- Contributed by
- People in story:
- People from the village of Stithians
- Location of story:
- Stithians, Cornwall
- Background to story:
- Civilian Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 30 August 2005
This story has been put on the website on behalf of Alison Penaluna the collator of Stithians Parish Memories of World War 2. She has given her permission and is aware of the site's terms and conditions.
It was September 1939 and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's chilling announcement, "We are at war with Germany", came over the 'air' into every stunned household in Great Britain.
To the adults the announcement probably came as no very great surprise. An Air Raid Post had been in operation for quite some time using an empty room. The vicar was at that time the Reverend Kirk, whose wife and daughter, Margaret, were members of the group, and working from the Air Raid Post. This small band of women were practising for two years before the outbreak of war in 1939. First aid supplies were stored in the room and lectures were given by Colonel Gordon of Trevales. Most members were also practising members of the St. John's Ambulance Brigade, they worked and liaised with the Air Raid Warden. He would have been the first to receive the air raid warning. Mrs. Wills of Pencoose was in charge of the group. There was at this time no telephone at Pencoose, and so a 'warning' had to be relayed to Mrs. Wills that an air raid was in progress. Mr R.J. Andrew of Sewrah received the warning by telephone and had to walk across a field to relay the message! A telephone was later installed at Pencoose.
The Nursing Association's Award
I clearly remember seeing a German bomber flying low over the village. Our teacher Miss Jane Hellings, having heard the 'warning', took all her children from the school and shepherded them up to the vicarage and under the trees for safety. The black markings were very clearly visible on the German aeroplane, it came in low heading straight for Falmouth and unloaded its bombs. The anti-aircraft guns did not even fire!!
I recall one morning getting ready to go to school and a German Bomber flew overhead and incredibly low, taking everyone by surprise. My brother was outside in a field at the rear of my parent’s farmhouse at Carncrees and shouted to the rest of us to come outside. The bomber was so low that the pilot was clearly visible, it was probably fortunate for the whole family that we were not machine-gunned down, it certainly made the adrenalin flow! Because of this low-flying practice by the Germans they were able to take advantage of the 'surprise' element over Falmouth and drop their bombs before the machine guns could even prepare for action. So as to counteract this, barrage balloons were placed in all key positions over the town and harbour.
The familiar 'drone' of the German aeroplanes became a regular nightly exercise, we just lay in our beds and waited with bated breath until they passed overhead, and most nights they did just that, heading for Falmouth with their deadly cargoes.
Some people slept downstairs during this time, deeming it to be safer. Windows were covered with either a net or criss-crossed with sticky tape to prevent flying glass should a bomb be dropped in the vicinity. Bombs were dropped in the parish but no human casualties as a direct result although some cattle were killed. On one of the nightime sorties, the Germans dropped a bomb and achieved a direct hit on a large petrol storage tank at Swanvale during the night of 30 — 31 May 1944. One and a quarter million gallons of petrol were stored there and the ensuing blaze lasted for twenty two hours with a huge column of black smoke rising into the sky which could be seen from Stithians and the surrounding areas.
The Parish Council, on two occasions, requested increased petrol rations, and on each occasion their request was rejected. The Parish Council sent congratulations to any Stithians resident who had gained decoration during the war, the first being the Vicar who had gone away to be a Senior Chaplin to H,M. Forces and was mentioned in dispatches. On 13 January 1941 the Senior Parish Air Raid Warden proposed a scheme of voluntary fire fighting service which the Parish Council approved and a Sub-Committee was appointed. On 13 January 1942, at Kerrier District Council's request, a Fire Prevention Committee was formed. A resolution was sent in 1941 to the County Council asking that an Air Raid Shelter be provided at the school, one reason being that there were so many evacuees attending the school. However, there is no record as to whether the County Council took any action. On 30 July 1941 Kerrier District Council exist, maybe, like many others they were marked as 'Confidential' and destroyed at the end of hostilities or sent to the War Office secret archives never to be divulged! During the night of 10 August 1940 a bomb or bombs fell on Penhalurick Farm Stithians. This was the period when Plymouth suffered heavy and concentrated attacks during the battle of Britain, as well as Falmouth during July 1940. Plymouth's fires were remarkably and clearly visible from Cornwall, I clearly recall the ugly, crimson glow in the sky as the city burned; the memory will remain etched on my mind for ever, and that from 60 miles distant! These were indeed frightening times and are well and truly remembered by many of us who were children at the time. On 22 January 1940 Perranwell was machine-gunned and at Ponsanooth a double-decker 'bus was also sprayed with bullets from machine guns, there is no mention of casualties.
