Life in wartime Devoran in World War 1

Gwendloine Layton Blunt Dates of service British Red Cross Society ambulance service (Courtesy BRCS archive)

Gwendloine Layton Blunt Dates of service British Red Cross Society ambulance service (Courtesy BRCS archive)

Elizabeth Hotten’s Cornwall at War (History Press, 2008) is a fascinating piece of social history, being a selection from mid Cornwall  wartime parish magazines from the Boer War to World War 2. It is well worth buying to read in detail, but here are a few clues from Hotten’s book and others to suggest how life changed for many ordinary people, especially women and children on the Home Front in WW1 in Devoran. The family background (such as the details of wife, family and parents) on our blog posts about WW1 casualties give some indication of the emotional and financial cost of losing a father, husband, brother or son from a close-knit small village.

Gwendoline Layton Blunt (nee Edwards) British Red Cross Society record cards (Courtesy: BRCS archive )

Gwendoline Layton Blunt (nee Edwards) British Red Cross Society record cards (Courtesy: BRCS archive )

The wartime marriage on 16 July 1917 in Devoran of the oldest of Dr. Edwards’ four daughters, Gwendoline Mary Edwards  (b.1895), to serving soldier Lieutenant Denzil Layton Blunt is mentioned. Gwendoline had recently returned from serving in France with the British Red Cross Society BRCS motor ambulance section. An enquiry lodged with the BRCS archives for any further information on Gwendoline Edwards elicited that VAD Cornwall 34 (34 might be her number or an area number) Gwendoline Edwards served as a 21 year old from 13 October 1916 as Rank G.S. (General Service?) Chauffeuse until 9 July 1917 (a week before her wedding). Particulars of duties: Motor Ambulance Driving in France.

Advertising image of a British Red Cross nurse and motor ambulance, Chambers' Journal,  1st October 1918 (Author's collection)

Advertising image of a British Red Cross nurse and motor ambulance, Chambers’ Journal, 1st October 1918 (Author’s collection)

Food, rationing and shipping in WW1
The number of  large boats and mineral cargos were declining  at Devoran Quay throughout the First World War, hastened when the Redruth and Chasewater Railway from inland mines down to Devoran Quay closed in 1915. The metal  railway lines were lifted in 1918, probably as scrap metal for the war effort. The granite sleeper blocks are still plentiful  in the area along the old Railway line route through the village, now part of the Mineral Tramway cycle network. The staff, no doubt, were employed elsewhere in industry for the war effort,  such as engine driver Ed Webber of Carnon Gate whose 1918 transfer certificate to Rotherham Iron and Steel Works is shown in Ralph and Marie Bird’s Devoran and its River: A Photographic History (Truran, 2008). What we recognise as ‘Dig for Victory’ in WW2 began in spirit much earlier,, mainly in the “U-Boat summer” of 1917 when Allied merchant shipping (Britain’s food supply from the Empire) was being heavily sunk by unrestricted German submarine warfare. Plenty of shipwrecks around the Cornish coast date from this period. The U-Boat threat, shipping losses and naval balloon and flying boat stations of Cornwall are covered in Pete London’s recent books on Cornwall in WW1. You can read Pete’s blog Here.

Many Devoran front and  back gardens would, like plenty around the country, have been dug up and put over to more vegetable and fruit production as a patriotic duty.

Other measures nationally included voluntary meatless days and cutting back on the amount of bread eaten, as exhorted through an address from the King George V to be read out in churches like St John’s Devoran on four Sundays late in the war.

King George V, royal proclamation on restraining waste of bread, 1917  Source: Author's collection

King George V, royal proclamation on restraining waste of bread, 1917
Source: Author’s collection

In June 1917, the Devoran parish magazine notes that Miss Netta Pascoe, part of the Girl’s Guild at the Church “has left home to take up farm work under the National Service Scheme“, a forerunner of the WLA ‘Land Girls’ in WW2. Netta Pascoe, born in 1899, had already lost a brother, William Donald Pascoe in army training in 1915 (see Devoran WW1 casualty names K to P).

