Recollections and memories of life in Bideford
Memories from Robert Frayne, Toodyay, Western Australia
Kinglsey Road, Bideford
I was born 13/11/1935 at Ennadale, Kingsley Road, the only child of Claude and Celia Frayne. The house is directly opposite the dairy (formerly a railway station on the Westward Ho! line). Initially ours was the only house in the terrace to have electricity from day one, and one of the only two to have an upstairs bay window at the rear (my Dad’s idea). I think the dairy was post war. I believe Kingsley Road was fairly new, and my Dad told me that, at first, it was light coloured. He said a black tar McAdam surface was added so that it would be less visible from above in the blackout. All the houses in the terrace had iron work at the front property line which was taken away at the beginning of the war to be melted down for re-use in war material.
Our next door neighbour was Mr. Ivor (or Ifor) Davies who, with his wife, had a men’s outfitters shop in Mill St.
Photo of Robert Frayne 13/11/1942 Bideford in school uniform.
On our other side was the Isaac family and then the Cricks. Other neighbours were the Harveys, the Wadeys, the Coles, the Joneses, the Hippersleys and the Slees. Beyond our terrace other neighbours included the Greens, Miss Daisy Short, the Perkinses, the Misses Luxton, the Garnseys, the Lilleys, the Days, the Chopes, the Backways, the Beers and the Redstones.
The last house at the northern end of our terrace was a shop (in the front room) where we could buy eggs, bread, butter, etc. Mr. and Mrs. Dark had their own laying hens in the back garden.
The big building in Kingsley Rd. near the gate into the sports ground was Heard’s Garage (formerly a railway engine shed). Behind that, in a corner of the sports ground, was a row of dilapidated structures which might have been stables.
At the end of the war there was a V.J. day “feast” for all the local children, laid out on trestle tables in the grounds of “Glenburnie”.
US forces in Bideford
Behind the Kingsley Road terrace houses was a lane way and beyond that, extending to the tennis courts, was rough swampy ground. Where the supermarket stands was a field in which were milking cows, belonging to, I think, farmer Mr. Hartnett. There was a shed where the cows were milked by hand. The first new building I recall being built in that area was called (I think) “Rola”. I never knew its purpose, but I believe it was war related. Flooding of the Kenwith stream was not uncommon.
The U.S. soldiers arrived with giant concrete mixing lorries and laid a very thick (12 in. plus) base over the waste ground. After the war a builder (Mr. Beer) put up houses there and I saw holes drilled in the concrete which revealed a hollow area beneath, where the ground (previously swampy) had shrunk. The U.S. soldiers put up a number of very large workshops, like big Nissen huts, and I understand that they were engaged in the repair of damaged war machines. They were very friendly with the local small fry. I can remember sweets and chewing gum, and being allowed to sit in a jeep and start the engine. [See Images front and back of photo].
School days and the war
I started attending Stella Maris Convent after my fifth birthday (Nov. 1940). [See Image 1]. The ceiling of the central hallway of the school was heavily reinforced with a strong timber framework against possible bombing. At home we had a Morrison shelter in a ground floor room. There was another school “from London” billeted on the Convent. One of their pupils was Ralph Holmes who became a concert violinist. Like other families we had to accommodate evacuees “from London”. We had two ladies who occupied the front upstairs bedroom. One night they drew our attention to the burning collar factory which was in our direct line of sight along the street facing us (Meadow Street ?). Some nights it was possible to see, reflected from the cloud base, a red glow. My Dad said it was a raid on Exeter. We heard of some bombs falling harmlessly in a field (towards Abbotsham ?) and of a plane which crashed at East the Water.
My Dad was Claude Frayne, and he served as an air raid warden. He had a steel helmet with ARP written on it. His mode of transport was by bicycle. He also had a whistle similar to a police whistle, and shoulder flashes on his uniform jacket, reading “WARDEN”.
During the war everyone had a gas mask, even children. They were very heavy at the front, but held up by rubber straps around the head. We all had identity numbers. Mine was WFDA 189 3.
