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When The Americans Came

by csvdevon

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07 December 2005

In 1943 Devon and Cornwall became the home of the United States 4th and 28th Infantry Divisions and Calstock Parish like many other areas saw the arrival of US troops. There divisions were mainly made up of men from the mid states of America (Wyoming Nebraska and Kansas)
The first Americans i can remember seeing in Gunnislake was in November 1942. They were billeted in my Sunday school in Chapel Street, now the Crusdae centre. It was bitterly cold and many were huddled around a Tortoise stove. All were black men. It was the first time i had seen Black men. At this time Black soldiers were also billeted in the church room at St Anne's Church, Gunnislake. At the Tavistock Hotel in the car park a field kitchen was set up and the soldiers mess room was above the Tavistock Hotel whose entry was next to the Post Office. These soldiers drilled in Chapel Street and in the Orchard.
In 1943 a large camp was set up at at Brake field St Ann's Chapel. Today it is known as Sylvia's Meadow and is now an English Heritage site. On a plaque there you can see where it says 'this site survived a World War 2 army camp which was the US one. White soldiers were based here in canvas tents and Black soldiers were based across the road in tents. The officers were billeted in Honeycombe House. We boys would go to the camp and ask for chewing gum and some times you would be given a field ration. This was a treasure in wartime England for it contained Candies, Hershey Chocolate, and cigaretted for dad. These would be Camel or Lucky Strike or Chesterfield. There would also be a can of instant coffee, a tin of meat and a packet of nuts.

While at St Ann's the Americans built a roadway through Drakewalls mine using Steam Navvies and Bulldozers. This was the first time such equipment was used in this area. All heavy equipment was kept at Honeycombe House.
The Americans also widened the bottom of Sand hill, Gunnislake. This was needed for their forth-coming convoys. The Americans wanted to widen much more of the hill but the council would not agree. Drakewalls mime was used as a dump and many people went there for timber etc..
Various drills and exercises were undertaken. On one occasion a bailey bridge was built at Cothele Quay and soldiers crossed to the Devon side. Their objective was the Wind pump at Hestone Farm where my father in law Mr HH Down was the farmer. At the same time pontoons were floated across the river and lorries crossed there.
Around April 1944 the Americans left their camp at St Ann's it happened over night and all the tents were left empty. We boys would get Fish and Chips for the soldiers we would be given enough for around 30 packets. At Gunnislake we would go to Blanch Gimbletts or Barney Janes. These shops were opposite each other in King Street. At St Ann's, now Annie's Resteraunt was then the fish and chip shop and sometimes we would go there.

The build up to D Day saw lots of convoys passing through Gunnislake they were made up of Jeeps, Lorries. Half Tracks and Dwkw's (Amphibious vehicles) and Tank transporters.
During their stay at Gunnislake they would have film shows in the public hall and kids were allowed in to see some films. Bud Abbot and Lew Castello wer favourite films. At school we had Christmas concerts, we were given presents of toys and Sweets by the Americans. I can remember a Glenn Miller like orchestra playing in square at Gunnislake.

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