THE MARLDON YEARS 1939 – 1950
After her father died in the Spring of 1939, Elizabeth and her mother came to Marldon for a holiday. Her mother had seen a wooden bungalow advertised which they could rent. (This was the bungalow now known as St. Antony on the Totnes Road at Marldon Cross).
While staying in Marldon, war broke out and Elizabeth’s mother made the decision to stay in Devon. She sold their bungalow in Hampshire and they stayed the winter in the wooden bungalow whilst looking for another property. While looking at houses being built at Cockington, they met a Builder, Mr. Clare, who agreed to build them a bungalow on part of an old orchard at Marldon – this was to be Providence Cottage in Westerland.
Here in Marldon she wrote “Smoky House” “The Castle on the Hill” “The Little White Horse” and “Gentian Hill”, all based on the locality. It was here also that she wrote her greatest commercial success “Green Dolphin Country” (pub. 1944) which was made into a film by MGM. In her autobiography “The Joy of the Snow”, she wrote, of this unexpected success and literary fame,
“Many delightful things happened. Opening the door to a knock, I found an American sailor on the doorstep. He was the largest young man I have ever seen, with a face like the rising sun and a beaming ear-to-ear smile. He had walked all the way from Dartmouth to express his pleasure that an English woman had won an American prize. We had a delightful conversation over coffee, but he was reluctant to eat too much, being convinced that the British rations scarcely supported life in a human being. Indeed he dived into a pocket and produced a slab of chocolate to augment my ration, and having ascertained through kindly enquiry that I had an invalid mother in bed in the house, he dived into another pocket and produced an orange for my mother. Then he said good-bye and left to walk back to Dartmouth, leaving me with an experience of American kindness and generosity that I shall never forget.”
In her autobiography, Elizabeth describes Marldon and some of its people at length and with great affection. She also describes the effect of the war on life in Marldon ………
“Actual physical danger came near us only twice, at the beginning and the end of the war. The first two bombs to fall on our parish were the two that fell on the sloping field opposite our cottage, jettisoned early in the morning by a German plane flying home.”
“…….. near us in Devon there was a direct hit on a church packed full of children for a children’s service …..” (this was the incident at St. Marychurch parish church, Torquay, on 30th May 1943 when 21 children and 3 teachers attending Sunday School were killed – MLHG)
“The American army, that was later to turn much of Devon into a training ground, had not yet appeared and Westerland was as peaceful as it was beautiful.”
(The U.S Army arrived in South Devon in great numbers in 1943)
“The American army was now everywhere and gradually all of us in the village began to realise that some hidden undertaking was going on around us. Lanes where we had been accustomed to walk were sealed off, certain orchards and woods could not be entered and the heavy traffic of lorries was heard at night. My mother and I were slow to realise what was happening until one day a neighbour, a man with a mind more enquiring than ours, ejaculated: “It only needs an air-raid and a few bombs on this village to blow us all sky-high.” Then we realised that our leafy and shady country places were filling up with stored ammunition.
The prelude to D Day.
“And then there came an unforgettable night and day. The night was a still, windless night, filled through all its hours by a low, ceaseless rumble, sounding like a lot of grumbling dragons in ceaseless and tireless motion. But no bombs dropped that night, not one. And the morning brought a clear, cool, windless day filled with the most extraordinary silence. When I opened the door in the morning there was not a soul in sight. The world looked as empty as it must have looked to Adam on the first morning of his life.”
“The silence continued in some measure all day for people were too awed to talk much. Torbay, that had been crowded with shipping, was empty and flat as a pond. All the closed lanes and woods and orchards were once more open, empty, silent and a little haunted. Anxiety gradually took the place of awe. Here was the great quietness, but what was happening over there? It was the invasion of Europe, so long planned, hoped for, expected and yet never coming. It was here at last.”
“A happier period came to our village. The coastal raids came to an end and no more children were killed. At night we no longer lay awake listening to the German planes streaming over us to Plymouth, and then to the dull distant boom that meant death and agony in that city, while we lay safe in the shame of our security.”
“I do not remember what we thought, but eventually Plymouth was left in ruins and peace, Marldon was once more a safe place for children ……….”
Elizabeth’s mother died following a long illness after the end of the war, and, after a year or so, she agreed to move back to Oxfordshire, to be nearer to friends and relatives who had been urging her to move nearer since her mother died.
Elizabeth said in her autobiography …..
“I would never have believed that I could have got myself out of Devon ……… I thought I was there for the rest of my life……
I will never forget my misery as the train pulled out of the station and I watched Devon slipping away………”
Elizabeth and her mother made many friends during their years in Marldon, and became part of Marldon’s community. They were, as would be expected, a regular part of the congregation at Marldon Church, and in 1948 Elizabeth wrote a Nativity Play performed by members of the Church. In her autobiography she describes Marldon and some of its people at length and with great affection, making several references to particular people and examples of their kindness, especially during the time of her mothers illness.
Further information about Elizabeth Goudge is available at The Elizabeth Goudge Society, www.elizabethgoudge.org