Although the Devoran and Carnon Downs Home Guard was part of the wider Cornwall Home Guard, they probably formed part of the 10th Truro Home Guard Battalion.
The Devoran and Carnon Downs platoon of the Truro 10th Battlion Cornwall Home Guard are shown in a photograph reproduced in Devoran and Its River by Ralph and Marie Bird.
Some of these men might have had an unusual additional secret role as part of a Home Guard Auxiliary Unit.
The 10th Battalion (Truro) Home Guard
The 10th Battalion (Truro) Home Guard commanding officer was recognised in the 1945 honours list – Major A.F. Bluett.
Major Albert Fernleigh Bluett fought as an officer with the DCLI in the First World War. Son of a publisher and journalist, Bluett lived at Fairholme, Kenwyn, Truro.
Living not far away in Truro at the time (and later buried in Kenwyn Churchyard) was an interesting Home Guard character, Harry or Henry Walter Abbiss. But more of him shortly.
A list of the Cornish Home Guard battalions can be found here: https://www.home-guard.org.uk/hg/cty-cornwall.html
‘Stay Behind’ or Secret Auxiliary Units of the Home Guard
As well as the regular Home Guard with its patrols, parades and public duties, there was a less well-known secret ‘stay behind’ group known as the Auxiliary units.
Their secret guerrilla warfare bases have occasionally been uncovered or revealed by patrol members many years later.
Trained at Coleshill House, the nearest Auxilliary Patrol to Devoran appears to have been at Perranwell. Other Auxiliary Patrols existed at Grampound, Probus and many other areas nearby.
With a hidden Operational Base (OB) in a local quarry, one of their Perranwell Auxiliary Patrol targets to protect local railway tunnels and viaducts. http://www.coleshillhouse.com/perranwell-auxiliary-unit-and-operational-base.php
Perranwell Auxiliary Patrol – Assumed targets would have included the Sparnick railway tunnel at Pellynwartha (which was very close to the OB), the railway viaduct at Ponsanooth and the main A39 road. The railway line would have been an important supply route as it ran from Falmouth Docks to the city of Truro on the main line from Penzance to Paddington. Coleshill House website entry for Perranwell patrol.
It is known Perranwell Patrol had regular training exercises with Constantine and Mabe patrols under the direction of Lt Alec McLeod. Local exercises included an attack on the nearby Stickenbridge on the main Falmouth to Truro road. It is recorded the Patrol were trained at Coleshill. (Coleshill website)
Stickenbridge? This is where the River Kendall runs underneath the A39 Truro to Falmouth Road past the Norway Inn and Mylor / Flushing turn off and before the road off to Cosawes and Ponsanooth. There is also nearby the Ponsanooth Railway Viaduct (and further up the line the Viaduct crossing the Bissoe Valley near Deborah. All likely demolition targets.
OB were Operational Bases or Bunkers assigned to or built by each Auxiliary Unit.
There is currently no information on a Truro or specifically Devoran area patrol or Devoran bunker on the Coleshill House website.
The regular Home Guard in the Carnon Downs and Devoran members of the Truro Home Guard Battalion also were involved in guarding the Sparnik or Sparnock Railway Tunnel on the Truro to Falmouth Railway Line pictured here http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/229188
The names of local commanders for these secret ‘Stay Behind’ guerrilla troops were published in The Last Ditch by David Lampe (1968, republished Frontline 2007) by which time Harry Abbiss was dead. Harry Abbiss died in 1965 in Truro, aged 74.
These local commanders would have been assigned loosely to be part of the 203rd (GHQ Reserve) Battalion of the Home Guard.
According to Brigadier C.R. Major quoted in Lampe’s book, overall all these units would be under the care of the Cornwall Intelligence Officer, one Captain John ‘Jack’ Dingley.
Captain Dingley was responsible for forming 28 Auxiliary patrols overall of 195 men under 7 Group Commanders. 27 Auxiliary hideouts were built and 2 in progress in 1941.
The Devon and Cornwall IO (Intelligence Officer) base was said to be Polhilsa House, Stoke Climsland near Callington, Cornwall.
Truro’s Auxiliary Units?
Number 4 Region covering the Southwest has three Truro based names for Auxilary Group Leaders amongst the Cornwall references – Abbiss, Yeo and Harte.
