With just a little over twenty years passing, the country was once again at War with Germany which must have been a difficult situation for many to deal with considering the carnage and sacrifices made in the previous war. Well over 200 men from Launceston district gave their lives in what was supposed to be the war that ended all wars. However, the seeds for the second world war were already being in 1918, and not just in the flawed Treaty of Versailles which many on both sides felt inadequate. The French Marshal Ferdinand Foch, who felt the restrictions on Germany were too lenient fortuitously predicted that “this (Treaty) is not peace. It is an Armistice for twenty years.” The treaty certainly did nothing to conciliate with Germany and in later years many felt the Germans to be within their own right to ignore the treaty. Ramsay MacDonald for instance commented after Hitler’s re-militarisation of the Rhineland in 1936, that he was “pleased” that the Treaty was “vanishing.” This ‘guilt’ was played very well by Hitler with the result that Germany was soon a strong military force.
The Treaty of Versailles a failure as it was, on its own didn’t contribute to the 2nd World War for we also have to look back at the general feeling of many Germans in 1918, particularly the returning soldiers. The surrender had taken place with the bulk of the German army still on French and Belgium soil and for many, they felt undefeated. There was a perception for many that the country had been stabbed in the back, that it was the home front that had lost the war. General Eric Ludendorff was a strong proponent of the ‘stab in the back’ theory, citing that Social Democrats and leftists were to blame for Germany’s humiliation. He also blamed the business element (especially the Jews), as he saw them turn their backs on the war effort by letting profit, rather than patriotism, dictate production and financing. This sense of injustice was nutriment that fed the Nazi’s rise. This is a rather simplistic explanation to the cause of the war, but once you put the depression of the early 1930’s into the mix there is little doubt how strong an attribute this all played in the lead up to 1939.
Whatever the individual views on the causes of the war, for the country and more importantly for Launceston and its district the whole way of life was about to change. In World War Two Launceston became a large military centre, with Army units stationed throughout the district; two camps were set up in the town, one at Scarne and the other at Pennygillam. Hotels and houses were commandeered to house secret units, in Dunheved Road were the headquarters of the Royal Navy, Army intelligence, Royal Air Force and planning units, all making plans, firstly, for the defence against German forces invading the coast, then for the coming D-Day invasion of Europe by British and Allied forces when the Americans arrived in the area.
For this invasion, thousands of tons of ammunition, food, clothing, fuel, tanks and means of transport were brought into the area, dumps being set up in fields and woods, etc, all around the area and near the railways. Many of these dumps in sheds, or disguised as haystacks, barns or rises in the land. With this preparation, the many Americans arrived to enhance the planning operations, and to provide the necessary manpower for the handling of the stores, both in the storing and the maintenance and for the swift loading for onward movement to the many ports on the peninsula.
As in WWI, when many horses, complete with harness in many cases, were conscripted for service, guard dogs, active mousing cats, homing pigeons and the likes were put into factories and food dumps, etc., to keep down losses by theft, contamination, and the Western weather.
1939, the planning for war.
(Much of the following has been gleaned from the various newspaper reporting of the day. The reports became more sporadic in their detail as the war progressed mainly due to censorship but also due to the reduction in size of the respective papers as a result of paper shortage. Therefore as the war progressed, there was less being reported particularly once Launceston became a hub used before the D-Day landings, making it difficult to research the military aspect of the town’s role during the war. Wikipedia has also been used to confirm timelines of the war.)
The start of the year saw the area suffering from a large outbreak of a mild form of influenza although some sufferers showed pneumonic symptoms. It was also in January that plans were already being made for the evacuation of children and their teachers by the Ministry of Health on January 10th. The whole of Cornwall bar the Saltash and Torpoint area was highlighted to the reception area for the purpose. It was agreed that all Local Authorities would conduct house to house surveys to ascertain: 1, the amount of surplus accommodation on a standard of one person per habitable room. 2, the amount of this surplus to be found in houses which are suitable for reception of persons removed from other areas and particularly of children; and 3, the amount to be found in houses where the householder is willing to receive either children unaccompanied by their parents or teachers. It was agreed at this meeting that where the householder was unwilling, or willing to only take fewer children, the fact and the reason given were to be noted. Attention was to be drawn to the fact that persons would be found who, though not unwilling to play their part, and not capable of undertaking the care of children – aged and infirm persons living alone, houses where there is a confirmed invalid, and persons living alone whose employment requires them to be absent all day, but who might be willing to take in children on the understanding that a teacher or other helper would be accommodated with them. The proposal was to move children of school age, school by school, in company with their teachers and other helpers. Further, it was intended that the education of the children would continue in the reception areas. Payment to householders providing homes to such children would be paid by the Government at the rate of 10s. 6d. per week where one child is taken, and 8s. 6d. where more that one child is taken. The plan further laid out that children under school age would be accompanied by their mothers or other responsible persons, and in these cases the householder would be asked to provide lodging only for a payment of 5s. per week for each adult, and 3s. per week for each child.
During the first Town Council meeting of the year, held on January 16th, Councillor Sydney J. Fitze (above left) suggested an ambitious plan (and with some irony for the future) to erect a double-decker car park embodying an air-raid shelter for the centre of the town with accommodation for 200 women and children on the old Sheep Market Car Park. He said, “that such a scheme would relieve the present parking congestion in the town, incorporate a bus station – a service which the Council ‘must face up to in the near future’ – and at the same time find work for the unemployed in the town, which was said to be greater than ever before.” In reply, another member, Councillor Pearce, considered the cost of making such a shelter bomb-proof would be excessive, and an alternative suggestion, was that subject to the Duchy’s permission, tunnels be dug underneath the Castle Grounds. Here he thought was an ideal spot, because there were so many parts of the town that could be reached. He did not want in any way to disfigure the Castle, but he thought such a scheme would provide a great deal of work for the unemployed. In the end the whole question was referred back to committee, and the Surveyor was asked to prepare plans to find out is such a scheme was practicable. At this same meeting, the Council discussed the Ministry of Health’s evacuation plans whereby the Town Clerk, Mr Stuart Peter, stated that a circular containing information on the subject had been sent out to every house in the borough. It was agreed on recommendation of the Finance committee that Mr. J. Dennis would be appointed the chief officer for the scheme, and that the borough would be divided into twelve areas.
Also on January 16th, the townspeople got to hear of the persecution that was being performed on the Jews in Germany. Speaking at the annual meeting of the Launceston auxiliary of the British Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Among Jews, Mr Ernest L. Lloyd, described the heart-rending treatment being handed out. “I do not hate Germany, for as a Christian one cannot hate them,” he said. “One feels a terrible sense of pity for them, although my own soul revolts against this terrible treatment of my own people. The whole Jewish problem is an excuse,” he declared. At the meeting, Ernest read out a letter his Society had received from one of the stricken Jews who was living in ‘No Mans Land’ on the borders of Poland. “I am hounded with 40,00 in ‘No Mans Land,’ he wrote. “500 of us are living in a room with accommodation for only 120, sleeping on straw…children die of typhoid like flies. Save me, please, save me. I wish only to get away. Save one who is living in hell.” Remarking on the meetings at Launceston, Ernest said he had been inspired by the wonderful sympathy and attention given to his race. There were some places where he had to go and speak where he knew sympathies were against them. “Why is it that there was a Jewish situation at all today?” he asked. “Instinctively civilisation shrinks its shoulders at a Jew. Have we brought contempt on our own race by the way we have lived or served our generations? I do not think so. The only trade that the nations of the world allowed the Jew to do was money-lending or financing war. It takes more than a generation, it takes liberty and freedom to bring back to the Jew a new horizon and vista. He has not altogether brought on his own problems. Christianity has no race prejudice, but that ideal has not been lived up to and our race has been made the subject of ridicule. Jews live in communities, and that aggravates the Jewish problem.” He concluded by stating that four and a half million Jews were living in No Man’s Land and that no nation at all was able to help their plight. “Dark despair is facing the Jewish world today. If 70 million cannot compete with 500,000 Jews I have no respect for Germany. Why is there this problem? Any totalitarian state must have a scapegoat.” In reply the Mayor, Alderman Herbert Hoskin, said for a long time they had been hearing and reading about the terrible plight of the Jewish people, and our hearts had gone out to them in their distress.
Also in the January it was decided at the General Purposes Committee of Cornwall County Council was to have the air-raid wardens under the supervision of the police. Also at this meeting Mr. A. Browning Lyne, the chairman of the committee, said that he was convinced any risk of a gas attack in Cornwall in the event of war was absolutely negligible.
At the February meeting of the Town Council it was stated that Launceston’s A.R.P. personnel was practically at full strength with the 22 out of the 24 wardens required having taken and passed the necessary examinations and passed, but that more volunteers were needed to fill reserve ranks. Women drivers especially were required as drivers of ambulances. At that time only two had volunteered and the service needed no less than twelve, with a reserve of three. It was also stated that the First Aid party comprised an establishment of fifteen, and a reserve of five. This number had already qualified. First aid posts, comprising six men, and thirty women, were also practically complete. Volunteers were still being sought for rescue parties and decontamination squad and at that moment there had been no enrolments. The council were still awaiting a visit from the County Architect with regard to premises. It was acknowledged that the council needed to find a headquarters for A.R.P. purposes and stores. Plans for the fitting of gas masks were to be put forward as soon as possible, with over 75% of the residents having already been fitted. The Borough was now divided into eight areas, instead of the original 12. The survey in regard to the evacuation plans had been completed and Mr. Dennis was then in the process of collating the results of the 1,200 houses.
And so with the situation on the continent looking bleak after German troops marched into Czechoslovakia on March 15th, there was a reality dawning that the threat of war and its repercussions were a step closer, meaning a new effort was being made in preparation for war.
A meeting of local road operators was held at the end of March to form two groups for the Launceston area. Major W. J. Williams, chairman of the North Cornwall Association of Road Operators began by detailing the plans for petrol supplies during a time of emergency. He said that instead of waiting for the emergency to arise, as on previous occasions, they were trying to organise the country while they still had time. “You can readily see that Cornwall and the West of England will be vitally important in time of war. This idea of road transport will be to feed the more vulnerable parts of the country,” he said. “This scheme is purely voluntary, but everyone present here to-night should place himself at the disposal of his country.” “Fuel will be very vital, and will have to be conserved for private enterprise and the ordinary distribution of goods. Petrol will be controlled and bought in licence, and will only be sold to those who are doing an important national service.” He then asked everyone to fill the Ministry of Transport form with which they had all been supplied, to enable each operator to join the group. The group for Launceston sub-district was divided into three areas – Launceston Borough and Rural; Bude-Stratton Urban and Rural; and Camelford Rural. One would be for vehicles up to 30 cwt, and the other for vehicles over that weight. The minimum for each group was to be twenty-five vehicles, but bigger groups were openly encouraged, as this would make it easier for centralising of petrol. On conclusion, the two groups were formed on a proposal by Mr T. Fulford and seconded by Mr W. Downing. The committee elected were; Heavy Vehicles – Messrs W. K. Walters (chairman and organiser), T. Fulford, G. Biddlecombe, jun, J. Maybee, R. Symons, F. Bright, W. Downing, W. C. Davey (Egloskerry), and R. J. Coombe (Altarnun). Light vehicles – Messrs F. L. Smith (chairman and organiser), E. Dylan, J. Wonnacott, W. G. Mooney, T. Chapman, C. Tolchard, A. Jerrad, J. G. Martyn (Egloskerry), S, Parsons, H. G. Egglese, and S. J. Petherick.
At another meeting also held at the end of March, Lady Vivian the Civil Defense Organiser for Cornwall, with responsibility for the Women’s Voluntary Service, gave an address where she explained the origin of the movement which had not reached Cornwall until the previous December, when it was realised that there would be a large evacuation of children for ‘dangerous areas.’ Lady Vivian emphasised that the W.V.S. was an organisation that would assist the authorities, working under their direction and in close co-operation. She outlined that Cornwall was expected to receive something between 30,000 to 50,000 children and that a Care of Children’s Committee was being formed to aid the evacuation. She also emphasised that the Red Cross and St. John Ambulance organisations would be providing valuable assistance.
Local recruitment drives were also being held around the area with one held on March 27th at Stoke Climsland heralding 20 volunteers for the Territorials. Lifton company, Ambrosia, agreed that any employees of military age, who wished to join the Territorials, would receive full pay for the period spent training. In the April 1st edition of the Cornish and Devon Post, there was a call for conscription being made by Mark Patrick, M.P. for Tavistock, who was one of the signatories to a motion tabled in the House of Commons. The motion was “In view of the grave dangers by which Great Britain and the Empire are now threatened following upon the successive acts of aggression in Europe and increasing pressure on smaller States, this House is of opinion that these menaces can only successfully be met by the vigorous prosecution of the foreign policy recently outlined by the Foreign Secretary. It is further of opinion that for this task a National Government should be formed on the widest possible basis, and that such a Government should be entrusted with full powers over the nation’s industry, wealth, and manpower, to enable this country to put forward its maximum military effort in the shortest possible time.” On March 29th Prime Minister Chamberlain announced that the Territorial Army would be doubled in size, but at the same time he told the House that “we have not by any means yet exhausted what can be done by voluntary service.”
Defending the Prime Minister’s agreement at Munich when speaking at the Oddfellows Hall, Launceston on March 31st, prospective National Conservative candidate for North Cornwall, Mr. Edward Robin Whitehouse said, “Many people were saying that we ought to have ‘made a stand’ at Munich, and that there would have been no fighting because Herr Hitler would have retired.” “Those people were trying to get the Government out of power at any price. Although they were advocating making such a stand, it was the very same people who were crying out for disarmament and were dead against the Government’s rearmament programme when it started.” He continued, “I want to tell you why I think that our course at Munich was right, the reason is this. If you accept the fact that the Treaty of Versailles was not suitable for modern times and agree that it was not wrong of Germany to have broken that treaty, then it follows that in each move she has made up to the time of Munich, she had a certain amount of right on her side. In the case of Czechoslovakia in September (1938) she was only after those Sudeten lands which contained the majority of German people. She was going to control any place where there was a majority of Germans. In actual fact we did not know Hitler was going further than that, and we had to give Hitler every opportunity of living in peace and friendliness, for which we had hoped at Munich. If we were going to fight we must have absolute moral right on our side.” He went on to say, “The position today has quite changed. Now we know we cannot trust Hitler. Before, we were hoping that there was some good in him. Now we know that he has given up the idea of looking after Germans wherever they may be, and will ruthlessly crush anyone who stands in his way.” Appealing for unity, Mr. Whitehouse said that we must stand as a democracy first of all united behind the Government and then united to our friends. The Government then would be able to come to understanding with other countries who appreciate freedom. Turning to the future he said “the situation was extraordinarily serious.” After Mussolini had made his speech, he expected some declaration from our country, stating that as far as we were concerned we would go so far, but no further. He finally appealed for his audience to support all the local organisations for voluntary service, but pray that there should be peace.
By mid April, calls were put out by the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry asking for recruits with 115 required to complete the War Establishment and Training Cadre for the 4th/5th Battalion and an additional 630 to raise a new Territorial Battalion. Meanwhile the Devonshire Regiment were seeking upwards of 200 men for the 6th Battalion. President Roosevelt at the same time sent out peace proposals to both Hitler and Mussolini asking if they would be willing to give assurances of non-aggression for at least ten years against thirty-one countries extending from Finland to Persia. In his overture Roosevelt said “Plainly the world is moving towards the moment when this situation must end in catastrophe unless a more rational way of guiding events is found. You (Hitler and Mussolini) have repeatedly asserted that you and the (Italian and German) people have no desire for war. If this is true there need be no war.” The full proposal This was sarcastically rejected by Hittler at a speech he gave to the Reichstag on April 28th. Hitler’s response
The Government introduced the Compulsory Military Training Act on April 26th which was the UK’s first act of peacetime conscription and was intended to be temporary in nature, continuing for three years unless an Order in Council declared it was no longer necessary. The Act applied to males aged 20 and 21 years old who were to be called up for six months full-time military training, and then transferred to the Reserve. Locally this act affected 104 local men although it was thought that there were at least 460 men eligible for the Territorial Army. On April 29th a detachment of the 4/5th D.C.L.I. (T.A.) put on a demonstration at the Drill Hall in Westgate Street where the workings of the Bren gun and anti-tank rifle were shown. Many people assembled at the public meeting which was addressed by Mr. S. J. Fitze, Lieut. Com. A. M. Williams, and Major A. Bartlett, Adjutant of the 4/5th D.C.L.I. The speakers were introduced by Lieut. A. Holman Dunn, O.C. Launceston Detachment. Mr. Fitze, himself a former serviceman, having served during the First World War issued a call to arms. “This appeal does not imply that war is imminent, but it does imply that in these troubled times our country should be able to play its part in the maintenance of world peace, which includes all that we mean by home defence.” Owing to the rapid march of science, the motor and the aeroplane, the world has shrunk considerably. It has become a neighbourhood, in which unhappily, the neighbours are not all friendly. In this state of affairs, national defence has acquired a wider outlook. It looks to assisting to maintain the world’s peace by co-operation with other nations. Young men who spend more time on sport than in the study of current events may not have come to appreciate this point of view, but doubtless they will in time. If recruiting is not so brisk as it might be, it is not owning to want of patriotism, but owing probably to failure to realise that the maintenance of world peace is actually self-defence.” He said, continuing “If we want to defend hearth, home and country, if we are concerned for the honour of Cornwall and its ancient capital, it behoves us to do our bit. This we can do by enlisting in the County Territorial Battalion. Launceston has 36 to date, and now that the Infantry is mechanised, there is plenty of room for men of a mechanical frame of mind.“
However, some employers were unhappy with the Act, especially those in the in the farming industry. At a meeting of the Launceston Branch of the Cornwall Farmer’s Union held on May 9th, many of the speakers stressed that it would take young men from the land at a time when they were needed most. Mr J. H. Paige said it was ridiculous for the Ministry of Agriculture to ask farmers to plough up their land, and for another Ministerial Department to take the young men off the land for military training, without the agriculturists having any say in the matter. He thought the Union should protest against the Bill. Another farmer, a father of a young man eligible for compulsory military training, emphasised that although it would mean that there would be a great deal less work done on his farm while his son was away training, he thought it was only right that all persons should play their part in the national life of the country.
At Truro on May 12th, a conference of all local Cornish authorities was held by Cornwall County Council in response to a request by the Ministry of Health for the purpose of expediting progress in arrangements to be made in the county for the reception of evacuees. A statement was presented outlining the numbers expected at each respective ‘detraining’ station. Launceston was listed as having 4,300 for Launceston borough and 1,000 for Launceston rural. At the meeting the representative for the Ministry of Health, Mr J. Topping said, that at the outset Cornwall was to be available for evacuees from London. Railway companies were responsible for evacuees up to the detraining point, and the Ministry of Transport would take them to the various villages. Payment for children and lodging allowances would be made through the Post Office, and the householders could go to the Post Office with a slip from the billeting officer, and get a weeks payment in advance for the children. Peopke merely lodged would have to be maintained, and the maintenance would be met at the outset by the Ministry of Labour, who would make grants for a short period of eight days. Mr E. F. Packer, of the Ministry of Transport, said, as far as Cornwall was concerned the Western National Omnibus Co. had undertaken to arrange with local operators of buses for such vehicles as might be necessary to convey the evacuees, from the detraining station. Lady Vivian reported that the W.V.S. had offers of 2,000 private cars for transport of evacuees.
That very same week, the Minister for War, Mr. Hore-Belisha, announced in the House of Commons the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces Bill, which would enable the call to the colours of a large number of Army and Naval Reservist for three months. This was to ensure a greater preparedness against a surprise attack. The Bill made provision protecting all the men called up for their reinstatement in their former occupation.
Even with all of the troubles brewing on the continent, the people of Launceston still strived to lead as normal a life as possible and the week commencing May 12th, the town held a Launceston Festival Week to promote the town. The festival was officially opened by Mayor Herbert Hoskin to a large crowd gathered at the foot of the Guildhall steps. On opening the weeks festivities, he said, “During the past twenty years Launceston has been developing, and it now possesses many building sites which are a great boon to the inhabitants. Hundreds of houses have been built, and Launceston has sent its inhabitants to the houses on the outskirts where they enjoy health, light, and sunshine. This has been all for the good of this ancient borough, and now our Chamber of Trade at last realises that it can no longer hide its light under a bushel.” He continued “they, too, have been trying to develop business as the town has developed in past years, and they feel the time has come when they must do a little flood-lighting and show to the inhabitants of the town and district and visitors to the town that they have something in their shops that is well worthy of their attention.” During the week a music festival with nearly 400 entries was held as well as the traditional ‘beating of the bounds.’ The weeks events were well supported and gave a welcome respite from international matters.
On June 9th the area was shocked when Sir Francis Dyke Acland, the M.P. for North Cornwall suddenly died, causing the need for a Bye-election. A hard fought campaign ensued, with the focus firmly being on the ensuing crisis in Europe. The contest was between the Liberal, Tom Horabin, and the Conservative, Edward Robin Whitehouse. Along with his party leader, Sir Archibald Sinclair, Horabin was a vocal opponent of Chamberlain’s Nazi appeasement policy. This issue was central to the debate in the by-election, which he won with an increased majority of 1,464 in a straight fight with the Conservatives. In a speech made in Launceston Square, Horabin suggested that the “Premier has done more harm than Hitler.” In his victory speech at Wadebridge he continued his attack on Chamberlain when he said to his jubilant supporters. “This has not, in my opinion been a fight between Horabin and Whitehouse, but a fight between democracy and the petty dictarship of Her Chamberlain.” “Democracy has won, and as soon as I have been round the constunency I am going to Westminster to fight for the mandate you have given me.”
A Government statement of July 5th, was circulated to the Cornish and Devon Post, whereby it was advising people to store a weeks supply of food. In the statement, Mr W. S. Morrison, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said, “Persons who have the means and facilities to do so might with advantage now provide a reserve of non-perishable foods in their own homes in addition to the stores which they usually keep.” Emergency supplies of canned meat, milk, and biscuit and chocolate were held by the Food (Defence Plans) Department sufficient for the maintenance for 45 hours of persons included in the official evacuation scheme, which will be issued by reception officers.
On July 17th, the Government announced a power rationing scheme applying to coal, coke, manufactured fuel, gas, and electricty, which would come into force in war time. After announcing the scheme Geoffrey Lloyd, Secretary for mines said that there would be no fear of a coal shortage, and there would be no queuing up for fuel. “In the last war large numbers of miners were allowed to join the Army, and had to be brought back again in order to keep up the supply of coal, but this time that mistake will not be made,” he added.
Major F. Hare, Chief Constable of Cornwall, presented badges and certificates to over 200 local air-raid precautions (A.R.P.) officials at Launceston Cinema on July 31st. A procession of air-raid wardens for Launceston Borough and Launceston and Broadwood Rural Districts, Ambulance drivers, St. John Ambulance members, the Red Cross Nurses, Auxiliary Nurses, the Fire Brigade, and Auxiliary Fire Brigade, marched from the Ambulance Station to the Cinema, where the film “The Warning,” was shown. Major Hare was introduced my Councillor Sydney Fitze, who referred to the readiness of the people of Launceston to respond to the call of service. That had been demonstrated recently by the way men and women from every section of the community had answered the call of national need in the matter of air-raid precautions. “Some of us were impatient with the County Council for its slowness in waking up to the fact that it is necessary to organise for civil defence in Cornwall as it is in any other part of the country,” he said. “From the first, we in Launceston were very much alive to the need for preparedness, and I am glad to be able to report, thanks to the interest and zeal of those who have come forward as volunteers, that every section of our A.R.P. organisation is now in working order,” he concluded.
On August 23rd, when tripartite negotiations about a military alliance between France, the United Kingdom and Soviet Union stalled, the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact with Germany. With tensions rising on the continent, Air Raid Precaution activity in the local areas were greatly accelerated. Gas masks for the district were rapidly assembled, and in the Bude, Launceston, and Wadebridge districts distribution of the masks began on Friday August 25th. Precautionary measures were taken locally including the removal of floodlights from the Southgate and the control centres being manned day and night. Over 4,000 masks had been assembled by the end of the 25th, with the work beginning in the Congregational Schoolroom (also used as the distribution centre for Launceston Borough), Northgate Street at 3:30 p.m. on the 23rd. On the 25th, A.R.P. officials in Launceston completed the assembly of a further 6,500 masks which were then distributed in the Launceston Rural Districts which were then distributed the following day. Residents in these rural areas were informed to make their collections between 2 p.m. and 9 p.m. from the following centres: Stoek Climsland, the Parish Hall; Lezant, Trekenner School; Lawhitton, the School; Noth Hill, North Hill and Coads Green Schools; Altarnun, Five Lanes and Bolventor Schools; Lewannick, the Parish Hall; South Petherwin, the Women’s Institute Hall; Tresmeer, Tremaine, and Laneast, Tresmeer School; Treneglos and Warbstow, Warbstow School; Boyton, Boyton School; Egloskerry, the School; St. Stephens Rural, St. Stephens School; St. Thomas Rural, Tregadillett School; Trewen, the Old Schoolroom, Pipers Pool. Over 95% of the 10,500 gas masks for the Borough and Rural district were distributed within forty-eight hours, with the remaining 5% being accounted for in the main by people being on vacation.
Residents were issued warnings to screen their lights and the various drapery shops saw increased business in the sale of dark material in the preceding weeks. Also well in place was the Launceston Evacuee Scheme under the control of Mr Percy Pearce. On the 25th August, every householder in Launceston was sent a letter concerning accommodation under the scheme with a view to details being brought up to date. The following officers were appointed for the scheme: Railway transport officer, Mr T. P. Fulford; marshalling offciers, Messrs A. W. Johns and R. H. Keast; food control officer, Mr R. Barriball; road transport officer, Mr S. G. Wooldridge. Each of these sectional officials were supported by other voluntary workers.
The Chief Warden for Launceston rural district was Mr B. S. Davey, of Hawk’s Tor View, North Hill, and the A.R.P. Officer for the area was Mr R. M. B. Parnall, of Launceston. Air Raid Wardens for the district, in alphabetical order were: R. Alford, Trefursdon, Coads Green; W. Brent, Warren’s Park, Coads Green; E. Baker, Trenifle. Launceston; E. F. Brown, Berrio, North Hill; T. Brown, Tresmeer; J. W. Barber, Kings Head Hotel, Five Lanes; W. J. Billing, Trebullet; T. Banbury, Wolleaux, Laneast; F. L. Box, The Forge, Boyton; R. S. Bray, Newham Farm, Lawhitton; A. H. P. Clarke, Lidwell, Stoke Climsland; G. S. Congdon, Treguddick, South Petherwin; W. H. Coad, Trenault, Trewen; S. C. Colwill, Sutton Farm, Boyton; J. S. Cave, Tredaule, Altarnun; R. J. Chegwyn, Tober, Bolventor; J. C. B. Dingle, Stoke Village, Stoke Climsland; S. J. Doidge, Venterdon, Stoke Climsland; B. S. Davey, Hawks Tor View, North Hill; A. Edgell, Kennards House; P. D. Frayn, Egloskerry; W. H. Fry, West Curry, Boyton; G. T. Grigg, Trengune, Warbstow; M. J. Gimblett, Trelash, Warbstow; F. Gillbard, Trewinnow, Congdons Shop; H. Garland, The Village, Stoke Climsland; S. J. Hancock, Crinnick, South Petherwin; K. P. Kittow, Tredaule House, Altarnun; H. Landrey, Jubilee Cottage, Trebartha, North Hill; F. W. S. Morley, c/o The Rectory, Stoke Climsland; J. H. Martin, Athill, St. Stephens; W. Maddever, Treburley; F. C. Nickells, Tresmarrow, Launceston, A. T. Pearce, The Cottage, Polyphant; J. Palmer, Coads Green; T. Palmer, Home Park, Stoke Climsland; S. T. Perry, The Barton, Lawhitton; A. Pellow, North Down, Stoke Climsland; S. H. Parnell, West Park, Laneast; J. Pascoe, The Village, North Hill; S. Penhorwood, Conquarnel, Congdons Shop; C. J. Pratt, Post Office, Rezare; C. Prout, Rosendale, Canworthy Water; J. Prout, Trebeath, Egloskerry; W. J. Phillips, Church Town, Tresmeer; L. F. Rich, 6, Railway Terrace, Tresmeer; J. H. Sandercock, Trla, Boyton; G. E. B. Scott, The Vicarage, Lewannick; A. E. Symons, Lidwell, Stoke Climsland; C. L Symons, Trebartha, North Hill; A. Sloman, Carn House, Canworthy Water; G. Sandercock, Treween, Altarnun; F. E. Snook, Tremollett, Coads Green; W. C. Statton, Ferngrove, Warbstow; E. E. Taylor, Daws House, South Petherwin; W. J. Turner, 5, Railway Cottages, Tresmeer; J. Weeks, Egloskerry; J. H. Werring, Temperance Hotel, Lewannick; W. S. Werring, Venterdon, Stoke Climsland; A. Werring, Post Office, South Petherwin; S. Wilton, Church Walk South Petherwin.
Launceston was the designated Control centre for the most of North Cornwall, responsible for the Borough of Launceston, Launceston Rural, Bude-Stratton Urban, Stratton Rural, Camelford Rural, Broadwood Rural and Lifton (which it had taken over from Tavistock). The Control Room was situated in at the Congregational Schoolroom in Northgate Street and it had its own separate telephone lines connecting with nine telephones in the building. Of these telephones, the main one was installed in the Control Room itself, where, from calls received from district wardens and sub-stations, Air Raid Officials could trace activities across large-scaled maps fastened to the walls. Two telephones were devoted to receiving incoming messages, and two for out-going instructions to wardens and sub-stations. The other four telephones were to be found in the Service Room, and from here calls could be made to summon the Fire Brigade, Ambulance, Decontamination Squad or any general service. Direct lines were installed for Police and the Fire Service. Ditted around the main map in the Control Room, which roughly covered the whole of the West of England, were various coloured pins, linked to Launceston by coloured cotton, depicting the main report centres and sub-centres in and outside the area served by Launceston. Another large scale map of the Borough of Launceston enabled the officials to see at a glance the positions of the chief wardens and to whom to communicate in the case of damage within the borough boundaries. A store room was prepared for the immediate distribution of decontamination suits, etc. Hundreds of sand bags were also stacked outside to provide some protection against any attack.