For some of the war years, in addition to our evacuees, we had Mother’s younger sister staying with us. She served as a land girl in the area. We had occasion to travel by train to Coventry, and I recollect trains packed to capacity with troops and civilians. Three or four people would be standing in every toilet compartment. They had to move out into the already crowded corridor when someone wanted to go.
Too young for the first war, my Dad was too old for the second. He was a dental technician and worked for dentists Haydon and Wykes at the Bank Chambers at the bottom of High Street (Phone 128). As a child I walked with Mother to Westward Ho! via the “Pathfields”. This was a series of public footpaths beginning at Rawleigh Hill, crossing where the new bypass now stands, past Kenwith Wood to Buckleigh (where there was a steam laundry), then down the hill to Westward Ho! The double decker buses, in the war years, pulled behind them trailers with gas generators which fuelled the bus. Unable to get up Lakenham Hill, the buses had to be pushed by the passengers, who had to alight anyway to lighten the load.
Retailers in the town whom I remember were Mrs. Little (fruit and vegies), at the corner of Mill St. and Chingswell St. Mr. Crouch was the newsagent (the newsboy statue still surmounts the shop in Mill St.). Mr. Patt in Mill St. was, I think, in fruit and vegies also;
Groceries were from the Home and Colonial store in High Street. Fish and chips came from Flossie’s. There was a lady who taught piano at the Convent and from her home in Silver St. (Miss Jennings).
The street lights were gas. The town gas works was at East the Water. After the war, when lights were allowed, the lamp lighter came round at dusk and turned on the lights by pulling a chain by means of a hook on a pole. There was a knife grinder who had a big sharpening wheel at the front of his tricycle. He came along the street sharpening people’s knives and scissors.
At the gas works were big vertical cylinders called retorts. They contained coal, and were fired from below. I went there with my Dad, and I was scared by the heat and noise. Coal was delivered to the houses in 1 cwt sacks from a yard near the bottom of Lime Grove. It was called Littlejohns. I think it might be there still.
My Dad’s cousin, Roy Frayne, had a pork butcher shop in High St. opposite Grenville Street. Shops were closed on Wednesday afternoons.
A large merchant ship, having a big hole in the starboard bow, was beached near Fremington. It was said to have been torpedoed. It remained for many years. The name of the ship was Fort Lac Laronge, after a place in Saskatchewan, Canada.
Photos very kindly provided by Robert Frayne, and the late Pat Slade of Bideford Community Archives. Please note the images cannot be copied without the express permission of Robert Frayne.
Recollection from John Davies, Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire
Firemen of Bideford during WW2, including Ivor Davies, father to H John Davies, who kindly supplied this photo.
I was born in 1937 in Kingsley Road, Bideford. My father, Ivor Davies from Aberdare, South Wales, ran a small gentlemen’s outfitting shop near the Bridgeland Street end of Mill Street. My mother, Betty, was the elder daughter of Mr and Mrs Jack (John) Elliott of the Swan Inn nearby. ( Incidentally in searching for photos I came across a splendid one taken outside the Swan during the celebrations at the end of World War 1.) Across the road Kingsbury Fisheries was owned by my godfather Herbert Kingsbury, married to my grandfather’s sister, Auntie Annie. The waste ground behind our house in Kingsley Road stretched from Chanter’s Lane to Crang’s Field (with its cattle shed, cows and chickens), now occupied by Morrison’s supermarket and car park.
Many memories are not associated with the war as such but give a picture of a past time: the brewer’s dray delivering wooden barrels of beer to the Swan; the home-made ice-cream Mrs Little sold in her shop; the lady with the horse and cart selling vegetables(?) and flowers in the street; crossing over to Miss Gent’s (actually there were two of them) to buy a jug of milk; being spell-bound by the shoeing of horses at the farrier’s in North Road; Mr Cawsey crying out “evening paper” as he went his rounds; my grandfather taking me on a visit to the shipyard at the end of the embankment where the New Road ( Torrington Road) begins.
