Reg Little is a contented and happy man – he takes in a beautiful vista from his living room window of the river Dart, directly above the Steam Railway at Kingswear.
With his wife Shelia he has lived a full and interesting life and he is now recording his memories for posterity on a website, with the help of his son Robert.
Talking to him about his life, you realise here is a man who loves telling stories about the things he has done. To chat to him and Sheila is a joy.
“I was born in 1927 in Berkshire, but my father worked for the Great Western Railway and we ended up in Kingswear when I was five,” he says. “I went to Kingswear School, then Dartmouth School and eventually started work for the Urban Electric Company as an apprentice electrician. It’s an interesting fact that Dartmouth had electricity much earlier than much of the country – this is because there was an electricity generator installed for the Britannia Royal Naval College which was then used for the rest of the town.”
Reg knows so much about the history of Kingswear and Dartmouth you can see why he has decided to record it for posterity.
His early life, like so many, was shaped forever by the outbreak of World War 2.
“When war broke out I was in the Kingswear Scouts,” he said. “We welcomed the children who had been evacuated here from Acton in London and were asked to take them to their billeted homes. When I was 14 I joined the Civil Defence Force as a messenger. I was then moved on to the rescue party because they thought I was big enough to help!”
In 1942 tragic events engulfed Reg’s family.
“In 1942 the shipyard at Noss was bombed with the loss of 20 lives, one of whom, sadly, was my middle brother, Bert aged 17. Three Focke – Wulf 109s came down through the valley from Hillhead, dropped bombs on Noss, sunk ships in the harbour, etc. and damaged several more. My brother’s funeral was the biggest Kingswear had ever seen. His coffin was transported to the church on the Fire Engine and representatives of civilian and armed services were all in attendance.”
In 1943 Reg helped in rescue attempts after the ‘Valentines Day Bombing’ that partially destroyed Duke Street in Dartmouth, leaving 13 dead and injuring 40.
“One Saturday morning I was in Lower Contour Road and heard planes. I saw bombs dropping on Duke Street and the Town Arms pub (now council flats next to what was Dartmouth Primary School) in Higher Street. I went across to Dartmouth with our attachment,” he said. “There was also money all over the place. We picked it all up and gave it back – if I’d known then what we know now about bankers I would have kept some!”
Reg met his future wife Sheila when he was 16 and she was 15.
He said: “I used to follow her up the road after church, but eventually I was accepted!”
During the War, the Free French were stationed in the village and Reg and Shelia got to know many of them, including a ‘deaf and dumb’ sailor, called Paul Bruckel.
“Sheila, who had a deaf Aunt, communicated with him using signs. We were told he was the only deaf and dumb sailor who had served in the French Forces,” he said.
They also met General de Gaulle’s son Phillipe, who was stationed there, along with future French President Francois Mitterand.
Reg joined the army when he reached the age of 18 and became part of the Royal Engineers – after training he saw a notice to join a team of deep-sea divers and decided he would give it a go as it ‘sounded interesting’.
After finishing his training, he was put on a train bound across Europe, not knowing where he was going.
“We were given 24 hours notice we were to be going on a train,” he said. “We stopped a number of times – on one break in Austria I bumped into my neighbour from Kingswear, Les Radford! Our final destination was Venice, where we ran a ferry service for American personnel. I spent one Christmas there and walked on ice in the lagoon.
“After 18 months I returned and was sent to another place where they talk a foreign language: Stranraer in Scotland! They were dumping old ammo and even mustard gas in the sea and I met several men with burns from the gas. I was there as a diver in case anything went wrong.”
Reg married Sheila in 1950 and started their family – Robert was born in 1952 and Peter in 1955.
So why has Reg decided to put down his memories on line now?
“I’ve always collected together memories and mementos,” said Reg, “but it was good to find out people were genuinely interested. I’ve done talks at local schools and to the local historians. My son helped us get everything online and apparently the site gets thousands of hits. The world has changed so much, I think people are pleased to find out about what went on. For someone with so little brains I’m pleased I can help people understand what things were like back then!”
interview by Phil Scoble
First Published July 2013 By The Dart