A preliminary test for the wardens in Launceston reporting from the various sub-station, was held on the evening of August 28th. The test, which involved the receiving of messages at the Control Room, and involved all the various services was considered “Highly satisfactory.” A further test was carried out the following evening. Also on the 28th, the Launceston Division of the St. John Ambulance Brigade staged a mock air-raid. The scene of operations was in a big wheat field at Landlake. Four civilians had been seriously “injured” in the raid, and were lying in prostrate positions. Supt. R. Heard arranged for a call to be put through to the Ambulance Station, where several members were on duty. As soon as the call was received both motor ambulances were rushed to Landlake and members dealt with the “patients.” The Ambulance men had no difficulty in diagnosing the nature of injuries, as each “patient” bore a label stating the type of injury they were suffering from. They were dealt with accordingly and taken to the Ambulance Station in Westgate Street, which for the purpose of the exercise was considered to be a temporary hospital. The whole test was carried through within half an hour, and members carried out their respective duties with the utmost efficiency.
Other precautionary measures were implemented such as the white markings on pavements and roads for the benefit of motorists during “black out” when all lights are screened. The Home Office A.R.P. Department stated that all theatres, music-halls, cinema’s and other places of entertainment would be closed throughout the country during the initial stages of war (this was soon lifted for most of the country by the second week of the war). This would be universal to start with, but it was contemplated within reason that it would be possible to permit places of entertainment to open in certain areas.
War, the outset of the ‘phony‘ one
On September 1st, Germany invaded Poland after having staged several false flag border incidents as a pretext to initiate the attack. The United Kingdom responded with an ultimatum to Germany to cease military operations, and on September 3rd, after the ultimatum was ignored, France, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand declared war on Germany.
Immediately the evacuation plan was begun for schoolchildren and the priority classes.
We are at War, September 9th, 1939
Satisfactory blackout September 9th, 1939
The Defence Regulation No. 24 that came into effect on September 8th, had a Lighting Order that meant every night from sunset to sunrise all lights inside buildings must be obscured and lights outside buildings must be extinguished. Launceston Hospital prepared 20 beds for evacuated patients as well as over 16,000 sand bags being stacked outside the building. These were filled by volunteers which included school children, Girl Guides and Boy Scouts, members of the League of Hospital Helpers and many helpers from the surrounding parishes, particularly from South Petherwin and North Hill. At the Page’s Cross Institute (St. Mary’s Hospital) over 200 windows had to be fitted with dark black out curtains. From the announcement of the war, the Institute had to restrict the admission of all but acute cases, and reports had to be made daily to the headquarters at Truro of the number of vacant beds, and a daily record had to be maintained of the number of patients who could be sent home within twenty-four hours. Also at the Institute, extra beds were fitted in the children’s wards and in the day rooms. “Protective measures” included efficient sand-bagging of the hospital and other wards of the Institution, and casuals, and young and old men and women inmates worked until the night to complete bagging some 20,000 sand bags.
The earliest victim of the war locally was transport initially with the cancellation of a couple isolated bus services, but on September 11th, when the Southern Railway Company, announced that the district would only be served by eight trains per day – four up and four down. The National Coach bus Company, in addition to cancelling the summer service between Bude and Launceston, also suspended the Launceston town service. Petrol rationing began on Saturday September 16th under the Motor Fuel Rationing Order, 1939, and with this the heavy goods transport group had already met at the Constitutional Club on September 15th to discuss the impact of such measures would have on their operations. Here it was stated that although members had completed forms stating their agreement to being part of the group, a census form was also required for their district (sub-district H3) and sent to the Regional Transport Officer, Mr. H. R. Walters. Mr F. L. Smith, Chairman, stated that the rationing scheme for heavy goods vehicles, was based on the unladen weight of vehicles. The Group Organiser would then make a return to the Traffic Officer of his sub-district showing the number of vehicles available for work in the group. He warned that the work was well in hand and because of this it was to be understood that “unless the group was completed by the Group Organiser and returned, no petrol coupons could be given.” After dealing with the reservation of vehicles for defence work, Mr. Smith said that if anyone was unable to carry on his normal work it might be necessary at a latter date for individual traders to co-operate one with another. In order to facilitate the use of vehicles the Ministry of Transport would remove by order the restrictions imposed on A, B or C licences. The value of the petrol coupon was expressed in units and at the outset a unit represented one gallon of petrol, but with the value of a unit being possibly altered from time to time. Allowances per week were as follows: Unladen weight – Not exceeding 10 cwt, 3 units; 10 cwt to 1 ton, 6 units; 1 ton 11/2, 9 units; 11/2 ton to 2, 12 units; 2 tons to 21/2, 15 units; 21/2 tons to 3, 18 units; 3 tons to 4, 24 units; 4 tons to 5, 30 units; 5 tons to 6, 36 units; 6 tons to 7, 42 units. For each vehicle that drew a trailer and additional 6 units were allowed. All the coupons could be spent anywhere. For essential work one-sixth above the basic rations were allowed. Ration cards were not valid unless they bore the stamp of the Ministry of Transport and were valid for 14 days. Priority of petrol supply was as follows: 1. Production and distribution of essential food stuffs. 2. Conveyances of munitions. 3. Clearances of railway stations. 4. Urgent work for Government departments. Under a special licence issued by the Secretary for Mines, those engaged in agriculture were given special licence for motor spirit and Diesel oil during the harvest period.
One consequence of the war was unemployment which soared in just a couple of weeks as many trades were brought to a standstill.
On September 22nd, the postmaster General announced that all correspondence and parcels for members of the services should be addressed “c/o Army Post Office,” and should not contain the name of any place or country. All addresses were to also to show: Army or Air Force number; rank and name; squadron, battery, company, or the section of the unit; Army or Air Force unit including in the latter case the letters R.A.F. It was also announced that no picture postcard or photographs would be allowed to be sent abroad.
At the meeting of the Cornwall County War Agricultural Executive Committee (North District) held at Launceston on September 26th, the new Ploughing-Up Order was explained. The extra quota allotted to the district was 9,000 acres, which were to be devoted to growing wheat, oats, barley, dredge, potatoes, and sugar-beet with the choice of crop being left to the discretion of each individual farmer. For any land that had been down to grass for 7 years or more, a £2 per acre subsidy was available.
The following day, September 27th, the Government introduced their first War Budget where Income Tax was raised from 5/6 to 7/- got 1939/40, and to 7/6 for 1940/41. Sugar, tobacco, beer, whisky and wines also had their duties raised. Sir John Simon, the Chancellor, forecast a probable expenditure for the year of £1,833,000,000. From taxation he would receive £995,000,000 leaving £938,000,000 to be met by borrowing. The first month saw an 8% increase in the price of food with sugar showing the biggest increase.
The call up of the first age group of men (20-22) began in early October, taking some 10,000 men out of agriculture. It was estimated that the Women’s Land Army, now 25,000 strong, would be able to replace the men. By the end of 1939 more than 1.5 million men had been conscripted to join the British armed forces. Of those, just over 1.1 million went to the British Army and the rest were split between the Royal Navy and the RAF. One of the first conscientious objectors from the district was a local farmer, Mr A. G. Stephens, who appealed to the South-Western Tribunal at Bristol on October 31st. He appealed on the ground that his conscience would not allow him to take up military service, as contrary to the teaching of Christ. Asked if he would be prepared to go so far as to grow food for troops, he said he was prepared to grow food if it were for the purpose of eating to live. The Women’s Land Army trainees were to later on in November gave a demonstration at The Manor Estate, Tetcott. Mr T. H. Dyer, councillor from Trelights, Port Isaac, acted as judge for the six girls who took part, who in turn displayed their abilities in: ploughing, spreading and carting manure, handling horses, milking, separating, scythe work, pulling mangolds, hedging, ringing and marking pigs, looking after poultry and pigs, cutting chaff, feeding stock, and all the other manifold of farming activities.
The rationing of bacon and butter began in December, with a limit of four ounces of each being permitted per person per week. The Government stated that there was no need for rationing for any other commodity for the time being, but did ask that the population to restrict sugar consumption to 1lb per head per week.
Within the first two months, over 100 warnings were issued for black out offences in the town. Sidney George Adams, of 4, Chapple Terrace, was one of the first charged with failing to obscure a light so as to prevent any illumination there from being visible from outside the building. Sidney pleading ‘guilty’ wrote a letter to the Bench stating that he had never given any cause for complaint before. The light visible at the time was not in the room concerned, but outside an open door, which was only open for four or five minutes. He was sorry to have caused any trouble. Sergeant R. H. Palmer in evidence said that at Chapple they had had great difficulty in tracing where the light came from. On this particular night the defendant admitted he was painting in that room and there was no special covering over the window. P.C. Colwill said that on October 25th, at 8 p.m., in company with Sergeant Palmer, he visited Chapple Park and saw a light burning in the bedroom window of No. 4. It was facing the town and was onubscured except for a thin curtain and the light could be seen for a considerable distance. Mr Adams was fined 7s. 6d. Another case was brought against Charles Edward Rawlings of 2, Mount Wise, who was charged of allowing a light to be displayed at the Cornwall Electric Power Co., showroom at Western Road on October 21st. The defendant admitted to the bench that “it was my fault; I clean forgot about it.” He was also fined 7s. 6d. Another defendant from St. Stephens after being warned on a previous occasion was also found guilty and fined a total of 14s. Further 7s. 6d. fines were issued the following month to William Locke of Southgate Street and to Herbert Edwards of Okehampton Road whilst at the same hearing, William Pearn, of 3, Belle Vue Cottages, and Charles Allen, of 2, Ridgegrove Cottages, both pleaded guilty to the charge of riding a pedal cycle on the road during the hours of darkness without a front white light. He was fined 5s. for the offence.
At a meeting held at the Oddfellows Hall in Western Road on Friday November 17th, the Mayor, Alderman Herbert Hoskin launched a fund with which to provide a parcel for Launceston men and women who were serving in the Forces. Among those present were clergy and ministers, representatives of the Town Council, both sections of the British Legion, Womens Institute, local detachment of the Red Cross Society, Scouts, and Launceston Brotherhood. Explaining the purpose of calling a meeting, the Mayor said that while he was serving in the last war he noticed that some of the men received parcels or a letter from an organisation with which they were connected, while others did not. He said “Although the gifts would be shared, there was always a feeling of disappointment in their hearts that nothing had been sent to them.” “We do not want that to be the case with Launceston,” he continued. “I thought the best thing to do would be to get a representative central committee from the town. I understand that the Brotherhood and the British Legion have schemes in hand, and probably the churches will be doing something. In my opinion it would be much better if we all co-operated and did something for every Launceston man and woman serving. If a Brotherhood man is serving, let there be a letter sent with our parcel from that organisation. If a member of a Church is serving, let there be a letter sent from the vicar or minister, and son on. If a man is not connected with any organisation, he would still get a parcel from the town and perhaps a letter from the Borough. We want to make them feel that we honour them for their courage, and this is one way in which we can show our appreciation.” Mr. P. Pearce who had agreed to become secretary of the committee, pointed out that the Brotherhood had already decided to raise a fund to send a reminder to Brotherhood members serving, and if any hardships should arise to help the dependants. After some considerable discussion, it was decided on the proposition of Mrs J. Harvey, seconded by Capt. Robinson, for the Salvation Army, that there be a house-to-house collection to get the fund started, and that each organisation do something to augment the fund later on.
At the November meeting of the Town Council, the clerk stated that he had received a letter from the County A.R.P. Controller, who wanted the Council’s views in regard to the suggestion that the local Control Centre be in future manned by voluntary helpers instead of two men and a woman paid officials. The Council expressed in their opinion that if the Centre was to be continuously manned day and night in an efficient manner it would be necessary to employ paid telephonists. However, the County Committee decided to cut down the personnel at the Centre, and that only one employee – a typist – should be paid. Thereafter from the last week of November, the Control Centre was only manned by a paid employee from 9 to 6 and the remaining hours were manned by voluntary help. An arrangement was made that from 11 o’clock onwards, any calls were transferred to one of the County Controller’s staff.
It was announced at the end of November by the Food Minister, Mr W. S. Morrison, that the rationing of bacon and butter would commence on January 8th, 1940. This restricted the ration of each commodity to 4 oz. per head per week. Although sugar was not then included in the scheme, consumers were asked to register with a retailer for sugar and to restrict their purchases to 1lb. per week per head. Boiled and tin hams would also come under rationing. So far as restaurants, cafes, and other catering establishments were concerned, the allowance of butter was to be on the basis of one-sixth of an ounce per head per meal served, and no coupons were required from customers for butter. Cooked bacon and ham was to be served only on the surrender of a half coupon or coupon in respect of a portion of about 11/2 oz. or 3 oz. respectively.
It was announced that men up to the age of 23 were to be called up with registration set for December 9th, 1939. It was estimated that this would provide a further 250,000 men for the services.
At the outset of war the local fire brigade was augmented by the Auxiliary Fire Service, who rented garages at the Dockey, Race Hill and at St. Stephens. These were called respectively the Race Hill Patrol and St. Stephens Patrol. The Borough Fire Brigade and A.F.S. became part of the Fire Force 19 – Division E – Sub-Division 2 of the National Fire Service in 1941, and the captain William Miller’s rank was changed to that of Company Officer. The move to the Brigade being made part of the National Fire Service was due to non standard equipment and procedures causing problems during the War when fire appliances and crews were mobilised outside their own areas to assist with the bombing raids of the blitz. Extra manpower were also recruited and the Launceston crews saw much action helping Plymouth during the blitz.
Launceston’s first air ‘attack.’
At 1:50 p.m. on Sunday December 3rd, during a very bad thunderstorm of heavy driving rain and gale force winds, the Launceston A.R.P. Control Centre received a ‘yellow‘ warning message followed at precisely 2 o’clock p.m., by a ‘red’ warning that indicated that enemy aircraft had been engaged near Plymouth. Then came the message that all in the town feared, “a single enemy ‘plane driven off from Plymouth approaches the town from the South.” Immediately the warning was communicated to all Services to stand by, and it was not long before there were unprecedented scenes in the streets of the town. The ‘plane had eluded its pursuers by taking refuge in the thick clouds and had swooped down to release its load of bombs so as to have a better chance of out-pacing the attacker. The Control Centre telephone rings again. A warden reports that a poison gas bomb had been dropped which fell 10 yards north of the pillar box at Badash Cross on Dunheved Road. A pedestrian walking to Church was injured by a splinter, and became a victim of phosgene. A mustard gas bomb had fallen on the footpath on the west side of the College main entrance.
Within moments the decontamination Squad at the Municipal Offices received these instructions “Poison Gas Bomb at the College. Proceed around Pennygillam. Dunheved Road blocked.” With the final tightening of their gloves, fixing of masks and aprons, the Squad climbed aboard a lorry waiting outside the building. The men seated themselves on forms on either side of it, the space in the middle being used for the hoses, lime, brushes, picks and other equipment. It was an open lorry which offered little protection from the driving rain, and the driver was in a hurry to get to Dunheved Road as quickly as possible. On arriving at the scene of ‘destruction’ at Dunheved Road, the Squad soon erected yellow signs bearing the word ‘Danger’ in heavy black letters. Soon the now inflated yellow figures were to be seen mixing lime to neutralise the gas, while others were busy with the hoses washing away some sticky red substance, from where the bomb had fallen.
By now a second message had come in at the Control Centre, “A second raiding ‘plane approaches the town from the North… (A) High explosive bomb has fallen in the yard of Northumberland House, St. Stephens. One house (is) destroyed, (and) people (are) trapped, adjoining house was wrecked” Further messages poured into the Centre. The telephone bell was ringing continuously. “What’s that?” asked the telephonist, to make sure before committing it to writing. The warden at Newport replies. “A high explosive bomb, aimed at the Railway Station, has fallen outside Baskerville’s shop. The road is completely blocked by a crater six feet deep. All underground services are destroyed – water, gas and telephones – and there are seven casualties.” This ‘planes flight over the town had left a trail of wanton destruction. Another shattering message is received at Northgate Street. A third high explosive bomb had struck the roof of the Midland Bank, demolishing the building, which had caught fire. All in the building were killed, and there were twelve casualties in the Square. The warden in the Square reported to the Fire Brigade and Auxiliary Fire Service at the Fire Station (then by the Town Hall) that the Midland Bank was on fire. The Fire Brigade was soon on the scene, but on arrival it was discovered that the fire was quickly spreading, and the Brigade had to send for the A.F.S., who brought the trailer pump, and it was not long before 12 jets were playing on the building. The Race Hill Patrol were also summoned to the Square, while the St. Stephen’s Patrol were occupied with the fire at Northumberland House. One of the firemen was badly ‘burned,’ and was rushed to Hospital by the fire patrol car.
The Rescue Party, whose headquarters were at Medland‘s Builders Yard at Chapple, were also busily engaged. They were travelling to St. Stephen’s in a lorry containing picks, shovels, and other equipment, when they found their services were also required at Newport. In total their were 22 ‘casualties’ in need of treatment and the Ambulance Brigade were kept very busy with private cars with slips bearing the word ‘ambulance‘ driven by volunteer women. The Mobile First Aid Post, stationed at the Drill Hall, was immediately put into use for those injured, with the badly injured being taken to the Hospital.
This was a picture of the havoc that could result from an actual air raid. Such a situation was not beyond possibility. These messages nor incidents, however, were not real, but part of an exercise prepared by the Town Clerk, Mr Stuart Peter, who was sub-Controller, to test the efficiency of the Launceston Borough A.R.P. Services. Weather wise, the exercise was carried out in terrible conditions, which drenched the members of the Scouts and Guides who were acting as casualties. Thunder and lightning added an extra spice for the rescuers. The siren was not allowed to be used to sound the alarm, so it was taken for granted that two o’clock should denote the time for activities to begin. General satisfaction was expressed at the way in which the duties were carried out, but it was felt there could be room for improvement in certain areas.
On December 24th, 1939, Launceston received news of its first casualty of the war when news of Alfred Winlove-Smith of ‘St. Merryn,’ Western Road, being one of the survivors from the mined Dublin tanker ‘Inverplane,’ reached his wife. It was reported that he was doing well in hospital in the North of England. Alfred had been a reservist of the Mercantile Marine who was recalled to service at the outbreak of the war. He had originally joined up in 1911, and saw conservable service during the First World War, when he was purser in a big Glasgow firm on board passenger and cargo ships travelling to South America. During that war he survived being torpedoed.
The Ministry of Food announced that sugar rationing of 12 ozs. per week for each person would come into effect on January 8th, 1940. At the same announcement it was also stated that meat would also be rationed, but a date was to be announced later, but every householder had to register with a retailer of their choice no later than Monday, January 8th. Mr Morrison, the Ministry of Food minister, also stated that the ministerial control of live-stock and home produced meat would be brought into operation on January 15th, 1940.
December also saw the Battle of the River Plate which was the first naval battle of the Second World War and for one Launceston man, Arthur Hicks of HMS Exeter, it was to leave an indelible mark on his life. The German panzerschiff Admiral Graf Spee had cruised into the South Atlantic a fortnight before the war began, and had been commerce raiding after receiving appropriate authorisation on September 26th, 1939. One of the hunting groups sent by the British Admiralty to search for Graf Spee, comprising three Royal Navy cruisers, HMS Exeter, Ajax and Achilles, found and engaged their quarry off the estuary of the River Plate close to the coast of Uruguay in South America.
In the ensuing battle, Exeter was severely damaged and forced to retire; Ajax and Achilles where another Launceston man, Mr Lethbridge, was serving aboard, suffered moderate damage. The damage to Admiral Graf Spee, although not extensive, was critical; her fuel system was crippled. Ajax and Achilles shadowed the German ship until she entered the port of Montevideo, the capital city of neutral Uruguay, to effect urgent repairs. After Graf Spee’s captain Hans Langsdorff was told that his stay could not be extended beyond 72 hours, he scuttled his damaged ship on December 17th, rather than face the overwhelmingly superior force that the British had led him to believe was awaiting his departure.
And so by the end of 1939 the die was cast with the evacuees well in place, rationing increasing, manpower being called up and the whole country now firmly on a war footing, it was with this that the country solemnly stepped into 1940.
January 1940 saw German U-boat activity increasing in the Atlantic and Winston Churchill rising in prominence in the British war effort. Unable to agree with military generals on Britain’s war strategy, Leslie Hore-Belisha resigns from government following his removal as war secretary by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain on January 5th. France and Britain announce that they will no longer recognise the neutrality of the waters off the Americas, and that German ships operating in the area are subject to attack. One of the first acts of the year to take place was a test of the air raid sirens throughout Cornwall on Monday January 1st. The tests carried out at 9:30 a.m. proved satisfactory although there were one or two complaints made. The test consisted of a steady note, the signal for raiders passed, followed by a warbling note, the action warning signal. The sounding of the siren was controlled from the Police Station in Westgate Street, where a special switch-box was fixed. This test was then run at 9:30 a.m. on the first Monday in each month for the rest of the war.
The Mayor and Mayoress also reported on January 6th, that they had received over 60 letters of thanks from Launcestonians on service for the gifts which were sent them for Christmas as part of the Mayors Fund. Captain A. Holman Dunn, writing, said: “I have been asked by all the Launceston men in my Company to thank you and the kind people of Launceston for their very welcome Christmas gift. I have also been asked to say how much we appreciated your message; we, too, look forward to the day when we shall be able to return to our homes and friends again.” This letter was typical of the large batch received, another said, “I feel I should like to publicly thank you and the Mayoress and all the people of Launceston who subscribed so generously towards our Christmas Box, which reached me in good condition….. When I opened it a deep feeling of gratitude came over me to know that we had not been forgotten by our generous friends home in Launceston.” Another reply said, “I am sure Launceston will be proud to know that fellows from other towns have congratulated me, and said that’s more than their town will do for them.” This sentiment continued with another letter, “It is these little acts of kindness from the civilian population which encourages one to carry on the good work, which we now have well in hand.” “I read with interest the list of Launcestonians serving in H. M. Forces, and am very proud to see the names of many of my friends amongst them, some of whom, I believe, are serving Overseas. I only hope, with God’s protection, they win through this conflict and return home to enjoy again, in peace, the serene quiet and beauty of Cornwall,” was another reply.
It was also in the first week of the new year that the proclamation was made calling upon men of several groups, up to the age of 27 to register themselves for service with the armed forces. It was estimated that this would affect nearly 200,000 men. One of the coldest winters in a generation begins on the second week of January.
Amongst the first cases before the Launceston Borough Magistrates Court held on Monday, January 1st, related to motorists parking their vehicles on the right hand side during the black-out and two more lighting offences. Under the Emergency Powers (Defence) Standing Vehicles Order, an Order that came into force on December 1st, 1939, stated that no vehicle should be allowed to remain at rest on a road during the hours of darkness otherwise than on the left or near side. There were no fewer than eleven defendants, and in each case the summons was dismissed on payment of 4s. costs. The Chairman of the Bench, the Mayor, said they had taken a lenient view on account of the charges being the first to come before them. “We would like to call attention to motorists that if there are any further cases we shall deal with them more drastically,” he warned.
Register for Meat Notice Janaury 6th, 1940.
The Ministry of Labour and National Service announced that on January 1st, 1940, the official cost of living index figure was 74% above the level of July, 1914, as compared with 73 % on December 1, 1939. The index figure for food was the same on January 1st as on December 1st, 57% above the level of July,1914.
A.R.P. in Cornwall/ Re-organisation proposal.
At the January monthly meeting of the Town Council a letter form Major Hare, read by the Town Clerk, referred to “a great deal of misunderstanding in some parts of the County about the suggestion that the A.R.P. officers of local authorities being transferred to the County Council.” The County Emergency Committee wanted to remove this by giving a full explanation of the position. A letter had been received from the Reginal Officer of the Ministry of Home Security asking for particulars of personnel employed by local authorities, which costs were met locally and which were paid by the County Council, and enquiring whether the personnel were necessary. A letter was sent to all local authorities, asking for the particulars to be supplied. Before the Emergency Committee had time to consider these particulars, a further communication was received from the Regional Officer, stating that the Home Office considered that in many cases A.R.P. officers were quite unnecessary, but some clerical assistance could be employed entirely on A.R.P. work and to work in the local A.R.P. office, where one existed was probably necessary. The Reginal Officer requested that the position in the County as a whole should be reviewed and that proposals for the appointment of clerical staff at local authorities should be forwarded, such appointments to be approved by the County Council, and, as such, paid out of the County Rate for A.R.P. The letter went on to say that in some areas the whole of the work was being done by honorary officers and in others small additions had been made to the salaries of existing officers. In other districts entirely new salarised appointments had been made. There was a wide difference too, between the salaries which were being paid. In view of these variations the Committee felt that it would be impossible to continue the existing arrangements, but that if the officers became County Officers it might be possible by reorganisation to effect economy and promote the efficiency of the service. It was also pointed out that the control and report centres were not centres for one borough or district only. Each of them served a number of areas adjacent to each other. The whole basis of A.R.P. organisation in a rural county like Cornwall was that the essential services should be based upon the towns from which the adjacent areas should be served. There was no suggestion that the interest and co-operation of borough and district councils should be dispensed with. It was hoped that in all cases local A.R.P. committees would be kept in being. The Committee had no intention of transferring the A.R.P. service to the Police. It would seem from the Home Office letters that in future only those salaries and expenses which the County Council were prepared to approve and pay out of the County rate would be allowed to rank for A.R.P. grants. The Committee were anxious to have the support of local authorities for any re-arrangements and had therefore decided to convene a conference of local authorities at the County Hall, Truro. The Committee would be glad if the Council would appoint three representatives to attend.
Councillor Percy Pearce proposed and Councillor Miller seconded that the Borough Council be represented at the conference and the Mayor, Alderman Harvey, and Councillor Medland were appointed delegates. Councillor Pearce thought that further consideration should be given to the letter from the County Emergency Committee, so that the Council’s deputation would be able to inform the conference of the Council’s attitude in regard to the matter. “I suggest that the County’s action has already done a good deal to kill real interest in A.R.P.,” he declared. “I see in this letter further evidence of the centralisation of control of A.R.P. which will result in another – I will not say ‘nail in the coffin’ – break in the enthusiasm which has been shown, and is still being shown by voluntary workers. Here in this town nearly the whole of A.R.P. work is being done voluntarily. I am afraid that if this central work is carried out very much further that when A.R.P. is fully required enthusiasm for it will have gone down to such an extent that no County Authority will be able to awaken it in time.” There was no further discussion on the matter and the meeting went on to the next subject.
At a meeting held on Saturday January 13th, at St. Mary’s Schoolroom, North Cornwall M.P. Mr T. L. Horabin delivered a speech attacking the Governments handling of the war. He stated that he felt that the time had come for him to address his constituents openly. He accused the Government of inefficiency, and urged that the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain must go. He asserted that “we were being kept in a fool’s paradise because of the suppression of certain facts that were well known to the Nazis.” He disagreed that time was on our side, and emphasised that 1940 was our problem. He spoke of Germany’s production effort, “holes” in our blockade, and of evidence that was piling up that Germany will have an air force next Spring of 30 to 40 thousand ‘planes ready for action.
Leslie Hore-Belisha’s resignation was surveyed by Mr Horabin, the feeding stuffs question as it affected Devon and Cornwall, and he attributed blame to Chamberlain, “for having bungled the organisation of this country for war, both before war broke out and since.” Early in his speech, Horabin recalled that during the by-election in July 1939, in every speech he made he said that Chamberlain was muddling away our last remaining chances of preventing war, and if he was allowed to go on, he would bring us to the verge of defeat. When war broke out he felt it his duty, in common with other members of the Liberal Opposition, to promise general support to Chamberlain’s Government as long as it was conducting the war efficiently and energetically. Such was the mismanagement of Chamberlain’s Government that the time had now come for him once again to talk to them bluntly and publicly about its failures. “Doubtless the Prime Minister will accuse me of giving comfort to the enemy,” he proceeded. “The facts I am going to give you are well-known to the Nazis, and are taken into the calculations of the German General Staff. Because these facts are not being told to you, you are being kept in a fool’s paradise. While the Nazis know the truth you are being fed on misleading propaganda put out by the Ministry of Information, like the pamphlet ‘Assurances of Victory.’ That pamphlet gives you the impression that England has only to sit back to win this war because time is on our side.” He continued to say, “Nothing could be further from the truth. Our only chance of winning this war is for every man and woman in this country to put their backs into the job, led by leaders capable of directing our activities effectively. Members of the Government repeatedly tell the country that in this war, time is on our side. But this year – 1940 – is our problem, and there time is not on our side. For years past the Nazi Government have planned for a big war. They carry out their preparations ruthlessly, and no one can question their ability to organise and prepare. We should look at the facts against this background. The Minister of Supply tells us of the vastly increased output due to the use of the latest machinery, but German industry has been rationalised and almost completely re-equipped in recent years, not only in the inflationary period, but again since the Nazis came into power. Output for war depends also on the number of hands employed. In Germany not only have all workers been absorbed, but there is an acute shortage of labour in spite of the employment of women, who would normally be at home, in spite of the relaxation of restrictions on the employment of child labour, in spite of the labour imported from neighbouring countries, and the considerable lengthening of working hours. Whole categories of worker, not normally employed in the production process such as one man retailers, have been driven into factories. In Germany there is a shortage of labour only because every available hand is already turned to production, and the Nazi Government wants to produce still more.”