The impact of the war was felt when my father enlisted for the Fire Brigade. I remember the men practising with their equipment in the Kingsley Road, drawing water for their hoses from the culvert running alongside the road, I think. My father drove the engine, which pleased him, but he must have witnessed horrors of which I know little when the Bideford Brigade were called to London during the Blitz. I think our local Brigade were also in action when Plymouth and Exeter were attacked, when a lurid glow was seen in the sky as far away as Bideford ( ? maybe not for both). In their spare time the firemen made toys for their children. My father made me a model airfield out of wood.
My mother ran the shop in my father’s absences and I was lucky to be able to spend much of that time with my grandparents at the Swan. My grandmother was crippled and so much help was needed in running the establishment. Helpers included my grandmother’s sister, Mrs Frances Brend, and a young girl, Ivy Palmer, who came in from the country (Shebbear?) to work in the house. On one terrible day a friend cycling in with her was killed in a traffic accident. Whether her death was due to the blackout or any other wartime restriction I do not know.
Early in the war the land behind the Kingsley Road was flattened and Nissen huts erected on a concrete base for the arrival of the American Camp, stationed in Bideford for several years. As a very young child I had enjoyed the winding paths and vegetation covered hillocks which then had to go, but when the troops left we had exciting spaces for roller skating, riding our bikes along obstacle courses and creating dens in the piles of girders left behind.
As there was a shortage of housing we shared our house for some years with Noah and Elsie Beer, who came from Harberton Ford in South Devon. Mr Beer was an insurance agent, unable to serve in the forces for health reasons. We became good friends. My Auntie Annie had a different experience. She was widowed and went to live at Rock Cottage in North Road, accompanied by her mother, widely known as Granny Elliott, and later married Captain Phil Jones of Clovelly, who had captained a boat in the merchant navy. For a short while she looked after an evacuee from London but as a childless and elderly lady she found it too much of a strain and he moved on. In contrast the brother of my uncle Ron Drew and his wife took in an evacuee who became a member of the family and is still living in Bideford – Mrs Rosina Aplin. Ronald Drew was married to my mother’s sister Joan. I saw him for the first time when he was discharged from service with the ground staff of the R.A.F. in Germany ( Bielefeld, I think). He gave me some stamps of the type used by allied servicemen in Germany – and taught me the word duplicate!
On the whole despite rationing and the food queues and the absence of some commodities (including clotted cream!) we did fairly well for food in the War compared with people living in large towns. My Dad grew a lot of vegetables and many people kept chickens. You will need to confirm this but as far as I can recall the pannier market was a hive of activity on two days a week (Tuesday and Saturday ) when farmers’ wives brought their produce in for sale. And it was not unknown for people to get a few little extras from the farms. My memory of pigs with oranges in their mouths all along Butchers’ Row at Christmas time may not be from the war years.
Milk was unpasteurised and I was unlucky as I contracted bovine tuberculosis as a result, which caused me pain and distress for some time. My parents moved me from the Church of England Infant School, then situated above St. Mary’s Church Institute to Stella Maris Convent, which allowed me to attend mornings only until I got well.
As children we could not go to the beach at Westward Ho! because of the mines, but we had the countryside to explore. As a family we used to ride our bikes to Cornborough Cliffs on some fine summer days where my Dad would go prawning. At Westward Ho! there was a Bailey Bridge across the Pebble Ridge for landing craft and I remember going on a jaunt on one of these from Bideford Quay. Once there was a pageant in the Sports Ground which featured old-fashioned fire engines among much else.
It took many years for me to accept Germans as normal people in the post-war period. I now have some acquaintance with the language but the first German voice I heard was that of Hitler in full flow on the “wireless”. Even as a young child I thought he sounded mad. Adults must have been much more worried than they allowed us to see: once my parents thought they heard gunfire at the end of the road. ( It seems strange that many boys were quite happy playing with toy weapons.) The end was a relief for all though after all this time I muddle V.E. Day with V.J. Day. However I clearly remember the revulsion felt at the conditions revealed when British troops entered Belsen Concentration Camp when Germany capitulated. When peace came it was rumoured that one well-known character (female) was so happy that she ran up and/or down Bridgeland Street in the nude! I think that it was at this time too that my mother and I saw loaves of bread rolling out of a baker’s van when he had had one or two too many! I attended two parties, one at Glenburnie (the land then belonging to the house is now of course a housing estate) and one in Willett Street. In preparing for the latter event another Bideford character asked me to run over to Daddy Yeo’s ( Mr Yeo kept the haberdasher’s shop at the corner of North Road and Chingswell Street) and ask for a length of red, white and blue fabric to make a pair of bloomers! It’s funny how the mind retains such details.
