- Contributed by
- People in story:
- John Chiswell, Ann Rickard, Miss Stedman, Miss Brown, Mr & Mrs Harris, Miss Gellard and Winston Churchill
- Location of story:
- Plymouth, Devon and Pentuan, Cornwall
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 02 August 2005
This story was entered onto the peoples war website by Rod Sutton on behalf of John Chiswell, the author, with his full permission. He understands the sites terms and conditions.
It was in 1940 at the age of 5 years that my life was to change into something I could never have imagined.
I was born in Plymouth before the commencement of The Second World War, my father worked in Devonport Dockyard and I had just started school when the Germans started to bomb Plymouth. We lived very close to the dockyard which was the obvious target and, as the intensity of bombing increased towards what became known as ‘The Plymouth Blitz’, we suffered two weeks of very frightening nights. Even at my young age I have vivid memories to this day. We had a visit from the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, who came to inspect a massive bomb crater at the top of our road. It was at this point that the authorities decided that it was too dangerous for women and children to remain in the city at night. We were taken out onto the moors to sleep – somewhere near Tavistock. This went on for several nights and then one morning when we came back our house was devastated. A nearby bomb had lifted up a huge granite kerbstone, which had dropped through our roof, making it completely uninhabitable.
My parents had some good friends who lived just down the road, Mr & Mrs Harris, whose family, by chance, owned a property in Pentewan. Mrs Harris had an elderly aunt, Miss Gellard, the village postlady who delivered the post and also doubled as the cleaner in the village school. Little did we know that, for a short while, we were to become her neighbour. Gwen and Rod Harris told my mother that she could not stay in Plymouth and that we were welcome to go to Pentewan with them. In short, this is how I began a childhood in Pentewan – mother and I set up home and father had to stay in Plymouth, since the dockyard was as reserved occupation, helping to keep the navy at sea.
We lived in various rooms in houses in the village until Mrs Treleaven, the local postmistress, rented us ‘Westcliffe’. My parents went on to acquire the property together with ‘Bide-a-wee’, next door. It was after a somewhat uncertain start that we settled. There was no school; the Americans took it over as the headquarters for part of the invasion forces that participated in the D-Day Landings. Eventually our schooling continued in the Methodist Sunday school under the direction of Miss Brown, who came down with the evacuees from London.
For me, life in Pentewan was idyllic after being in ‘The Plymouth Blitz’. We were able to play in the open with no fear of any more bombs. That is until one day in August 1942 when I was playing outside Westcliffe - to my amazement a low flying plane came in from the direction of what is now the campsite. The plane was so low as it flew over me that I can vividly remember the pilot in his headgear and goggles looking down at me. It is now a matter of history that he dropped his bombs and the Methodist Chapel was destroyed. It was only a short time before that I had been walking down North Row past the chapel with some other children after playing out towards the woods – clearly someone was looking after us!
My memory is so clear on the events of that day – I remember Miss Stedman kneeling down in the road to pray. The chapel was the emergency food store for the village; North Row was littered with cans of food. The large pipes of the chapel organ were scattered around in the debris and, as youngsters, we had great fun trying to blow them to make some sound. The village was a mess. The devastation was nothing like I had seen in Plymouth but, for our wonderful village life, this was a whole new chapter.
We had great friendship with the evacuees from London and they must have been wondering what it was really like back in their homes. I suppose, in reality, I was like an evacuee but I had the benefit of mother at home and father who could visit some weekends provided everything was clear in the dockyard.
As is the pattern of life, we all move on. Eventually the evacuee school was closed and we went to Mevagissey School from where I passed entry to St Austell Grammar School and thence to train and ultimately qualify as a Chartered Land Surveyor with English China Clays. In March 1963 I married Ann Rickard from St Austell, we had almost 40 wonderful years and two beautiful daughters. Then, in October 2002, very tragically and unexpectedly, Ann passed on. I think we were both fortunate in that we had a good life and travelled extensively as a consequence of my various appointments. I have seen many different countries but the reality is that my roots come back to Pentewan – my adoptive village. I still feel that when you come over that bridge you enter something of a different world.
The village had developed, many new properties have been built, but I still remember the quiet scene to which I came after being bombed out of Plymouth. I do now believe that, some 65 years on from first entering Pentewan as a very frightened young child, I could probably apply for Cornish citizenship!
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