Truro, Cornwall. Group 3 Commander (and Area Commander): Captain Henry W. Abbiss, Trelawney Road, Truro, Telephone Truro 2427.
Listed with him were:
2. Lieutenant F J Yeo, Redannick Crescent, Truro
Frederick J Yeo was born on 15 February 1896. His 1939 Register entry tells us that he lived at Westover, Redannick Lane, (also mentioned on the Coleshill House site mentions of him). He is employed a Clerk at the county Council in Truro.
By then his family consists of his wife Dora A. Yeo, b. January, on unpaid domestic duties. A daughter, Phyllis M Abear Yeo was born 2nd June 1927 and son Bernard Frederick Yeo born in 1922 that his father attempted to have appointed to the County Council surveyors office as an articled pupil (Cornishman 13 January 1938)
He is pictured on the Truro School website WW1 100 Lives : “In 1916 in 5th Bt DCLI and promoted to Lance-Corporal. By December 1917 was a corproral and instructor in musketry on Salisbury Plain. Was in hospital for a while from a sprained ankle from a football accident. In 1918 he left for France on 26 March, was taken prisoner on 10 So and returned to England in December 1918.”
His medal record card ( Victory and British War Medal) lists him as DCLI Private 202281 then later Wiltshire Regiment 204297.
His name and initials feature regularly in local papers as a Truro College school boy in sports days, later as a baritone and comic singer at many local social events. In December 1927 he would be mentioned in the Western Morning News as a soloist in Vaughan Williams Choral Fantasia on Christmas Carols for Truro Musical Society at the Truro Cathedral carol concert. Seventeen years later he may have been at the Home Guard stand down parade and church service for the Cornwall Home Guard Battalions at Truro Cathedral in December 1944.
Thirty years later after his schoolboy team picture, F. J. Yeo is pictured with his fellow Auxiliary Unit commanders.
2nd Lieutenant Edward K F Harte, Truro
Edward Karl Follit Harte was born 2 January 1902 in Cardiff (so a little younger than the others and too young for WW1) He died in Truro 1977.
Married by 1926, in the 1939 Register he is listed at Crownhill Plymouth as a Commercial Traveller Biscuit Firm, again a good job for getting around the county. His wife Gertrude Mitchell Wallis Gordon (born February 1907) was the daughter of a Navy family, her father Richard J. Gordon (born 1880) being a retired Lieutenant RN who was recalled to active service in Plymouth on or at HMS Drake.
Yeo and Harte are pictured here along with Jack Dingley http://www.coleshillhouse.com/cornwall-auxiliary-units-group-commanders.php
So who was Captain H.W. Abbiss?
Captain Abbiss’ name pops up on the West Cornwall Horticultural Show and West Cornwall Spring Show website:
The story begins in 1924 with the first ever Spring Show, although back then it was an entirely commercial affair and began life as ”The Western Commercial Horticultural Show” and it was down to the vision of one man that it took place at all.
Captain H.W. Abbiss was a horticultural advisor working for Cornwall County Council and he realised the great potential of the early advantages afforded to the local growers of our very mild winters and warm springs.
To capitalise this on behalf of the local growers he conceived what became the earliest of the Horticultural Shows in the UK and ensured that the London markets and other markets throughout the country were fully aware of this early fresh Cornish bounty. …
He became the show’s Hon Secretary H W Abbiss, NDH, Horticultural Superintendent, County Hall, Truro … (West Cornwall Spring show website)
The Coleshill website has a little more about Captain Abbiss.
After 1941 a “grouping” system was developed where some [Auxiliary] patrols within a demographic area would train together under more local command.
St Dennis was part of Group 3 along with Redruth, Mabe, Perranwell, Constantine, Truro, Perranporth, Newlyn East, Grampound, St Columb, St Mawgan, Probus and Philleigh.
They were under the group command of Captain H.W. Abbiss from Truro along with Lieutenant F.J. Yeo and 2nd Lieutenant E.K.F. Harte.
Captain H.W. Abbiss from Truro was also the area Commander for this and groups 1 to 4, covering two thirds of the county.
In 1945 Captain Abbiss was awarded the MBE (Military Division) and reporting of this gives some interesting if coded information.
The 1944 article gives an interesting wartime biography for Harry Abbiss and his Military MBE “for meritorious service in connection with a specialised branch of Home Defence”, which is probably a coded reference to his secret Home Guard Auxiliary Unit work.