Photograph sent in from John Davies.
Recollections from Dickie and Betty Bradford, Northam.
Dickie as a boy with his Father in their Home Guard Uniforms, Dickie as a cadet.
Mrs Betty Bradford was only a young child of approximately 8 years old during WW2 and lived on a farm in the countryside – East the Water with her prarents and 3 older brothers who all looked after the farm therefore no land girls were needed. They did have 2 evacuees come to stay with them on their farm, but these children were cousins from Bristol, a little girl and a boy, the girl only stayed 6 months, but the boy stayed for around a year.
Living so far from the centre of Bideford, Betty rarely came into town had to cycle to school every day in the dark and back home in the dark, it was an 8 mile round trip cycle ride to Edgehill school.
Dickie Bradford was around 14 years old when the war broke out. His only recollection of being a cadet, was one of the responsibility of him and his Father to go down to Northam Burrows and close the 3 gates, and lock them every night, “this was to make sure that the Germans would not be able to get in, should they arrive”!
Mr Bradford’s family owned a butchers shop in Northam Village. The meat ration was 1 shilling a week, and 2 pence of that would have been for corned beef. Rationing was strict yet there were some nuns living nearby, occasionally they would come to the shop ask if it was possible to obtain some beef filet when they were expecting a visit from the Bishop!
During the war years there was 14 butcher shops in Bideford, including East The Water.
Attending Bideford Grammar School until he left at 14 years of age, not because he wanted to, but because his father learnt that the boys were being told to go potato picking instead of having lessons. His father said this was not why he sent his son to school, so the decision was made that he should leave school, to work with his Father in the family business.
Later men were being told to sign up for the RAF, and if they refused they were told they would be sent to work down in the mines, as Dickie did not want to do that, he duly signed up, however, after a while so many men had signed up for the RAF there too were many of them and Dickie was transferred to the Army.
Dickie could recollect on occasions with his Father going to eat in the British Restaurant, a meal would cost 6 pence, and you had to tell them when you wanted to come and eat, you were then allocated a specific day and time, as you could not simply just turn up and expect to get a meal. Dickie could recall there their being rather a lot of cottage pies, which of course was made from corned beef!
Many thanks for Dickie Bradford for allowing Bideford 500 to use his photograph. Please note you may not copy this photo without the express permission of Mr R Bradford.
Maureen Terhune nee McLoughlin,Canada.
Memories from Maureen Terhune’s mother.
These are some comments from my sister, Ann, re what she remembers our Mum saying about the war.
“I’m sure Mum would like it, being included in “History”, I know she worked hard in the Gazette office and also used to stay there late some nights taking her turn at fire watching. Also as all the men were away fighting, (Lesley’s [one of our friends] Dad was a printer there and went to serve in Burma, he was called Gordon Piper) Mum used to help with setting up the print as well as her duties as reporter. She used to talk about cycling home at night, no street lights, and hooded lamps on her bike, sometimes the road would be flooded and there were rats that used to cross the road at the old dump, little America.
I also remember Mum recalling a night she was staying at Aunty Vi’s bungalow [Westward Ho!], when Rosemary was a baby and Uncle Charlie was away fighting.
At about 2 am there was a huge explosion and all the windows were blown out, so they took refuge in the middle bedroom, which had no windows, they were really frightened till around 7.30.am when the army came knocking on the door to tell them that a mine had washed up on the beach and exploded! They even thought that maybe the Germans had landed and were pleased to see “Our Boys”.
Out at Landcross Grannie Raymont once gave cups of tea to some German prisoners of war who were working on a farm nearby, as she always said, they were somebody’s sons, and their Mothers would be missing them too.”
