Part 3-The First Bombs & Air Raids.
The first bombs to drop in Devon, and amongst the earliest in England, fell on 6th July 1941 at Galmpton, where production of Admiralty launches had started and at precisely 8.45 a.m. on 10th July a stick of nine high expolosive bombs fell at the Beacon straddling the roadway and damaging a small gypsy caravan. (NB. Giving the year as 1941 may have been a typing error or lapse of memory on David’s part as the Group has copies of the original Reports of the Torbay Air Raid Precautions Joint Committee, which gives the year of these first raids as 1940.)
I was half a mile away, dawdling to school with two girl evacuees who had been billeted on a neighbour nearby. During the explosions we lay back in the hedge wondering what was going to happen next and the younger of the girls started to cry. After a while the noise of the aeroplane faded away so we picked ourselves up and went to school.
Later in the day we went along to see what had happened, and found several policemen keeping a crowd at bay and guarding some holes in the fields. The next day the holes were still there so they lost interest and went away, leaving the craters to the kids, who dug out bits of shrapnel for souvenirs.
On 11th July, ten bombs fell at Churston, again with no warning and on the 15th it was Brixham’s turn when four high explosive bombs were dropped, one of which sank the coal boat “City of London”.
This was the period following the Battle of Britain and things were really beginning to hot up locally when at 6.44 p.m. on Tuesday 20th August, two bombers and a fighter dropped a stick of bombs on Newton Abbot railway station doing an incredible amount of damage. In 1941 events in the war had taken a turn for the worse and this incident at the time was heavily censored. The full extent of the damage was even kept from local people, but 14 people were killed, 15 seriously injured, a railway engine wrecked and extensive damage was done to the station and track.
The winter of 1940/41 brought a heavy fall of snow. At the start of the war the beach floats had been stacked at the Holiday Camp and put into “mothballs” for the duration; the troops were quick to see alternative possibilities and used them as sledges until the snow melted. Inevitably they all finished up at the bottom of fields where they rotted away and disintegrated over the next few years. Shortly after this, the troops vacated the camp and were replaced by girls of the ATS who stayed for about six months.
After the early months of 1941, it was becoming clear that Torbay was becoming one of the areas for enemy activities and in that year there were sixteen enemy raids during which a great number of houses in Torquay and Paignton were damaged. These raids were overshadowed by the heavy raids on Plymouth on the nights of 21st and 22nd March, and the glow in the sky from the burning city was clearly visible from Marldon.
After these raids a battery of heavy anti-aircraft guns was positioned at the Beacon, no doubt with the intention of picking off some of the enemy aircraft as they came in.
The artillery unity brought with them their own piano and a full size dance band, and it was not long before they were performing in the Village Hall. No-one had seen anything like it before. The noise was deafening in a hall which had previously never seen anything much larger than a trio, and very soon the events became a major attraction.
Girls would come up from the town forsaking the thousands of aircrew trainees in the seal front hotels to dance with the soldiers at Marldon, and social barriers were lowered as villagers started to accept this new life style. Surprisingly, it was the old ladies who moved with the times first. They had seen this sort of thing before, and were not going to be left out of this one, so they came along to watch, bringing with them their knitting and picnic supper. They would stay for a couple of hours, then go home to bed having thoroughly enjoyed themselves in the rapidly changing world.
In a way the evening entertainment filled a gap at a time when all the news was bad and they were merely tasting a bit of whatever life was left to any of us. However, their appearance gave the evenings an air of respectability and also gave them quite a lot to talk about the next day.
In 1941 I was confronted with a bit of a problem, because I changed schools in the later part of that year, and was expected to work harder at my lessons. Each day I left Marldon where all the action seemed to be happening to cycle along the deserted lane to Torquay (now the old Ring Road). The only relief from the monotony of the journey was the daily arrival of a squad of army engineers, who travelled in their trucks to a wooded area a mile outside the Village. Access to the project was closely guarded, but after several months the vehicles failed to arrive, so I went to investigate, some distance from the road. There was no trace or any sign of construction work. Small boys are adept at discovery, so I was able to find the trapdoor entrance , which led down a flight of steps to a bunker equipped with water tanks, lights and a telephone. I was also horrified to discover that the bunker was in fact an arsenal filled with explosives and ammunition, so I went away with the awesome knowledge of a military secret.
Many years later, it was revealed that in the early stages of the war there was a serious possibility that the country could be overrun. Winston Churchill therefore had ordered a network of hideaways, as they were called, to be constructed, and these would be manned by local people who would carry out guerilla activities against the enemy and survive as best they could.
The bunker I found that day after school was intended to be manned by the Marldon Home Guard. It is fortunate that we never experienced German occupation, for the units would have soon been winkled out, resulting in heavy local casualties.