The National Service Scheme for farm work (set up by Meriel Talbot) was established within a time scheme which matches closely Netta Pascoe’s departure date  is described on this Land Army website. The scheme helped replace many farmers and their men who had been called up. A National Archives short film can be seen here http://media.nationalarchives.gov.uk/index.php/national-service-womens-land-army/

The Devoran parish magazine requests parishioners in July 1917 to support the war effort by “most careful observance of our food rations, by less grumbling” about what food is not available (Hotten, p.63). Food prices had increased steadily throughout the war, along with several poor harvests and loss of shipping to create a food crisis in Britain, threatening the war effort. A 1918 ration book belonging to Elizabeth Hotten’s father is illustrated on p.64 of her book, one late solution to this problem that would recur in WW2.

WW1 adult (brown) and child (green) British ration books 1918 (from the author’s collection)

In August 1917 the newsletter exhorts the people of Devoran (Hotten, p. 65):

As Germany is threatening to win the War through her submarines, it is the duty of all of us who have fruit and vegetables to bottle and dry the same for future use.

Along with a Cornwall County War Agriculture Committee, a Truro District War Agricultural Committee had been established by 1916. Along with the efforts of the various volunteer groups such as the fundraisers of the British Red Cross Society, this helped encourage food production and fundraising for the war effort.

Devoran in WW1 was still largely a rural area with declining industry and marine trades. Eventually a national Food Controller and Fuel Controller would inevitably have an effect on the everyday coal and food supplies available to Devoran families and to other areas such as heating the church and school. There is more about this topic throughout Elizabeth Hotten and Pete London’s books.

At the Sunday School Anniversary service on Sunday 11 August 1918, gifts of eggs,cakes and flowers were donated by Devoran families to local hospitals  (Hotten, p.75) caring for troops, including the Royal Cornwall Infirmary (now Treliske Hospital) and the Naval Hospital at Truro,  (then a Union workhouse recently converted to flats on Tregolls Road).

Empire Day was again celebrated in Devoran School on 24 May 1918 with an address or assembly to the village pupils, many of whose older brothers were involved, given by the Headteacher Mr W.R. Cock on the fighting efforts of the British Empire. Mr Cock is later pictured speaking at the handover by Viscount Clifton of the War Memorial Recreation Ground in September 1919, in memory of Devoran’s fallen men (see our recreation ground blog post). The heir of the local landowners who had shaped much of the village, the Agar-Robartes family of Lanhydrock, Tommy Agar- Robartes, had also been killed during the First World War.

National Savings WW1
After the war’s end, the parish magazine notes that the day school is involved in Devoran War Savings Association, collecting £100 by October 1918 as part of the National War Savings Scheme. Little notes about salvage and savings can be found printed on the back of WW1 ration books. A certificate from a later version of this National Savings scheme in WW2 can still be seen hanging in the Village Hall.

Onwards Christian Soldiers
The local vicar or Parish Priest of St. John’s Church Devoran, Mr. John R. Jones, is featured on the village Roll of Honour and pictured several times in Ralph and Marie Bird’s Devoran and its River: A Photographic History (Truran, 2008). He served as a chaplain to the Wessex Brigade and in military hospitals (probably in the Salisbury area) and army camps at Sutton Veny in 1917, working alongside the Church of England’s Men’s Society, similar to the YMCA.

Rev. John Jones notes some ex-pat surnames amongst some of the troops, some originating in Cornish emigrant families amongst the strong presence of Australian and Empire /Colonial troops at Sutton Veny, so close to Salisbury Plain’s training areas. There is more about WW1 and the army camps at Sutton Veny on their website http://www.suttonveny.co.uk, along with postcards of the vicarage garden full of soldiers. One of the postcards is from a Cecil to an address at Princetown, the Dartmoor Prison area where Devoran WW1 casualty H. Cecil White’s prison warder father served – a distant coincidence, when 1000s of troops were based here.

Engineering and Industry Links
Nearby Bassett Foundry or Visick’s Yard, until recently a light industrial site, had wartime engineering work in WW1 and WW2. A photograph of women workers in the RIC (Royal Institution of Cornwall) shown in Bob Acton’s Exploring Cornwall’s Tramway Trails book 2 is captioned “photograph taken at the Bassett Foundry site, probably during WW1. The women appear to be cleaning trench mortar bomb warheads.”

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2 thoughts on “Life in wartime Devoran in World War 1

  1. Pingback: Country Life 1986 article on WW1 Wartime Gardening | Worldwarzoogardener1939's Blog

  2. Pingback: Gwendoline Edwards drives off to war 13 October 1916 | Devoran War Memorial Cornwall

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