And I remember Mum saying that our Gran was told that she wasn’t allowed to give the POWs real cups to drink their tea from – they had to use jam jars. I gather she was upset about that.
Recollection from Mr Ted Weeks,(Singer) Bideford.
Although during the War years Ted was away in the RAF, so life in Bideford was only when allowed home on leave and on those occasions his mother would always insist him keeping his uniform on, and walking around the town arm in arm with her son.
Memories of Bideford during World War Two……Kenneth Beer born 12th June 1931
We lived at number nineteen Meddon Street throughout the war and my first memory is of going with my mother, Elizabeth Beer, and father, Albert Beer, to see him off at the railway station at East the Water, in order to join his regiment as a reservist, along with many other wives and children in a similar position. As I recall, it was a short time before the war started but that Sunday morning there quite a number of families gathered to wave their goodbyes.
Only a short time had passed when one Sunday morning I decided to visit my Aunt Minnie Slocombe who lived in Northam. While seated in the front row of the double decker bus waiting to leave, I picked up a copy of the Sunday Express where I read the headline “Great Britain and France declare war on Germany”. A month or so later my father was sent to France and was garrisoned in a town called Le Mans.
We carried on about our normal business, but not long had passed before an infection hit the town in the shape of diphtheria, and being one of the lucky ones, I caught it. Dr.Ruddock came to see me and immediately had me transferred to the isolation hospital which was situated just outside of Sentry Corner at East the Water. I remained there for around ten weeks as while in the hospital I also contracted Scarlet fever and German Measles. I was moved into complete isolation in order not to infect anyone else but occasionally received comics from my father in France which helped to pass the time. The only problem was for my mother who had to walk all the way from our home to the hospital for such a long period of time.
Unfortunately for my father, if one likes to look at it that way, he was medically discharged from the Army due to a large bunion on his left foot which made it almost an impossibility for him to wear regulation army boots and so he came back home to resume his work as a driver for the Southern National Bus Company. The drivers and conductors would take it in turns to spend a night in the bus garage at the end of the bank on fire watch as part of their duties.
As we all know, for a while it was something of a phoney war until Dunkirk, followed by air raids by the Luftwaffe. Eventually the bombing of Plymouth began and it was this that brought home the seriousness to me of the war.
My back bedroom in Meddon Street looked out over the river Torridge toward the South West in the direction of Iron Bridge, the bridge which trains from Torrington to Bideford ploughed to and fro. When the bombing of Plymouth started, even though we were approximately sixty five miles away, at night I could see quite clearly the sky lit red and searchlights scanning the sky. In the meantime, my father would often be assigned to the bus route to Plymouth and the sights that he witnessed on his run into Plymouth down through Mutley Plain and into Drake’s Circus were horrendous. Fortunately for us in Bideford, the only time that we were affected was one evening well into the war when a German bomber was being pursued by the R.A.F, and in order to lighten the load, the German pilot jettisoned a bomb and a land mine which landed in a field about halfway between the edge of Bowden Green and the farm at Cadds Down, probably around the same area where Atlantic Village is now situated. As good fortune would have it, no one was injured, but it was the only talking point the next day and my friends and I spent a lot of time when it was safe to go onto the field looking for shrapnel as souvenirs.
On another occasion a plane, which if I remember correctly was a Blenheim Bomber, crashed into a field called “round hill” at East the Water and once again we were looking for shrapnel over the next few days.
After the attack on Pearl Harbour by the Japanese, the next event was the United States entry into the war. When the American troops arrived, I remember lorry after lorry of troops going up past my house in Meddon street to the recently constructed camp in Bowden Green. The camp was set up on the right hand side of the road going away from Bideford and roughly one hundred yards from Blight’s garage.
The American Navy also had a small boat tied up on the Instow side of the river Torridge, not quite in Instow itself.
We quickly made friends with some of the soldiers who were generous with their chewing gum, and sometimes took us to the pictures at the Strand cinema or the Palace cinema in Bridgeland Street.
However, the most lucrative part of it all was when we were on holiday from school.
