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15 October 2014
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RAPC Ilfracombe

by Jean Bruce

Contributed by 
Jean Bruce
People in story: 
Leonard Francis Cuthbert Knight
Location of story: 
Ilfracombe, Devon
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
09 May 2005

L.F.C.Knight at work at RAPC

This story was written by my father, Mr L.F.C. Knight (1912 — 1991) as part of our Family History, which includes stories of life as family members knew it, photos, family trees and other relevant information. Ilfracombe was my father’s second location in RAPC during the war after starting out in Shrewsbury.
I was posted to Ilfracombe and it became a winter and spring by the sea-side but very much different conditions in peace-time. Initiation into the mysteries of Pay Office work began.
Many fellow workers were from Birmingham and had learnt how to cope with the situation. Birmingham was a long way off seemingly unattainable, but ways and means were found for unofficial visits. In Ilfracombe no taxis were available at week-ends as several would combine and hire them for the long trip to their home town or to the nearest main line station at Exeter.
All hotels in the town had been commandeered. Three of the most prominent, The Ilfracombe, The Imperial and The Dulkusha were used as Pay Offices, and others for the Pioneer Corps who were also stationed in the town. Some of the better placed and higher classed hotels were used for officers quarters. We were billeted in the smaller places, cafes and small guest houses and so on. Wives could live with their husbands and several including myself enjoyed this occasion. Our honeymoon, the 17th Jan 1941 was at Ilfracombe whilst a member of the Pay Corps. We travelled down from Birmingham in complete pitch dark conditions by rail and on arriving at Ilfracombe were greeted by the sight of the monster fires from enemy air raids across the Bristol channel in South Wales. I was at first billeted with about fifteen others in a terraced house off High Street which in peace time was a smaller type of guest house. Newcomers were always allocated to the front bedroom down. I thought this excellent until I found it was an arrangement to answer the front door to let in others any time up to well after midnight.
Amongst the duties were fire-watching and guard duties. For fire-watching we were allowed to remain in our billets but on the sounding of the sirens were to proceed in all haste to our place of duty. This theory did not work for reasons of sleep interfering with hearing and eventually the plan was abandoned. Guard duties were performed, all dressed up, at the hotels we used as offices. Mine was on the sea front and the two hour stretches were spent whatever the weather patrolling the terraces facing the sea, and thinking how these same terraces would have contained the holiday makers of former days enjoying summer sunshine and sea breezes. It was no wonder we always said that we never wanted to see Ilfracombe again. There would be snow on the surrounding hills but none came at sea level only the cold and damp conditions.
In the hotels used as Pay Offices the former smallish bedrooms were used as offices each having a small fire-place for heating. It was so cold no scruples were made in using anything burnable. There was a coal store in the basement and a newcomers job was to keep the coal bucket full. The coal had become no more than leavings of dust. Our fire had become no more than smouldering heaps of dust. Our section of three were in the top storey room of the Ilfracombe Hotel.
Outside day-time duties attempts were made in activities of varying sorts. Welshmen were amongst our company and a choir of sorts was formed which I joined. We practised various items, well known to them, and were asked to sing at a local National Savings effort in a local church and after sitting on the stage whilst local dignitaries spoke were not even asked to sing. Obviously we were there for effect, ornaments on the stage.
As better weather conditions approached on off duty occasions we enjoyed a Spring time in Devon, walking many miles in the surrounding valleys and exploring the sea coast, together with my wife who had joined me in Ilfracombe lodgings.
Her brother was with the R. Warws Regt and had a mortar course on Braunton Dunes near Barnstaple. He was able to visit us and ourselves to visit him, making a welcome interlude from our Army duties.
Our stay in Ilfracombe came to an end after about six months when I was transferred to the Reading Pay Office, and where was found a more serious aspect. By now I had become a more knowledgeable and useful member of the Royal Army Pay Corps.

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