Devoran in WW2 – part 1

As well as the information in the Index of WW2 surnames from Devoran War Memorial blog posts, here is a little more on life in wartime Devoran in WW2 from several sources, some now out of print and difficult to find.

Devoran Home Guard
According to BBC history interview c. 2003 with Isobel Carlyon, the Home Guard apparently “would practice on the quay during the war”. Many of these men like Albert Opie would have been WW1 veterans and the Home Guard are pictured on parade with medal stripes in Ralph and Marie Bird’s Devoran history book.

Local youngsters are pictured in the photograph as many young men joined whilst waiting call up, such as Devoran casualty John Basil Tallack (killed aged 20 in 1944) who joined the Home Guard according to his newspaper obituary in Tony Dyson’s research.

We will type the list of known Devoran Home Guard names from the caption of the photograph of Ralph and Marie Bird’s book in a future blog post shortly, so you can compare it with the WW1 Roll of Honour names. Home Guard records are not yet widely released to the public so any other information on Devoran’s Home Guard unit would be much appreciated.

There was much activity along the Fal River including a Truro / Fal River patrol based near Malpas under Captain Webb that you can read more about in various books including those by Viv Acton and Derek Carter.

In Catherine Ince’s selection of wartime entries from the West Briton, Life in Cornwall 1943 to 1946, there is mention in the 29 June 1944 edition of a Home Guard Service at Truro Cathedral “held on Sunday”, probably the preceding Sunday 25th June 1944. By late autumn many of these services and parades would be about the stand-down and disbandment of the Home Guard. After the D-Day invasion of Europe, the threat of invasion of Britain was fading.

 

More Published Sources
More on the area in WW1 and WW2 is featured in Elizabeth Hotten’s Cornwall At War.

The BBC People at War website has the memories of wartime life in the area, bombing raids on Truro, Falmouth and Carnon Yard from Nicholas (Jack) Green, a Carnon Downs young resident in WW2 here:

http://195.188.87.10/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/22/a4325122.shtml

All men over 18 had to join the Home Guard unless they were ARP Wardens, Police, Firemen or on fire watch duty. Training was compulsory unless you had a good reason not to attend. Weapons and ammunition were kept at home. The Home Guard was used to guard railway tunnels, viaducts and other installations of strategic importance.
One of my fathers duties was to operate a large paraffin flare on a hilltop at Perranwell. This had to be lit on instructions from the Air Ministry, on certain nights, to guide our aircraft home after bombing raids on the continent. Jack Green, BBC People’s War website

Viv Acton and Derek Carter’s books Operation Cornwall 1940-1944 (Landfall, 1994, out of print) and its successor on 1945 and beyond, Cornish War and Peace (Landfall, 1995, also out of print) are well worth tracking down for the wealth of information on Cornwall in wartime beyond Devoran. Peter Hancock’s Cornwall at War (Halsgrove, 2002 / 2009) covers the whole of Cornwall with a little about Devoran itself but plenty on Falmouth and the Helford area.

Evacuees in Devoran
The Francis Frith photographic archive has several pictures of Devoran in the 1950s, as well as from George Burton, a memory of a WW2 Evacuee to Devoran.

Hotten’s book notes that 100 children from St Joseph’s, a Roman Catholic  School from Greater London was evacuated to Devoran in June or July 1940 (Hotten, p.113) and 80 of these children and their staff were invited to the Catechism Summer Tea treat in August 1940 along with local children.
Evacuees are also mentioned in N J (Jack) Green’s memories of Devoran and Carnon Downs on the BBC People at War website (see link above).

Devoran, Engineering and Industry.
According to the Historic-cornwall.org.uk 2002 report: there are several mentions of Devoran’s  WW1 and WW2 engineering links.

1907-46  3.5.1 Economic activity
As elsewhere in Cornwall there was a late flurry of mining activity in the early 20th century that affected Devoran, but this was on too insignificant a scale to reinvigorate the port. WW1 gave some employment at Visick’s works at the old Basset foundry, and stimulated production at several local mines, but the railway finally closed in 1915 and the last schooner left Devoran in 1916, although barges, chiefly bringing limestone for lime kilns, coal and building stone, continued to use the quays.

In WW2 Visick’s again expanded, building parts for Bailey Bridges and the munitions related industry. Throughout this period, large numbers of Devoran men worked in the docks at Falmouth.>

Viv Acton and Derek Carter in Operation Cornwall 1940 – 1944 mention on page 84 that “with a shortage of manpower, women were recruited into engineering works like Visick’s at Devoran, where they not only learned to supply these necessities but also helped to build Bailey Bridges and gun parts for the military.” Named after their inventor, Bailey Bridges were temporary metal bridges in ‘kit form’ that could be assembled by the Royal Engineers to create new river crossings or repair demolished bridges.