The Americans established a vehicle repair shop, behind the houses along the Kingsley Road opposite the old site of Bideford Dairies. I believe the houses were in Newton Terrace and we would gather there on our bicycles waiting for orders for cakes from them as they approached a meal break. Then we cycled to a cake shop at the river end of Bridgeland Street where there was a cake shop. Then we would take them back to the soldiers who were most generous in tipping us.
It was there that I met most of the soldiers that I knew and when we were approaching D Day and they heard that they would soon be leaving Bideford, although we did not know the real reason at the time, I took several addresses from them in order to keep in touch. However, one by one I lost touch except for one. Henry “Hank” Rolf. We wrote to each other all the time that he was in France and when the war was over, we kept in touch over the years until around the mid nineteen nineties when he died from cancer. On his return home to Palma, Cleveland , Ohio ,to marry his sweetheart, Barbara and when their first son was born he named him after me. I treasure the friendship that I enjoyed, together with his memory, to this day.
The sports ground along the Kingsley Road became a regular feature of our weekends where we could go along and see the soldiers playing baseball. Until that time, bearing in mind we only has radios to listen to, baseball was completely foreign to us other than a rather more sedate game sometimes played called “rounders“. The main delight of going to the ground was the introduction to our meagre diets of what was called “hotdogs”. To me they were something out of this world and the soldiers were only too pleased to give them to us. After a while we acquired a baseball bat together with a ball from them, and we often played the game ourselves in Victoria Park.
In Bideford the main form of entertainment was the cinema, but some former pupils of Geneva School, under the leadership of Tony Lloyd and Marjorie Webb, formed a concert party called “The Geneva Revels”. Also in the party was Dick Halbert, Joyce Gifford, Joyce Hancock, George Andrews and many others including myself. I was allowed to participate as a soprano and had a solo spot in each performance. My mother had place me in the Church of England choir at the age of eight and under the guidance of Robert Harper, the organist, I had a fairly decent voice, although to hear me now one would not think so.
Anyhow, the party performed mainly in the Church Institute, Lower Meddon Street, but also visited villages around the immediate vicinity together with one in the Strand Cinema itself, an occasion on which we actually had to wear makeup. I suppose this was due to the amount of lighting used and the spotlight that shone from the projectionists room. Another time I well remember was when we gave a performance at the American camp at Fremington because after the concert was over we were fed in the dining room and to drink we were given pineapple juice. Nectar from heaven.
So the war dragged on . Every so often there would be a savings campaign in town to raise money for the Royal Naval sloop “Bideford” Then we would look forward to the visit of Anderton and Rowlands fair once a year that would set up on the pill during the regatta week.
Before the Americans left Bideford, I was in Victoria Park along with many others to see Lt.Col.G.F.Holmes, the commander of the camp at Bowden Green, plant a tree to commemorate their stay in the town. It was planted at the Kingsley Road end of the park, directly opposite the bandstand, and as far as I am aware, the tree and the commemorative plaque are there to this day.
I don’t think that it was a very long time after the planting that the American lorries were ferrying their troops in the opposite direction down Meddon Street after vacating the camp at Bowden Green. It did not come as a surprise to see them go as we knew that preparations probably had been going on for the invasion eventually of Europe though when and where was simply subject to supposition . With a couple of friends we went up to the camp and strolled through the billets until we were asked to leave by one of the skeleton staff who had stayed behind in order to clear up. It was the first and only time that I have held a revolver in my hand which I found in one of the billets. Needless to say, I handed it over to the soldier who found us.
By this time I was a pupil at Bideford Grammar School where each morning we held a full assembly of the pupils and staff for prayers and any announcements. It was the 6th June 1944when our headmaster, James Langford, announced that the D-Day landings were taking place. I suppose it was en event that we knew would eventually come and it had never occurred to me that we would not eventually win the war. When the war did end in Europe, it still left the Japanese to be defeated but that war seemed such a long way away.
Then one day I had just left the sports ground after visiting the circus and had only reached the bottom of Chingswell Street when I heard that Japan had surrendered. Obviously we all felt elated at the time, not appreciating then that we still had quite a few years of food and clothes rationing to look forward to. Nevertheless, I would not change any of it, as I feel that those experiences of life in Bideford at that time are priceless.
