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Falmouth Port Security

by cornwallcsv

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Archive List > World > France

Contributed by 
People in story: 
E J (Bob Dunstan)
Location of story: 
Falmouth, Cornwall
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
22 July 2005

This story has been written onto the BBC People’s War site by CSV Story gatherer Jessica on behalf of Ruth Dunstan. They fully understand the terms and conditions of the site.
It occurs to me that my late husband’s experiences will be of interest, especially since I have found his direct account among his papers.

The first intimation of the reality of the Second World War which so many of us knew was to come (and soon)- was conveyed to me by a visit on the 1st of September from a Mr Filson, formerly of the Indian Police Service, and who then lived at Flushing. I have known him for some time, adn one day he came to the King's Head and asked for a private word. He asked if I would care to become a member of an organisation which he was forming in Falmouth, which would work with the Intelligence Service on military intelligence (M.I.5) run by the War Office.

After thinking the matter over I gave him the answer next day - that I would indeed be willing. Immediately I was told to report to what was then the British Sailors’ Society’s ’Seamen’s Bethel’, a waterside Victorian building catering for sailors ashore - the chapel sdorned with the famous prow of a ship as a rostrum / pulpit, and walls decorated with painted scrolls bearing the adminitions. "Have you written home to Mother?" and "Remember Mother's Prayers." This became our port Headquarters and although the decor naturally attracted some soldierly jokes, it was a building that had done great service for seamen for decades.

War was declared next day.

I then met the other members of the Section - a cross section of the community including a motor sales agent, several retired gentlemen including a pair of brothers of substantial means, and other locals - in all, seven or eight men.

We were then in plain clothes and so remained for some time, with obvious advantages in gleaning information; but after 6 or 8 months we were uniformed as Port Security Police. Our duties were to board all vessels entering and leaving the port, vetting all crews from the master down; this was carried out throughout the war and extended eventually to local airports - St Mawgan, what is now Culdrose, Land's End airport, Nancekuke and emergency airports along the coast.

Liaison was established with all troops in the district and of course the Police, from whom we received every co-operation.

Spot checks were made without notice (by co-operation with Police and Army) on public houses - there was a clamp down and all occupants checked and documents searched. Once we arrested a carroty - haired man in a local pub as he was without the necessary papers; as a result he was taken to HQ and stripped - and found to be ginger from top to toe. He was very indignant, the more so because of hilarity which ensued.

On another occasion, I was dispatched, myself unarmed (for we were then in that state)in a Naval picket boat, escorted by a naval officer in possession of an enormous revolver, and a rating also armed, to investigate a Norwegian ship. It was believed that her radio officer had been in communication with a German submarine lying outside. The ship’s master protested that he could not be left without his radio operator but my orders to collect the latter was clear - therefore, with no co-operation, from the Master, who had told me I would just have to get him myself, I went below to a tiny cabin to prise out the suspect and watch him dress. While sea sickness didn’t generally trouble me, I do recall that incident because my charge suffered from foot odour which permeated the tiny cabin and made the pick up particularly memorable.

The rest of the story I do not know - my prisoner was passed to the local Police and onward for questioning.

Through this year the Port was filling with friendly craft, notably the Royal Dutch Navy and, after Dunkirk, all other nationalities. Falmouth was suffering the greatest number of raids at that date, if not the greatest damage in the country.The town appearded to be generally the target - and of course, the Docks; what has never been explained is why the mass of shipping in the Bay was never directly and massively attacked.

In 1940, when the Germans reached the Channnel ports, things began to liven up. The danger of invasion grew hourly nearer, and Security measures tightened up. Many local roads were closed entirely to civilian traffic. Refugees began to arrive, driven out by the German advance - they used all sorts of craft, quite a numer carrying Embassy staffs from British embassies in northen Europe, including Lord Rothschild. All were interrogated and placed on trains, or escorted to London, as was necessary.

One group of Poles arrived in a Steamer with at treasures of their country crated up - these they refused to open or allow anyone else to do so. They declared they had been bidden to guard these with their lives - and were prepared to sell their lives to keep that promise. Customs and Security Officers failed to budge them in their resolve and finally contacted the Polish Embassy in London, who sent down representatives to arrange the transport to safe keeping of the works of art.

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