Horabin then said they could measure this by Dr Ley’s recent unsuccessful visit to Rome to borrow 800, 000 Italian workers for use in Germany. In light of these facts there could not be any question that Germany’s present production for war purposes was tremendous, not only in absolute figures, but by comparison. It exceeded anything they did in the last war, and it was already running to capacity ready for this year. He then went on to mention the weaknesses of the blockade and Germany’s air force: “Germans have never at any time forgotten the lessons of the last war. If a technically efficient people such as the Germans unquestionably are, sets out to prepare for a war which on the face of it will bring about their blockade once again, they will not omit to prepare for such a contingency. That they have in fact done so is well-known to those conversant with the economic and organisational measures they have taken. Moreover, our blockade is not complete. There is a very large hole in it in South-Eastern Europe. There is an Italian hole and a Russian Hole; most important of all, there is a Swedish Hole for iron ore to slip through. No one can tell what the future holds, but one thing is certain – we must provide for Germany using her full strength in a blitzkrieg against this country almost without regard to their own losses. From our point of view the intangible in the situation is the effect of concentrated air attack. Evidence is piling up that Germany will have an air force next Spring of 30 to 40 thousand ‘planes ready for action. I am no expert, and for that reason I am not going to say in what way Germany will use their air armada, but there is nothing improbable in the contention that once the Germans start the blitzkrieg, they will be prepared to lose many thousands of ‘planes as casualties if they think that by doing so they will paralyse British war and economic organisations.” He went on to attack the Governments record on the home front, stating that nearly 1,400,000 men remained unemployed after four months of the war and that there had been no real attempt to cut down on civilian consumption so that saving could be devoted to the war effort. “We were not fighting our own effort of 1914, we were fighting Nazi Germany of 1940,” he stated. Lambasting Chamberlain for the resignation of the Minister for War, Hore-Belisha, Horabin had this to say; “This is the result of Mr Chamberlain’s determination to promote to office those incompetent nonentities and yes-men whom I have described in my election address. During the last week the country has seen further evidence of the Prime Minister’s policy of surrounding himself with yes-men instead of men of energy and determination. I have no doubt you have all been as disturbed as I have by the sacking of Mr Hore-Belisha from the War Office apparently at the behest of the ‘Brass Hats’ and in consequence of personal intrigues. Why did Mr Chamberlain sack Hore-Belisha? Was it because Hore-Belisha was ineffiecient? No. Mr Chamberlain himself said that Hore-Belisha was one of the most able organisers in the Cabinet and had tremendous push. Was Hore-Belisha sacked because of difference over policy? No. Mr Chamberlain said there was no difference over policy, besides he offered him the Board of Trade, another important job in the Government which he wouldn’t and shouldn’t have done if there was a difference over policy. Was Hore-Belisha sacked because of friction between the War Minister and his chief, the Prime Minister? No. Mr Chamberlain emphasised the very friendly co-operation he had received from his War Minister. Besides, Mr Chamberlain makes no attempt to sack Morrison or Dorman-Smith because the farmers throughout the country are grumbling at the way they are doing their job. So the only possible explanation is that some other people didn’t like to work with the War Minister. If that is so, then the dismissal of Hore-Belisha was wrong in principle. Surely the right thing for the Prime Minister to have done was to sustain a valued colleague against such attacks. If the Prime Minister did not do that, the very least he could have done was to have brought the Brass Hats and the War Minister together around a table to smooth out their difficulties. I believe Hore-Belisha was not given even this chance to answer his critics, but was sacked outright on the demand of the Generals, his subordinates.” He concluded his speech by stating that Mr Chamberlain must go. Pulling no punches he said, “Let us face up to it. If we are to win this war Neville Chamberlain must go. The British people are as sound at heart as they ever were. they are ready and determined to make any sacrifice necessary to defeat the enemy. They have only to realise the facts in order to insist on leaders who have the necessary energy, vision, and judgement to lead them in this hour of peril. If we all work with feverish and unremitting energy, victory will still be ours, not an hour, not a minute, nor a second must be lost – Chamberlain must go.”
On February 3rd, for the first time since WWI, a German plane is shot down over England. U.S. Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles leaves Washington on February 9th for a futile mission to examine the possibility of a peace settlement in Europe. In an effort to boost morale, Winston Churchill wildly overstates Britain’s success on the seas, claiming that half of Nazi Germany’s feared U-boats have been sunk by the Allies. The cold weather continues into February causing supply difficulties and freezing the River Kensey along Riverside at Newport.
At the monthly Borough Magistrates hearing held at the beginning of February, to the embarrassment of all concerned, the Borough Council pleaded guilty to the charge of permitting a light inside the Guildhall to be displayed during the hours of darkness contrary to the Lighting Restriction Order, 1939. As the Clerk to the Borough Magistrates was also the Town Clerk (Mr S. L. Peter) and had to answer on behalf of the Town Council, Mr R. M. B. Parnell, a solicitor practising in the Court, was called upon to fill the position. Superintendent F. Sloman, prosecuting, said the offence took place in the Guildhall, the place where the Court was being held that day. On Monday, December 4th, 1939, the County Court cases were being heard by his Honour Judge Lias. One important case occupied more time than it was expected to do, and at 6:10 p.m. Special Constable Frank Hoskin, noticed that the lights in the Guildhall were shining through the windows. Mr Hoskin informed the caretaker and later the Town Clerk called at the Town Hall and his attention was called to it. Supt. Sloman said “I understand that Mr Peter (Town Clerk) did everything he could in the matter.” He called the Court Bailiff out and again communicated with the caretaker, who had been seen by P.C. Rowland. Unfortunately every action was taken except informing the Judge. “It seems as if all the people were nervous about approaching this learned gentleman, and if we could find men with such personality for the Army, I think it would have a great effect on the enemy.” This statement caused the court to erupt in laughter. “The lights were on until 6:50 p.m., the black-out time on that evening being 4:45 p.m. The following morning the Judge was seen by P.C. Rowland, but he would accept no responsibility whatever. The Order lays it down that any person who causes or permits the offence is responsible, and it has been my unfortunate task to take action against the Town Council.” Due to the Mayor (Alderman H. Hoskin) not being able to adjudicate in this case, the Bench sat under the chairmanship of Mr W. Jordan, who in announcing a fine of 10s. declared, “We feel proud of the Police. They have not winked their eyes at a public authority. It is a great credit to them.” Supt. Sloman replied that “We like to live above all criticism and carry out our duties fearlessly and courteously.” At the same hearing there several further cases of causing a light to be displayed, each being fined 7s. 6d.
At the monthly meeting of the Town Council held on February 19th, Councillor Pearce asked if the Council were aware of the acute shortage of fuel in the district. He said that Big public buildings went without coal, affecting the health of the children. At one school they were told that if they did not feel they could stand the cold, they could stay at home. “This matter is being taken up in the House of Commons,” he said. “A letter has been sent to the Minister of Mines.” The Town Clerk said there was no change in the situation. He has received a circular that morning stating that the 2-cwt. per week restriction was still in force. Councillor Fulford said they knew many parts of the country had been without coal, but he did not think the people of Launceston had gone very short. He was interested in two businesses and every customer, whether a public institution or a private residence, had received the fuel until the 3-cwt. restriction was introduced. Councillor Pearce replied; “I am referring to supplies of both coal and coke. Other firms have had great difficulty in getting supplies. Cases have occurred where coal consigned to Launceston has not reached its destination,” he added. “If coal is not stored by the merchants, then it is up to somebody to see that there is an adequate stock in the district.” Councillor Hicks said it had occurred to him whether some of the timber in the town could be cut down and used for firing. About two years ago a tree had been condemned to be cut down in the Cattle Market. He understood that the General Purposes Committee had viewed a tree in Castle Dyke which was dangerous. Under present conditions the wood would be very useful. Councillor Gilbert said the wood was green, and would not burn without coal. The Mayor suggested leaving the matter until the next month.
The beginning of March saw the Ministry of Health announcing its plans for a new evacuation scheme whereby Cornwall was allotted to have 28,200 evacuees. For Launceston it was planned to send a total of 1,300, breaking down Launceston borough 500 and Launceston rural 800. It was estimated that the quotas allotted represented maximum numbers and it was likely when the result of the registration was known the numbers would be significantly less. It was also announced that the rationing of butcher’s meat on a value basis of 1s. 10d. per week for each person over six years of age was to be introduced on Monday, March 11th. Only butcher’s meat was rationed, and liver, kidneys, tripe, heart, ox-tail, other ‘edible offals,’ also manufactured products such as sausages and meat pies where the meat content did not exceed 50 per cent. were free of the coupon.
Also at the beginning of March, Germany issues a warning to neutral countries against submitting to the British sea control with the threat that all who do so will be treated as “accomplices” of Great Britain. On March 11th, the United States announced that it had relaxed its arms embargo for its once and future allies, selling several P-40 fighters to Britain and France.
It was announced at the Town Council meeting held on March 18th, that from April 1st, the County Council would be responsible for the whole of the financial outlay on the A.R.P. work, together with all paid staffs.
With the calling up of men from around the county, it was imperative to find billets, and in Launceston the St. Mary’s, St. Stephens Church Rooms and Baptist Church Schoolroom were used. During a report by the Medical Officer, Dr. D. Galbraith made at the end of March, 1940 to the Council Meeting, the St. Stephens billets were as satisfactory as was possible, but the Baptist billets, however, were not and efforts to have flushing toilets installed were made. On the Castle Green, cookhouses were erected in Nissen Huts. In his report, Dr. Galbraith stated that there was a large soakage pit, which did not appear able to cope with the work required of it. Certainly not for any length of time. But he felt that the military authorities would endeavour to do all that they could to get this ‘satisfactory.’ It was agreed at the meeting that this pit should be connected to the town sewer. It was also agreed at this Council Meeting that on recommendation by the A.R.P. Committee the general public should be given instructions in precautionary measures and also permission was granted to the military authorities to use the overflow market for drilling purposes.
Air Craftman 1st class, Bernard Bulmer became the first Launceston serviceman to be killed in the war aged just 20, when his Sunderland I, L5799 KG-D of No 204 Sqn, was shot down in combat with a He 111 on April 8th, 1940. The plane crashed into the sea west of Bergen, Norway, during a reconnaissance mission.
Germans land in several Norwegian ports and take Oslo on April 9th; the Norwegian Campaign lasts two months. The British also start their ill fated Norwegian Campaign which ends with their departure at the end of the month. Denmark is invaded and surrenders in six hours.
On April 23rd, 1940, Sir John Simon, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, presented his second War Budget in the House of Commons, to meet an estimated expenditure of £2,067,000,00 of which £2,000,000,000 was for war purposes. The summary of the budget tax changes were:
Income-Tax: Standard rate raised from 7s. to 7s. 6d.
Surtax: Payable on income of £1,500 instead of £2,000.
Spirits: Whisky up 1s. 91/2d. a bottle.
Beer: Penny a pint increase.
Tobacco: Up 3d. an ounce with a corresponding increase in the price of cigarettes and cigars.
Matches: A box of 50 to cost 11/2d. instead of 1d.
The Chancellor’s biggest surprise came with a new tax called ‘Purchase Tax,’ which was a percentage on the price to be paid at the stage when the wholesaler was selling to the retailer.
At the beginning of May it was announced that the old Buttern Hill Wolfram Mine, Altarnun on Bodmin Moor, was to be re-opened. The lease was taken up by the Beralt Tin and Wolfram Co., Ltd., for the production of both wolfram and tin both needed to aid the war effort.
On May 8th, 1940, the County A.R.P. held a meeting at the Guildhall in Launceston. The County Controller, Mr G. H. Johnstone, stated that there was to be an introduction of a casualty bureaux where in the event of an air-raid, people could learn in the shortest possible time the fate of their friends. Mr Johnstone suggested that the work could be undertaken by the local authorities with the assistance of the Women’s Voluntary Service organisation. Presiding over the meeting, Mr. W. E. Miller gave an overview of the Launceston A.R.P. where out of a total of 169 personnel required, including reserve services, 157 people had volunteered (being just 12 short in reserves only). Stuart Peter, sub-controller for Launceston, reported that the rural area was also up to full strength, and interest in both borough and rural areas, was very keen. He added that Launceston had just recently received the training manual No. 2. and it was hoped that Camelford and Bude would get on with their training. “Until the whole personnel were trained in accordance with this manual, it would be hardly fit to arrange combined exercises,” he said. Mr Peter stated he would like to see all the squads trained to that standard so that one could call in the other two for help. He also reported that Launceston at that time had just the one ambulance for casualty services and if the town was in the line of reinforcements for Plymouth there ought to be two. Mr Johnstone agreed and said the same should be the case for Bude, adding that there ought to be nine for the whole division. The subject of decontamination and cleansing was also discussed, and the position explained by Mr Colleutt, Mr Lloyd and Dr Crawford. Gas contaminated cases, if no other service were available should either jump into a bath of water or get under a spray. The Ministry at that time did not envisage Cornwall being attacked by gas. Until the Ministry agreed to the provision of cleansing facilities they could do nothing. The head of the Launceston Decontamination Squad, Mr. T. Judd, asked if this meant that the decontamination squads were wasted. Replying, Mr Colleutt said that he understood a cleansing station would be ready at Launceston within a short period. He asked to what extent the cleansing stations had been used at Bude and Camelford. It was stated that there was difficulty at Bude to get the men trained. Stuart Peter said at Launceston there was one of the keened squads in the county. He thought that neither of the Decontamination Squads nor Rescue Parties at Bude were trained. Mr Judd asked, “Does that mean that Bude is thinking of relying on Launceston? If so I think some resolution should be sent from this meeting.” Mr Johnstone said he would inquire into the position.
It was announced in May that more everyday goods would be price-controlled from June 10th, and would affect all kinds of clothing, boots, and shoes, domestic ironmongery and hardware, cutlery, household textiles, domestic furniture, wireless sets and gramophones, cycles, prams, clocks and watches, drugs, soap, candles and matches. At the same time it was stated that all animal lard was to be controlled in price at 9d. per lb. from May 27th. Also on May 27th, the sugar ration was cut from 12 oz. to 8 oz. and butter was to be reduced from 8 oz. to 4 oz. on June 3rd, and a prior warning that the bacon ration would also be reduced due to the loss of Scandinavian and Dutch supplies and the use of shipping space for armaments.
Conscription in Britain extended to the age of 36 on May 9th, 1940. The following day Germany invades Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands; Winston Churchill becomes Prime Minister of the United Kingdom upon the resignation of Neville Chamberlain and the United Kingdom invades Iceland. Belgium declares a state of emergency. Churchill is called on to form a wartime coalition government. On the 13th General Heinz Guderian’s Panzer corps breaks through at Sedan, France. By the following day on the 14th, the Dutch surrender with the exception of Zealand. Also on the 14th the creation of the Local Defence Volunteers (the Home Guard) is announced by the new Secretary of State for War Anthony Eden and Churchill asks President Roosevelt and Canada for aid in these dark days. Outlines of the new British coalition, which includes Labour, Liberal, and Conservative members, is made public.
The German advance is so rapid that by May 25th, the Allied forces, British and French alike, had retreated to Dunkirk and the following day Operation Dynamo, the Allied evacuation of 340,000 troops from Dunkirk, begins. The move will last until June 3rd under ferocious bombardment by the Luftwaffe. On May 28th Belgium surrenders to the Germans. Closer to home, Launceston was being lined up to except a further 500 evacuees. 305 householders intimated their willingness to take children and by the first week of June, homes for 415 children had been found. However, an appeal was sent out asking for billets for the remaining 85 children.
Within weeks of the call for Local Defence Volunteers, over 500,000 men had come forward. Under the regulation, the volunteers became part of the Armed Forces of the Crown, ranking as soldiers, with soldiers rights, and a soldiers obligations. Rifles were issued but not in large enough numbers, so it was envisaged that 12-bore shotguns would be more than efficient and serviceable for much of the duties. A plea for owners of 12-bore shotguns to come forward and lend their weapons to the L.D.V. was made on June 22nd.
With a desperate need for metal, old scrap iron in the rural areas of the country started to be collected, with official dumps being made in every village. An intensified campaign began at the end of May. National importance was attached to the recovery of heavier material provided by old implements and railings. The money raised from the ‘dumps’ would be donated to the Red Cross Agricultural Fund.
Adventures of Donald and Sheila
(Cornish and Devon Post, June 1st, 1940)
It all started with Mummy forgetting her gas-mask! It resulted in two little evacuee children at Lewannick setting off on a long trek to London. A mother visiting her two children staying at the Pen Inney Nursery Home, on Friday, left her gas mask behind, when she returned to London. Fearing for their mother’s safety, the children -little Sheila Bride, aged 5, and her brother Donald, aged 7,- took their own masks, and Mrs Bride’s, and not realising the magnitude of their task, set off for London, the next day.
Their disappearance was noticed about 9:30 a.m., on Saturday morning. They were playing in the garden with the other children, a nurse being in charge. Mrs Jefferies, who runs the Nursery Home, was immediately informed, and her daughter, Miss Jefferies, jumped into their car, and started off to look for them. Knowing that they has seen their mother leave by train at Launceston Station the previous morning, Miss Jefferies drove to the town first of all, but could find no trace of the children. Meanwhile the Launceston Police had been informed, and when she returned to Pen Inney, she joined in the extensive search that was being carried on in the vicinity. The bigger boys were helping to comb the woods, and to make certain that curiosity had not led them into farm yards or barns. In the afternoon, Miss Jefferies went into Launceston again, and at 5:30 a Police Motor Patrol reported that a clue had been found. Two children had stopped a car at Netherbridge, on the Holsworthy main road, about two miles from Launceston. They had kept going until they were practically tired out.
The car they stopped was being driven by Mr H. Martin, mechanic, of Messrs Prouts Garage, who was returning from Broadwood, where he had been sent to repair a car which had broken down. As he was approaching Netherbridge about 4 o’clock, he saw a little boy step boldly into the middle of the road, and stretch out his hands. “Will you please give me a lift to London!” he asked in plaintive tones. A motor-cycle was following the car, and Mr Martin told the boy to walk to the other end of the bridge so that he could drive over and allow the motor-cyclist to pass. Thinking it strange to find the two little children so far away, he inquired where they belonged, believing they must have come from a farm house in the district. Sheila was sitting in the hedge, and seemed too worried to say much, but Donald tried hard to make the driver understand the urgency of their quest. “Mummy came down to see us and she has gone back without her mask,” he said, pointing to the second gas mask he was carrying. Eventually Mr Martin heard something about the lad and his sister staying at Lewannick, and thought the best plan would be to take them back to Launceston, and make inquiries. Thus it came about that they arrived at Launceston Police Station, and, to the relief of the searchers, to Pen Inney. Asking them about their experiences, Donald told Mrs Jefferies that they had had a long walk, and had, had no dinner. “But,” he added, “we had a big tea at the Policeman’s house.” Sheila had a slight blister on one heel, but otherwise they were none the worse for their adventure. Coming down to the country from the busy Metropolis, Donald and Sheila are a little bewildered at the expanse of fields and trees. They think that the countryside is “one big garden.”
At the Borough Sessions held on June 3rd, the Mayor (Alderman H. Hoskin) presiding, appealed to all inhabitants to exercise strict care to make the black-out efficient, coupled with the warning that severe penalties would be passed down on offenders. “The Bench feel that the time has come when they must appeal to the inhabitants to be more careful,” he said. “In the past we have been lenient, but now the extreme seriousness of the situation demands that these regulations must be strictly observed. Perhaps 95 per cent. of the houses have effective black-outs, but the other five per cent. must realise that their deficiency is constituting a serious menace to those who are doing their best.” This general warning was issued after George Phillips, of 6, Overton Villas, Launceston, had been summoned for failing to obscure a light in his house at 10:22 p.m. on May 10th. Pleading guilty, George was fined 10s. including costs. Another fine was issued against Douglas Loveridge of Hurdon Road for the same offence committed at 10, Southgate Street where he was caretaker. For this he was fined 15s.
June 3rd, was also the last day of Operation Dynamo where 224,686 British and 121,445 French and Belgian troops in total were evacuated. The following day Winston Churchill delivers his, “We shall never surrender“, speech to the House of Commons. On June 10th, Italy declared war on France and the United Kingdom and Norway surrenders to Germany.
A collection was made in connection with the Lord Mayor’s Flag Day during the first week of June, which raised a total of £225 11s. 5d. for the Red Cross and St. John. The rural area collected £136 5s. 4d., and the town collection totalled £89 6s. 1d.
The next evacuation of school children from London began on Thursday June 13th, with 120,000 leaving the capital, 27,000 of whom came to Cornwall. Launceston and its rural areas were designated a maximum total of 1,700. The rural area allocation was as follows: Altarnun, 80; Boyton, 30; Broadwood, 120; Egloskerry and St. Stephens, 105; Laneast, 33; Lewannick, 40; Lawhitton, 30; Lezant, 60; North Hill, 80; North Petherwin, 110; St. Thomas, 40, St. Giles, 50; South Petherwin, 60; Stoke Climsland, 150; Treneglos, 20; Tresmeer, 15; Tremaine, 15; Trewen, 15; Warbstow, 25; Werrington 100. The borough contingent numbered some 500. The Mayor and Mayoress greeted the children as they arrived on a long train of 12 coaches at Launceston Railway Station at 6:15 p.m. on June 15th. The Cornish and Devon described the scene as “it might have been a Sunday School outing party, but a closer inspection soon dispersed this thought. The labels attached to the children, their gas masks, cases, haversacks on their shoulders, the adults with brassards stamping them a s ‘L.C.C. Evac..” Some of the children were loaded with packs as big as themselves. A tall girl had a suitcase in each hand, and evidently had come to stay! As four boys were moving forward in the queue, one spied a toy car lying between the rails. “Hey that’s Peter’s,” he shouted. They all stopped, and fearful of going near the edge of the platform themselves, soon made it known that Peter’s toy car was in a dangerous position. Mr Kelland, the Stationmaster however, was on hand to retrieve it.
The children were medically examined in the waiting rooms by the Borough Medical Officer, Dr. D. Galbraith with members of the Red Cross assisting. The Stationmaster and his wife, Mrs Kelland, provided at their own expense many bucketful’s of lemonade for the thirsty children. After the formalities had taken place at the Station, the contingent were then taken by coaches to the Town Hall, where tea was served by local ladies under Mrs T. Fulford, In the queue a boy was hastily unpacking his bulging case. Asked what was the matter, he replied, “Can’t find my ration book.” A bright-eyed little girl was delighted at the prospect of having a tea. She was very hungry, and she was anticipating thoroughly appeasing her appetite. She chatted away to an official, saying that she did not like cakes very much, but loved cream buns. Suddenly she became quiet and her cheerfulness clouded. She was worried because she thought it would cost a lot of money, and she did not know if she had brought enough. The official soon reassured her that it was all free. The children and teachers were from Surrey Lane School (23 children and 2 adults), Lavender Hill (128 children and 17 adults), Telferscott School (246 children and 17 adults), and St. Mary’s Clapham (147 children and 11 adults). The Launceston Roman Catholic Priest (Father Vincent Kettle) welcomed the St. Mary’s party. After tea the registration took place by the staff in charge of Mr F. B. Jeffery. The Chief Evacuation Officer was Mr Percy Pearce, assisted by Mrs Wyndham Hender and Miss E. Dennis. The Rail Transport Officer was Mr. Thomas Fulford, assisted by Mr F. S. Bright, and supported by Messrs A. W. Johns and R. H. Keast as marshalling officers, and Mr S. G. Wooldridge as Road Transport Officer.
The chief billeting Officer for the rural districts was Mr. G. G. Wilson, who arranged for allocations to the various parishes. This contingent came from Bonnerville School (116 children and 17 adults), Wix’s Lane (116 children and 11 adults), Bellville Road (167 children and 14 adults). The sorting out the children for the billets took longer than planned, and it was late before most arrived at their new homes. In one instance a brother and sister did not want to be parted, and volunteers, in consideration, took in the two instead of the intended one. Girl Guides, Scouts and senior boys of Launceston College assisted in helping the children to their billets.
At the monthly meeting of the Town Council, held on June 17th, The Mayor, Alderman H. Hoskin, read an appeal from the Regional Commissioner, stating that at this moment every citizen should be actively helping the nation’s war effort and the civil defence services offered an almost unlimited field in which spare time could be put to profitable use. “Let every citizen ask himself the simple question, ‘Am I doing my part on the Home Front?'” The message added. The Town Clerk, Stuart Peter, told how members of the public could answer this appeal. He said that it was an intensive appeal to complete all A.R.P. services which was an urgent matter. The Borough’s war establishment was complete, however, there were still positions vacant within the reserve. He informed the meeting that there were still required three volunteers for the warden services, three more telephonists for the control centres, and six more messengers. They had been fortunate in obtaining the services of the College boys over 16 years of age, but from time to time these senior boys left. One of the first public services that would be impaired would be the telephonic communication, and any volunteers with motor-cycles or motor cars to act as messengers would be welcome. Three more messengers over 16 and three more who could drive a motor vehicle were needed. The Rescue Squad wanted four more volunteers. One or two were under 35 and liable to be called up, and he hoped that a few more would come forward who were in the building trade. There was a complete complement of drivers and attendants for the ambulance services, although there were a few who were liable for military service. Volunteers were needed so as to fill any gaps that might occur. Volunteers to act as stretcher-bearers were badly needed. There were only two first-aid parties comprising five men in each. He warned that if Launceston should experience a big incident these two parties would be fully occupied in treating the injured, and have little time to take the casualties to the ambulances. Volunteers to go to the hospital to help unload these cases were wanted. The provisional ambulances carried four stretchers and strong men were needed to place them into the high positions. Volunteers for these various services would start an intensive course of training immediately. “We are an important centre because we have the reserves for the whole division here,” he stressed.
Councillor W. E. Miller, who had by then been appointed captain of the Fire Brigade on the resignation of Mr J. Burford, reported that three more men were needed. It was recommended that the Brigade should go even further in establishing services to fight incendiary bombs. It had been decided to increase the number of stirrup pumps in the proportion of 5 to 2 now issued. He stressed the importance of getting groups of three people in every street or district who would be ready to deal with an incendiary bomb as soon as it had fallen. Each group should be provided with buckets and a stirrup pump. This was a new type of organisation altogether. On the suggestion of Councillor T. Hicks, Chairman of the Fire Brigade Committee, it was decided to form a committee to canvas the streets and try to form groups among householders. Councillor Hicks also stated that the fire engine, which had been undergoing an overhaul, was expected to be back in service that week. He went on to report that No 3 patrol station was in premises near to the Library in Northgate Street (Dockacre Road), instead of at the Fire Station. Orders for extra equipment had been placed. The personnel had been increased. Exercises of the Brigade and the Auxiliary Fire Service were going forward in a satisfactory manner. Councillor Miller added that they had decided to make the third centre by the Library because this centre covered an important area where the station, petrol dumps, saw-mills, etc., were situated. Councillor Fulford had given permission to have the water dam in his garage at Newport and provision had been made for the dam to be erected and hanging right over the spot where the lorry stood which would draw it. Immediately outside there was a hydrant.
The Mayor concluded the meeting by appealing for Local Defence Volunteers. “We must expect every man now to take some part,” he said. “Some people are under the impression that because everything seems to be going along smoothly and easily, that they need not join the services. You are all needed.“
The Franco-German armistice is signed on June 22nd, and two days later a similar armistice is signed with Italy. Provisional figures were released on June 22nd, showing that 68 men from the Launceston district registered at the Launceston Employment Exchange under the National Service (Armed Forces) Act for men of the 1911 class (28 age group). Eight favoured the R.A.F. and two preferred the Royal Navy, with two conscientious objectors. Three more classes were accelerated for registering in July with the Ministry of Labour and National Service stating; “Men are being called up for the Army at a rapidly increasing rate. Registration of one further age group took place on June 15th, and that of another group is taking place on June 22nd. There will probably be three further registrations in July.” These three affected men aged 30, 31, and 32.
Identifying the enemy planes.
Although it is officially recognised by the British that the Battle of Britain began on July 10th, bombing raids by the Luftwaffe had already begun by then, with the first bombs falling on Plymouth Saturday, July 6th, 1940 at Swilly, killing three people. It was reported on July 29th, that Private Kenneth Batten, aged 22, of Wringsdown, Yeolmbridge, was missing whilst serving with the Ambulance in the B.E.F. in France.
It was announced on July 7th, that tea was to be rationed with the civilian allowance being two ounces per week, and that margarine and cooking fat would be rationed in association with butter the following week. On July 15th, the Town Council held their monthly meeting whereby questions relating to the effectiveness of the siren that was fixed on the Castle Keep were made when the advisability of erecting a number of A.R.P. shelters in the town to accommodate shoppers was debated. Councillor S. Fitze reminded the Council, that it was he who first raised the subject of shelters for the town. He maintained that the Council should do something without further loss of time. The Mayor, Alderman H. Hoskin, said he was delighted to find that there were so many inhabitants who were building their own shelters. It was quite a common sight in the higher part of the town. Some were building their own; others were building a larger shelter to accommodate two or three families. Councillor F. Philp thought the Council should take definite action. All the inhabitants did not have the available space and some could not afford to build one. Something should be done to accommodate the thickly populated parts of the town. The Mayor pointed out that some business houses where there were cellars offered the use of these for employees and customers. Councillor E. Uglow advised the erection of a number of small shelters rather than a big one, Councillor T. Hicks said there were plenty of places in the town which would make suitable sites. Councillor W. Miller urged that the matter be tackled in a systematic way, and a survey of the whole town be made. He moved that this be done and the motion, seconded by Councillor Fitze, was carried. (At the next meeting in August it was reported that certain sites had been identified and it was decided to prepare a scheme for submission to the Regional Council). Councillor Miller then raised the subject of the siren not being easy to hear in certain parts of the town, to which the Town Clerk, Stuart Peter, replied that that there had been complaints, particularly in the Page’s Cross area. He then reported he had received an offer from a certain firm in the town to loan for the duration a siren which was not being used. He had made an application to the County authority responsible for the siren, that this one be installed in the Page’s Cross area. Permission was given to Mr Ponder, schoolmaster of the evacuee children who were then attending the St. Thomas Memorial Hall, to use the King George’s Playing-Filed at Newport for sports and recreation.
On July 23rd, in the House of Commons, Mr Eden, War Minister, announced that the Local Defence Volunteers would in future be given the title of ‘Home Guard.’ Armlets would bear the initials ‘H.G.’ The response to the appeal for recruits had been so good that the strength of the force exceeded 1,300,000 men. Due to this it had been decided to temporarily suspend recruitment, except in districts where the strength had not met immediate requirements. The reasoning for this was to enable the provision of equipment to be pushed forward and allow commanders time to assess their requirements and remedy any defects that came to light. Also on the 23rd, The Chancellor of the Exchequer, introduced another war budget in which tax increases amounting to a further £239,000,000 in a full year were proposed. This included an increase on the standard rate of income tax by 1s.
At a meeting of the Launceston Farmer’s Union, held at the Oddfellows Hall, on July 23rd, veterinary surgeon, Mr C. Parsons outlined the scheme that had been prepared in order to afford owners of livestock the maximum amount of assistance in the event of their animals being injured or killed as the result of air raids. The National A.R.P. for Animals Organisation was being extended to rural areas and was developed in close co-operation with the National Farmer’s Union and its branches. The objective was to ensure that injured farm animals received prompt and expert first-aid treatment which will minimise their suffering and assist their recovery.
With the registration at the end of July of the 1906 class and younger men who reached the age of 20 after June 22nd, Britain’s 4,000,000th man had signed on for National Service. 79 men registered from Launceston with one conscientious objector. Nine showed a preference for the R.A.F. (ground staff), and one wished to join the Navy.
Speaking at Launceston on August 2nd, the Southern Command’s Publicity Recruiting Officer, Junior Commander S. Rutherford, appealed for 20,000 women volunteers for the Auxiliary Territorial Service. He stated that recruits were needed as cooks, cooks assistants, clerks, including shorthand typists, and typists, filing clerks, store women, motor drivers, telephonists, teleprinters, and for special technical work. The last-mentioned applied particularly to those interested in photography and mathematics, who were to receive special training. Recruits were to be between the ages of 18 and 42, though, with parents consent, they could be 17 1/2. Women up to the age of 50 would also be accepted if they had served in the First World War. The minimum pay was at the rate of 1s. 4d. per day, and free board and lodging, their uniform, all their clothes, shoes, free shoe repairs, and a small weekly allowance for hair dressing, and free medical and dental treatment.