National Savings Group Certificate Devoran WW2 and postwar (Photo: Mark Norris, 2013)

National Savings Group Certificate Devoran WW2 and postwar (Photo: Mark Norris, 2013)

Subtle traces can be found in Devoran Village Hall, beyond the Roll of Honour where several WW1 names are of WW1 sailors who died in WW2. There is the National Savings Certificate for WW2 and also subtle clues like surviving blackout clips, pointed out by Ann Cunningham.

Devoran Village Hall WW2 blackout clips

Devoran Village Hall WW2 blackout clips

Devoran School And Air Raids
The Devoran School log books in the Cornwall Record Centre no doubt have many interesting snippets on how war affected Devoran School, then in its Victorian building on the crossroads in the centre of the village. It is now a residential house, a more modern school having recently been rebuilt on the edge of the village. We will be looking through these log books in future for clues about the WW1 casualties and also for a flavour of life in Devoran in WW1 and WW2, including the presence of evacuees.

There is an interesting mention of Devoran school in WW2 in Viv Acton and Derek Carter’s WW2 local history book Operation Cornwall 1940 – 1944 (Landfall, 1994) notes on p.25 (opposite photos of the British Chancellor bombing, see below) that in the event of an air raid: “At Devoran School it was decided that when the Falmouth siren was heard, six miles or so away, the children would file out hand-in-hand, walk through the village to the Old Tram Road, then an unsurfaced track by Restronguet Creek and hide under the hedges and bushes at Narabo.”
Sometimes the sirens from the Falmouth docks or Pendennis Castle can still eeriely be heard on special occasions up river at Devoran with the wind in the right direction.

There is more about the WW2 history of Falmouth Docks on a blog post on the bombing of the British Chancellor, which was painted by Charles Pears. 

Falmouth was bombed several times during the war, with a late and notable raid (possibly the last aircraft raid on Britain) on 30 /31 May 1944 which set light to the fuel tanks at Swanpool / Swanvale, leading a to a wall or wave of liquid fire heading down Swanvale. Such was the height of the blaze that at Devoran: “people could see in the morning great clouds of smoke billowing into the sky. They climbed the hill behind the church to try and see what had happened. It looked as if the whole town [of Falmouth] was on fire” (p.130, Operation Cornwall 1940 – 1944, Viv Acton & Derek Carter.

Devoran Village Hall and Devoran W.I.
Viv Acton and Derek Carter’s book (published in 1994) is well worth tracking down, not just for the few delightful vignettes of life in Devoran Village Hall, many based on the memories of Devoran resident Betty Phillips. The Devoran Women’s Institute is sadly no more, though the WI survives at nearby Point and Penpol and a Devoran ladies club still meets at the Parish Centre.

The W.I. had an important national role of fruit preservation in the days of food rationing, as Betty Phillips of Devoran remembers (p.87): “picking pram loads of blackberries and collecting and cleaning jars for the W.I’s Preservation Centre set up in the Village Hall to make jam from the surplus fruit.” The Falmouth WI branch recorded 630 lbs jam collected and made in 1941, 675 lbs in 1942. There are still plentiful blackberries for the picking and still much foraging for sloes, apples and blackberries along the Quay and paths near the War Memorial recreation ground!

The Devoran Village Hall was created in the 1920s from the original Redruth and Chasewater Railway workshops and wa apparently informally segregated into a men and women’s end in its early days. Acton and Carter record on p.99 the memory (probably Christmas 1942 or 1943) of how:

“one young girl who attended the Christmas social of the Devoran Women’s Institute being held in the Village Hall was watching the members sedately dancing, when the doorway was suddenly filled with smiling figures attracted by the sound of the small band.

Within seconds, the ladies found themselves being whirled around the floor by their American partners in a most exciting way. Soon the visitors were teaching the local girls the extrovert skills of jitterbugging, much to their delight.”

The Tram Road became a favourite place for wartime amorous couples, according to stories still told in the village, some probably not suitable for print!

The American GI troops had arrived, camped in various parts of the Falmouth area including black American GI troops at Tullimaar house and Edwards Brothers Yard / Mill (the old Perran Foundry site). US Hospital troops were stationed nearby at Tregye and Killiganoon.

But the stories of the roads to Falmouth along Perranarworthal being widened (there is still the ‘American Road’ to Mylor up past the Norway Inn) and choked with D-Day convoys, along with other D-Day stories such as the RAF Barrage Balloon Hydrogen plant in Devoran will have to wait for another blog post …

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