- Contributed by
- Lawrence Cooper
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- Lawrence Cooper
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- 15 March 2004
I was born and bred in Paignton, and so spent almost the whole of the war in the Torbay area. Looking back on my childhood I can remember a lot of things about the war, but my memories of 1944 are the most enduring, and are now heightened by the coming Normandy anniversary.
My family lived in a large old house on Huxtable Hill in Torquay — a leafy area between the station and the famous beauty spot of Cockington. There were my parents, of course, myself aged eight and my younger brother, who was six , and our rambling old red stone semi was big enough to offer one room for billeting, and this was often taken up.
The year did not start very well for us, and early on we suffered some heavy raids in and around Torquay. I remember one very bad night raid, and we spent what seemed a very long time in the cellar. The party wall was of enormous thickness, and something like a priest hole had been cut out of it, and my mother put my brother and myself into this. One bomb must have just missed the house, as it fell in some open ground just to the east of us, and the blast took out every window in the house. I shall never forget the noise, the sounds of shattering glass, and mother’s voice comforting us. We did not know where father was at this time, as he was out on duty — unlike the fictional strife in Dad’s Army he was in both the ARP and the Home Guard !
From the very top of the house we could look out over Torbay towards Berry Head, so in June we had a very good view of part of the gathering Normandy invasion fleet which was to embark the US troops encamped in the surrounding area. At this time we had an American officer, Colonel Storey, billeted with us, and he would often bring colleagues for tea or coffee, and we became great friends. It was wonderful for my brother and I to have such contacts, and led to some spoiling, I suspect. Sweets and tinned foods were sent over by families back in the US, and this even continued long after the war was over.
Late one night we woken by our parents and brought down stairs in a very serious moment. Colonel Story and a colleague had specially come to say good bye, as they were embarking that night — the significance and importance of that probably not understood at the time, but I have never forgotten the incident. The next morning we climbed the stairs to the top window again, and sure enough, the fleet had gone. Some time later we heard that Colonel Storey had survived the landings, but tragically the colleague he had brought to our house did not. After the war the colonel returned safely to his family and job in the States, and they kept in touch with us for many years afterwards.
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