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 sown 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 stabbed7 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.
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.
M Sydney J. Fitze
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.
N Gas mask assembly at Truro August 1939.
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.
1939 IMG 2261 and 2396, 2427
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.
1940 and real war.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
One of the big changes for Launceston after 1942 was 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 original use for refugees. The policy of segregation that existed in the USA was continued 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 the 25th of September 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). 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.
David Thomas remember’s “ 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.
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.” PFC 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.
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, 14 July 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.
Link to Bert Tremain’s oral memory of his time with the DCLI during the Second World War.
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.