Kenneth Beer’s father in Le Mans (above) and again in uniform (left).
Grateful thanks to Ken Beer for allowing Bideford 500 to use his family photos.
The American Cameramen – by Mr Basil Pidgeon B.E.M. – Bideford.
In 1943 I was a 14 year old schoolboy working at Wickhams in my school holidays. The firm had been able to get supplies of beer etc. for the military units based in the area, including the Americans. I well remember when three Americans turned up to take photographs of staff, as a “thank you” for having been catered for in this manner. Although we had no idea what their responsibilities were, they told us that in civilian life they had been cameramen in Hollywood. The photographs produced were of excellent quality, and remain so even after all this time.
Many years later, the late Cyril Petherick (who was a member of our club) came to see me in my office. After discussing business, he was most interested to see these photographs on display. He told me that in the wartime he had been a projectionist at the Strand Cinema, where he had been subject to the Official Secrets Act. On certain evenings after the cinema had closed, films of the experimental work being carried out, were brought into the cinema for screening. Military Police were posted outside whilst high ranking officers viewed the films to see if the experimental projects would prove successful in the field of battle. So I then knew of some of the work these cameramen were undertaking.
Later of course they were to be in the front line of things. Indeed I remember a television interview given by President Ronald Reagan to Clive James. Ronald Reagan of course flew with the American Air Force in the wartime, and he said during the interview ” We never flew a mission without a Hollywood Cameraman on board”.
Nor for these men was there any “cushy number”.
Many thanks to Basil Pidgeon for allowing us to include his photograph.
Recollections from Major Louis Fitzpatrick-Robertson, Isle of Wight.
Bob Frayne was my best friend at Stella Maris Convent, where I learnt, and still can sing, my first song in French (actually it’s Belgian) “Saint Nicholas, mon bon ami……..”, courtesy of a tall and very beautiful nun called Sister Union. I had moved from Cowes, in the Isle of Wight,in 1940 to be with my father, who had joined the Army, despite being badly wounded in WW1 and who now commanded an AMPC Company which had its HQ in a requisitioned house towards the top of the High Street. We lived in a rented house, 63 High Street. ‘We’ being me, Louis Fitzpatrick-Robertson, brother Mike, now in Australia and sister Anne (born in 1941, in Bideford, since died in Suffolk), my father and mother.
At the back of the house, probably in what was used to be he servants’ quarters, we had a soldier, his wife and boy, Alan, living. Their adopted name was Shelley and was adopted as all Jewish soldiers of NAZI occupied Europe were encouraged to take English names to avoid being detained and ? when our country was occupied by the Germans. His brother, however retained his original surname – Spitz. They were originally from Austria, as were most of my father’s unit. Some its members were quite eminent – I heard the Chief Rabbi of Vienna was one and Nicolai Poliakoff aka Coco the Clown another. I certainly met him later at Bertram Mills Circus in London, where he instantly recognized my father when exiting the ring. My mother’s friends were Billie Richards from Brixham/Torquay. Mrs Bhandari, from Westward Ho! The Truscotts from two doors down and the Pickards from over the road. Mr Pickard, a builder, taught me to whistle, Another Bideford skill I retain. Madame Ella Hirschman tried and failed to teach me violin.
My other friends were Chris Sacher who lived with his piano playing mother just off the Northam road and Richard Warmington of the garage in ? Road. Robin Dale was an acquaintance who intrigued me as he lived with his parents in a pub on the way back from school. Over the door the name ‘Jupp’ clearly figured, so why wasn’t he Robin Jupp? So, at about 4 years, I learnt all about ‘divorce’. We maintained a close friendship with the American Servicemen in the town, always having two at Christmas lunch (Roast Chicken – a delicacy for us but possibly not for them). A Major Gray and a Captain Banks (Doctor) remain in my memory. The picture accompanying this was taken after both of us had had lunch in a US Army Camp, served on a single steel tray, fairly common now but this was the first and only time in 77 years that I have used one. The food, as I recall, was totally delicious after our wartime fare and included ice cream. An American photographer took the picture which clearly shows one of us, at least, was satisfied with the meal.
