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15 October 2014
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Totnes View

by Desmond Quick

Desmond Quick, 14 yrs. King Edward VI Grammar School, Totnes.

Contributed by 
Desmond Quick
People in story: 
Desmond Quick, Wilfred Quick, Kenneth Ferris, Jean Sampson
Location of story: 
Berry Pomeroy, Totnes
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
12 September 2004

Totnes View.

An orange glow painted the night sky. Pencil beams pierced the darkness, sweeping endlessly to and fro. Occasionally a flash of white penetrated the pervading orange. Plymouth was 25 miles away from our home, near Totnes, but visible in its agony at the peak of the Luftwaffe onslaught. Red beads of tracer streamed up, seeking out the invisible enemy above, but all in vain. At eight years old the real significance was beyond my understanding. At first, when the sirens sounded, we would crouch in the cupboard underneath the stairs, but as days and weeks went by and it was clear that we were not under threat we stood silently in the living room, watching the spectacle on the night horizon.
My parents must have felt very differently from me in my innocence. They knew that my favourite Uncle ken was down there, with his wife, Aunty Em, my mother’s younger sister. Uncle Ken worked in the dockyard, and this was the target, together with the city, which housed the workers.
I did not know that Uncle Ken was also a volunteer with St Johns Ambulance . He was out there in the darkness and flames, looking for casualties needing First Aid and rescue. It was only years later that I heard his tale of one street which he approached, only to be accosted by an Air Raid Warden —“You can’t go down there! There’s an unexploded bomb”. “ I’m going in “ said Uncle Ken, “There’s a woman trapped in that house, and I must see what I can do for her!” The Air Raid Warden got a medal, but Uncle Ken got no recognition. Later he was posted to Scotland, to service ships away from the Plymouth blitz. We did not see them again until after the war.
In a way we survived the war in a bystander role. Dad volunteered for the R.A.F. but was rejected on medical grounds. He worked on the land, and agriculture was a vital part of the war effort. He joined the Home Guard, and spent many nights on drill or manoeuvres, getting up at 5 am the next day to do the milking. We had a child evacuee, a boy of 4 or 5 years, very homesick and tearful. He caused Mum endless work, as he wet the bed regularly. His sister, about my age, was billeted next door with my Aunt Flo and Uncle Henry.
A Plymouth naval family rented rooms in a big house about a mile away. Jean Sampson, the daughter, just a year younger than me, was a petite, attractive girl. We walked together 2 miles to Sunday school. She wrote me my first love letter when I was just ten. I didn’t know what to do, so showed it to my mother. She said ‘Oh, she’s just a silly girl, forget it.’ So I did nothing, and Jean slipped out of my life. Maybe they went back to Plymouth when the blitz eased. Looking back she was a city girl, rather more precocious than country folk of that time.
Later on American troops made camp in one of the fields on the farm. They were gathering for D-Day, although of course no one knew at the time. My sister and I sat on the bank, and waved as the trucks rolled by. GI’s threw us chewing gum, unheard of luxury to us. Some of the Officers persuaded my mother to take in their laundry. Then they were gone —they left piles of rubbish in concrete bunkers in an abandoned quarry, which lay in the coppice behind our cottage. I spent hours there gleaning for treasures, but can’t remember what I found.
By the time the war ended we had moved away, first to Tiverton, and then to Dartmoor, where I had to go to boarding school to maintain my Grammar School education. This ended when we moved, first to St Austell, in Cornwall, and then to a farm near Tavistock, where my father formed a partnership with his elder brother. Here I had my last glimpse of the war years in the form of Willie, a German PoW, who worked on the farm. He sent us pleading letters for food parcels when he was repatriated. As far as I know my parents failed to respond. Perhaps memories were too bitter.

Desmond Quick

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