the war effort, such as Harold Clayton of MTB fame, or ‘lantern slide’ shows of someone’s trip abroad. There were also regular talks on jam making and clever recipes that could add tweaks to old favourites, yet still relying on the very limited variety and quantity of food available on ration!
Mrs. Francis Fenner was Kingswear WI’s President and sometime Chairman throughout the war and well liked in the community. Her reports in the WI records suggest she was very much in charge of the cause and offered wise and profound words. In her annual report for 1941 she wrote that ‘we shall endeavor to continue, to the best of our ability, to maintain health, strength and good spirits in the village, until one day, which we trust will not be far ahead, when victory and peace shall come’.
Girl power happened in the fields as well. The Women’s Land Army provided an enormously capable effort (a surprise to some doubters!) on our farms. Hilda Wallace was born and brought up in bomb ravaged Liverpool and recounts her remarkable adventure as a naïve teenager to blacked out Devon and eventually to Kingston Farm.
Her story starts on page 34 of Kingswear at War. This proved to be a wonderful period of her life as her account explains. 64 years later we were able to arrange a return visit for her, which proved so successful. She has been to see us 3 times since then! She still recognizes the buildings and layout of the lane and her bedroom in the fascinating old farmhouse.
Elizabeth Hearn was also a land girl whose farming experience started in Lincolnshire before her family moved to Redoubt Hill in Kingswear. She learned the hard way how to deal with horses and carts! The wagon she was in charge of had been incorrectly harnessed. As she progressed the harness came undone, the shafts of the 2 wheeled rake stuck in the ground and she was catapulted forward and off the cart!
We learned a little of the Motor Boats in the last article. The presence of the Free French had an enormous impact on the scene at the time. They demonstrated extraordinary feats of courage, provided valuable local knowledge of the Brittany coast for the raids that were to take place and were a definite hit with the locals. A number of weddings were to follow!
The Free French arrived on the Dart from Le Havre after the German invasion of Normandy. Leon Cocquerel was a port tug boat Captain and one of the French sailors to stay in the Dart. L’Aube and L’Isere were two of the tugs to escape the German clutches. Leon earned high praise from the Authorities and was decorated for his acts of bravery. His story is found on page 104 and his wartime medals, both French and British, were left to our community by his family and are displayed in the Sarah Roope Trust Rooms.
Kingswear was greatly honoured in 1967 when a considerable delegation from the Free French Association, together with French Naval forces and ships, presented the village with its Medaille D’Argent. This is also on display next to Leon’s medals.
No account of Kingswear’s war would be complete without mention of the air raids and bombings. Multiple bombs fell on the village and are highlighted on a colourful map found within the book. The raid that had the most impact on the community was undoubtedly that on the Philip and Son Shipyard at Noss on 18 September 1942. Six Focke-Wulf 190s roared overhead, dropping bombs on boats moored in the river, sinking and damaging several boats and killing a number men.
The Naval College was also hit killing a Wren Petty Officer and causing some other injuries. Fortunately the Cadets were not in residence at the time, which helped avert a much more serious disaster.
The raid on the shipyard was calamitous however. Landmines, bombs and cannon fire destroyed much of the workshops and other parts of the yard. Fourteen men and three women were killed outright and three more workers died as a result of their wounds. Forty more were injured. To a great extent the Noss workers were back at their posts the next day.
The War Records of the day played events down considerably, no doubt to seek a softer blow to morale and describing the Noss attack as ‘some bomb damage and a number of casualties’. A newspaper report at the time gave the account of a ‘weather-beaten old seaman’ in different terms. His more colourful version appears on page 107 and makes interesting reading!
Although rationing had an impact on everyone, I suspect that the fortunate folks of Kingswear fared better than many urban dwellers. Bartering always played a part and knowing a farmer no doubt helped the supply of a little extra butter, milk or cream. Rabbits were plentiful on all the farms and could easily end up boosting any family’s meat ration. And who did not know a fisherman, either amateur or professional?
Newspapers are a fascinating historical source and The Dartmouth Chronicle is no exception. Articles describe the arrival of evacuated children from London to both Kingswear and Dartmouth and the safe and welcoming homes that were able to accommodate them. The younger kids went to Kingswear School and Dartmouth educated the older ones. The amazing fundraising efforts on both sides of the Dart were well recognized and reported with enormous enthusiasm, and quite rightly so.
The letters pages of any newspaper throw up a large variety of topics. The Chronicle of the war years was little different from today’s contributions. Concerns about the morality and dress code of young ladies to in-depth discussions about rebuilding the communities after the end of hostilities were there to be read.
Mr. Nicholl of The Chalet in Kingswear was a keen ornithologist and passionate about peregrine falcons. The Air Ministry wrote to him to seek his help. This proved to be a real dilemma for Mr. Nicholl as can be appreciated from his letter highlighted on page 150 of Kingswear at War.
The last chapter introduces the state-of-the-art technology of Radar and the highly secret site adjacent to Coleton Fishacre, as well as the gun battery at Froward Point armed with some exWWI warship guns. New military staff was required to guard and man the radar site. Corporal Bernard Reeves was one of the lucky young RAF servicemen. His wife-to-be was living in the adjacent farmhouse!
This book is for sale for £8 at Kingswear Stores and Kingswear PO as well as Dartmouth TIC. I am delighted to say that the new Community Bookshop is now stocked as well and selling hard!
I hope you enjoy reading Kingswear at War.
First published March/April 2012 By the Dart