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15 October 2014
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Exeter Remembers the War

by Nicholas Toyne

Contributed by 
Nicholas Toyne
People in story: 
Nicholas Toyne and my parents Wystan and Clarice.
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Contributed on: 
04 May 2005

My father Wystan Toyne was a solicitor in Birchington, Kent and in 1939 decided that the war was too close to the South East, and moved us to Exeter. I was five years old. We arrived in our little Morris 8 Tourer after 9 hours travelling and moved into a flat in Heavitree on the main road. My father found a job with Exeter City Council as Assistant Town Clerk under Mr Newman. He was a very difficult man to get on with.
After a few months we moved into a rented house in Marlborough Rd. I went to "Miss Johnsone's" primary school just off Polsloe Road. After about a year we bought "Farthings". It was the third house down on the right-hand-side in Argyl Rd at the top of Pensylvania Hill. This of course gave us a marvellous view over most of Exeter. Being in the private estate of Duryard the road was un-madeup with lots of pot-holes and a little stream running down the middle. In winter it became very icy and very slippery.
Several times a year the residents got together and bought lorry loads of clinker from the Exeter coalfired power staion on Haven Banks. We spread this on Argyl Rd with garden rakes and rollers and made the road a little easier to drive on. Petrol was severly rationed, but my father had an extra allowance for his job with Exeter City Council to allow him to travel over parts of Devon and city on their behalf. From 1940 onwards Devon had air raids and we would see the odd German plane flying about. For me at 8 years old this was very exciting. Imagine the sirens sounding and giving their awful down and up cadence, then my mother would say "I think we had better get under the kitchen table now". If it was in the middle of the night, to get up well past my bed-time and have a picnic with the labrador and my parents under the wooden table and hear great big bangs was great fun for a small boy! We did have an anderson shelter at the bottom of the garden which made a good den during the day.
Daylight raids happened sometimes. Once three german planes came up the Exe estuary and saw our row of hill-top houses and obviously thought what a wonderful target we were. They lined up and started their run. At this point we ducked under the kitchen table again and then heard a high pitched whine, from as I later learnt, a Rolls Royce merlin engine, and a Spitfire came from out of the sun and lined up behind them. They immediately broke off and dived for the coast. Dropped their bombs on Exmouth and dashed out to sea. We and all the residents came out on to the street. The spitfire came back a little later and did a double victory roll. We all shouted, cheered and waved as loud as we could. I was told later that it was frowned upon for flyers to do this. It said "look how clever I am" and used up fuel! But I was glad he did and it is etched on my mind for ever.
After HMS Exeter came back from the battle of the River Plate, all the remaining crew members marched through the city of Exeter. My father being assistant Town Clerk stood next to the Town Clerk on a platform outside the Guildhall in the High Street. The road was packed with cheering people as the sailors and chef in his white hat marched passed. I was allowed to stand next to my father and yelled myself hoarse!
Of course the Exeter Blitz in 1942 was the most extraordinary experience. I remember being woken up at night and hearing the enormous noise of many de-syncronus aero-engines. They dropped a large number of flares all on the Haldon Hills and completely missed the city. The next night they got Exeter plumb centre. Dropped their bombs and incenderies doing a lot of damage. My father ,being in a Reserved Occupation, working for the City Council had the terrible job of co-ordinating the peices of bodies collected and trying to sort them out in Pinhoe Village Hall. Exeter nevertheless was very lucky to get off quite lightly. No bridges or railway stations bombed, only the shopping centre and the lovely Dellar's cafe flattened and only 200 people killed.Many other cities such as Coventry had it far worse. My mother and I went off to Chagford and stayed in a farm for two weeks, until the water,gas and electricity were put back on. My father meanwhile getting very dirty in the city. He also had the rewarding job later of trying to find new premises for the many shopkeepers who had been bombed out. Many years later, in 1966/7 when I had got married, my wife went into a grocers shop then in Queen Street on the corner of Paul Street to buy some vegetables. No plastic cards in those days, so my wife made out a cheque for the correct amount and signed it Shân Toyne. The Grocer said are you any relation to Wystan Toyne the solicitor? He's my father- in-law, she said. He forthwith tore up the cheque and gave the groceries to my wife and said, 'your father-in-law gave me my livelyhood back. This is a little thank you'!
My piano teacher in York rd had an incendiary bomb go through her room and landed in the header tank full of water. It was promptly put out. She had that bomb standing on the piano for many years.
Another lucky escape was that when we moved to Argyl Rd at the top of Pensylvania we had thought no more of the house we had started the war in, in Marlborough Rd. It was bombed flat in the Blitz. Glad we weren't in it!
At the bottom of Pensylvania Hill was Norwood Preparatory School. Next to Bishop Blackall's School for girls. Mr Robinson was the headmaster and taught us latin.The future tense of amo, as you all know is amo, ames,amet. So when we got it wrong, saying amabo, amabis, amabit, as in other verbs, He would say Amabo, amabis, am-a-blithering-idiot! A good friend of mine called Graham, was in the same class. He went on to Kelly College in Tavistock and then Cambridge where he read law. He became his Honour Judge Graham Neville, who presided over many cases in Exeter on the South Western Circuit.

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