“During the war he has acted as horticultural and supplies officer to Cornwall War Agriculture Executive Committee.”
This role sounds like perfect cover and probably a petrol ration for popping around the County talking to farmers and other countryside characters, supplying suitable equipment and stores to Auxiliary Units.
The newspapers are full of references to talks Abbiss made to different community groups and judging produce shows as part of the national Dig for Victory gardening effort. This would allow Harry Abbiss good reason or ‘cover’ to visit many parts of the countryside. He also appears to have broadcast on BBC radio 26 February 1940 on Market Gardening and War Time Measures and Allotment Holding.
Harry Walter Abbiss was born on 26 August 1891 and in 1911 is recorded as a ‘Gardener Domestic’ with six other young gardeners in The Bothy, The Gardens, Overstrand, Norfolk (near Cromer).
This may well be the Overstrand gardens where Harry Abbiss worked: http://www.parksandgardens.org/places-and-people/site/2661?preview=1
When he joined up in 1915, Harry Abbiss joined the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) at Cromer. Lance Corporal 45510 H.W. Abbiss arrived in France 25 July 1915, gaining the 1915 star. When he was gazetted for his Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) on 20 October 1916, Sergeant Abbiss was commended:
“for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He was continually in charge of stretcher bearers throughout the operation under heavy shell fire. He remained on duty night and day for a week and showed great organising abilities and coolness under the most difficult conditions, setting a splendid example …”
By the end of the war he was an acting Staff Sergeant in the RAMC 54th Field Ambulance and was gazetted for a Military Medal on 7 October 1918.
In 1939 Abbiss appears on the 1939 Register living at no. 2 Trelawney Road, Truro listed as Horticultural Superintendent. His wife Ciceley E. Abbiss is listed as born on 20 August 1875, on unpaid domestic duties. Unusually she is 16 years older than him.
Harry Walter Abbiss married Cicely E. Green at Erpingham in Norfolk in 1915. Harry appaears on the 1918/19 wartime absent voters list for Cromer Road, Hill Farm and from 1919 at Cliff Cottage , Overstrand, no longer the bachelor Gardener but married to the (newly enfranchised?) Cecily or Cicely Ellen Abbiss.
By 1924 he and Cicely have moved to 53 Castle Street, Truro and by 1929 to 2 Trelawney Road, where he lived until the 1965. He died at R H (City) Truro hospital in 17 November 1965. His much older wife Cecile seems to have predeceased him, his probate on his death mentions Lilian May Old (widow) on his probate. A relative?
He was to become the County Horticultural Superintendent in the 1920s.
His publications “Commercial Horticulture in Cornwall”, by H. W. Abbiss dated 1932
and “Commercial Violet Production”, 1938 are held by the Cornwall Record Office (source: The National Archives website). Similar publications by Abbiss on Potato Production in Cornwall and Winter Cauliflower or Broccoli are also listed.
Other press cuttings mention his involvement in the potato experimental station at Gulval. This area near Trengwainton housed training for WLA land girls, had a local home guard unit and well connected Cornish gentry like the Bolitho and St Aubyn families that Abbiss knew through his horticultural job. Well connected, good cover for his secret activities.
In the usually obscured right hand page of the 1939 Register are partially seen notes about wartime activities – it appears to possibly say he is a ” Member of the Officers Emergency Reserve occupied at present through holding [illegible] … Ministry of Agriculture [illegible] …”
He appears to have been commissioned into the rank of officer, according to a reference on the Supplement to the London Gazette on 6 September 1939, p. 6114 as H.W. Abbiss, DCM, MM.
On his Military MBE listing 1944 for the Home Guard he is listed as 203rd (GHQ Reserve) Battalion Home Guard.
The late Professor Charles Thomas wrote in a 1968 Cornwall Review article about the threat of invasion to Cornwall in wartime “The Day That Never Came” (reprinted recently in Charles Thomas, Gathering the Fragments published by Cornovia Press) . Here he mentions the recently deceased H.W. Abbiss’ covert activities:
This webpage has more about Captain Abbiss’ role and a fuzzy group picture:
Fascinating man, Harry Abbiss, and an interesting subject, his local Home Guard Auxiliary Units.
I would be interested to hear more about Harry Abbiss and his team or about Devoran and Carnon Downs Home Guard – please contact me via the comments page.
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