On August 9th, at 11:30 p.m. the first bombs fell in the area. They were dropped in a line at intervals from St. Juliot to Lewannick, the only casualty being a horse. The first fell at Tewonnett, St. Juliot on Eli Perkin’s farm (the great grandfather of this website’s administrator); two on Helset (Mr Routley’s farm); two on Tregullon farm, St. Clether (Mr Pearse’s farm), where a horse was killed; three at Trenarrett, Altarnun (Mr Coombe’s farm); one at Trerithick, Altarnun; and three in Lewannick, one bomb fell in a field of Mr F. White’s farm, another in a field occupied by Mr F. Vanstone (smallholder), and the third on Mr Dennis’s farm (Coombeshead). Mr and Mrs Piper of Lewannick, had an alarming experience. They were sitting up late and hearing the ‘plane Mr Piper remarked “Jerry has come.” They went to the front door, and on opening it were met with “a ball of flame.” There was a terrific explosion, accompanied by the sound of falling glass. Mr and Mrs Piper found the window (under which Mr Piper had been sitting) completely smashed, the glass having fallen into the garden. This bomb had dropped in a field just across the road, a hedge providing some protection. Mr W. H. Hearn told reporters that he heard bombs fall, followed by the noise of falling glass. On investigation he found windows broken in downstairs rooms, most of the glass falling outside. In a bedroom where children were asleep one small pane was broken. Mr and Mrs Brown, of Trethinna, Polyphant, returning home by car driven by Mr G. Congdon, had almost reached their residence when they saw flashes and heard explosions. Realising that an enemy ‘plane was near they hurriedly got out of the car and ran for the cover of a hedge, when there was an explosion further up the road. This bomb had dropped in a field of green crop on land farmed by Mr Sanders (Trerithick). At Mr Bickle’s dairy a portion of the ceiling had been blown down and there was a hole five inches wide in the roof.
At the beginning of August the Ministry of Supply announced public authorities that the Iron and Steel Control Committee would be undertaking a survey of all iron publicly and privately owned with a view to formulating a comprehensive scheme for removing all iron considered unnecessary. Churchill’s speech “Never was so much owed by so many to so few” speech delivered to the House of Commons on August 20th.
Councillor Thomas Fulford tendered his resignation to the Town Council citing his roles as Chairman of the County Feeding Stuffs Committee under the Ministry of Food, vice-president of the National Association of Corn and Agricultural Merchants, and a member of the Advisory Committee for the Western Counties for the supply and distribution of fertilisers, as the reason. In his letter to the Council on August 19th, 1940, he stated that “I have to be away from the town on many occasions and it is possible that this will continue during the whole war. Therefore it is not my wish to be just a figure-head on your Council, although, as you know, I am keenly interested in the welfare of the Borough and, if there is anything I can do to promote its best interest, I shall be always willing to offer my services.” The Mayor pointed out the valuable work that was done at committee level by Councillor Fulford, and the Council appreciated this and suggested that no action be taken and not to accept the resignation with the wish to retain his services which was unanimously approved. Thomas would continue to serve on the Council throughout the war, becoming Mayor in 1949.
It was on August 23rd, that incendiaries were dropped near the town when a number fell between Landlake and Lewannick, but the corn had been cut and they burnt themselves out without doing any damage. Two fell just beyond Landlake Wood, one at Bottenett, one at Trecarrel, one at Linnick, and one at Larrick. Four days later, at 3:30 a.m., an oil bomb was dropped on Treburland Farm, Altarnun, as well as four high-explosives. No damage was caused, with all falling in fields.
Further offenders of the black-out appeared before the Borough Sessions on September 2nd, even after the Mayor’s previous warning at the last Court, that future offenders would face sterner fines. “The Bench feel that the safety of the town is an efficient black-out, and people must realise that they must play their part as well as the Police carrying out theirs,” he said. “It is not good enough for anyone to come to this Court now, and say an offence was due to an oversight, Some people seem to forget that through their negligence, they are jeopardising other inhabitants of the town as well as them selves,” he added. Before the Bench at this session were ten cases were heard, including that of Canon W. H. Rigg, Archdeacon of Bodmin and his daughter, who both pleaded guilty to two separate offensives committed at 11 p.m. on August 10th. They were both fined £1 plus costs. Further fines ranging from 10s. to £1 were handed out.
The RAF begins to claim victory in the Battle of Britain on September 15th, with the Luftwaffe switching its attacks to British cities, with a massive attack on this day. On September 25th, one high-explosive bomb fell at Trehill, Stoke Climsland, the only casualties being a few fowls.
On September 24th, a fund to name a ‘Spitfire’ was begun for Launceston and District, with £5,000 being the target. By the beginning of November a total of £1,116 10s. had been raised and it was decided that the fund would close on Saturday, November 30th, and the week of November 18th to 23rd, was set aside as “Spitfire Week.” A darts tournament was held on the Monday night; a big whist drive on the Tuesday; a popular dance on the Wednesday; a bumper auction sale; and on the Friday and Saturday nights two concerts were staged in the old ‘Carnival Concert’ style. Also during that week a house-to-house collection was made. Some of the items for sale at the auction included a German Iron Cross from the First World War, and a pedigree Irish terrier. By the end of the week the target had not been met, but some £2,400 had been raised. Due to this, it was decided to allow the fund to run until the target was met. However, the fund stood at £2,724 at the end of the year, and the Committee had sent this on to help with the immediate war production as a new year contribution.
A new batch of evacuees fleeing the heavily bombed London, arrived at Launceston just before seven in the evening on Saturday October 19th, this time many of the children arrived with their mothers. All together 117 arrived, of which 41 were mothers and 76 children. This caused problems in billeting. At the following weeks Council meeting the Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Galbraith said, “Your chief billeting officer has had considerable difficulty in fixing billets, I understand, and in this connection I should like to call your attention to the great work done by Mr and Mrs Gillbard, Master and Matron at Page’s Cross Institute. My instructions from the County Hall were that up to 20 evacuees could be temporarily accommodated at Page’s Cross pending the findings of billets. On Saturday evening not 20 but 68 mothers and children were found beds and food there, and the work this entailed was not little and done with a willingness and consideration that won the admiration of all who saw it.” Councillor Fulford asked why so many had been taken to Page’s Cross as he understood that billets had been found for them. “I don’t feel it is the right place for us as a town to send evacuees who have been bombed out of London,” he added. The Town Clerk explained that there were cases of a mother with five children, and others with three or four children, and this made it difficult to find billets. This accounted for nearly 40 of those taken to Page’s Cross. There had been one case of a grandmother with two daughters and their children, altogether a family of ten, who all wished to be kept together. He added that it was hoped that an empty rural house could be found for them. Another mother, with two children was admitted to Page’s Cross on the following evening, because of what was termed as receiving a ‘cold reception’ at their billet. Councillor Fulford remarked that he was pleased to hear the explanation of the circumstances, however he was afraid that there was a majority who had not opened their doors as they might have done. The Town Clerk replied that there were one or two I am afraid and that in some cases it had been necessary to serve a notice. Councillor Uglow suggested that houses which had recently been condemned might be utilised in the emergency before them to which the Town Clerk replied that one house had already been commandeered. The Mayor admitted that there had been a tendency of the occupiers of some of the larger houses in displaying an ‘offish’ manner, but the Evacuation Committee were doing their best to meet the situation. He stated that compulsory powers would have to be instituted in several cases. These did not prove to satisfactory, as a third of those billeted under such orders, returned to Page’s Cross, complaining of cold receptions and inadequate accommodation. After this billeting proceeded slowly, but more successfully with a number of voluntary offers being made. Quite a few of the evacuees reported back that they had been treated generously. One mother described her ordeal of the last few months in London, telling that it had become custom to go into the shelter at about tea time and remain there for hours. She said that some young people brightened the scene by giving “a bit of music and fun.”
A hayrick owned by William Rapson of Hillside Farm, St. Stephens was set on fire during the morning of Saturday, October 25th, completely destroying it at the cost of £30. P.C. Roberts interviewed several boys who all denied being involved, two (evacuee’s) of whom were responsible. The constable then had a search of the area and found a box of matches by a stream some distance away from the rick. He again interviewed the boys, this time in the presence of their foster-parents, and the culprits admitted to the arson. The foster-parent said both boys were billeted with her. They behaved fairly well, though they were inclined to be disobedient. One of the boys had joined the Cubs, and she thought they might have been playing at camps. A London schoolmaster said both boys behaved well at school. One was somewhat lazy, and the other had made a bad start by pulling the communication cord on the train when he was being evacuated from London. At a Juvenile Court hearing at Launceston, both boys were bound over to be of good behaviour for twelve months in the sum of £5. No order was made concerning compensation for Mr Rapson’s loss, as it was stated that the parents of one of the boys were dead, and the parents of the other were in distressful circumstances.
On November 9th, men who were born between July 1st, 1905, and December 31st, 1905, and men born between July 28th, 1920, and November 9th, 1920, were called upon to register for military service.
It was on Sunday, November 30th, 1940, at 7:25 p.m., whilst local residents were at church, that the familiar sound of an enemy ‘plane overhead was heard, and although there was no alert, many people anxiously followed its course. A few minutes later there was no doubt as to the identity of the machine, for the sound of explosions came from the St. Stephens side of the town. It was found that four high-explosives had dropped in a field on Mr Werren’s farm at Park Lanson, three falling within the Borough boundary, not a great distance from the farm house, which was undamaged, but with no casualties. On December 21st, one high-explosive fell in a stream a few fields from the dwelling-house occupied by the Walters family at Peppershill, Werrington, but without causing any damage. The occupants of the house heard the bomb drop but thought it was some mile distant, and were not unnaturally surprised to learn in the morning that it was near enough to have caused damage.
At a Carolare Choir Concert (to aid the Borough 1939 Fund) held in the Town Hall on December 12th, the Mayor announced that there were over 300 Launcestonians then serving with the forces. During 1940 Launceston Borough had saved a total of £176, 416, which was enough to build 35 Spitfires.
At the first Town Council meeting of the year, held on January 20th, the minute of the Fire Brigade Committee on the motion by Councillor Fitze and seconded by Alderman Trood, it was recommended that a ‘new motor fire engine be purchased,’ drew a debate to which the Mayor advised the Council to wait until the Town Clerk had received a reply from the Ministry with reference to the Council’s inquiry as to whether a grant would be available. Councillor Fitze said the Committee had made the recommendation because of the present situation (the war). He said that the Brigade had to answer calls from bigger towns set ablaze by enemy action (Plymouth), and while the present engine did its work locally, it was not satisfactory for long journeys. Councillor W. H. Gilbert enquired whether it was possible to put the present engine into a satisfactory condition to which Alderman J. Harvey replied that the engine was not trustworthy to go long distances. Councillor T. Hicks (Chairman of the Committee) pointed out that they wanted to cut their losses. The necessity had arisen because of the war. While the country was spending money on machines of destruction, he did not think they ought to stop long to consider spending money to provide for the preservation of life and property. On one occasion when their engine had been called to help a town attacked by the enemy, the engine broke down three time on its way there. Councillor Miller (also Captain of the Fire Services), pointed out that when the engine was purchased there was no question of its being driven as hard as possible to fight fires caused by an enemy. He stated that he was ready to do all he could to keep the present engine on the road, but he felt it was his duty to put the facts before the Committee. He feared that if they had a complete breakdown, Launceston would be without an engine. He concluded that a new engine could be supplied at a cost of £1,000, in about 14 weeks. It was agreed to await the Ministry’s reply before proceeding any further on the matter. At the following meeting, the Town Clerk reported that as a result of Councillor Miller’s visit to London and meeting with officials of the Home Office (Fire Brigades Division) he had received a letter from the Secretary of the Home Office dated March 27th, 1941, stating that he was prepared to recommend to the Minister of Health that sanction be given to the loan necessary for the purchase of a John Kerr Drysdale Fire Engine at a cost of £1,275.
Councillor Miller then told the meeting that 200 people had volunteered to form fire parties, and some were actually on duty. He said that he was continually receiving inquiries from householders about the supplies of sand, and he suggested that sites for dumps be found. He reported that some parties had been so enterprising as to share the expense of providing ladders, and to order helmets. The public had shown good spirit and he did not think there would be the slightest need for compulsion. It was decided to obtain supplies of sand, and to deliver bags to each house. On the suggestion of Councillor Fitze, it was decided to make an application for free provision of helmets for volunteers. It was the Government’s scheme, and workers could not be expected to climb on roofs without protection, he added. Councillor Philp said he had received complaints that the siren could not be heard by residents in Tavistock Road. Councillor Miller added that the Fire Brigade had received complaints to the score. The Town Clerk (Stuart Peter) reported that sanction had been given for fixing of another sire at Page’s Cross, but it was feared it would cause distress to the patients at the hospital. Dr. Galbraith suggested that the siren should be sounded for two minutes instead of one. It was agreed to experiment with another siren.
On the night of January 13th, the Luftwaffe performed a heavy raid on Plymouth. This was the first of five raids in early 1941 which reduced much of the city to rubble. Attacks continued as late as May 1944 with two minor air raids in that month. During the 59 bombing attacks, 1,172 civilians were killed and 4,448 injured.
By the beginning of February a scheme to divide Launceston into a series of fire-watching areas, was discussed at meetings held in the Town Hall. Captain Miller of the Fire Brigade, stated that he had tried with the A.F.S., to organise the town into island blocks, and get a number of people to act as fire-watchers, and they wanted some of those fire-watchers to go a step further and train as fire-fighters. Enrolment forms were provided, and when people had enrolled they would be allocated to their own district and be given particulars as to what was expected of them. One person in each area would be asked to organise and draw up a rota, which would make the working reasonable and easy. In the centre of the town, where there were island blocks, they would easily get sufficient people to look after the premises adequately. They wanted fire-watchers, not only to see where the bombs dropped, but to deal with them at once, and by having a number of watchers they would be able to go to each other’s assistance. Each block would make sure that there was a ladder at hand to enable the fire-fighters to deal with bombs which did not penetrate into the building. It was envisaged that fire-watchers would only go on duty when the siren sounded, but if attacks became frequent it might be necessary for that arrangement to be extended.
On February 8th, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Lend-Lease bill. Elements of the Afrika Korps start to arrive in Tripoli, Tripolitania on February 11th followed by Rommel on the 14th. That same day the Afrika Korps starts to move eastward towards the advance British positions at El Agheila. The British in North Africa have been weakened by the transfer of some troops to Greece. On February 22nd, the 1921 class nineteens of men were to register for military service followed by the age groups 37 to 40.
Stoke Climsland had a visit from an enemy raider on March 21st, 1941, when two high-explosives were dropped about one mile south of the village, but without causing damage.
At the monthly Launceston Petty Sessions held on April 7th, the Mayor remarked that in some quarters of the town it was occasionally possible to still see at least half a dozen windows not blacked-out. “It had been said that Nazi airmen had been told that where lights were showing, that was the place to bomb, and it was a pity that the town should be jeopardised because some people were careless.” He added, “the police were doing their best, and inhabitants should fall in line.” For permitting lights to be shown, the following were fined:
Charles Friend, 2, Dutson Terrace, Launceston, 15s.; Arthur Batten, 2a, Station Road, Launceston, 15s. (caused by a fire in the room); William Horwood Nute, 1, The Walk, Launceston, 15s.; Alonso Studden, Bank House, Westgate Street, Launceston, 10s. and Doreen Elsie Ellacott of the same address, £1; Miss Elizabeth Ann Martin, 15, Westgate Street, Launceston, £1; Ernest Edwards, Southgate Place, Launceston, £1.
The subject of overcrowded billets for evacuee’s was discussed at the monthly Town Council meeting held on Monday, April 21st, after the Town Clerk read out a letter from the Ministry of Health drawing the Council’s attention to the fact that the Council should exercise its powers where extortionate rents were being charged in their area, more particularly in regard to furnished lettings. Councillor T. Hicks said he took it that the more people who crowded intosmall rooms, the more money was obtained by the householder. He knew of one small room where a mother and two children lived and slept, and that room was making 11s. a week. He said, “the mother had arranged an orange box in which to keep her food.” “For another small cottage, in which were a mother and four children, 17s. per week was charged, and it was not worth more than 5s. per week. If the Ministry were asking them to look into one side of the question, the Council should also look into the other,” he added. The Medical Officer of Health (Dr. Galbraith) asked for the particulars of the first case mentioned. Later in the meeting, Councillor Hicks said that after looking over the accounts, he had noticed that the billeting officer’s costs had doubled since the scheme was first set in motion. He asked why was the voluntary staff dismissed, and a paid staff installed? “There was no department being more criticised in the town,” He said, adding that in the beginning the Billeting Committee were given power to act, and the thing had developed in a way not expected. All other committees before passing matters had to submit them to the Council, and that in regard to billeting should be sanctioned by the whole Council. The Mayor and Town Clerk confirmed that the expenditure was sanctioned and paid for by the Ministry. Councillor Fitze proposed that the Town Clerk provide the figures as to the amount of work done and the amount spent. He said “the committee had nothing to hide. If people realised the amount of work being done they would know that voluntary labour could not do it.”
One bullock and one sheep were killed and slight damage caused to the farm house at Blackapits, South Petherwin, in the occupation of Mr Bath, when a stick of high-explosives fell on May 8th. Twenty days later, at 1:29 a.m. one high-explosive bomb fell on the Duchy Farm at Stoke Climsland, but caused no damage. On that same night, a High-explosive was dropped at St. Clether and five more at Treglith, Treneglos, one falling in the road and blocking it. Three houses were slightly damaged.
It was announced in April that Launceston would hold a War Weapons Fund Raising Week for May 17th to 24th, with the aim of raising £50,000 by means of investments in War Loan, Defense Bonds, by the purchase of Savings Certificates, and deposits in Savings Banks. The week was opened in the Square by the Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall, Col. E. H. W. Bolitho, at 3 p.m. on Saturday May 17th. One of the main displays was a German ‘plane exhibited on the Castle Green for the first part of the week. The week began with a parade around the town led by a Royal Marine band and a large Naval contingent and Wrens from Plymouth, the long procession consisted of a military unit; members of the Castle Battalion Home Guard and the Railway Home Guard, under Captain R. Prout; Royal Observer Corps, under Mr J. H. Lashbrook, Head Observer; Ambulance Brigade, under Supt. R. Heard and Ambulance Officer W. G. Mooney, with the M.O.H., Dr. Galbraith; Launceston Detachment Red Cross, and some members of Egloskerry and Altarnun Detachments, under Mrs Galbraith, commandant and vice-president for East Cornwall; A.R.P. Wardens and Control Centre Staff, under Mr W. Cater, divisional warden; ambulance attendants; Rescue Squad, under Mr C. H. Chapman; Decontamination Squad, under Mr T. A. Judd; A.R.P. Messengers, under Mr R. S. Prout; Launceston College Scouts and Launceston Town Scouts, under the District Commissioner, Mr H. Toy, G.S.M. G Sloane, and A.S.M.s K. Sheldon and A. M. Sowden; 3rd Launceston Guides, under Miss J. Jones; 1st Launceston Rangers and Pendruccombe Guides, under Miss L. H. Chambers. R.S.M. F. B. Bryant marshalled the procession. The Lord Lieutenant took the salute as the march passed the Guildhall, where the Mayor and Corporation and officials had gathered and the procession, which had assembled in Dunheved Road, then proceeded via St. Thomas Road, Wooda Road, Dockacre Road, Tavistock Road, Race Hill, Southgate Street, to the Square, which, apart from the space allotted to the procession, was crowded with people. Businesses had closed for the procession, allowing their staff to also attend. The procession came to a halt and took up their respective positions in the Square Where the Mayor before introducing Col. Bolitho, read a telegram from the King who “sincerely thanked the inhabitants of the Royal Borough of Launceston and the adjoining district for their loyal greetings on the opening of their War Weapons Week, to which His Majesty wishes every success.” Two further telegrams were read out one from Sir Kingsley Wood, and another from Mr Harwood, Regional Commissioner South West. The Mayor then said it was his privilege some time ago to appeal to the people of Launceston to give to a Spitfire Fund, and they gave liberally and made it a great success. Now he was not appealing to them to give; he was appealing to them to invest their money, which meant that it would be an advantage to them to place their money at the disposal of the Nation. “It will help the Nation whilst you yourselves are being helped,” he said. The Mayor then welcomed and introduced the Lord Lieutenant. Pointing at a Fund Indicator situated outside the White Hart Hotel, he said, “look at it there, it is for £50,000, and the indicator goes to £65,000. What is the good of that? That £65,000 is no good; it will go up to the top of the White Hart Hotel, right up to this roof. I am asking you to get £200,000, but, it is up to you to make a real effort. Just think of what you have seen today. You have seen men of the Royal Navy, members of the Wrens, the Regular Forces, the Home Guard, and other Services marching past in your historic town. This town has seen many great and stirring events, as it would do, being the gateway to Cornwall. But there have been a few things more stirring than the parade you are seeing today.” He continued on, mentioning the visit in December 1937 of King George amongst other things, finally concluding “it is up to you, and I feel sure you will do it.” Proposing a vote of thanks to the Lord Lieutenant, Colonel Norman Colville of Penheale Manor, said they had been asked to raise the figure to the roof of the White Hart Hotel, but he was going to ask them to raise it on the roof. Col. Colville appealed to farmers to invest, and addressing the various Services, said they must pull together to start to win this war. If they did not combine straight away, if they did not think of better days ahead, what had they to live for? They might have to face stern days; they might face defeat and difficulties, but if they pulled together and did their little bit, however small, they would come through. When they had enough guns, etc., and collected enough money, they were going to start to win this war and pull pieced that gigantic and barbaric force which was Germany. They must make sacrifices. It was up to the people of Launceston and the country district around to pull together and make their War Weapons Week a success.
An arrangement for a flight of bombers to fly past and drop leaflets during the opening, was postponed due to operational needs. So successful were the first few days of the week that the target of £50,000 was soon passed, and a new target of £100,000 was then set. On the Saturday alone £33,001 was raised and by the Thursday the figure stood at £85,359. The drumhead services on the Sunday was a great success, and the ‘Divisional Concert’ on the Monday drew a crowded house, as did also the performance by the Launceston Amateur Dramatic Society, on the Tuesday, when they produced ‘That Whole Town’s Talking.’ The Divisional Concert was an Army revue, ‘Rhythm Cocktail,’ and the party consisted of West End artistes who were then in the Forces. The show, compared by Busty Sullivan (a well know London comedian of the time), began with ‘a musical tour of the world’ by the band, the Rhythm Rascals, with Benny Lee at the drums, Jackie Bollom, tenor saxophone, Dennis Ringlow, accordion, Jack Avery, alto saxophone and clarinet, Jack Artis pianist and Syd Jeffery, double bass. Freddie Carlisle amused the audience with his impersonations of the famous of that time including President Roosevelt and Lord Haw-Haw. A classical touch was added by the pianist Chris Hall, who played a selection of waltzes and Schubert’s ‘Marche Militaire.’
The total raised by the end of the week was well over £125,000 and the over £131,000 was raised for the whole campaign. On June 1st, the rationing of clothes begins in the United Kingdom, 21 days later on the 22nd, Germany invades the Soviet Union with Operation Barbarossa, a three-pronged operation aimed at Leningrad, Moscow, and the southern oil fields of the Caucasus, ending the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.
At the beginning of July a Launceston Red Cross ‘Penny-a-week’ fund was started, with a weekly house to house collection being made to provide funds to the Red Cross. The object was to ensure a regular income for the Red Cross and it was estimated that throughout the country some £4 million per year would be sourced.
At a meeting of local goods vehicle operators held at the beginning of July, it was stressed that the importance of saving petrol. District manager, Major W. Williams stated that it was most necessary that its use should be limited to absolutely essential purposes. Such was the importance to get this message across to the operators, Major Williams had foregone attending an important Government meeting that same evening. He pointed out that up to now, commercial users had had practically all the petrol they needed within reason, and that to Group 7/H/3/1, which was essentially a retail group, he had issued petrol coupons to the value of 13,000 units in six weeks. Whilst the Ministry was most sympathetic, they would not in future be sympathetic towards overlapping or empty mileage. He warned that no supplementary petrol could be granted in future for town deliveries. Regarding country deliveries, it may be found necessary to make arrangements whereby areas of delivery are covered once only, instead of many times as at present. “Whilst, therefore, present normal applications for supplementary rations for operators engaged in retail trade would receive consideration, as and from July 26th, such applications would not be considered, unless it was clear, in addition to the fact that the goods to be carried were essential to maintain the war effort, or the life of the community, and must be carried by road, that the group to which the operator belongs had pooled his vehicles or rationised their use, or to arrive at some other arrangement whereby a saving of petrol could be made. The Group Organiser would have to be satisfied that such steps had been taken before he could recommend a grant to the District Manager,” He concluded. After a lengthy discussion it was decided that certain groups by trades, such as dairymen, butchers, grocers, etc., would meet and go into the matter and report to the Group Organiser, in due course, of the decisions.
On July 9th, 1941, three high-explosives fell in a field owned by Mr Polkinghorne at Larrick, Lezant, and four fell on Trekelland Farm in the occupation of Mr Jenkin. No damage was caused on either properties.
A new scrap metal scheme was inaugurated by the Ministry of Supply on July 12th, in an effort to augment the supply of scrap metal for munitions. With this in mind an appeal was sent out to farmers by the Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall, pointing out that scrap metal had never been needed in such vast quantities as at that time. He said that there was thousands of tons of old agricultural machinery lying about in the county, which would prove invaluable for the war effort. Farmers were asked to collect scrap at a convenient place in their yards or adjacent to a hard road. There was also the ability to if they so desired, to donate to the British Red Cross Agricultural Fund, or sell it at a flat rate of £1 per tone. It was hoped that the appeal would see 4,000 in Cornwall within three months.
Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill meet at NS Argentia, Newfoundland. The Atlantic Charter is created, signed, and released to the world press on August 9th. The Atlantic Charter was a pivotal policy statement issued during war on August, 14th, 1941 which defined the Allied goals for the post-war world.
At the August Town Council Meeting the problems of hearing the siren was again raised. Complaints were made that the siren could not be heard in certain parts of the town that some civil defence workers who were keen on their jobs did not turn up, and that others mistaking the ‘All clear’ for the ‘Alert’ sometimes turned out and remained out waiting for the ‘All clear.’ The problem area centered yet again around the area of Page’s Cross, or more directly this time at Race Hill and Bush Park. Councillor Gilbert noted that the temporary siren was no longer in situ. The Town Clerk replied that during the last winter they had tried the temporary siren which was in effect just a horn, but that it did not prove satisfactory and was removed. He said that the County authorities had been asked whether it would be possible to procure another siren, but they were difficult to get, and were very expensive, costing about £70. Councillor Miller observed that the range of the present siren was four miles. It had been found by experiments that the highest position was not always the best. Councillor Philp said the range of the present siren was sufficient, saying that it could be heard at Coads Green, yet with certain wind conditions , he could not hear it from his own office in the town. Others said that Lifton and as far a field as Canworthy Water could hear it. It was suggested trying out the siren in another position to see if that alleviated the problem.
Also at this meeting the matter of the approaching winter in regard to the coal situation was raised, where Councillor Miller had noted that it was rather alarming that the town was without any stocks whatsoever. The Mayor asked “if that is the position now, what will it be like in the winter?” On the motion of Councillor Fitze, and seconded by Councillor Miller, it was decided to write the authorities pointing out the seriousness of the position. With reference to the Ministry’s communication as to the disposal of iron railings, it was explained that the Council had none which could be removed, the Surveyor remarking that scrap iron had been accumulating and would shortly be disposed of.
The following month the question of waste materials was again raised at the monthly Town Council Meeting. The matter arose on the receipt of a letter from the Ministry of Supply, stating that a complaint had been received that for a considerable time the Council had been dumping all kinds of salvage into a deep disused pit partially filled with water, and that such salvage included metals of all description, waste paper, etc. The letter pointed out the Council’s salvage returns for several months past had been extremely disappointing in view of the urgent need for intensified collection of waste paper, which was now a munition of war. The quota for these materials was 1 ton of waste paper per 1,000 of the population per month, and 10 cwt of metal. The Council appeared to have done nothing at all with regard to the collection of bones.
The Town Clerk said he had replied pointing out that the complaint in the first part of the letter was without foundation. Since the receipt of the Direction a house-to-house collection of the materials mentioned (other than bones) had been in force each fortnight, and all materials, other than paper, had been taken to the quarry referred to. Here a man was detailed to sort tins and ferrous and non-ferrous metals, and the residue – broken bottles, etc. – deposited in the quarry. Bones had been collected once weekly, and returns made, and the payment made for those sent away. The disused quarry had been the Council’s refuse tip for twenty years, and there was a large accumulation of material dumped there prior to the Direction. The Council had done all possible by publicity to make the salvage scheme a success. The Surveyor said the only unsatisfactory part of the scheme was in regard to waste paper. Replying to Councillor Philp, the Surveyor said he had asked shopkeepers to arrange their own transport of paper to the Cattle Market, where the paper was dealt with. They were not getting all the paper they should from the shops. Their weakness was transport, and they looked to traders to co-operate in that matter as far as possible. Alderman J. Harvey said many people who did not realise the value of paper, put it in their dust bins, and Councillor Uglow remarked that as much new paper was not now available, people were using up second-hand paper, which should, however, eventually find its way to salvage. Councillor Philp pointed out that traders had difficulties with transport owing to depleted staffs, and the Surveyor said he proposed to go to each shop and find out the difficulties. If the traders could not supply their own transport, the Council must do it. Councillor Gilbert remarked that householders had less paper coming in, and there was consequently less to go out. When the appeals were made for paper, many people cleared out their stores. Councillor Hicks considered there should be depots for other parts of the town, but the Mayor said it boiled down to one thing – they must be prepared to make a little more sacrifice. The press had done their best to give publicity to the need for salvage. The Mayor congratulated the Town Clerk on his reply to the Ministry. It was difficult to reply to a complaint when one did not know whether the writer was prejudiced or not. The Deputy-Mayor, Councillor Gregg, said “some Nosey Parker who would be better employed doing war work.“
Alderman Harvey said that the Boy Scouts were still collecting paper, but he did not know whether the amount was included in the Council’s returns. The Surveyor said that officially they had given up, but unofficially he still saw them going around.
The Town Clerk also read a letter from the Ministry of Supply asking that a survey be made of railings, etc., in the town, and it was decided that the Surveyor should make a survey. Councillor Hicks enquired whether it was a fact that there were many tons of scrap iron at the brick works at Dutson, but the Mayor pointed out that that was in the rural area. Councillor Uglow expressed surprise that they were asked to make a survey of railings when there were dumps which had not yet been cleared, and Councillor Hicks said there were, hundreds of tons of metal lying about the countryside. Councillor Fitze said the Council concern was in regard to the Borough. Was there any scarp in the town? The Surveyor said there was no doubt that there was metal in the town, and if people would only put it out it would be collected.