The cinema loomed quite large in our lives. The ‘Penny Pictures’ was an entertainment run primarily for evacuee children on a Tuesday evening (day/time suspect) in a church hall by volunteers. Films shown were war documentaries, Mack Sennet humour and cowboys. Otherwise there was the Strand (near the Convent) and the Palace near Warmington’s garage. The Palace showed the most child attractive films – Gene Autry and Trigger – whereas the Strand was more up market – Black Beauty and the like. I tended to go there with my mother whereas the Palace was a “Take me in please, Mister” operation (Children wishing to watch an ‘A’ category film had to be accompanied by an adult. No, neither me nor my friends knew what a pæderast did or was. Our parents lived in similar ignorance.
In that regard, I must have been taken to school by my mother at some time, but I cannot, for the life of me, remember any details. I can only remember the two main routes to the Convent, which I took alone for about 4 years – out the front, down the High Street, left on Mill Street, right down past Jupp’s pub and onto the Strand, Convent gates straight ahead or out through our back gate, onto Gunstone, up to Coldharbour Lane and down to Mill Street. I had a bike- girls’, no crossbar – during the latter time in Bideford, but don’t remember ever cycling to school. What I do remember is wheeling the machine along the Quay towards a crowd that was also there when my front wheel hit a rope to which a fender was fixed and going over the side into the mud below where a policeman who, it turned out, was looking for a body – hence the crowd – and thought, when I rose to my feet, that he had found it. He washed the worst off in the horse trough and took me and the bike home, accompanied by a somewhat distraught younger brother.
Thank you to Major Louis Fitzpatrick-Robertson for his photo.
Recollection from Diana Yendell, Northam
Diana kindly contacted us regarding a member of the Auxiliary Unit, Mr Josh Downing:
Mr Jo Downing, as we knew him lived in the neighbouring farm to my family who lived at Park Farm, Horwood. We thought of him as a gentleman farmer and wondered at his life-style. He was more often seen driving a very smart car, possibly a Rover or a Wolsey, than working on East Barton farm.
He always had a lady/house-keeper/companion living with him. One lady was called Thelma, and she accompanied him to the farmers’ dinner at the Imperial Hotel in Barnstaple as seen in the photograph. Thelma also was friendly with my parents, often coming to Park Farm to play canasta once we children were safely tucked up in bed. I remember hearing screams of laughter coming from the room below as I fell asleep. Thelma also accompanied my mother to Instow beach in the early 1950s. The photograph of her with the 2 children can be dated by the ages of my sister and myself, approx. 1952.
Later, after the war, Phyllis Nottage came to East Barton, I don’t know when Thelma left or why.
Many thanks to Diana for her photos, and the descriptions.
70 Years Commemoration Ceremony
On the 18th September 2013, a service took place to commemorate the six brave Airmen who lost their lives when a Wellington bomber XHE 324 crashed in a field on farmland at Horwood, 70 years before, September 18th 1943. The aircraft had taken off from Silverstone, Northamptonshire on a night training flight, when it crashed into a field at East Barton Farmhouse. During the service there was a Flypast by 22 Squadron, Chivenor and a memorial stone was laid at the actual spot of the crash.
The brave men who lost their lives were:
Pilot Officer H. Farrer, Royal Canadian Air Force, aged 26
Flight Sergeant N. N. Dunn, Royal Australian Air Force, aged 25
Sergeant R.E. Dolling, Royal Air Force Volunteers Reserve, aged 21
Sergeant J. Donnachie, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, aged 21
Sergeant J.W. Hallam, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, aged 18
Sergeant H.A.Newham, Royal Australian Air Force, aged 21
The 3 British Crew members were return to their home towns for burial, but the 2 Australian and 1 Canadian members were buried in the military section at Heanton Churchyard.
Coincidentally, the land this plane crashed onto belonged to one of Bideford’s Auxiliary Unit Members, Mr Joshua Downing, what a strange coincidence!
Please note none of the photos cannot be copied without the express permission of the owners.