Plymouth's blitz, 21-25 April 1941 lasted five nights and again the horizon was aglow with the fires of the burning city. During the period 1943-44 Rosemanowes Quarry, just outside the village was used as a waste tip by the United States expeditionary forces encamped in the locality pending the Normandy invasion. More locally, it was known as the 'Yankee Dump'. For about six weeks before D-Day — June 1944 — the Americans were camping in the area. They erected round tents in the fields along the main Falmouth-Helston road. Everybody could see the tents but petrol was very severely rationed and one could only use one's car if on important business, so nobody really knew how far along our roads these tents were erected. They were very close to one another and I remember, were dark brown in colour. It was reported that General Eisenhower was also, at one time, in the vicinity co-organising the planning for the D-Day landings. These were being organised at Tullimar, a large county house in Devoran. These troops brought all their stores with them and when they eventually left on D-Day all the packing cases, (some not even opened), were dumped in Rosemanowes Quarry. One can imagine what excitement this caused. The people were severely rationed — we had to queue for oranges, bananas, apples. Sweets were rationed and when these lorries came down to the quarry there were always people there waiting to see what would be dumped today? Wood was the largest single item and this, too, was in short supply. Trestle tables, chairs, china and cutlery as well as tins of all kinds of food. Everything, in fact, which the local community as well as everyone else was short of at that time. However by the following September it was becoming a nightmare for the local farmers, as rats had moved into the quarry and they were also destroying neighbouring cornfields. Eventually a pest officer had to be called in to destroy the rats.
The German Luftwaffe endeavoured to interfere with radio reception and to foil our radar systems by dropping thousands upon thousands of strips of a silvery, metallic material about one and a half inches wide and 6 to 8 inches long. One was afraid to touch them at first — they seemed to be everywhere, dropping like rain. Then there was always the unmistakeable smell of cordite or gunpowder after the bombs had dropped, in itself quite alarming. The night sky was so often criss-crossed with pencil-like searchlight beams accompanied with the anti-aircraft 'ack-ack' fire. The Air Raid Siren, (the nearest was Penryn or Redruth), was yet another 'all too familiar' sound, though the sound of the 'All Clear' was music to the ear. One more raid and 'All was well'. One seemed to spend most of the hours of darkness in fear for one's life. All this was to become a way of life for one and all.
During the night of 21—22 May 1941 fifteen incendiary bombs were dropped on Stithians, killing six bullocks and a pig. Four houses were damaged at Goonlaze. Local folk went the next day to look at some of the craters in the fields where the bombs had fallen and collected pieces of shrapnel for souvenirs. These were the twisted bits of metal from the casing of the bombs. These bombs were not particularly large but did contain about 120 pounds of high explosive. One bomb had not detonated, this was immediately behind a cottage at Carnvullock and was eventually dismantled by the bomb disposal squad. Most of the windows at Carnvullock Farm were smashed and the roofs full of holes. One bomb dropped among eight cows belonging to Mr Tripp of Tresevern, (his entire herd). They were all put down the next day under veterinary supervision.
My family and I were all in the farmyard at Carncrees Farm when these incendiaries fell and recall that they were all terrified by the shrill whistling noise, (almost a screaming), as the bombs were descending. We all thought that our end was nigh and grabbed hold of one another and dashed for safety to the shelter of the nearest corner of the farmyard, I was only ten years old and my older brother grabbed me and held me close, we were both terrified.
The Redruth Town Band Room was completely demolished during an Air Raid in the evening of 15 December 1941 when four High Explosive bombs fell in the Grigg's Yard and Sea View Road area. A badly battered cornet was eventually retrieved after the Air Raid from the masonery at the top of the Redruth town clock tower! The cornet somehow came into the possession of the landlord of the Seven Stars Hotel at Stithians and for some time was actually on display there.
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