It was also at this meeting that the Council were informed of a letter from the Home Office, who were suggesting to wholesale disappointment, that as little work had yet been made on the new fire engine for Launceston, the order should be suspended for the duration of the war. Councillor Miller stated that he had received three letters from the firm making it, saying that the construction was doing well, with the last one they stating that they would hope to soon give a definite delivery date. Now the Council were learning that very little work had been commenced on it, leaving Councillor Miller to say he would think twice before placing an order with a firm who treated them in that way. The Deputy-Mayor remarked that the firm had more or less “led them up the garden path.” In view of the letter read that day he thought they were entitled to an explanation. Councillor Miller stated that he hoped to meet a representative of the Fire Services that week to find out how things stood.
At the September meeting of Launceston Rural Council, held on the 23rd, the question of salvage was discussed. The Clerk, Mr George Wilson read a letter from the Ministry of Supply which intimated that it had been decided to requisition all unnecessary iron railings, gates, bollards, chains, etc., subject to compensation, and directing the Council to carry out a survey forthwith. The letter stated that railings should not be included if they were being maintained to prevent cattle from straying, for safety reasons, or if they were artistic or historic interest. The Clerk said he had replied that the Council officers would be unable to carry out the survey, and he had received a reply authorising the Council to employ someone for the work. The reply also stated that railings around modern chapels should be included if they did not fall within the three categories mentioned. Councillor’s Brown and Sloman suggested that village dumps should be cleared before they began demolishing railings, and Councillor Goodman moved that nothing be done until the dumps were cleared. The Clerk replied to much laughter, “I hope you do not want the Chairman or the Clerk to be sent to prison for not carrying out the instructions. I am afraid you will have to do it however big the other dumps may be.” He added that anyone who has his railings scheduled for removal can sign an objection form which the Council would provide. Reporting on salvage work in the area, the Sanitary Inspector, Mr T. Judd, said it was progressing slowly. “The disposal of tins presented a difficulty, as they had to be sent off in 4-ton lots.” “Most of the farm scrap had gone in the Lord Lieutenant’s scheme and a fair amount of paper had been collected, but a central store was required,” he added. Councillor J. Tregonning pointed out that there were stores at Launceston, and on his proposal it was decided that Mr Judd be given authority to get transport to take the paper to Launceston.
For the fourth successive year, Alderman Herbert Hoskin was elected Mayor for Launceston at the October Town Council meeting held on the 20th. Also at this meeting Councillor Miller announced that the Sub-Committee had worked out a fire-watching scheme for the Borough. They had decided to try and get certain places where the fire-watchers could meet and have a certain amount of shelter, so that whilst some were outside, others could be inside until they were called. The town would be divided up into 15 sectors. There would be points to which each of the watchers would go to keep watch over the whole sector, and immediately on the approach of aircraft would report back to the central room and all the people would go out their respective stations. It was suggested that there should be 35 fire parties of three people in each, which, together with the fire watchers, would need a personnel of between 300 and 400. “It was a large figure, but if everyone took it in the right spirit it should be a reasonably easy thing to do,” he said. He continued to say that there was no doubt that women could help as well as men, and there were already a number acting as fire-watchers. It would be necessary for everyone to register and to fill up the 48-hours form, copies of which were sent to every householder. If the response to the voluntary appeal was not good, then the Council could apply for compulsory powers although he hoped that there would be no need for this. Councillor Miller concluded by saying that the fire service in Cornwall had been split into two divisions which themselves contained two sub-divisions and that he had been given command of the division this end of Cornwall. The Surveyor reported that the survey of railings was almost completed. Councillor Fitze said that it was stated that the Government required this iron immediately, and if that was so, he suggested that a special meeting be held to consider the survey, and that the Council should set an example to the town by taking down their own railings outside the Municipal buildings. The mayor said they were allowed six weeks in which to complete the survey, and it would be done within that time.
At the end of November, it was reported to the Town Council’s monthly meeting, that an application had been made to the Ministry of Food for approval to open a British Restaurant in the town. A lay-out plan of S. B. Colwill’s Auction Rooms (the former Picture Theatre) in Northgate Street had been approved by the Ministry of Health. The Surveyor reported that with the return from the Boy Scouts, the Council had attained the standard of one ton per 1,000 of the population of waste paper for October. The survey of railings of the Borough presented by the surveyor was also approved at the meeting.
Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, and declares war on the United States and the United Kingdom and invades Thailand and British Malaya and launches aerial attacks against Guam, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Shanghai, Singapore and Wake Island. Canada declares war on Japan. Australia declares war on Japan. The following day the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and New Zealand declare war on Japan. On what would prove to be a turning point of the war Germany and Italy declare war on the United States on December 11th. The United States reciprocates and declares war on Germany and Italy. The move would prove to have a monumental effect and direction of the war, with the might of the United States manpower and manufacturing now firmly behind the Allies, the ramifications for the Axis powers would soon be experienced. The entry of the United States into the war would also have a big impact on Launceston during and after 1942 with the influx of US army service men that were billeted at Scarne cross No. 406 (mainly administration) and Pennygillam No. 257 (living quarters). These camps were already in existence on a temporary base due to their original use for evacuees.
A warning that black-out offenders would be more severely dealt with in the future was made by the Clerk to the magistrates, Mr G. Wilson, at the December Launceston County Sessions. He said “as the regulations had been in force for a considerable time, the fines inflicted were much to light.” He suggested a ten shillings fine was farcical, a view that was shared by the Chairman, Mr E. D. Pethybridge. Four offences were hear at the Session all pleading guilty and being fined 10s.
On Friday December 12th, the general public were shown a ‘peep behind the scenes,’ when a display unit of the Red Cross and St. John Ambulance War Organisation visited Launceston. The six vehicles, parked in the Square, included the ‘Prisoner of War Van,’ where there were parcels of food, clothing and other gifts which were being sent out to British men; an ‘Aid to Russia’ van, displaying medical supplies, and also a large number of photographs; the Mobile Canteen van, which could be rushed up to a blitzed area with supplies of hot food and drink; and the Mobile X-Ray Unit and the glass sided physiotherapy van, containing the most advanced instruments of the time. The visit had been arranged due in recognition of the West Countries generous contributions to the Red Cross Fund. Just before Christmas, the Government announced that the 10,000 agricultural workers already selected for military service, must be released for the Forces. The Minister of Agriculture, Mr R. S. Hudson, speaking to the Council of Agriculture, said, “These young men have been selected with the greatest care as being those whom we can least ill afford to lose.” Immediate steps were to be taken by farmers affected to endeavour to replace these men by members of the Women’s Land Army, and to train the women as quickly as possible. The call up was confined to selected men who were under 25 on registration. The greater majority of men under 25 would not be disturbed, as they were badly needed on their present farms, he concluded.
On January 1st, Twenty-six Allied countries signed the Declaration by United Nations during the Arcadia Conference. On the 7th the Soviet Winter counter-offensive comes to a halt, after having pushed the exhausted and freezing German Army back 62–155 miles from Moscow. Operation Barbarossa’ had failed, with strong consequences for Germany and ultimately the war. For Launceston, 1942 was to prove to be a year of tremendous upheaval with the town becoming a garrison town with the influx later in the year of American soldiers now that the U.S. was now in the war.
On January 14th, the Order of the Gold Triangle was awarded to Launceston Freeman James Treleaven at a dual ceremony that took place in the Y.M.C.A. Hall, Launceston, for his work in connection with the Y.M.C.A. and for the youth of the town. A welcome was also extended to Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Trethewey, who have taken charge of the canteen for troops. Launceston’s waste paper salvage drive for January was a great success, the Surveyor (Mr. Colston) reporting that with the assistance of the W.V.S. and the Boy Scouts the yield for January 28 tons 12cwt. 2qr. The special week yielded 15 tons.
Caterers of Launceston protested at the suggestion of setting up a British Restaurant in the town. This fact was disclosed at the February meeting of Launceston Town Council, when a letter was read from the Ministry of Food, Bristol, stating that the protest had been forwarded to the Wartime Meals Division, who had replied that in view of the fact that approval had already been given to the scheme before” the protest was-received at Bristol, it was felt, that the work should proceed. The Ministry felt that the seating capacity in Launceston cafes was inadequate, and that most of them worked on gas-fired equipment, and were therefore not so covered the event an emergency. The Ministry’s policy with regard to cooking for British Restaurants was laid down as 70 per cent, solid fuel as a safeguard against emergency. Mr. W. H. Gilbert inquired who was to blame for the protest being late. Ald. J. Harvey remarked that when the Council decided take steps the matter was reported ” The Western Morning News ” and the Cornish and Devon Post,” and that was a long time before the protest was sent in. Mr. Gilbert: Is it a fact that at Plymouth it is costing £200 per week? Mr. S. J. Fitze said it was not for the Town Council to decide, and the Clerk (Mr. S. L Peter) said the original request came from the Regional Office, and not from the town. Mr T. Hicks said a British Restaurant would have an adverse effect local cafes Ald. Harvey: I do not think anyone on the Council was in favour of a British Restaurant, but it was forced on us. Mr S. E. Uglow: And we are of the same opinion now. We do not think it is necessary, but we cannot help ourselves. The Mayor (Ald. H. Hoskin) pointed out that it was an emergency measure. Also at this meeting a letter was read from the Salvage Department suggesting the appointment of a Salvage Committee and stewards for each street, Mr Fitze said everybody knew the importance of salvage, and he considered the appointment unnecessary. It was agreed that the whole Council should constitute the committee, with the surveyor to organizing the matter and report. The Mayor referred to the retirement from the fire-brigade Lieut. Cottle after 46 years’ service. It was agreed that letter appreciation be sent to Lieut. Cottle. The Mayor then referred to the fact that blood transfusions would be taking place in the town shortly, and the Medical Officer of Health (Dr. D. H. A. Galbraith) said that people who were prepared to respond to the appeal should send their names to the matron the hospital. On the occasion of the 1st appeal a list of names was taken and a number of people had their blood tested, but now the blood need not be tested. People would be asked to give threequarters pint each. The Medical Officer Health reported that the health of the borough was good, and there were no epidemics.
By the collection of 28 tons 12 cwt. 2 qrs. during January, Launceston Borough Council qualified for a prize in the £20,000 National Waste Paper Collection Contest. The campaign was taken up enthusiastically, and the Council had the assistance of the Women’s Voluntary Service and Boy Scouts, the special week yielding a total of 15 tons. Since the new Surveyor (Mr. Colston) took the matter in hand, waste paper salvage had increased month by month, January being the best to date. The receipts from the month s collection was £125, which went to the relief of the rates. The Mayor (Ald. H. Hoskin) presided at meeting at Launceston on March 5th, when it was decided to form a cadet force unit for the borough and district. Between 20 and 30 boys immediately enrolled.
On Saturday March 7th, the Launceston’s Warship Week had an auspicious start, when big concourse of people listened to Vice-Admiral Gordon Campbell, V.C., perform the opening ceremony. A long procession paraded the town and assembled in the Square. The Mayor (Ald. H. Hoskin) read a message from the Engineer Officer of H.M.S. Hatherleigh, which the town was then adopting, which he said, “Keep your sights on the target; shoot hard and often. We depend on you.” Mr T Horabin, M.P. for North Cornwall, said we had now got down to brass tacks, and unless we did our duty as civilians we were going to lose the war. The target of the town and district was £100,000.
That same week Canon W. H. Riggs, D.D.; Archdeacon of Bodmin and vicar of St. Mary Magdalene, gave an address to the Launceston Brotherhood on “Love our enemies.” He said the German founders of the Gestapo and the Gorman Army had perpetrated such atrocities, such horrors, such cruelties, that the idea of loving them seemed almost as absurd as hoping to tame a tiger by feeding it with Cornish pasties or saffron buns. The tales of horror in Poland, Rotterdam, and other occupied countries, and the treatment of the Jews beggared description. He concluded: “What is the end that God had for the German people? Was it to make a full end of them altogether? All of them were inclined to long for that in unguarded moments. But in the presence of God could they pray for the destruction of 90,000,000 Germans? The German nation was sick, needed to undergo a major operation, i.e., must suffer a military defeat on such a scale as to convince the people that their Army was not invincible.”
At the March meeting of Launceston Rural Council, held on the 17th, the Sanitary Inspector (Mr T. A. Judd) appealed to all members to make the scrap metal drive a success. With a few willing voluntary workers in each parish the dumps would soon begin to swell. Many farmers had metal lying about, and he suggested that they should spend a couple of hours taking it to a dump. For the scrap on the dumps the Council were to be paid 10s per ton. and he did not see why they should not be able to collect 50 tons. The Chairman (Mr A. W. Henwood) said there would be more enthusiasm if places were cleared where it was known there were large quantities of scrap metal. Presiding over the March meeting of Launceston Town Council, the Mayor (Ald. H. Hoskin) announced that Launceston and District’s Warship Week target of £100,000 had been passed. At one time, he said, it seemed that it would be difficult to reach the target, but the contribution of £28,000 on the Saturday brought the total to just over £101,000, and with other amounts still to come in, it was anticipated that the total would reach £103,000. From the various events held during the week the local hospital and St. John Ambulance would benefit by a considerable amount. In the end £103,603 was raised, resulting in the adoption of the destroyer H.M.S. Hatherleigh, although this was changed by the Admiralty in June who transferred the ship allotted to the area to the H.M.S. Vigilant.
Launceston contributed £76,909 and parish amounts were: Altarnun, £583; South Petherwin. £1,760; North Petherwin. £2,354 (including free gift of £20 to the Government from a village concert); Lawhitton, £1,425; Lezant, £3.413; Warbstow, £1,491; Boyton, £1,558; Werrington. £7,582; Tresmeer. £510; Laneast, £1,305; Egloskerry, £1.540; Lewannick, £1,134; North Hill and Coads Green, £1,705; Tregadillett. £334. The winner of the forecast competition was Mrs. F. A. Williams, of 12, Tredydan Road, Launceston. who gave the figure as £101,250 5s. 6d. Patricia Carthew, aged 15, of the St. Josephs Convent School, won the poems competition.
During the year there were two other big funding drives – ‘Tanks for Attack Campaign,’ an endeavour to increase small savings by at least 20%, on the corresponding ten weeks in 1941, and £51, 922 10s. was raised, so that Launceston qualified for a light tank; and the ‘Schools Membership Drive,’ when Launceston finished four weeks effort with a membership percentage of 60.4 and holding the 18th place in the County.
The inquest into the above accident was held on April 22nd. It was heard how an Army lorry driver, who braked hard but without effect, had to decide to avoid the risk of running down children or take an acute bend on to a bridge at too great a speed, when the Coroner (Mr G. Graham Wilson) inquired into the deaths of Lnc.-Bdr. James D. Thornton and Pte. Frank W. Pearson, who were killed when the lorry crashed into the bridge at Yeolmbridge village. In the case of Thornton the Coroner found that death was due to shock as the result of multiple injuries, and that Pearson died from drowning, both being caused by the lorry accidentally crashing through the bridge. He further recorded that no blame was attached to the driver of the lorry.
At the April meeting of Launceston Town Council the Surveyor (Mr W. E. Colston) reported that they had now completed twelve months of salvage work, and the receipts totalled £306 7s. 10d. During that period 50 1/2 tons paper had been salvaged. 14 3/4 tons of metal, 1 1/4 tons of rags, and 1 1/4 tons of bones. The price for scrap paper had been increased £2 per ton. Up to then- the only unsatisfactory part of the scheme had been that in respect of tins which had been accumulating at the dumps. Arrangements were then being made for these to be cleared at 10s. per ton by the Ministry of Works. The Mayor (Ald. H. Hoskin) said it was a very satisfactory report, and he was glad to know that the tins were to be cleared. Councillor W. H. Gilbert said it was discouraging to householders to find that after they had neatly sorted their tins school children came along, took out the tins, and used them as footballs. Some went down the drains and were lost. It was reported that the £50 prize received in connection with the recent waste paper collection contest had been allocated as follows:—Red Cross, £12 10s.; Mrs. Churchill’s Aid-to-Russia Fund, £12 10s.; Launceston Hospital. £10; St. John Ambulance. £5: local Red Cross. £5; Nursing Fund, £5. The Town Clerk reported that he had received 26 applications for the Council’s house 23, Trelawny Cottages, and Mrs Tolman, wife of the former caretaker of the Castle, was selected.
Large blocks of granite were thrown a considerable distance in the early morning of April 25th, 1942, when four high-explosive bombs fell between Hawks Tor and Berah Tor, North Hill. No damage was caused, but owing to the nature of the ground, Wardens had difficulty in locating the craters which they caused.
An appeal was made to Launceston farmers the week commencing May 3rd, the woman publicity liaison officer of the Ministry of Works and Buildings, spoke to farmers on Market Day through a loud speaker van to talk about the Cornwall metal scrap drive. She told them that though they were already doing their bit towards the war effort as farmers, they should realise that without every available piece of scrap metal, no matter how small, armaments factories would not be able to work at full pressure. If they were thinking, she went on, that since we had been able to wait for their scrap metal during the two and a half years of war already, another few weeks would not matter, they were wrong. We used to get thousands of tons of scrap metal from the U.S.A. every week. Now we must rely on our own resources. For every ton of scrap 100 Bren guns could be made; three to four tons of scrap was sufficient for a Bren gun carrier, and 16 tons could produce a Valentine tank. If they thought of their old machinery in those terms, perhaps they would be more ready to part with it. On the night of May 24th and morning of the 25th, an invasion exercise in Launceston and district was carried out. The respective Home Guards took the role of defenders and various incidents were staged thoroughly testing the services.
On May 5th, a large number of incendiary bombs were dropped in an area between Smallacombe Farm and North Lodge, Lifton. Although many landed in corn fields and one near a hay rick, they caused no damage.
Prizes totalling £2,500 were offered during the period from May to July in connection with Launceston Borough Waste Paper Drive. From June 22nd to June 27th was to be Waste Paper Week, starting with door-to-door collection collaboration with the salvage stewards- There was a guessing competition for which prizes of £ 2 and £3 were offered for the nearest Correct estimates of tonnage collected in the borough during the May-July period. On June 23rd there was to be a novel effort, when an attempt was made to range a mile of books on the kerb from the Constitutional Club, through Westgate Street, and beyond.
During a discussion at the June meeting of Launceston Town Council it was stated that a woman Fire Guard had complained that while she was on duty there were able-bodied men who remained in their beds. Mr F. Philp (Fire Guard staff officer) reported that progress was being made with the Fire Guard scheme. The town was divided into three areas. Personnel one area had been issued with steel helmets and had attended lectures. Lectures had also been given to personnel in another, but the area was not yet in working order, but it was hoped would be soon. the remainder of the town the position was not so satisfactory. Replying to the Mayor (Ald. H. Hoskin) Mr Philp said that people wishing to enrol could see one of the officers—Messrs Bright, Bryne, Bate, Prout —or himself. The Mayor then asked “was it not a fact that in one area you have young women going out on duty and complaining that there are able-bodied men remaining in bed?” Mr. Philp agreed. The Mayor made a reference to compulsion, and Mr. Philp said he hoped it would not come to that. There would be paid officers, whose salaries would come out of the rates. At present no one, officers or personnel, was paid—it was voluntary from top to bottom, in spite of the fact that some people talked the officers having large salaries. The Town Clerk (Mr. Stuart L. Peter) thought a strong appeal should be made from the Council for people in that area to join up. He had had a letter that morning stating that two officers would visiting the town on Friday to offer what assistance they could in arrangements in regard to Fire Guards. The matter then dropped, the hope being expressed that the appeal from the Council would have good results.
On July 7th, a fruit preservation centre, sponsored by the Ministry of Food, was opened at Roseneath, Tavistock Road, Launceston.
Launceston British Restaurant, in Northgate Street, was opened on August 24th, by the Mayor (Ald. H. Hoskin) when, at his invitation, about 100 townspeople partook the first meal served at the restaurant. Declaring the restaurant open, the Mayor said the purpose the British Restaurant was to help feed the people, especially evacuees, and others who might come among them. There might be an influx of people, not only from the immediate neighbourhood, but possibly from other areas. Visitors, and even the general public, were invited to the British Restaurants up and down the country, and they were invited to the Launceston restaurant. They quite understood that it was a wartime measure, and not a thing which they hoped would be in existence over a long period. As long as conditions remained as they were at present the British Restaurants would continue to function, and they hoped that at Launceston would take its place with the others. The Mayor expressed thanks to the Town Clerk (Mr. Stuart L. Peter) and the surveyor (Mr. W. E. Colston) for their services, and said he hoped the restaurant would be freely utilized. Concluding, the Mayor said he hoped the town and district would not take a narrow view in regard to the restaurant, but that they would all help to make it a success. Mr. Roberts, representative from the Ministry of Food, thanked the Mayor for his remarks and said was glad that the restaurant had been completed thanks to the foresight shown by the Town Council and with the help, the surveyor and builders. He understood they had been fortunate in obtaining the services of a supervisor, and he congratulated them that day on their good fortune. Mr. Roberts disclosed that a letter had that day been received from Cornwall County Education Authority inquiring whether they could feed 200 school children at the restaurant, and he was given to understand that the Council would give favourable consideration to it. Although he did not say that it would be possible to feed the children on the premises, arrangements could be made for the meals to be cooked there and sent to the schools. Now that they had a restaurant for the town they must not forget the rural area It would not be possible for rural workers to come to the restaurant, but they had a pasty scheme. In the past there had been some difficulty in getting the pasties made, but now they would be able to cope with the work at the restaurant if the demand arose. On behalf of he Ministry of Food he wished the venture every success. Mr. E. L. Marriott, Regional Officer, Ministry of Information, said he knew only too well from experience that after a town had been blitzed the most urgent job was the feeding of the people. The immense amount of work put in by the Ministry of Food was known everybody who had had anything to do with blitzed towns, and, he would like to pay tribute to the amazing efficiency of the services and the way the Ministry of Food rose to the occasion. There was another advantage in that institution worth bearing in mind, and that was that it taught them to rub shoulders with one another in a manner they had not done before. It also taught them to fend for themselves. The Town Council was to be congratulated on their decision to set up a British Restaurant, though he hoped they would never be faced with an emergency which would prove to them its dire necessity.
It was reported at the monthly Town Council Meeting held on September 21st, that the Deputy-Mayor (Mr R. Gregg), Messrs. Fitze and Uglow (the Mayor being an ex-officio member) had been appointed to the committee dealing with the management of the British Restaurant. The Mayor (Ald. Hoskin) said the patronage of the restaurant had increased practically every day since the opening ceremony. They were pleased with the manner which the work was being done by the staff under Mrs Ransome, and he would like to express appreciation of the work being done by the W.V.S., three of whom assisted each day. The Surveyor (Mr W. E. Colston)- appealed to the public to support the county salvage drive in connection with which Launceston’s target was 5 tons of paper, 2 1/2 tons of metal, 5 cwt. textiles, and 5 cwt. bones, to be collected in a fortnight. It was also discussed the motion of Mr. Hicks, and seconded by Mr. Fitze, the resolution passed on August 17th last that the Council do not purchase a motor vehicle, but a horse, was rescinded. Mr. Hicks said the reason why the purchase of a motor vehicle was turned down was on account the cost. A motor vehicle, he contended, would do the work of two horses, except cases of certain emergency, when r some outside help might be required. He saw no reason why a secondhand vehicle should not meet their requirements for the time being. He considered the motor vehicle would do 75 per cent of the work of two horses. The Mayor pointed out that if a motor lorry were acquired for the collecting of refuse a new roadway would have to be made to the dump. He did not think his committee would consider secondi hand lorry of the haulage type. Mr. Hicks: The approximate cost one horse is between £80 and £90. and lorry from £24o to £250. Mr. Fulford said they wanted something more economical and something to speed up the work. He the Council in committee go further into the matter of obtaining suitable second-hand lorry. Mr. Doidge seconded and it was agreed.
Launceston Rural District Council organised an intensive drive for salvage during the two weeks from September 19th to October 3rd for paper, old rags and clothes, bones, and rubber. The target for the two weeks was 7 tons of paper, 15cwt. of textiles, and 1 ton of bones.
THE Club Shell Mex, Diadema, Buenos Aires, presented to the people of Launceston a mobile trailer kitchen (above) on Friday October 2nd. The vehicle was handed over to the Mayor (Ald. H. Hoskin), on behalf of the town by Mr H. M. Medland, Deputy Regional Commissioner, Ministry of Home Security, the ceremony taking place in the Square, in the presence of number of people. Mr Medland said the Regional Commissioner had requested him ask the Mayor to accept the kitchen for the use of the people of the town. Continuing he said, the members of the club were mainly people of Argentine, but there were also British and Dutch members. They were a long way from the war and it demonstrated the feelings of sympathy they had for those in this, country who were suffering from the effects of, the war. They realized that in this country we were right up in the front line, and in a town like Launceston they might be called upon to deal with large numbers of people. Only those towns and cities which had suffered the effects of concentrated bombing could understand what it was to be without the moans of providing warm food in the homes of the people. When the gas and electricity had gone mobile kitchens had to come to the I rescue. Although the people of Launceston might think they were a long way from the actual scene of conflict, as a matter of fact they were very much in the front line. It was absolutely essential for them to get the right outlook upon what was required. It was vitally important that the morale of the people should be maintained, and fortunately there was no sign that they were less determined than ever to beat the Bosch. They had in this country an organization known the Queen’s Messenger Service. The fact that the Mayor was asked to accept the kitchen on behalf of the town would supplement that service and help them in their preparation. Guns for defence, ‘planes for air cover, Home Guard and Civil Defence services were all necessary for their protection, so, too, were mobile kitchens. Each had its part to play. Extending a welcome to the Deputy Regional Commissioner, the Mayor said he was an outstanding personality in the city of Plymouth. His work in the past few years had been followed by the people of Launceston with great interest, and they owed him a debt of gratitude. Continuing, the Mayor expressed thanks and appreciation to their friends in Buenos Aires for their practical gift and kind thought. Though far from the fighting line, their heart was with them in the struggle through which this country and the Allies were passing. The town appreciated and valued the gift, and he would ask the Deputy Commissioner to send their warmest and most sincere thanks, with the assurance that the gift would be used, and used to the fullest extent, whether in Launceston or the country adjoining. The Mayor expressed thanks to the Deputy Regional Commissioner and also to Mr E. L. Marriott Regional Officer, Ministry of Home Security, who. he said, was always ready to render assistance to the various Home Defence services. The kitchen was then opened for the inspection of the public. Arrangements for the presentation were made by Mr E. J. Killingback, establishment officer, Ministry of Home Security.
In regard to salvage activities in the borough during the months of August, September and October, the Surveyor at the October Town Council Meeting reported the following results: Paper collected, 27 tons 15 cwt., in money £183 14s. 3d.; metal, 10 tons 9 cwt, £12 6s. 5d.; rags, 1 ton 6 cwt., £12 17s. 2d.; bones, 1 ton 1 cwt., £3 10s.; total, 40 tons 11 cwt., £212 7s. 10d. During the Cornwall Salvage Drive the target for the borough was 8 tons 15 cwt.. and they achieved 8 tons. Mr Fitze observed that no one showed a greater interest in the salvage question than their surveyor. He was proud he had done so well, and he congratulated him on the interest he had taken in the matter and the results achieved. Also at this meeting, Mr F. Philp (Fire Guard staff officer) stated that they lacked numbers, and spoke about the difficulty he was experiencing owing to many of the Fire Guards having to resign in account of their being required in the Home Guard.
Alderman Herbert Hoskin was re-elected Mayor for the fifth successive year and seventh occasion in total, at the end of October. Launceston and District’s Prisoners of War Week opened on Saturday November 28th, with a children’s carnival organized by two little boys of Newport. Raymond Davey and Gordon Hodge. Some children in fancy dress took part and were judged by Miss D. Pethybridge. of the Launceston Sick Bay, and Miss A. Revell, daughter of the matron. The Deputy Mayor Launceston (Mr R. Gregg) addressed a large audience the Town Hall on Sunday 29th, prior to a concert given aid of Launceston’s Prisoners of War Week. Among those taking part the concert was Mr Jack Collings (baritone), of Port Isaac. It was announced at the interval that £20 had been taken the door. On December 3rd, various youth organizations of Launceston organised social gathering in connection with the local Prisoners of War Week appeal. Mr W. H. Edwards was M.C.. National Savings returns for Launceston during November were £18,303.
Mr S. L. Peter (clerk) reported to Launceston Town Council on December 21st, that between opening of the British Restaurant on August 24th and November 30th, there had been 12,850 servings of meat and vegetables, 11,948 of sweets, 11,045 cups of tea, 841 cups of coffee, 2,456 complete luncheons, 144 bottles of mineral waters. Receipts for the period were £729 6s. 2d., expenditure £684 15s. 5d. From gross profit, deduction of amortization of capital expenditure left net profit of £8 ss. 4d. The Mayor (Ald. H. Hoskin) said the report was very satisfactory, compared with some he had seen in the newspapers. The Mayor thanked residents for support the Borough of Launceston (1939) Fund. Arising from remarks at the previous Council meeting on eligibility for Christmas gifts from the fund, he said people living in parishes outside the borough, but who worked in the town would, in the forces, receive Christmas presents from their own parishes. Everyone else from the borough in the Services would get presents from the fund. The Mayor said that for the recent successful Prisoners of War Week the Deputy Mayor was chairman of the Week, Mrs. D. H. A. Galbraith represented the Red Cross, and Mr. R. Gibbens the ambulance. The Deputy Mayor said response to the appeal was marvellous. There was still more money to come in, and after expenses were paid the committee would be able to forward to the Red Cross over £650. He paid tribute to work of the committee and especially to Mr. Roy Gibbens. The Mayor said the borough’s fund for necessitous poor received excellent support, making possible extra assistance to more people. The British Restaurant was the scene of a truly English Christmas ” dinner,” on Christmas Day. Soldiers were served with roast turkey, goose, pork followed by Christmas pudding, and military dance band was in attendance. And it was reported that the lads stayed for tea, too.
The year ended with nearly 1,000 members of the services being entertained in the Town Hall on Christmas night, by the ladies of the Y.M.C.A. under the leadership of Mrs S. Fitze. The hall was decorated with bunting, holly, and large scenic canvasses on the walls. On the stage was a military dance band, and on the platform at the other end of the hall long trestle tables loaded with a variety of things to eat.
The year begins with the Casablanca Conference of Allied leaders. Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt discuss the eventual invasion of mainland Europe, the impending invasion of Sicily and Italy, and the wisdom of the principle of “unconditional surrender”.
At the first Town Council meeting of the year, the Surveyor reported that during the previous quarter 17 3/4 tons of paper had been salvaged, as well as 32 long pieces of miscellaneous metal, etc., to a total of £129 7s. 6d. It was reported on January 22nd, that Launceston would be holding its ‘Wings for Victory Week’ from June 12th-19th, with two four-engine Liberator bombers and four Spitfires -costing £100,000 – as the target.
