Part 6 – The Beginning Of The End.
April 21st 1944 the American troops in and around Torbay pulled out of the camps and headed for the sea. Similar movements had often occurred in the past when they were engaged in manoeuvres, but on this occasion they had not returned by nightfall. There was no sign the next day or the next, neither was there any news of a Second Front.
It was on April 29th that they re-appeared, this time coming over the hill from the Beacon. People in the village were attracted by the roar of machinery and turned out to watch the spectacle as hour after hour the largest mechanised army they would ever see passed through on the way back to the camps and marshalling areas.
In the week before, the troops had embarked in the Bay and sailed to Slapton Sands to take part in Operation Tiger, the full scale rehearsal for the invasion and now the 4th U.S Infantry division was returning, this time accompanied by tanks, guns and half-tracks from other units.
I was stopped from my normal practice of going through the Marldon Camp on the way home from school, and later, when continuing to take an interest in the troop training from the lane, was actually arrested and given a bit of a fright. The defence that it was my country anyway, not theirs, was ineffective, because by then the countdown had begun. Probably locked away somewhere on the camp was the most important date of all time, so the clampdown was justified.
The American army started to leave on 2nd June, when the tight security seemed to be abandoned. They knew now that this was the real thing, and after being shut up in the camps for weeks, were itching to go, if only to relieve the boredom. Within a couple of days they had all gone, leaving behind a few broken hearts and lots of memories.
The most noticeable effect after the departure was the uncanny emptiness everywhere, not only in the village, but throughout Torbay. After the steady build-up of troops over the years, we had become accustomed to the saturation of men and vehicles. Now, they had all left, joining other convoys and then off across the Channel to Normandy. By the close of the first day on 6th June 1944, 23,250 men of the “Torbay Army” were ashore at Utah beach, together with 1,742 of their vehicles.
In Marldon, there would never be anything quite like this again. For a short time, thousands of men from across the Atlantic had shared a unique experience and some exciting times and in the process shaken the village to its very roots.
The following year brought the day we had all been working and living for, and after the initial victory celebrations, all communities had to come to terms with the changed conditions.
In villages like Marldon, it was particularly difficult to adjust, because people had found that the extra burden on the population had not been that unattractive. The war had come as a bit of a tonic to many by moving the clock forward fifty years and it was understandable that no-one wanted to revert to the old pre-war days of the English village. Throughout the war there had been full employment and good money to be made in the many local Ministry contracts.
On the farms there were now tractors instead of horses; there were also new breeds of vehicles and engines which were reliable.
In order to plug a gap in the social life and keep alive some of the fun, a Men’s Club was formed, meeting twice a week in the Village Hall. There was also a Marldon & Compton Ladies social club, meeting weekly as well as the W.I. About eight of the village boys created the first Youth Club, meeting in one of the army Nissen huts on the deserted camp. When the military authorities eventually cut off the electricity we were sunk, but it was at this point that a progressive and newly elected lay Councillor came to our aid. Mrs. H.M. Brockhurst became involved in a bitter struggle on our behalf with a now ageing Village Hall Council, who simply could not grasp that young people also wanted somewhere to meet and engage in social meetings. Partway through the meeting at which our fate was being decided, she came out to the boys waiting outside, yanked us in before the Committee and as a condition for using the Hall made us promise to cease gate switching forthwith, together with all acts of hooliganism. The real culprits were elsewhere, so we gave our word at this eventful meeting and the day was won – the first Village Youth Club opening in the summer of 1944. The decision was one of the spin-offs from the war because everyone recognised that the worst part of the hostilities had involved mainly young people.
By the following year the war was over. It had been very much a schoolboy’s war and possibly that of the girls who had known some of the soldiers, but there was sadness in the village for the seven young men killed in action.
In Torbay, which had been high on the list for enemy action, there had been 642 alerts, 131 people had been killed and 122 seriously injured. 125 buildings had been demolished and 11,615 damaged.
Each part of the country had seen a different aspect of the war. In Marldon we had seen little of our own British Army, based mainly on the South Coast and who would go ashore (still accompanied by their bicycles) at their own beach, codenamed Sword. Neither, in all that time, had we seen a battleship in the Bay. I was just old enough to remember the mighty “Hood” on one of her courtesy visits in the 1930’s and now she had been sunk by a chance shot from the German battleship Bismarck. In the following year after the war, I was able to stand beneath the guns of the King George V, which had sent one ton shells into the crippled Bismarck before she went down to the bottom with most of her crew of youngsters.
It all seemed a bit of a waste.
Quite apart from the general upheaval of everything, the most vivid memory of those years was the fun and simplicity of purpose in lfe. It was a time also when villages like Marldon came to life, and it was the end of the old traditional ties with the farming system and some of the poverty which went with it. Gradually, the quality of life would start to improve, and within a few years the village had started to fill again with newcomers.
These memories of Marldon and its surroundings are my own personal recollections as a schoolboy in those times. They cannot be complete and I would like to have spoken with more people nursing their own memories. However, I thought it better to record this now, and invite comments from other people in the village who might have items to contribute which I have left out.
David Best – 1982/83.
PART 6 of David Best’s Memories of Marldon completes the series of articles written by him in 1982/83, and which were initially published in the Parish Magazine at that time. David was born and lived adjoining the property which was later to became the centrepiece of his articles and referred to throughout as “the camp”. In the post-war years “the camp” became a flourishing holiday camp, latterly known as “The Torbay Chalet Hotel”, and is now the site of the housing development opposite Cox’s Garage at the junction of Churscombe Road and Vicarage Road.