In the Soviet Union, the Battle of Stalingrad comes to an end on February 2nd, with the official surrender of the German 6th Army. The German public is informed of this disaster, marking the first time the Nazi government has acknowledged a failure in the war effort.
At the beginning of February it was announced that Major W. R. Prout of the Tamar Company, Launceston had been selected to command the 3rd Castle Battalion Home Guard. He was replaced at Tamar Company by Captain Horrell who had been one of the first to join the Home Guard. It was also announced at the same time that due to the close co-operation the existed between the Home Guard and Civil Defence in Launceston, a Home Guard Platoon composed entirely of C.D. personnel had been formed.
For the Toc H War Services Fund raising campaign launched in the town at the end of February, one of the events was a ‘Mile of Pennies.’ Farmers arriving early for the weekly market on Tuesday February 23rd, found the Mayor, Alderman Hoskin, starting off the laying of the pennies, eagerly helped by the Girl Guides, who prided themselves on the fact that they would let no one pass by without asking them to help, awaiting them with ‘grim’ determination. Ladies of the W.V.S., under Mrs F. Bate, supervised the ‘mile,’ and gradually it travelled down Race Hill, along Southgate Street and up the Square. People were so eager to make their contributions that on several occasions those in charge were not given the time in which to move on the board that indicated every three feet of advance. Many passers-by were interested to see that for half-a-crown they could advance three feet and this opportunity was on more than one occasion accepted. A noticeable feature of the event were the sandwich boards carried by Guides, which urged everyone to ‘cough up’ their ‘coppers.’ This they did, for by 4 p.m., three girls had to carry bags of silver and copper to a bank, and it was found that the total realised was well over £12. On the Tuesday evening a dance was held in the Town Hall, organised by Mr Jack Rashley. Music was supplied by the ‘Seven Hot Sparks’ dance band.
At the beginning of March, an exercise took place whereby the Home Guard in Launceston came under ‘attack’ by a detachment of Commando troops who landed at a South-West port in Cornwall. The Commando’s who had spilt into small groups made their way to Launceston with the intention of destroying their objectives before a fixed set time. Having destroyed their objectives they were to endeavour to withdraw as quickly as possible to their re-assembly points. The task of the Home Guard was to completely destroy the enemy troops before they reached their objectives, and further, in the event of any reaching their objectives, to destroy them before they were able to reach their re-assembly point. Co-operating with the Castle Battalion Home Guard under Major W. R. Prout were units of the Lifton H.G., Post Office and Railway H.G., and the Police. The Commando troops moved so quickly towards their objectives that it was necessary to call out the H.G. many hours before it was anticipated they would be required to cope with the ‘invader.’ This unexpected call-out of the H.G. proved to be a very successful test, and a large percentage were on duty at the new zero hour. Information was received of the movements of the ‘enemy’ practically during the whole of their journey from their starting point, by the Police. As the Commandos entered the Battalion area many prisoners were captured, and the whole objectives were carefully guarded and patrols sent out to round up the enemy and generally made conditions as difficult as possible for them. At a late hour on the first night of the operations, the H.G. were called off for the remainder of the night, and the district next day had the unusual spectacle of seeing many H.G.’s at work in their uniform, standing by ready at a moment’s notice to at once proceed to their allotted points. Due to this being an exercise, it was not possible for the H.G. to engage for the whole of the day-light hours, with the consequence that some of the objectives were ‘destroyed’ by the enemy.
Towards the evening of the second day, the Home Guard were once again fully engaged with the raiders, and this second night were mainly engaged with the Commandos, who commenced their attack from the North-West, and who had come through from a port in Somerset. During the second afternoon information came in freely from Home Guards in the country areas as well as from the Police, and enabled the Battalion Commander to take the necessary measures to cope with the situations. Many districts were combed and swept in their search for the raiders, who were harried and harassed on every hand, and during the night hours a steady flow of prisoners were brought into be questioned by the Intelligence Officer. The operations were continued into the small hours of the next day, until only a small number of commandos were not taken free. The exercise was mainly for the benefit of the Commando Troops, who in this particular case were not allowed to use any transport, and who had orders not to use roads and villages. One of the points to come out of the exercise was the amount of information that was provided by the general public. In the debrief that followed one of the captured Commandos commented when brought in, “heaven help Jerry if he comes to Cornwall; you can’t move or breathe without there is a Home Guard waiting to finish you off.” The Brigadier Commander of the Cornwall Coastal Area said of the exercise, “I would like to send a word of congratulations to the Group in general and to the Castle Battalion. In particular on the excellent work done in the recent Commando exercise. It was quite first rate and all ranks showed splendid keenness.”
At the end of March, 1943, the compulsory removal of un-necessary iron or steel railings began which included those around the Guildhall and St. Mary Magdalene Church. It was stated that in the early part of the war the country had imported iron from abroad at the rate of 500,000 tons a year. This, and more had by 1943 to be supplied for ‘our own resources.’ The target by the Ministry of Works was to recover 40,000 tons of scrap metal per week over and above the amount collected through normal trade channels. Up to the end of 1942 some 2,000,000 tons of scrap metal had been collected by the Ministry from various sources. These included steel from bombed buildings (which by 1943, most of the available metal from this source had been cleared), railings, dumps, and metal on the ‘National Survey,’ i.e. derelict mine machinery, disused bridges, obsolete plant, etc. Meanwhile railings which were one of the most readily accessible sources of supply and which up to the end of 1942 had supplied more than 400,000 tons of valuable metal, were to be collected in a steady flow to keep the foundries going. It was stated that houses all over the country were being ‘de-railed’ at the rate of some 30,000 every week, yielding an average weekly weight of 5,000 tons. At the peak of collection in London, the railings from the city alone yielded a weekly weight of 8,000 tons. In an article featured in the Cornish and Devon Post of April 3rd, 1943, the process of how the old iron is reused was explained: Light scrap metal was fed into a blast furnace with iron-ore, and the molten metal, discharged into comb-shaped channels in a sandbed, becomes pig-iron. At the steel-works the pig iron is charged in the steel-making furnaces, and in this process railings and other heavy scrap are added to make steel, which is poured into moulds and cooled. The steel ingots are then rolled to form tanks parts, gun forgings, etc. There is some conjecture as to what happened to the iron once it was removed. A fairly common assumption is that the Launceston railings never made it to the furnaces, instead ending up being stockpiled out of sight of the general public. So what did happen? One school says the iron collected was unsuitable and could not be used. This seems unlikely as recycled iron is a key component in the steel industry. Another more likely explanation is that far more iron was collected – over one millions tons by September 1944 – than was needed or could be processed. Certainly the huge underground munitions factory Beaverbook set up at Corsham in Wiltshire ran far below capacity for its short life. It was felt that the cause was a unifying one and of great propaganda value. This is the view of John Farr, author of an article in Picture Postcard Monthly, (‘Who Stole our Gates”, PPM No 371, March 2010). In it he says that only 26% of the iron work collected was used for munitions and by 1944 much of it was rusting in council depots or railway sidings, with some filtering through to the post-war metal industry. Yet the public was never told this. What is the actual truth, we shall probably never know, and we are left with pre war images that show the grandness of the railings that once graced two iconic Launceston buildings.
On May 7th, Tunis is captured by the British First Army. Meanwhile the Americans take Bizerte and on the 13th the remaining German Afrika Korps and Italian troops in North Africa surrender to Allied forces. The Allies take over 250,000 prisoners. Three days later the Dambuster Raids are carried out by RAF 617 Squadron on two German dams, Mohne and Eder. The Ruhr war industries lose electrical power. On June 11th, the British 1st Division takes the Italian island of Pantelleria, between Tunisia and Sicily, capturing 11,000 Italian troops the following day the Italian island of Lampedusa, between Tunisia and Sicily, surrenders to the Allies.
The official opening of the Launceston Wings for Victory Week, was performed by Air Marshall Sir Philip Babington on Saturday, June 12th, in the Town Square. A target of £1000,000 was set. The streets were packed to witness what was called an ‘imposing procession’ ably marshalled by Lieutenant Colonel W. R. Prout. The procession consisted of R.A.F. Scout Cars, Royal Navy Band, Royal Naval Contingent, Norwegian Naval Unit, W.R.N.S, American Units, L/Fusiliers Band, Royal Artillery (Searchlights), Army Units, A.T.S., Home Guard, Army Cadets, D.C.L.I. Band, R.A.F. (Davidstow Unit), R.A.F. (Broomhill Unit), W.A.A.F., A.T.C., Royal Observer Corps, N.F.S., St. John Ambulance, Red Cross, Civil Nursing Reserve, R.A. Band, Civil Defence, Land Army, Forestry, Scouts, Guides. Assembling at Roydon Road, the procession marched via Dockacre Road, Tavistock Road and Race Hill to the Square, where the opening ceremony was performed.
Sir Philip Babington was supported by Mr P. G. Heppingstall (South-Western Reginal Representative of the National Committee). The speakers were introduced by the Mayor who stared by saying that they meet under more favourable conditions than the previous two occasions. They were opening their Week that day with the full confidence that the target would be reached. The challenge they had received from Holsworthy had been accepted and their rivals would be beaten, and Bude, he said, would have to look to their laurels. There was a feeling in the town and district that it could be done, and he was sure it would be. Introducing the Air Marshal, the Mayor said Babington was almost a family name in both town and country, and he thought it was largely through the good offices of Captain Babington that they had his brother there that day to perform the opening ceremony.
The Air Marshal said the country was doing a good job of war work and, although not a farmer, on his way down by air the previous day it was clear that the country was being well farmed. Quite apart from that he knew that they had been lending money to the country quite steadily, and in particular they had done well in the two special Weeks. Now they were going to have a new sort of drive they could turn their attention to the Air Force. In the past they had supported the other Services, which was quite natural, seeing that they had an old and famous Regiment, and they had always been sending men to sea. There were several reasons said the Air Marshal, why they should respond generously to the appeal now. The first was production. Hitler had forced the whole of Europe to produce war weapons for the Nazis, and we here must out-produce Europe. The more we could produce this side of the Atlantic the less there would be to bring over and the less risk there would be of losing any. We had to learn not to be too parochial. We had got to help the Americans to finish off the war in the Pacific and put the Japanese where they belonged – in Japan. Americans came over here in considerable numbers long before the U.S.A. came into the war, and the American Eagle Squadron served us magnificently, and we owed them a lot of gratitude for being the forerunners of the great forces now coming over. The second point was that air power was one of the keys to victory. The campaign in North Africa was not won by air power alone, but by all the Services co-operating magnificently, and without air power it would have been a very difficult task. They were pulling together, and we could pull together in lending money. The third reason why we should respond generously was the debt that we all owed to those people to whom the Prime Minister had referred as being so few at the time of the Battle of Britain. That was a debt we could never repay, but we could at least make a gesture towards repayment by giving up every penny we could spare. Whatever history write about that battle there was one thing which would stand for ever; the Battle of Britain saved us from losing the war. At that time we were practically alone in the war against Germany and we were in a bad way, but thanks to the Air Force, largely, and other Services, we managed to pull out. During the Battle of Britain was the only occasion when the Italians came over, and every one was shot down. That was the only time they were over and it would probably be the only time. Explaining that the money invested would be well spent, Sir Philip spoke of the great damage the Air Force had inflicted, and said the target area attacked, with the aid of our Allies, was ever widening and taking some of the load off Russia who had borne the brunt of fighting. Only the previous night they had heard of another reverse for Mussolini. Bombing was increasing and the Germans were beginning to squeal, and we hoped they would be made to squeal a great deal louder. The Germans had short memories and did not seem to remember that they started the bombing. Finally, said the Air Marshall, we in this country had suffered a good deal during the war, but there were a great many people in Europe who had suffered a great deal more, and 10 representatives of those countries were with them that day. The more money we could put into Savings the quicker should we be able to end the war, and he was sure they would put in as much as they possibly could.
Mr Heppingstall gave statistics showing the great amount contributed by the small savers, and this week they had the opportunity of showing their gratitude. On behalf of the National Committee, Mr Heppingstall than extended a most a most sincere welcome to the troops from America present that afternoon. No army staying in this country was more welcome than the American Army, he said, and we were pleased to have their representatives with us . “These lads have come a long way; let the people of Launceston show them that you are behind them.” The Commanding Officer of the American troops, replying, said it was a pleasure for him as a representative of the U.S. Army and an honour to be allowed to participate in that ceremony. It was fitting and proper that they should do this, because they felt that they were a part of the community, especially after the warm welcome they had received. It was in this spirit of friendship and co-operation that they were so successfully joined together in this great struggle to-day. “The fight to the finish will be carried through by the untiring efforts of your people and ours, and the Wings for Victory today will be the Wings of Peace for tomorrow,” he concluded amid applause. After a other speakers addressed the crowd, the procession then returned to the Guildhall Square, the Mayor’s procession being headed by the Band of H.M.S. Raleigh, where the salute at the march past was taken by the Air Marshal, and the Bugle Band of the Royal Artillery beat ‘The Retreat.’
Later the visiting troops were entertained to tea in the Town Hall, where the arrangements were made by the W.V.S. under the direction of Mrs A. Williams. A vote of thanks was given to Mrs Williams who responded that she looked upon this as a rehearsal for the victory tea. The fund got off to a great start with a sum of £35,000 being reached on that first day, and by the following Thursday had reached £90,000. On the Monday a Hurricane (below) was erected in the Square and attracted a great deal of interest. Large numbers of Savings Stamps were affixed to the bombs which were on view and which would later be dropped on Germany. The price of a view of the cockpit of the plane was a Savings Stamp stuck on the bomb. The final amount reached exceeded over £150,000, which was enough for three bombers and five fighters.
Operation Husky (the Allied invasion of Sicily) begins on July 10th and within twelve days U.S. forces under Patton capture Palermo, Sicily. On July 25th, Mussolini is arrested and relieved of his offices after a meeting with Italian King Victor Emmanuel III, who chooses Marshal Pietro Badoglio to form a new government.
At the Town Council’s monthly meeting held on July 19th, it was announced that, owing to the difficulty in recruiting a full-time staff, the British Restaurant in Northgate Street may have to close. The Town Clerk explained that the British Restaurant Committee met on the previous Friday in consequence of having received the resignation of four members of the staff. He said that since the restaurant had opened there had been a continually changing staff, some of the members of whom had children to look after, and they had asked to be released in order that they could give more attention to the children at home. The matter reached the stage on the Friday, said the Town Clerk, when, unless they could get a full time staff, it was considered the restaurant would have to be closed. Some discussion then took place regarding the rate of pay with Alderman Harvey saying that he’d heard a lot of complaint as to the rate of pay. If they expected women to work for 10d. an hour in these times he thought it was time they did close it, he said. Replying, the Mayor said that the rate of pay had been increased from 10d. to 1s. It was agreed to await for a meeting to be held with the Ministry of Food, to see if they were able to do anything to help. The crisis was soon alleviated when new staff were found and by September the restaurant was running smoothly again.
At the August meeting of the Town Council a warning was issued to a select few householders who imagined that without training they would be able to effectively deal with incendiary bombs. Councillor Philp (Fire Guard Staff Officer) reported on the recent exercise in co-operation with the National Fire Service, and remarked that considering the small amount of training the Fire Guard had received he was not displeased with the result. However, they found that many householders were not co-operating by providing buckets of water in easily accessible places. He also said that volunteers had come forward to be trained as instructors and Fire Guards were receiving instructions from the Wardens. It was hoped to stimulate interest and get more personnel. Lack of personnel was the serious point at present. Councillor Philp said that many people thought that, without training they would still be able to deal with an incendiary bomb, but if anything did happen, he said he was afraid there would be many casualties. Councillor Philp later in the meeting called attention to the Nissen Huts being put up on the Castle Green, asking whether the Council had any jurisdiction on the matter. Councillor Worth said he understood that the Castle Green was the property of the Duchy of Cornwall and leased to the Council. No plan had been submitted. On the Town Clerk observing that no plans needed to be submitted, except as a matter of courtesy, the matter was dropped. The Surveyor submitting the salvage report for the previous quarter said the total disposed of realised £110 0s. 8d., compared with £61 13s. 4d. for the preceding quarter.
On September 3rd, a secret Italian Armistice is signed and Italy drops out of the war. Mainland Italy is invaded when the British XXIII Corps lands at Reggio Calabria. Five days later Eisenhower publicly announces the surrender of Italy to the Allies. The Germans enact Operation Achse, the disarmament of Italian armed forces. On September 11th, the Government announced that deferments granted for men in munitions and other industries who were born in or after 1915, 1910, or 1905, as the case may be, must be brought to an end. Mussolini is rescued by aircraft from mountaintop captivity by German SS troops led by Otto Skorzeny. Mussolini is then set up by Hitler, who remains loyal to his old friend, as the head of the puppet “Italian Social Republic,’ on September 12th.
The policy of segregation that existed in the USA was continued with here in the UK, with the Black soldiers being placed in different buildings to the White soldiers at Pennygillam. This segregation continued within the town as an infamous incident one Saturday night on September 25th, 1943 proved. Five black GI’s from an ordnance unit were told to return to camp by MP’s when it was found that they did not have passes, forcing them to miss the local dance. Being unhappy at this request they became quite belligerent with one threatening an MP with what’s in his pocket. But eventually they did leave. However, the next night eighteen black soldiers entered the lounge bar of a pub in the town (believed to be the Castle Temperance Hotel in High Street). White soldiers were drinking there too and the barman told the black soldiers that they couldn’t be served in that part of the house. The black GI’s clearly took umbrage at this as although they reluctantly left, they returned back into the town later on this time armed with tommy guns, rifles and bayonets.
Two MP’s challenged them and ordered them to return to their barracks which the black GI’s ignored and began to open fire causing mayhem. Bullets rang around and people ran in all directions. The two MP’s ended up with wounds to their legs. Fourteen black GI’s were arrested and court marshalled in Paignton with the charge of mutiny and attempted murder. Sentences of either death or life imprisonment were handed out after a three day hearing. It is not know if the death sentences were carried out, but many were still serving time some years after the war.
Sid Broad, who then worked for Truscotts (opposite Town Hall) at the time, found one of the Tommy guns used in the gun fight the following Monday morning hidden in a gutter above the back door to the garage (they used to keep a spare door key in the gutter, so whoever got to work first could open up). Bullets marks littered the town with Lloyds Bank in square wearing a couple and for years after a thick glass window of the Orange Tea Rooms in Church Street bore a bullet hole.
Memories of the US Army.
David Thomas remembers “ I was only twelve when the yanks came to Lanson but I had five sisters all older than me and the yanks used to swarm around our house like bees around honey. Father loved it because they never came calling without bringing The Chesterfield cigarette or Lucky Strike and some candy for me and me younger brother, then every so often they would arrange a party at Scarne camp where we would get ice cream. Imagine that lovely ice cream what a luxury.” Ann Caddick can also remember the Scarne parties “I remember going to a party at the Pennygillam camp given by the Americans. We had to take a spoon with us to eat the ice cream – a real treat for us.” The late Terry Duke, who was about 10 years old when the Americans came to the town, remembers the black GI’s singing at St. Stephens Church and “boy could they sing” he said. He also remembers St. Stephens Church Hall being commandeered and used as the American Post Office. Terry’s father won the Military Medal during the Normandy landings in 1945. Martin Wills, who lived at Hessacott Farm on the Cornwall, Devon border, recalls on the BBC’s WW2 People’s War website ‘Now Launceston College was interesting for other reasons, in 1943 the Americans arrived, there were 2 camps at Launceston, one each side the College. One White, one Black. We lived with the Yanks for nearly 2 years. The US troops would take their trucks, jeeps & other vehicles down to Newport which is the lower part of the town to wash the vehicles in the River Kensey. During that time a tank transporter with a Sherman tank on board was stuck in Southgate Arch, the gouges in the walls can still be seen today. The US also had a Military hospital in the Castle Grounds that is where I saw Joe Louis the boxer who was visiting the troops. The Blacks & Whites had a `firefight` in the town one night, there were bullet holes through the shop windows, Hicks drapers shop and Mules the hairdresser as well as chips off the War Memorial.
In 1943 the whole area around Launceston was an ammunition dump. Strips of farm land adjoining public roads were taken over by the military. Fences were erected to contain the farm animals , numerous gaps were made in the Cornish hedges and small `half round` shelters were erected. these were filled with all manner of ammunition. shells by the 1`000`s, bombs etc, etc. The interesting thing was that none of any of these dumps were guarded.‘ ‘Copyright © Martin Wills WW2 People’s War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar‘
It was announced during the October meeting of the Town Council that H.M.S. Vigilant had been officially adopted by the town and that direct communication could now be established through the G.P.O., London. The Mayor stated that he had received a letter from the Captain who had pointed out that he might not be able to get in touch with the town with regard to the plaque to be presented to the ship. The Mayor said he did not know what the feeling of the Council was, but many towns adopted ships, especially in Cornwall, had sent comforts to the crew. Councillor Fulford observed that what the Mayor could do was to send a telegram from the Council to the Master of the ship and the crew, wishing them god-speed. On October 13th, Italy declares war on Germany.
A crowded Town Hall on Tuesday, November 1st, saw the presentation of plaques in commemoration of ‘Wings for Victory’ week, and also the presentation of log books to the Air Ministry. The presentations took place in an interval in a concert given by a military band of the United States Army. Group Captain K. Pickles after a short speech, presented a plaque to the Mayor for Launceston Town Council; to Mr A. Sloman (chairman) for Launceston Rural Council; and to Mr N. Heard (vice-chairman) for Broadwoodwidger Rural District Council. In return the Town Clerk, Mr Stuart Peter, on behalf of Launceston Town Council, then presented to Group Captain Pickles for the Air Ministry, log books to be used in the aircraft provided by the town and district. Mr Peter explained that the log books would be carried by the aircraft allotted to the area, and all the war activities would be recorded in them. When completed they would be returned to the town and become one of the treasures in the Borough archives. Similar log books were then presented by the two respective Rural Council’s. Mr Rodney Keast (general secretary) made a strong appeal for more people to join the Savings Groups. He gave figures showing the comparatively small number who were regular savers in the town and district, and said he was sure they could improve on that, but he raised a round of applause when he announced that since records had been kept the amount they had invested for the town had reached £1,096,000. A collection was then made to provide comforts for the crew of Launceston’s newly adopted ship, H.M.S. Vigilant. A total of £21 11s. 9d. was raised.
At the Mayor choosing ceremony held at the end of November, Alderman G. Trood was elected thus relieving Alderman H. Hoskin, who had served for five consecutive years. On November 15th, the Allied Expeditionary Force for the invasion of Europe is officially formed. The Cairo Conference: US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and ROC leader Chiang Kai-shek meet in Cairo, Egypt, to discuss ways to defeat Japan begins on November 22nd, lasting for four days. This was followed on the 28th by the Tehran Conference. US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Leader Joseph Stalin meet in Tehran to discuss war strategy; (on November 30th, they establish an agreement concerning a planned June 1944 invasion of Europe codenamed Operation Overlord). Stalin at last has the promise he has been waiting for.
An appeal was launched by the Mayor, Alderman Trood, at the end of November, to raise funds for the Salvation Army in their work amongst the men and women of the Forces. The Army were operating in all the theatres of the war, with 1,300 Salvation Army Clubs serving food and rest centres. At the beginning of December it was announced that men born between January 1st, 1926, and March 31st, 1926, were to register for military service. The Surveyor reported that during the quarter October to December the value of salvage disposed of was £69 15s. 11d., as compared with £109 7s. 3d. for the previous quarter. The apparent drop was due to the fact that they were awaiting collection of paper and textiles of which they had approximate value of £60 in stock.
The year started with the 1st Ukrainian Front of the Red Army entering Poland on January 4th. On the 16th, General Dwight D. Eisenhower arrived in London, returning from a week of rest and planning in Washington, D. C., and assumed command of the European Theatre by General Orders No. 4. His new title was Commanding General, U.S. Forces, European Theatre of Operations. The following day the first Battle of Monte Cassino begins when the British X Corps attacks along the Garigliano river at the western end of the German Gustav Line and on the 19th, Red Army troops push westward toward the Baltic countries.
It was announced in January that £3,437 had been raised during 1943 by the Launceston and district branch of the Duke of Gloucester’s Agriculture Red Cross Fund and transferred £3,000 to the countyfund. Mr W. B. Matthews, treasurer, stated the balance brought forward from 1942 was £313 2s. 4d.,- and the various parishes and bodies had raised the following Altarnun, £301 14s. 1d.; Boyton, £206 15s. 5d.; Broadwood, £342 7s. 4d.: Egloskerry, Tremaine, Treneglos, and Warbstow,£180 3s. 2d.; Laneast, £87 12s. 6d.; Launceston dealers. £33 5s.; Launceston butchers, £9 8s. 6d.; Launceston, St. Mary’s, £20 5s.; Launceston, St. Thomas, 16s. 6d.; Launceston, St. Stephen’s, £126 10s.: Lezant, £350; Lawhitton, £122 15s. 6d.: Lewannick, £250; North Hill, £360 15S. 4d.: North Petherwin, £305 1s. 3d.; South Petherwin, £58 15s.; St. Giles. £105; Trewen, £24 3s. 6d.; Werrington, £180 9s. There was then a balance in hand of £446 19s. sd. During 1940, 1941, and 1942 they had come very close their target of £2,000 per annum. Last year they had passed it. Mr. Walter Dennis, chairman, congratulated all concerned.
On the nights of January 13th and 14th, the Royal Air Force and some of the staff of the Air Ministry put on the pantomime of ‘Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.’ Playing to crowded houses, the show was great success, raising £125 for charities. The pantomime was produced by F.O. Gordon Cooper, M.C., with Mr C. A. Ward as director. The R.A.F. appeared by permission of S. L. S. Asher, Commanding R.A.F., Launceston. The profits were distributed to the following charities:- St. Dunstan’s, Dr. Barnardo’s Homes, Aid to Russia Fund, Aid to China Fund, Aid to Greece Fund, R.A.F. Benevolent Fund, St. John’s Ambulance (Launceston), A.T.C. (Launceston), King George’s Fund for Sailors, National Trust, Y.M.C.A., Ex-Servicemen’s Welfare Association and the Red Cross Fund.
On Tuesday February 8th, Launceston Rural Area A.R.P. Official While motoring home from an A.R.P. meeting at Launceston, Bernard Sambell Davey, 43, of Hawks Tor View, North Hill, was killed in a collision with another vehicle. He sustained severe head injuries. The accident occurred near the top of the South Petherwin side of Slate Quarry Hill, where there was a left-hand bend. P.S. Lobb and P.C. Beswetherick, who arrived a few minutes later, found Mr. Davey’s car facing down the hill in the direction of Launceston. An inquest was held on February 11th, at Launceston where the jury returned verdict that death was due to fracture of the base the skull, there being insufficient evidence to prove how the accident happened.
Beginning on February 19th, Leipzig, Germany is bombed for two straight nights. This marks the beginning of a “Big Week” bombing campaign against German industrial cities by Allied bombers. On March 8th, a Red Army offensive on a wide front west of the Dnieper in the Ukraine forces the Germans into a major retreat. A month later the Red Army attacks in an attempt to retake all of the Crimea, the Germans retreat westward to Sevastopol. By April 16th, Soviet forces had taken Yalta with most of Crimea then being liberated. Meanwhile the vast preparations for D-Day are going on all over southern England including Launceston.
P.F.C. William A. Wilch served at Pennygillam Camp in 1944 aged 20, and his son Stephen J Wilch wrote a book based on his letters home. The book has the title “Don’t Just Kill Them, MURDER ‘EM. “Shoot Pee Wee, Just Shoot.” Here transcribed are the letters covering his time leading up to and at Launceston.
‘2 days after his 19th birthday Wilch entered US Army at Fort Thomas, Kentucky, for 13 weeks training at Camp Robinson, with ‘best friend Burton E Burfiend’.
Wilch wrote home letter in July 1943: “I’m in Company A, 335 Engineer Regiment.”He was training at Camp Young, California: July ’43 was moved to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, to join the “Fighting 69th Division” near Hattiesburg, Mi. His home was at Middletown, Ohio.After training in various camps and States, he was sent via Halifax, Nova Scotia [aboard the Mauritania] to land at Liverpool. Late November ’43, was moved by truck to Pennygillam Camp to join the 2nd Squad, 2nd. Platoon, ‘E’ Company, 115 Infantry Regiment. He trained alongside 2 other regiments in the area – 116th and 175th Regiments, 29th Division, mainly from Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York, and also other States. The division has history dating to the Civil War as the ‘Blue & Greys’.Names he cites in letter home: Sgt Siti; Pte’s. George Sucharck? Clonde Weimer, William Phillips, Steve Barnelks, Perry Tomlin, Willia Reffit, Burton Burfeind, and Vincent Mornelli.The tallest man in the platoon – Perry Tomlin- named Wilch “Pee Wee”.“Long marches and hikes with full field packs on Bodmin Moors. There was a large hill they regularly ordered us to quickly climb to the top. The hill was called “Brown Willy”, very tough.”November ’43 – “England is a pretty cold damp place. Had a little snow the other day. I’m hungry for some candy or pie. We’re hungry all the time it seems. We are rationed to five ounces of candy a week, and a lot more food.”In December wrote “Saw “The Plainsman” with Gary Cooper. Met a nice English family Christmas Eve – they wanted to know everything about us. One English lady reminded me of my grandmother. I knew them through another soldier who married one of their relations. A lot of GI’s are marrying the English girls, so they must be O.K.”The censorship officer was 1st Lt. Richard A Donnelly, from Chicago, Illinois.4th January letter: “I remember last year I went with Bill Lindsay, Frank Farmer and the rest of the boys, to the Midnight Show on New Year’s Eve.” (several photos in book taken at Pennygillam – all with names. Yanks were permitted cameras, Brits could be shot if found with one, Germans were issued with them.) April 1st: “I was one year man in the Army on March 10th. I’m now Private First Class (PFC). In readiness for invasion of Europe, the soldiers in Launceston and other camps were moved to a confinement area – put in quarantine from the outside world – security very high – no written letters permitted – no mention of ‘Operation Overlord”. General Charles H Gerhardt C.O. 29th Division.” P
FC Wilch and others of the regiment spent the night on board a LCI – Landing Craft Infantry – and due to the bad weather the next day and night. Some were allowed to paddle a rubber boat around the LCI as relief and exercise – a sniper was appointed to watch for anyone attempting to land or to speak to others and to shoot before they could.
Near the end of the war in Europe Wilch was badly wounded and was sent to a Hospital near Oxford; when recovered he was partially disabled by a bad foot, and was sent to a German POW camp as a guard. Several stories of his experiences around Britain and in Ireland, before he was returned to England and later repatriated to the USA.’
Below you can see the West Regional Agricultural implement dealership buildings which were built upon the old US army barracks from world war two. To the rear left there can be seen the last three remaining nissen huts. The Scarne Barracks housed the white GI’s. This is now the site of the Lidls supermarket.
Behind Tannery Cottage at Town Mills, there were the buildings of the Tannery. Fred Davey can remember during the war that they were taken over by the Army. He can’t remember the order they were there, but the American army had a heavy goods repair depot there with black troops and white officers. There was also an RASC Supply Platoon. The troops lived away except 3 RASC Sergeants who slept in one of the out buildings and Fred’s mother cooked for them. Stanley Tout can remember stumbling upon an ammunition dump in the caves down in the woods at the bottom of Landlake road. He recollects ‘Our gang Me, my Brother Colin, Peter and Bob Wicks with others stumbled up-on them one day. We were pounced upon by friendly G I’s guards who gave us some fun by firing their rifles at targets we placed in the field opposite.’ Another memory Stan has with his gang was an incident that if they had been caught would have landed the whole gang in serious trouble. The American navy also had a presence in the town, with their local HQ at Trenuth in Dunheved Road (USS Trenuth) and an ammunition dump in the GPO garages at the top of Race Hill. It is here that the gang decided to investigate, and although under guard, the lads with their local knowledge managed gain entry. An aladdins cave fell before their amazed eyes as they quietly studied the warehouse and their attention was drawn to the numerous machine gun ammo belts. They hatched a plan to take one of these belts as a trophy and made good their escape. Stan recalls that he and the other boys walked down Race Hill each swapping the belt draped over their necks. It was only when having taking the item home and in the cold light of day that it was realised that it wasn’t something they could just hand back, so, at the following weekend on the Saturday evening, it was decided to slip down to the cattle market to dispose of the ammo. How, they were initially not sure, but once they arrived at the now deserted market, they saw a pile of rubbish. The plan was hatched that they would burn the condemning evidence, so with rubbish neatly stoked into a pile around the ammo belt, they struck a match. The fire soon took hold with the inevitable consequence. Bullets were soon firing off in all directions and the gang leapt for their lives behind a bank. Before they could gather their thoughts at what to next do, they heard the sound of an approaching ringing of a police bell and speeding right before the lads came a black Austin police car with two constables on board. They quickly stepped out to investigate the gun shots, possibly fearing another shooting incident. However, both constables were soon ducking for their lives as bullets ricocheted all around them. The gang, realising that they would be in serious trouble if found, decided that it would be best if they made less of their presence, making their escape the only viable way, down through a bramble and stinging nettle strewn bank into Tavistock Road. Having made good their escape, they quickly made their way to their respective homes vowing to never mention the incident in fear of being sent to borstal. And this was the last time the incident was ever mentioned until some 74 years later when Stan retold the story.
Junior Red Cross Link of the National School, Launceston, having raised for the Red Cross, staged another event —a carnival on May 6th, in aid the society. The Queen” was Wendy Maybee, the 6-years-old girl who was elected by the school children. The instigator of the event was Raymond Davey, aged 13, St. Thomas, Launceston. Before the procession the children paraded in the school playground, where they were judged Mrs Fraser and Miss M. Allen (members of the Launceston detachment) and Miss E. Peter. The prizes were presented by Mrs D. H. A. Galbraith, vice-president the North-East Cornwall Society and commandant the Launceston detachment. The target for Lifton’s parish “Salute the Soldier” Week held at the beginning of May, had been set at £5,000. There was a concert by Billy Blythe and party from Launceston, where £57 was raised. A social was organised by Mrs A. Joyner and Mr L. C. Brown. There was a whist drive at the men’s institute and a film show in Coronation Hall. On the final night a dance was held in the Coronation Hall, Mr E. Parish being M.C.. There was great cheer when the M.C. announced that the amount raised was £5,948. Of the total £3,227 6d was paid direct into the Post Office, and over £150 was raised at the entertainments. The hon. secretary (Miss M. A. Bower) and helpers, organised by Mrs. G. F. Newman, and group secretaries were congratulated on their achievement.
Also on starting on May 6th, heavy Allied bombings of the Continent begins in preparation for D-Day, and two days later D-Day for Operation Overlord was set for June 5th. Sevastopol in the Crimea is retaken by Soviet forces on May 9th. This was followed four days later with the entirety of Crimea coming under Soviet control. Many thousands of German and Romanian soldiers have been captured, but many thousands have been evacuated. Polish troops of the 2nd Polish Corps led by general Władysław Anders capture Monte Cassino. German troops in west Italy have withdrawn to the Hitler Line. On May 25th, the Allies at Anzio link up with Allies from south Italy. Though Harold Alexander wishes to trap the German Tenth Army, American Fifth Army commander Mark W. Clark orders Truscott to turn north toward Rome. The Germans in Italy form a new defensive position on the Caesar C line.
With all this happening, Launceston Town Council on May 15th, began to look ahead post-war, when they adopted a resolution empowering the Council to enter into negotiations with Mr C. H. Mathews for the purchase of a field in connection with the housing of the working classes post-war programme. Proposing the resolution, the Deputy Mayor (Mr R. Gregg) explained the Council had decided that as far as possible for the first year they would proceed with the erection of 30 houses for the working classes on a field behind Hurdon, which, he thought, was as fine site as would be found the whole county. Mr Fulford seconded and the resolution was carried unanimously. The Town Clerk, in a statement of the year’s working of the British Restaurant, said there was a gross profit, before making provision for amortization of capital expenditure, of £192 ss. 3d. The Council would agree that was a very satisfactory.
On June 4th, the Allies enter Rome, one day after the Germans declared it an open city. German troops fall back to the Trasimene Line. The following day Operation Overlord commences when more than 1,000 British bombers drop 5,000 tons of bombs on German gun batteries on the Normandy coast in preparation for D-Day. And the first Allied troops land in Normandy; paratroopers are scattered from Caen southward. On June 6th, D-Day begins with the landing of 155,000 Allied troops on the beaches of Normandy in France. The Allied soldiers quickly break through the Atlantic Wall and push inland in the largest amphibious military operation in history.
On June 12th, the East Cornwall Joint Planning Committee heard the observations of the Ministry Agriculture on certain housing sites submitted to them for their approval. The Ministry suggested consideration, should be given wherever possible to the selection of Army camps for housing sites in place of the sites already selected. The Ministry pointed out that although Army camps might have been on good agricultural land, their use as camps was such that it was doubtful if many would be suitable for agriculture again when they were evacuated. On the other hand, selected sites might be more use as agricultural land. It was undesirable children should have to pass over arterial roads to school, and the existing sites had water and sewerage. It was pointed out that if Launceston Rural Council did not do something with the existing sites private enterprise would, and the Chairman (Mr A. G. Watkins) said each authority would give careful consideration to the Ministry’s suggestion and no doubt adopt camps where suitable for housing. The Planning Officer (Mr G. C. Page) mentioned the 1940 scheme for Fowey, which had been approved by the committee, and said the Ministry had since made a survey and adjudged some of the housing land suitable for agriculture. A Fowey representative said the land which had been scheduled for building was now required by a purchaser of a plot, but the Ministry objected, and the Planning Officer said the same thing would occur with other places planned—Lostwithiel, Looe, and Launceston. He suggested they submit plans all those places to the Ministry at once. Mr Browning Lyne asked they must accept the ruling of the Ministry of Agriculture. It might be necessary to use agricultural land for housing in some places. The Planning Officer said the Ministry was very reasonable. The Chairman reported on the Plymouth conference and commended the bold and wonderful planning. He hoped Plymouth Corporation would have sufficient sense —(A Voice: And money)—and courage to go ahead with the idea, which would make Plymouth a beautiful place and an example to be followed. The Planning Officer said the first housing site had now been officially approved. It was the Lanchardlane site Liskeard for 190 houses. At the June meeting of the Launceston Town Council the Surveyor (Mr W. K. Pickup) reported that during the quarter ending June the value of salvage disposed of was £131 3s. 2d., compared with £59 16s. 7d. the previous quarter.
Germany launches a V1 Flying Bomb attack on England on June 13th, in Hitler’s view a kind of revenge for the invasion. He believes in Germany’s victory with this “secret weapon.” The V-1 attacks will continue through June. During the 19th and 20th of June, the Battle of the Philippine Sea, nicknamed the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot by Americans, takes place. The United States Fifth Fleet wins a decisive naval battle over the Imperial Japanese Navy near the Mariana Islands. Over 200 Japanese planes are shot down while the Americans only lose 29 to enemy action. Operation Bagration is launched on June 22nd, this is a general attack by Soviet forces to clear the German forces from Belarus This results in the destruction of the German Army Group Centre, possibly the greatest defeat of the Wehrmacht during World War II. After heavy resistance Caen, France is liberated by the British troops on the left flank of the Allied advance on July 9th. On July 20th an unsuccessful assassination attempt is made on Hitler. Hitler was visiting headquarters at Rastenburg, East Prussia. Reprisals follow against the plotters and their families, and even include Rommel.
On opening of Launceston’s ‘Salute the Soldier’ week on Saturday, July 22nd, Brig. J. W. Pendlebury said things might seem to be going slowly in Normandy, but how long the Germans would be able to stand up to the situation on the Russian front he did not know, but he could make a fair guess that this would be the last annual savings campaign at any rate as far as the European war was, concerned. Paying tribute to the Army Cadet Force, Brig. Pendlebury said he had seen Hitler’s Youth Germany, and it was obvious a vast amount of money’ was spent on them, just to turn them into thugs and brutes. He also paid a tribute to the Home Guard. Mr P. G. Heppenstall (Southwestern regional Representative of the National Savings Committee) said Holsworthy up to now held the flag for the highest figure in small savings in Devon. He felt sure Launceston would top that figure, but to win the Cornish flag Launceston would have to top the much higher figure which had been set by the Isles of Scilly. An imposing procession of the various Services was watched by great crowds of people. Brig. Pendlebury took the salute outside the Guildhall. The first day of Launceston and District and Broadwood ” Salute the Soldier ” Week was carried the area about one-fifth of the way to the target of £125,000—a total £24,018 being invested on Saturday July 22nd. The figures were announced in The, Square the following day by the treasurer (Mr J. W. P. Williams). The Mayor (Ald. G. E. Trood) appealed for a total of £150,000 to wind up the campaign in Cornwall. On the Sunday a drumhead service was held in the Coronation Park, and the band of the D.C.L.I. gave selections. In the evening the City of Plymouth Police Choir gave a concert in the Townhall, when the Chief Constable of Cornwall was present. A garden party held on the 24th in St. Stephen’s Vicarage grounds was followed a concert the Townhall. By the end of the week over £127,000 had been raised and at the beginning of August the total stood at £139,785.
It was announced on July 29th, that Private Samuel Ernest Cann, of the Devonshire Regiment, of Yeolmbridge, had been awarded the Military Medal for gallant and distinguished services whilst fighting with the 14th Army in Burma. It was also announced that Private Cecil James Rapson of Hillside Farm, St. Stephens, had been wounded for the second time. On August 4th, Florence is liberated by the Allies, particularly British and South African troops. Before exiting, the Germans under General Albert Kesselring destroy some historic bridges and historically valuable buildings. Also on the same day Rennes, in France, is liberated by American forces. On August 10th, Guam is liberated by American troops; all of the Marianas are now in American hands. They will be turned into a major air and naval centre against the Japanese homeland. Operation Dragoon begins on August 15th, marked by amphibious Allied landings in southern France. The Allies also on this day reach the “Gothic Line”, the last German strategic position in North Italy. Four days later, the French Resistance begins an uprising in Paris, partly inspired by the Allied approach to the Seine River and on August 25th, Paris is liberated; De Gaulle and Free French parade triumphantly down the Champs-Élysées. The German military disobeys Hitler’s orders to burn the city. Meanwhile the southern Allied forces move up from the Riviera, take Grenoble and Avignon.
Further plans for a post-war Cornwall were announced on August 24th, where after the war the whole of North and East Cornwall was to have the same pipeline water supply as a plan which has been proposed the South-East Cornwall Joint Water Board reached fruition, was discussed at the Boards meeting at Saltash, when the Clerk (Mr J. P. Heath) said that, acting their proposals a previous meeting, he had written to the Ministry Health outlining the position, and asking whether they regarded the time opportune to invite other adjacent local authorities, such as Liskeard, Saltash Borough, and Torpoint, to co-operate with the Board to provide an adequate supply for a large area of South-East Cornwall. The question had arisen when Launceston wrote to the Board asking them whether they would in a position to give a supply of water to the Launceston Rural District, as they were preparing their post-war plans and desired to ensure a good supply. In his letter to the Ministry of Health the Clerk pointed out that the Board’s water scheme, although primarily designed for the supply of the two constitutional authorities, was capable of great development. The watershed supplying them had great available potentialities if the water available were properly conserved, and could be made to serve a very substantial area of South-East Cornwall. From an engineering point of view there would be little difficulty in giving a supply to some elevated spot in Launceston rural area, from which Launceston Rural Council could redistribute throughout most of, if not all, its area. He had given the Ministry details of the water that could be used from the stream by the Board, and said it would be necessary to provide large storage accommodation to conserve the surplus of water during the rainy season. Launceston rural area would probably need about 250,000 gallons a day ten or fifteen years hence.
Driver John Albert Duke (Royal Army Service Corps) of Launceston, was awarded the Military Medal at the beginning of September. Canadian troops capture Dieppe, France on September 1st, and the following day Allied troops enter Belgium with Brussels being liberated by the British Second Army. Lyon is liberated by French and American troops the same day. By the end of the first week of September, Antwerp, Ghent and Liège had all been liberated. Also on September 5th, the Belgian, Dutch and Luxembourgish governments in exile sign the London Customs Convention, laying the foundations for the Benelux economic union. On the 8th, Ostend is liberated by Canadian troops and Soviet troops enter Bulgaria. Here the Fatherland Front of Bulgaria overthrows the national government and declares war on Germany. Two days later Luxembourg is liberated by U.S. First Army and the first Allied troops enter Germany, entering Aachen, a city on the border.
A large and happy crowd Launcestonians, including many children, cheered lustily at 9 o’clock on Saturday September 16th, when the street lights, for the first time since the outbreak war, went up, having been switched on the Mayor. Launceston, and a part of the rural district is the only area in Cornwall which there is at present a relaxation the lighting restrictions. Saturday night a large crowd people thronged Southgate-street and Angel-hill, when the Mayor, from a building in the latter thoroughfare, switched on the town’s electric street lamps, and after the cheering had subsided the crowd joined in the singing of “Let the lights go up again,” and other popular songs, led by a small choir, with Mrs J. Rashley at the piano. The Mayor was introduced by Mr S. E. Uglow (chairman of the Lighting Committee), who remarked that it was a unique occasion; in the history of Launceston nothing like that had happened before. The Mayor, before switching on the lights said they were making history that night. Many of the boys and girls in the borough had never seen street lights. The gas lamp lighting, he said, would be extended as fittings became available. To the accompaniment of cheers the Mayor, who was supported other members of the Corporation, then switched on the lights.
At the September meeting of Launceston Town Council reference was made to the fact that street lighting was now in force in the borough. The Mayor (Mr G. E. Trood) said there was great gratification when the street lights went up on Saturday night, September 16th. It was the source of great joy to many people, a large number were present when the lights were switched on and expressed their pleasure, but the Press did not seem to be quite sure that they were correct in the steps they had taken. He had had telephone messages on Sunday asking whether the town was in order in having street lighting, and he had replied that as far as he knew they were. They had received a permit from the Chief Constable, and they were quite in order in resuming street lighting. One inquiry over the ‘phone was as to whether the lights were on at that moment, and he replied that they were, and they intended to keep them on until the Order was countermanded. One newspaper suggested that Launceston was a dilemma, “but,” said the Mayor, “there is no dilemma. We had the permit, and we were quite in order, in getting the lights on.” Alderman W. H. Gilbert supported the Mayor in his remark that there was no dilemma. It was published in a London paper that the lights could on again. The Town Clerk (Mr S. L. Peter) said the Order was issued which it was stated that the relaxation applied to Launceston, and provided they could obtain the permission of the Chief Constable they were in order. They obtained the exemption and had not since received any order cancelling it. If an order were received saying that the previous one had been amended, the Council would abide by it, but up to the present none had been received.
Actg. Flt. Lt. Samuel John Nancekivell, whose home was at Torquay, was awarded the D.F.C. on September 16th. He enlisted in 1940 and won his commission in 1943. He was awarded the D.F.M. in June, 1943, and was entitled to wear the ribbon the 1939-43 Star. He was born in 1918 at Launceston. The official citation remarks since the award of the Distinguished Flying Medal, Flt. Lt. Nancekivell has continued to take part in operations with skill, coolness, and courage. He has proved himself a steady and reliable flight engineer, who has done very good work both in the air and on the ground.
On September 20th, Operation Market Garden, the attempted liberation of Arnhem and turning of the German flank begins, ending in failure on the 25th, when British troops pull out of Arnhem. Over 6,000 paratroopers are captured; of the British 1st Airbourne Division, just under 8,000 of the 10,005 paratroopers are declared casualties, a staggering 80% loss. Hopes of an early end to the war are now abandoned. At the beginning of October, Soviet troops enter Yugoslavia and Hungary and also launch an offensive to capture Riga, Latvia. On October 9th, the Moscow Conference (1944) begins where Churchill and Stalin discuss spheres of influence in the postwar Balkans. The Red Army and Yugoslav partisans under the command of Josip Broz Tito liberate Belgrade. The Red Army forces are also in East Prussia on October 16th and on the 25th, Romania is fully liberated by Red Army and Romanian troops.
At October meeting of Launceston Town Council held on the 16th, members expressed themselves in favour of prefabricated houses to tide over the period between the end of the war and the erection of permanent houses. The matter arose when the minute of the Housing Committee stated that the surveyor had submitted a rough lay-out plan of the site on Hurdon Road showing possible erection of houses. Mr S. J. Fitze said he was perturbed in regard to permanent houses, as he feared it would be years before they were erected. On their return, the first thing the men on service and married wanted were homes. He wondered whether it would not be wise for the surveyor and the chairman of the Housing Committee to go to London and see the prefabricated bungalows and houses which were on view. There were two ideal sites Launceston, and these houses could be built quickly they would solve the problem. He moved that the surveyor and chairman be asked to go to London. Seconding, Mr F. Philp said they had read a lot about these houses, but much could be learnt from a visit. The Justice (Ald. H. Hoskin) said he was opposed to the erection of houses with a life of ten years only. The expense would fall on the local inhabitants, and it would bear hard on those who had purchased their own houses, particularly working men, to subsidize houses with a life of ten years. He would rather see houses erected with a life of half a century, and he saw no reason why houses of a permanent character could not be erected within two years of the end of hostilities. Ald. J. Harvey did not agree. What, he asked, would be the position for those two years after the war? Many of the men who had been fighting had now married, and on their return they would require houses. It was up to the Council to get ready for their return. Mr J. H. Worth said prefabricated houses would cost £600 delivered on the site; for erection, sewers, etc, a total of about £750. He agreed houses were wanted, but suggested that they should be erected on the Council’s site at Windmill. Footings could be put in which could later be used for the permanent houses, and sewers and roads made with that end in view. The Surveyor (Mr W. K. Pickup) agreed that the roads could be made, but he understood the footings would not be of a suitable shape to be used for permanent houses. Mr Worth thought the Council should make a move, even if it meant erecting prefabricated houses would be some time before they would be able to get labour to build standard houses. Men were being sent to blitzed areas. The Medical Officer of Health (Dr. D. H. A. Galbraith) said he would also like to see the houses, and it was agreed support his application for a permit, and that the surveyor and chairman of the Housing Committee be asked to inspect the houses. At the same meeting, Alderman G. E. Trood accepted an invitation to be Mayor of Launceston for the second year in succession. He had also been Mayor of the borough in 1932-33. Hopes that the Mayor would soon be engaged in making arrangements for peace celebrations were expressed. The proposition was made by the Justice (Ald. H. Hoskin), seconded by Mr R. Gregg, who was later appointed Deputy Mayor, and was supported by one of the youngest councillors, Mr Henry Spencer Toy, headmaster of Launceston College.
Good Turn By Launceston Gunner by a military observer in Italy, October 1944.
While following the first British troops to enter Cesena, the engine of my car stopped suddenly. Several attempts on my part to start it, failed. I had visions of finishing my journey at the wrong end of a tow rope, when a voice behind me said, “Can I help you, sir?” I looked round to see Bombardier William Smith behind me. “Indeed you can,” I replied. “In fact you could not have arrived at a more opportune time.” In a manner which indicated that he was an expert motor mechanic, Smith, whose family lives at Tregadillett, Launceston, set to work. Ten minutes later the trouble was rectified and the engine running as perfectly as ever. My curiosity aroused by this gunner’s knowledge of engines, I asked him a few questions and discovered that before the war he had served two year’s apprenticeship in a garage. As a result of that experience he was able to qualify as a fitter in the Army. Thus he is one of many hundreds of soldiers serving in Italy who are following their civilian occupation to the benefit of themselves and their country. Several ragged holes in his overalls prompted the question. “Were they caused by shrapnel?” “As a matter of fact they were, sir,” replied Smith. “About a month ago, I had to go up to a tank which had broken down. The tank, being on a ridge, was in full view of the enemy and under fire from his guns. One shell landed too close and I was hit in the face, arm and leg. Fortunately the wounds were not serious.” Certainly Bombardier Smith looked none the worse for his narrow escape, a faint scar on his face being the only visible sign of his wounds. Before the war Smith in the Territorial Army his regiment then being the Royal Devon Yeomanry. Being an ex T.A. Yeomanry man myself, this prompted more questions, and I found Smith had taken part in two invasions within a few months of being sent abroad. The first in Sicily and the second Salerno, Italy. Comprising the two he said, “Sicily was a picnic compared with Salerno.” It was before discovering that we had both landed on almost the identical spot on the Salerno beaches, that I agreed wholeheartedly with Smith, that “Salerno was a very sticky business.”
November 1st saw British forces occupy Salonika, Greece, and begin distribution of food in Athens, which was experiencing famine. The following day Canadian troops take Zeebrugge in Belgium; Belgium is now entirely liberated. Franklin Delano Roosevelt wins a fourth term as U.S. president on the 6th. Three days later General Patton’s troops and tanks cross the Moselle River and threaten Metz which was finally taken on the 23rd, the same day that Strasbourg is taken by French troops. On the 20th, Hitler leaves his wartime headquarters at Rastenberg, East Prussia, never to return; he goes to Berlin, where he will soon establish himself at the bunker. Heinrich Himmler orders the crematoriums and gas chambers of Auschwitz II-Birkenau dismantled and blown up on November 26th.
On November 19th, a padre attached to the Royal Artillery gave the address at Launceston Brotherhood. The President of Launceston Brotherhood (Mr J. Treleaven) announced that he had received a Christmas greeting from the 3rd Survey Regiment, which for some time was billeted the town. The letter says that the Regiment spent their “best days at Launceston since they joined the Army.” Describing prefabricated houses he had seen in London, the Medical Officer of Health (Dr. D. H. A. Galbraith) at the November Launceston Town Council meeting said he considered they were useless for a family. They were well equipped, but, in his opinion, would be of little use in Launceston. Mr T. P. Fulford (chairman of the Housing Committee) said the surveyor had submitted a report on these houses, and he suggested should first be considered by the Housing Committee. It was right that they should now consider the various types of houses, but as chairman of the Housing Committee he did not like prefabricated houses, and did not think they would meet their requirements. Every member of the Council, he said, was fully alive the seriousness of the housing position, and would make every endeavour to erect the best type of house suitable to the borough. The Council agreed that the surveyor’s report should be considered by the Housing Committee.
The British Home Guard is stood down on December 3rd. On December 16th, the Battle of the Bulge begins as German forces attempt a breakthrough in the Ardennes region. The main object of Hitler’s plan is the retaking of Antwerp. Bastogne, an important crossroads, is surrounded and by the 22nd, the battle for Bastogne is at its height, with Americans running low on ammunition, food and other vital supplies. The following day the skies clear over the Ardennes, permitting Allied aircraft to begin their attacks on the German offensive, the one factor that Hitler feared in his planning and on the 24th the Americans launch their counter-attack. Two days later the siege of Bastogne is broken by Patton’s Third Army tanks, and with it the Ardennes offensive collapses into failure, along with Germany’s last hope for the war.
The story of the finding of the body of a soldier in a pond, with a gunshot wound, was told at Launceston on December 8th, when the Coroner (Mr G. G. Wilson), sitting with a jury, held an inquest on Bdr. Thomas Reader, of Warsop, near Mansfield, and found that death was due to asphyxia, caused by drowning, but that there was not sufficient evidence to say how deceased got into the pond. Gnr. Henry James Willis, friend of Reader’s, said that on the Tuesday morning (December 6th) last deceased was normal and quite cheerful. He (witness) went on parade, and later heard a shot from the direction of the huts, but paid no attention to it as he had heard shots before. Dr. F. D. M. Hocking, pathologist, of the Royal Cornwall Infirmary, Truro, who carried out a post-mortem examination, said there were two quite recent wounds in the abdomen, having the character having been made by a firearm. There was evidence that the body had been immersed in water before death, and that death was due to asphyxiation associated with drowning. He was of opinion that the wound could have been self-inflicted, but thought that the man lived for some time before he got into the pond.
At the annual meeting of the Launceston British Legion, held in the St. John Ambulance Station on December 16th, the Chairman Mr R. H. Keast said that he would like to see a non-political club run by the Legion set up in the town. “I think,” said Mr Keast, “that the young fellows when they come back will like something like that. We do not want politics in any shape or form. I loathe politics and do not see anything in them,” he added. It would have been a splendid thing if they could have had that during the past few years so that they could have invited troops to come instead of them hanging around the street corners and saying “What a place this is.” He felt sorry that they did not have something like that to welcome the men. Continuing, Mr Keast said that if they were able to build such a place he was confident that the money would be forthcoming; it would be a really sound proposition, and would be something worthwhile. Also at the meeting, the President, Mr A. W. Johns, touched on the subject of allowing Home Guard membership of the Legion and although he wouldn’t commit himself, he appealed to members to give the matter their serious consideration. He said, Home Guards, like other members of the A.R.P. and Civil Defence, had been on active service.
From the Cornish and Devon Post Dec 30 1944: Lt. Roy D Pugsley, RA. and Sgt Geoffrey Richard Stick, both of Launceston, have been granted the MBE and MM respectively, for gallant and distinguished services in Italy.
On January 3rd, the Allies take the offensive east of the Bulge but they fail to close the pincers (which might have surrounded large numbers of Germans) with Patton’s tanks. The East Prussian Offensive, a major Red Army offensive in East Prussia, begins on January 13th. Three days later the U.S. First and Third Armies link up following the Battle of the Bulge. The following day the Battle is officially at an end plus on the eastern front, Warsaw is entered by Red Army troops. A government favourable to the Communists is installed. On the 18th, Hitler orders that any retreats of divisions or larger units must be approved by him. But the following day the Germans continue to retreat as the Red Army advances into East Prussia and by the 31st, the Red Army crosses the Oder River into Germany and are now less than 50 miles from Berlin. On the January 27th, Auschwitz concentration camp is entered by Soviet troops.
At the beginning of January the four main line railway companies, in a joint statement on their post-war intentions, announced that as soon as the national situation permits they were ready to re-equip the railways, re-train their staffs, and carry out extensive improvements that would furnish Great Britain with the finest railway services in the world.
The Yalta Conference of Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin begins on February 4th, with the main subject of their discussions being postwar spheres of influence. The same day all German forces are cleared from Belgium. The Colmar Pocket, the last German foothold west of the Rhine, is eliminated by the French 1st Army on February 9th. Four days later the Battle of Budapest ends with Soviet victory, after a long defence by the Germans. That night the bombing of Dresden takes place; it is firebombed by Allied air forces and large parts of the historic city are destroyed. On the 19th, U.S. Marines invade Iwo Jima four days later the American flag is raised on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima.
At the February meeting of Launceston Town Council, Clr. the Reverend H. J. Harcup asked what arrangements were being made in connection with the day when they would celebrate the cessation of hostilities in Europe. He said that the clergy and ministers of the town would place themselves at the services of the people as soon as word was given that we were to celebrate. In the evening there would be an open-air service in the Square, to be followed by three united services, one in St. Mary’s Church, one in St. Stephen’s Church, and one in Wesley Church. At the same meeting the system of calling the local fire brigade was severely criticised when it was alleged that there had been avoidable, delay in the arrival of the brigade at two recent fires, and when a fire occurred the previous day, an official of the Council, having smashed the glass of the callbox, near the fire brigade station, he could get no reply to his telephone call. Ald. W. H. Gilbert said owing to telephone calls for fire services having to go to Liskeard or Bodmin there was some delay in the case of two recent fires. The brigade always turned out promptly when they received a call, but were unable to do so until they received orders from Liskeard. In a fire last week, although the local fire station was only 200 yards away, there was delay, and had not Mr Quick, a section leader, himself fetched the brigade, there would have been further delay. From the time Mr Quick reached the station only three minutes elapsed before the brigade was on the spot, proving that there was no lack of smartness on the part of the brigade. Local residents were becoming alarmed, and the local brigade was receiving unfair criticism, Mr Gilbert added. Eventually it was agreed that the Town Clerk should get into touch with the authorities on the matter.
The Battle of Remagen begins on March 8th, when German troops fail to dynamite the Ludendorff Bridge over the Rhine, the U.S. First Army captures the bridge and begins crossing the river. The Army also takes Cologne, Germany. The same day, the Germans begin to evacuate Danzig. On March 22nd/23rd, US and British forces cross the Rhine at Oppenheim. The following day Operation Varsity, an Anglo-American-Canadian assault under Montgomery crossed the Rhine at Wesel. But by the 27th, the Western Allies slow their advance to allow the Red Army to take Berlin. On the 29th, the Red Army enters Austria. Other Allies take Frankfurt; the Germans are in a general retreat all over the centre of the country. The following day Red Army forces capture Danzig.
At the March meeting of the Launceston Town Council, Councillor W. E. Miller suggested that at the earliest date an effort should be made to prepare some sort of history of the voluntary war work done in the Borough by the various services. It would be a big task to collect the data, but he was sure those who would live in the Borough in the future would be greatly interested to see what part they had played in the town and what contribution they had made to the war effort. The Town Clerk agreed, saying that it would be a most interesting record. He suggested that the head of each service in the town should be asked to supply information. The war book used by the invasion Committee was being filed with the Borough documents. The Mayor (Ald. G. E Trood) announced they had inaugurated a Welcome Home Fund for local people the Services and were aiming at raising £2,000, whereby they should be able to present £5 to each of the 400 serving. By mid-September, the fund had reached £1,200. At a meeting of the committee in September, it was estimated that about 400 personnel would be returning. It was agreed at this meeting that the Fund would apply to men and women who were resident in Launceston on September 3rd, 1939, and who joined the Forces between September 3rd, 1939, and August 3rd, 1945.
At a meeting held on March 23rd, at Truro a conference of representatives of Borough, Urban and Rural District Councils in Cornwall, convened by the Cornwall branch of the Rural Councils Association, declared in favour of the post-war organisation of the Fire Service reverting to the control of local authorities under the 1938 Act. The Chairman, (Mr F. Dempster, St. Austell) stated that the Cornwall County Council did not desire control of the fire services, but preferred the restoration of the 1939 Act, subject to suitable safe guards, which were already provided for by the Act.
Launceston Welcome Home Fund, March 1945.
April 2nd, and the Soviets launch the Vienna Offensive against German forces in and around the Austrian capital city. This ends in a Soviet victory eleven days later. Meanwhile also on the 2nd, the German armies are surrounded in the Ruhr region. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt dies suddenly on April 12th. Harry S. Truman becomes president of the United States. The Ohrdruf death camp and Bergen-Belsen concentration camp are liberated by the Allies this month. On the 21st, Soviet forces under Georgiy Zhukov’s (1st Belorussian Front), Konstantin Rokossovskiy’s (2nd Belorussian Front) and Ivan Konev’s (1st Ukrainian Front) launch assaults on the German forces in and around the city of Berlin in the opening stages of the Battle of Berlin. Four days later first contact is made between Soviet and American troops at the river Elbe, near Torgau in Germany. By the 27th, the encirclement of German forces in Berlin is completed. The following day, on the 28th, Mussolini, heavily disguised, is captured in northern Italy while trying to escape. Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci, are shot and hanged in Milan the next day. Two days later, Hitler and his wife commit suicide with a combination of poison and a gunshot. Joseph Goebbels is appointed Reich Chancellor and Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz is appointed Reich President.
The death took place at Launceston on April 2nd, of Alderman H. Hoskin. Seven times Mayor of Launceston (five times in succession including the first four years of the war) thereby creating a record for the borough. On April 9th, two Italian prisoners of war escaped from their camp near Launceston during the night-early morning. How they made their get-away was apparently unknown. However, on Wednesday morning April 11th, one of them was captured by police officers when walking along the road at Pipers Pool, in the direction of Bodmin. He offered no resistance when apprehended. He was later conveyed back to the camp. The second prisoner was recaptured on April 13th, at North Petherwin.
On May 1st, Goebbels commits suicide. The following day Soviet forces capture the Reichstag building and install the Soviet flag.
The Battle of Berlin ends when German General Helmuth Weidling, commander of the Berlin Defence Area, unconditionally surrenders the city of Berlin to Soviet General Vasily Chuikov. On the 4th, Karl Dönitz orders all U-boats to cease operations. German troops in Denmark, Northern Germany and The Netherlands surrender to Montgomery and Neuengamme concentration camp is liberated. Formal negotiations for Germany’s surrender begin at Reims, France the following day with Germany surrendering unconditionally on May 7th. The ceasefire takes effect at one minute past midnight and May 8th, is officially proclaimed V.E. Day. Western Morning News – Tuesday May 8th, 1945
It was announced on May 19th, that the Launceston Branch of the British Legion had purchased Edymead House for the use of ex-service staff as a social centre. The house, standing in 3 1/2 acres, was originally built during the 19th century by a Mrs Bunbury, and was later occupied by Colonel C. Byng and Mr F. Vowler. With the Vowler’s losing their two only sons during the First World War, on the death of Mr F. Vowler, the property passed into the hands of four nieces, who , when they heard the Legion were interested in it for the proposed scheme, most generously agreed to accept a figure very considerably below the fixed reserve price (£500 below market value). An appeal for funds was set up at a public meeting in the Town Hall. The club was officially formed at a meeting held on June 29th, where it was stated that at least £2,000 would be required by the end of the month to close the deal, and on top of that there was a mortgage of £3,000 to also clear off. Mr Keast said that they were hopeful of raising a considerable amount by the sale of gardens and the grounds around. Lt.-Col. W. R. Prout pointed out that they had already raised £1,000, and he was confident that they would raise the final £1,000 in time to close the deal.
The Allies agree to divide Germany into four areas of control (American, British, French and Soviet) on June 5th, and on the 10th, Osaka, Japan, is heavily bombed. The United Kingdom begins demobilization on June 19th, and two days later it is announced that he defeat of the Japanese on Okinawa is now complete. The United Nations Charter is signed in San Francisco on June 26th.
The United States Navy stationed in Launceston, held a dance on June 14th, in aid of the ‘Welcome Home Fund,’ during which the Mayor was presented with the U.S. national flag. At the Town Council Meeting held on June 18th, Councillor Miller suggested that the American flag should be flown on American Independence Day as a mark of appreciation for all the American nation had done for this country.
At the end of June, Sergeant S. C. Adams, of 4, Chapple Park Terrace reported back to the Cornish and Devon Post, from a temporary camp on the seashore of the southern Peloponnese, where he was a senior N.C.O.. He stated that along with enjoying the sunny climate, his detachment made regular patrols to see how things were going in the remote mountain villages, where the occupying Germans had wreaked such havoc, and to help fetch supplies being arranged by voluntary welfare groups of the Red Cross working under UNRRA. Sergeant Adams had been an insurance inspector in Launceston before the war and joined the Royal Armoured Corps in August 1940, training to be a gunner and operator in a tank. “We had the two-pounder anti-tank gun then,” he said. “A quick and extremely accurate weapon; of course we had to get something heavier as enemy armour was increased in weight and toughness.” “After I had served some time in England, we went to Egypt before the push in the Western Desert and went right through that campaign from Alamein onwards, and then to Sicily and Italy, before getting a rest in Palestine and then coming to Greece.” His regiment was very highly reputed for its work in action; in Italy it was in the front line for nearly 14 weeks just before it was pulled back; an exceptionally long time without a break possible a record for this kind of fighting. “Italy was much worse than the desert for tank work,” said Sergeant Adams. “In the desert, you could always get round obstacles; in Italy with the mountains and ravines you often had no option but to go straight through them. When I joined the army I met a man from Bideford. We became pals and stuck together right up to the time he was killed. He was driver in my tank. There was a bombing raid on Lancio and the chaos didn’t tell me about my pal until afterwards. I was in a cinema at the time.” Sergeant Adams said that he had learned a little Greek since going to that country, and had local friends who speak English. Most of the people he had met there were very pro-British but there was quite a lot who didn’t seem to have realised that they must get busy if they want to rehabilitate their country, maybe they had not yet recovered from the period of enemy occupation.
On the Friday morning of June 29th, 69 evacuee children from Launceston Borough and the rural areas, returned to London by special train from Launceston. The children in the Borough had previously been medically examined, and those from the rural area were examined in the morning, and it was reported that generally they were in a better state of health than when they arrived. The children partook of lunch at the British Restaurant in Northgate Street, provided by the billeting officials, and in a few words to the children the Mayor (Ald. G. E. Trood) told them not to forget the kindness which had been shown to them during their stay and said they and their parents would be sure of a welcome if they wished to pay a return visit. He wished them a very pleasant journey. Before entraining the children were given sweets, and some of them received monetary gifts from their ‘uncles and aunts.’ It was also noted at the time that for the remaining evacuee children, efforts were being made to reunite them with their families.
On July 1st, Australian troops land at Balikpapan, Borneo in the Western Allies’ last major land operation of the war. Four days later, General Douglas MacArthur announces that the Philippines have been liberated. On July 16th, The U.S. conducts the Trinity test at Alamogordo, New Mexico, the first test of a nuclear weapon. The following day the Potsdam Conference begins under British Prime Minister Churchill, Soviet Prime Minister Stalin and U.S. President Truman. The Allied leaders agree to insist upon the unconditional surrender of Japan. Truman hints at the Potsdam Conference that the United States has nuclear weapons.
The 1945 United Kingdom general election was held on July 5th. The results were counted and declared on July 26th, to allow time to transport the votes of those serving overseas. The result was an unexpected landslide victory for Clement Attlee’s Labour Party, over Winston Churchill’s Conservatives. Clement Attlee replaces Churchill as British Prime Minister and immediately flies to the negotiating table at Potsdam. The Potsdam Declaration is issued the same day.
Craigmore (above) with its commanding view at the top of Windmill Hill, was used by the Royal Observer Corps for the duration of the war, only being stood down in the July of 1945. Post & Weekly News, July 14th, 1945: Royal Observer Corps. “Stand-Down” Dinner at Launceston.
That “K 2” was indeed a fortunate post in being placed on the roof of Craigmore through the generosity of Mr G and Mrs Peter, was again and again stated at the dinner in the White Hart Hotel, Launceston, on Saturday last, when Head Observer J. H. Lashbrook, who was the generous host, presided over a “stand-down” dinner. The Chairman was ably supported by Obs/Commander N F Bushby, MC.; Group Commandant Obs/Lt. PH Austin; Obs G Peter [toast master]; and L/Obs CFJ Bradford. The Services were represented by Sub/Lt. Raymond Lowey, RNVR.; Capt HJ Wandless, Army Dental Corps; Major Branch, Home Guard; Sub Controller SL Peter, ARP; ex Obs JG Dingle, ROC; ex LAC Leslie Bradford, RAF; and Police Supt. WH Hallet.
After a really magnificent dinner, which was thoroughly enjoyed by all, the Toast Master gave the Loyal Toast, and the ‘Royal Observer Corps’ was given by Mr SL Peter and responded by Obs/Com, NH Bushby, MC., who said that the ROC throughout the country rendered a great service to the RAF, especially during the Battle of Britain, and later when the V-2 appeared.
The Launceston Post was one of the key posts, being in one of the most difficult aircraft lanes, and it was very seldom that one was missed. He asked the observers to consider seriously the question of volunteering for duty during the post-war period, as they would certainly be needed. He congratulated the post on their great luck in being placed on the roof of a house and having such splendid accommodation and hoped they would continue their association and friendships for many years. – – – -(more regarding the house and owners and their generosity with hot drinks and snacks, etc. – –)
A convivial evening followed, when many reminiscences caused much enjoyment; and L/Obs. Bradford spoke of his attempts at mad-reading and plotting ‘planes and origins of sounds of explosions. After three cheers for Mr and Mrs Lashbrook for the use of their house since the post was dismantled, the National Anthem was sung, everyone wanted to be assured that there would be a similar meeting yearly for the future.
At the July meeting of the Town Council, it was agreed after a lengthy and heated discussion, that the war time restrictions in regard to the limitation of hours for dances held in the Town Hall should be removed. The motion was carried by the casting vote of the Mayor (Ald. G. E. Trood), who said ‘it is time restrictions were taken off. It is absolutely ridiculous to try to tell people the time they should go to bed.‘
Also at the July meeting, a letter dated 20th June, 1945, was read from the Mr M. W. Greenwood, War-Time Meals Officer reporting on his visit to the British Restaurant on June 18th, last. After discussions it was decided to adhere to the Council’s resolution that the British Restaurant in Northgate Street, be closed from July 31st, 1945.
Frederick Burnett Awarded the C.B.E. July, 1945.
On August 2nd, saw the end of the Potsdam Conference: Issues such as the expulsion of Germans from the eastern quarter of Germany and elsewhere in eastern Europe are mandated in the Potsdam Agreement. Four days later, the B-29 bomber Enola Gay drops the first atomic bomb “Little Boy” on Hiroshima. On the 8th, the Soviet Union declares war on Japan; the Soviet invasion of Manchuria begins about an hour later which includes landings on the Kuril Islands. The Japanese have been evacuating in anticipation of this. The following day the B-29 bomber Bockscar drops the second atomic bomb “Fat Man” on Nagasaki. Emperor Hirohito issues a radio broadcast on August 15th, announcing the Surrender of Japan. Victory over Japan Day celebrations take place worldwide including around the whole Launceston district with peals of church bells being rung all around. At Lifton on the 22nd, the residents stirred early to decorate the village with flags of the Allied Nations. Lifton Silver Band played selections and under Mr W. Venner, led the floral dance through the village. A united service was conducted in St. Mary’s Church, by Rev. G. Newman, assisted by Rev. G. Stephens. During the day many helpers built up a pile of gorse and wood on Raddon Hill, which was lit at night with community singing and hand bell ringing around it. Visitors in the village provided a barrel of cider on the hill, and potatoes were cooked in the hot ashes. A collection for the Lifton Welcome Home Fund was made, raising £2. a further £15 was made at the social organised by the British Legion in the Coronation Hall. The following Sunday a united service was held in Parsonage Court with a collection being made in aid of the restoration of Churches in Europe. At Broadwood on V.J. day a service of thanksgiving was held in the Parish Church, conducted by Rev. G. Holmes-Gore. This was followed on the Sunday evening by a united service on the Village Green.
Egloskerry was also another village that was decorated with the Union Jack ‘floating triumphantly’ from the Church Tower, and another adorning the War Memorial. On the 22nd, there was a combined service of thanksgiving in the Church conducted by the Vicar. A children’s sports day was held in a filed lent by Mr Harris on Thursday, August 23rd, supervised by Messrs W. Davey and J. Grylls. After refreshments, everyone made for the Vicarage, where they played croquet and bowls. On the Sunday evening another combined service was held in the Village Square. However, at Boyton, V.J. Day passed quietly, possibly due to the good weather for harvesting, but a thanksgiving service was held in Church conducted by Rev. S. L. Connor. Later the Church Bells were rung in celebration. At Polyphant on the Wednesday evening a thanksgiving service was held in the Methodist Church conducted by Mr G. Venning. On the Thursday a victory tea was held on the Village Green organised by Mr and Mrs S. Martyn and Mr G. Venning and a band of helpers. Following the tea, sports were held for the children. A huge bonfire was built by Messrs W. Sedgman, C. Dawe, C. Wakem and G. Willcocks and at 9:30 p.m., Mrs A. Hockin, the eldest inhabitant of the village, lit it. Mr T. Baker of Trenarrett, supplied music with his gramophone, as the large crowd enjoyed refreshments.
St. Paternus Church bells were rung at South Petherwin on V.J. Day, followed by a thanksgiving service in the Church, conducted by Rev. G. Pitts. On the Thursday afternoon there was a peace celebration where the youth marched through the village carrying flags to a sports field lent by Mr Martin. The procession was headed by Miss June Sadd dressed as a sailor boy, with Miss Joyce Spear, of South Molton as a nurse. They were accompanied by a musical band under the conductorship of Gerald Finnemore. The village had been decorated with flags and bunting, and at night electric coloured lights illuminated parts of the village. The programme of sports had been organised by Mr R. Maddever and Miss M. Maddever, assisted by Messrs G. Symons, C. Lane, G. Edwards, J. Strike, L. Oke, and A. H. Cheeseworth. A tea was provided afterwards in the W.I. Hall.
At Altarnun on the Wednesday, peals were rung from the Church and on the Thursday a bonfire built by the boys and girls on the Village Green which was lit later in the evening when there was singing and dancing around as fireworks were let off. On the 22nd a garden fete was held at the Sanctuary.
On August 30th, Royal Navy force under Rear-Admiral Cecil Harcourt liberates Hong Kong and the following day General MacArthur takes over command of the Japanese government in Tokyo. On September 2nd, The Japanese Instrument of Surrender is signed on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
At the beginning of August, a large number of German prisoners war brought to a camp just outside Launceston (Pennygillam) and by October there were 500 prisoners at the camp. Nearly £130 was realized at garden party in aid of the Launceston British Legion Social Centre at Launceston on Thursday August 9th. Presiding at the opening ceremony, Mr A. W. Johns, president of the local branch, said that they were aware that the Legion had bought Edymead as a social centre. Through the generosity of the Vowler family, the Legion were able to acquire the building on very generous terms, and they needed £2,500 to pay off the mortgage and to equip the building. Miss G. Vowler, Yelverton, spoke of her interest in the Legion and of her membership with the women’s section. Mr R. H. Keast, chairman of the local branch, said the building was intended to be a real welcome home for service men and women on their return. A boy—Leslie Gliddon—he said, had given 10s. his savings towards a chair for the chairman. A baby show was held, the judge being Miss G. Varcoe, Wadebridge, assisted by Nurses Owen and Linyten. Best baby in the show, Ann Chapman, and youngest in the show, David Randall.
Many of the parishes organised events to aid their respective ‘Welcome Home Funds’ such as the sports day organised by St. Stephens rural (above), and Lewannick, which held a gymkhana at Coombeshead for its fund, on the August Bank Holiday. As well as the gymkhana, other attractions included a stall and refreshments, and in the evening a dance was held in the Village Hall, the music being supplied by the North Hill Rhythm Boys.
At the August meeting of Launceston Town Council Ald. S. J. Fitze said the new plan of the Council’s housing scheme (Hurdon) had been sent to the Ministry, and as soon as approved tenders would be invited. It was also discussed about the possibility of building flats for the elderly. Councillor W. E. Miller said there were a lot of elderly people living in houses larger than they required. I f the Council could build some small flats for these people they would immediately release larger houses for larger families. This could be done apart from the main programme. Alderman Fitze replied that they had contemplated putting up some small houses on the new site, but it was since thought it would be too far from the centre of the town for elderly people. He hoped to bring forward another plan which he trusted the Council would approve. Councillor Worth enquired whether the Council had any idea of the number of houses required, the Town Clerk (Mr S. Peter) replying that at present he had four applications from men in the Forces, with seven or eight verbal enquiries, but the applications from men in the Forces would probably come in more rapidly now. (IMG3792 1945)
At the September meeting of the Town Council, the matter of the new housing at Hurdon again was discussed at length, in particular to the delay in getting the plan authorised by the Ministry. Ald. Harvey asked the Chairman of the Housing Committee whether they were taking any steps in regard to tenders for their new houses. He noticed that several other Councils had invited tenders and it was time Launceston Council did so. If they did not get on with matters when the young fellows came back they would find Hurdon site in the same condition as it was now, he said. Ald. Fitze (Chairman of the Committee) said the new plan had been sent to the Ministry and immediately they approved of it then tenders would be invited. The Town Clerk then read a letter from the Ministry of Health in reply to the application for the early release of Captain Parkes Lees, who had been appointed the Council’s architect for the new housing scheme intimating that the conditions did not normally permit of release for what appeared to be a new appointment, but early release might be expected. Cllr. Toy remarked that it was another case of delay in dealing with the erection of mush needed houses.
At the end of September, the Home Office announced that the Government had decided that there would be many tasks for the W.V.S. to perform in the transitional period following the end of the war, possibly for two years, and that the organisation should therefore be continued in operation.
At the September meeting of the Launceston Rural Council, the matter of housing also dominate proceedings, especially regarding the housing survey called for by the Ministry. The Sanitary Inspector said a standard had been drawn up as to what constituted fit houses, and every house had to be surveyed for defects or otherwise and classified into one of five categories. He added that the Council had until September 30th, 1946, to complete it. There was no hope of getting a qualified inspector, but a practical builder, with his assistance would carry out the work. Mr Henwood remarked that there were scores of houses in the district which should be demolished, but what could they do with the people until they had new houses erected? He added that about four years ago the Council asked for about 200 houses, and up to date he believed they had just four. The Sanitary Inspector said that until they had made the survey they did not know the number of houses that would be required. Eventually it was decided to advertise for an assistant at a salary of £200 a year, with a travelling allowance of 3 1/2d. per mile. Also at the meeting the supply of water to the proposed six cottages at Tregadillet, and the two cottages at Polyphant was also discussed, with the possibility of tapping into the Launceston Borough main being ruled out.
At the Town Council Meeting held on October 15th, a resolution was agreed to construct a new car park costing £2,000 at the Cattle Market. Councillor Miller, moving the resolution, said the site which would provide good parking for a large number of cars and would greatly improve the facilities at the Market. He remarked that the scheme would provide for one-way traffic through the centre of main market and would provide reasonable accommodation for the washing of lorries, allowing them to leave without passing through the congested area. “They saw time after time people being summoned for leaving their cars on the highway and wondered if it were not the Council that should be summoned for not providing accommodation,” he said. The motion was for the Town Clerk to negotiate for the purchase of the north western portion of the filed No. 167 Ordnance Survey Map, and that a application be made to the Minister of Health for approval of the scheme. Alderman Fitze seconded. Councillor Fulford said he realised the value of the market to the town and that they had one of the best in the county, but he still maintained that the market was in the wrong position. He felt consideration should be given to a better and more adequate location before spending any further money on it. Alderman Harvey remarked that at the ratepayer’s meeting the previous week several big schemes were mentioned. The sewerage scheme needed tackling before a new market and would cost over £30,000. A parking ground must be obtained if it cost £2,000. It was close to the market and would be money well spent. Also at the meeting the Town Clerk read a letter from the Ministry of Health which intimated that they were not prepared to come to a decision on the Council’s application for a compulsory order for the acquisition of a building site, until Launceston and District Steam Laundry had had an opportunity of seeing the new lay-out plan. He had replied to that letter stating that the laundry company had seen the plan but had had no further reply. Councillor Fulford said that Councillor Miller and himself had been to the Ministry of Health in regard to the housing scheme and were very disappointed at the progress they made. He said that the scheme was being held up owing to the desire of the laundry to acquire a piece of land subsequent to the Council’s efforts to acquire the land. Councillor Miller and himself expressed concern at the repeated delays, considering that they had started on the matter in 1943. Councillor Miller said he was very disappointed with the whole affair. He felt there was no real help coming from the Ministry to enable the Council to push on with the work. He was of the opinion that towns like Launceston would have to take second place to the bombed areas and they would have to fight hard to make any progress. Alderman Fitze said the steam laundry purchased the piece of land after the Council’s notice of intention to acquire the land. Alderman Harvey said he was getting very disturbed about the housing question. It did not seem that they would be able to build houses for some, and he was going to ask the Council to consider prefabricated houses.
At their Broadwood Rural Council decided on sites for fourteen council houses in the area, at their October meeting. Six were for Box’s Shop, St. Giles; six for Ladycross, Werrington; and two at Maxworthy, North Petherwin. The Sanitary Inspector reported that the Housing Committee had visited the site at Box’s Shop and Ladycross. The committee recommended that a site in a filed immediately south of St. Giles School should be acquired. At Ladycross the committee recommended building six houses in the north east corner of filed 670.
On November 3rd, Launceston began its ‘Thanksgiving Week’ campaign. The chief speaker was the Right Hon. Sir Claude James, Agent-General of Tasmania, and a native of Launceston, Tasmania. £120,000 was the target of the campaign. Preceding the opening ceremony there was a procession, led by the Royal Marine Band, of Devonport, and the following organisations took part: 30th Devonshire Regiment, Army Cadets, A.T.C., British Legion, St. John Ambulance Brigade and cadets, Ambulance nurses and cadets, Red Cross Detachment and cadets, Girl Guides and Boy Scouts. After the parade the band played selections in the Town Hall, and after the opening ceremony in the Square. On the Monday, a concert was held in the Town Hall, by the Royal Marine Police Choir, which drew a large crowd.
However, for the first time in the savings campaigns over the war period, Launceston and District and Broadwoodwidger failed to reach the target set. For Thanksgiving Week £120,000 was aimed at, but the total announced November 12th, with some small amounts to come in, was £96,368. The final total eventually came to just over £104,000.
Start of the Nuremberg War Crimes tribunal begins on November 20th, US Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson opens for the prosecution with a speech lasting several hours, leaving a deep impression on both the court and the public.
At their annual meeting held on November 20th, the Launceston Branch of the Farmers Union, expressed their disapproval of the regulation whereby those employing prisoner of war labour had to pay, when owing to wet weather, the men were unable to work. The question arose when Mr Wadge enquired who was responsible for the raising of the wage rate of P.O.W. labour from 1s. to 1s. 3d. per hours. Mr R Paynter replied that it was the Minister of Agriculture. He had been asked by the Agricultural Workers Union to make the figure 1s. 6d. per hour, as it was considered to be in competition with local labour. The Farmer’s Union stood out for no change, so the Minister split the difference. Mr Wadge said the labour was dear when it was considered that the men had to be fetched and taken back, and he proposed that the War Agricultural Committee be asked to provide transport. This was seconded by Mr E. Baker and was agreed. Mr C. P. Goodman enquired when the Italian prisoners would be returning, Mr Paynter replied that gathered they would be returning in the spring, but German labour would be available for the following year’s harvest.
At the November meeting of the Town Council, the question of the housing scheme at Hurdon came up again, with still no decision from the Ministry of Health, and it was decided to send a telegram direct to the Ministry, and to telephone North Cornwall M.P., Mr T. Horrabin, asking him to take up the matter.
Hospitals and other charitable organizations in Devon and Cornwall benefited as a result of the Victory Carnival held in the November. The allocation, made at committee meeting on December 19th, were: Launceston Hospital, £145 11s. 8d; Launceston St. John Ambulance and Nursing Division, £100; Orthopaedic Clinic, £25; Prince of Wales’s Hospital, Plymouth, £50; Launceston Operation Fund, £25; Plymouth Eye Infirmary, £25; and the Northey Nursing Association, £25. It was announced at the same time that owing to the shortage of nursing staff, Launceston Hospital may have to close, wholly or partly. Mr. W. B. Matthews, hon. secretary, stated that the Ministry of Labour had been unable to help. The position had become so serious that the Board of Management reluctantly decided that new admissions of patients were be reduced to a minimum, and unless further trained staff could be obtained it would become necessary to close a large part of the hospital or part of it.
The Town Clerk informed the December meeting of the Town Council, that he had received a reply from the Ministry of Works saying that the buildings erected on the Castle Green and occupied by the Air Ministry were likely to be needed for an indefinite period. The Mayor, Councillor W. Miller, said that would be very unsatisfactory news for the people of Launceston. He felt that, whilst they did not want to be unreasonable, there were premises which were becoming vacant all over the district, and it seemed very hard that the buildings should be allowed to remain in the Castle Green, the people’s recreation ground. He suggested that the General Purposes Committee should take up the matter with the Ministry direct. The Town Clerk also reported that the compulsory order for the purchase of the housing site at Hurdon had at last been granted.
Family at War L to R Ken, Ron, Ernest and Jack Hillman. Another of the family, Gerald, paid the ultimate price for his country when ‘HMS Anking,’ the ship that he was serving aboard was sunk by Japanese destroyers on the4th March 1942. Photo courtesy of Jean Harris
Information sourced from Newspaper’s of the day including the Cornish and Devon Post, Western Morning News and Western Times plus from own account stories.
237 Alerts in Launceston.
Altogether during the war, there were 237 alerts sounded in Launceston, and very few people ever forgot the effect on their nerves of the first wail at 12:30 a.m. on July 2nd, 1940. It was only of short duration. There were 17 in this month, some being during the hours of daylight (three in one day). The following month (August) there were nine alerts but it provided the longest so far, that on August 26th lasting from about 9:30 p.m. to just after 4 a.m. – about 6 1/2 hours. There were eight in September – three on one day. In October there was only one alert, and in November four; December, two; January, 1941 seven (the majority commencing round about 7 p.m.); February, six. The total for the month of March went up to fourteen. April 1941, was a trying month for C.D. personnel, when they were called to duty by the siren on no less than thirty-six occasions, in six cases twice in one day. It was during this month that Plymouth was attacked. May was also a heavy month with twenty-seven alerts, one of six hours and five of five hours. The number of alerts then dropped off; June, 13; July, 11; August, 5; September, 3; October, 2; November, 11; December, 7.
1942 – January, 1; February, 4; March, 3; April, 3; May, 1; June, 1; July, 1; August, 4; September, 3; October, 1;
1943 – January, 2; February, 9; March, 4; April, 1; May, 2; June, 2; July, 2; August, 1; September, 0; October, 0; November, 1; December, 0.
The following two years of the war saw very few alerts with just a couple being made in early 1944, but Germany’s ability to indiscriminately bomb the British mainland had been diminished to the point that Hitler had been reduced to using his wonder weapons, the V1 and V2 rockets, and these were targeted on the London and the South East.
Although the war had come to an end, rationing continued. Some aspects of rationing became stricter for some years after the war. At the time this was presented as needed to feed people in European areas under British control, whose economies had been devastated by the fighting. This was partly true, but with many British men still mobilised in the armed forces, an austere economic climate, and a centrally-planned economy under the post-war Labour government, resources were not available to expand food production and food imports. Frequent strikes by some workers (most critically dock workers) made things worse. It wasn’t until after the Conservatives regained power in 1951, that rationing began to be reduced with confectionery rationing ending in February 1953. Even then, full rationing of all foods didn’t end until July 4th, 1954.
- May 25th, 1945: Bacon ration cut from 4 to 3 ounces/week. Cooking fat ration cut from 2 to 1 ounces/week. Soap ration cut by an eighth, except for babies and young children. The referenced newspaper article predicted that households would be grossly hampered in making food items that included pastry.
- June 1st, 1945: The basic petrol ration for civilians was restored.
- July 19th, 1945: In order to preserve the egalitarian nature of rationing, gift food parcels from overseas weighing more than 5 lb (2.3 kg) would be deducted from the recipient’s ration.
- Summer 1946: Continual rain ruined Britain’s wheat crop. Bread rationing started.
- January–March 1947: Winter of 1946–1947 in the United Kingdom: long hard frost and deep snow. Frost destroyed a huge amount of stored potatoes. Potato rationing started.
- Mid-1947: A transport and dock strike, which among other effects caused much loss of imported meat left to rot on the docks, until the Army broke the strike. The basic petrol ration was stopped.
- June 1st, 1948: The Motor Spirit (Regulation) Act 1948 was passed, ordering a red dye to be to put into some petrol, and that red petrol was only allowed to be used in commercial vehicles. A private car driver could lose his driving licence for a year if red petrol was found in his car. A petrol station could be shut down if it sold red petrol to a private car driver.
- June 1948: The basic petrol ration was restored, at a third of its previous size.
- 1948: Bread came off ration.
- May 1949: Clothes rationing ended. According to one author, this was because attempts to enforce it were defeated by continual massive illegality (black market, unofficial trade in loose clothing coupons (many forged), bulk thefts of unissued clothes ration books).
- February 23rd, 1950: The 1950 general election is fought largely on the issue of rationing. The Conservative Party campaigned on a manifesto of ending rationing as quickly as possible. The Labour Party argued for the continuation of rationing indefinitely. Labour was returned, but with its majority badly slashed to 5 seats.
- May 26th, 1950: Petrol rationing ended.
- October 25th, 1951: United Kingdom general election, 1951. The Conservatives came back into power.
- February 1953: Confectionery rationing ended.
- September 1953: Sugar rationing ended.
- July 4th, 1954: Meat and all other food rationing ended in Britain.
World War Two Timeline for the Fallen of Launceston District