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15 October 2014
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Childhood Days in Launceston

by cornwallcsv

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Victor Body, Frank Hoskin, Elsie and Doris Bowman
Location of story: 
Launceston, Cornwall
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
04 July 2005

My Dad, Richard Victor Body, was born on 3rd April, 1901, at St Mabyn, Cornwall, so was he was 38 when the Second World War began in 1939.

Dad was in a reserved occupation in 1939, working as a skilled assember (quality controller) in an iron foundry, owned by Frank Hoskin of Launceston. Why was his foundry work of such importance?

During the wartime years, the foundry produced lots of necessary products made from iron ore, smelted down from old scrap metal. From moulded casts came ploughshares, agricultural equipment such as iron wheels, axles, tools of many kinds - blades for spades, shovels, forks, axes etc. The foundry made cast-iron manhole covers, storm drains for roads, iron pipes, down pipes and guttering, plus bolts and fasteners. Throughout the war, the foundry continued to make built in stores and ovens, the forerunners of Rayburn stoves, gas and electric cookers.

If farmers had broken down agricultural equipment, dad had the skill to make replacement parts in iron from moulded casts, so that the farmers were provided for wartime years and could continue producing food and meat.

On every farm, there were foundry manufactured items made from recycled scrap iron - iron field gates, feeding troughs, water tanks, and conditions for storage of grain (rat free).

Even in the reserved occupation, dad still served in the Home Guard. By 1940, dad had fathered 4 children, so he was the hardworking breadwinner. In the evenings and over weekends he had to attend Home Guard training in the use of fire arms, using live ammunition. They went shooting on rifle ranges near Launceston. Dad started on the rifle, and shotgun, but later was equipped with a machine gun. He brought these guns home to our house, for oiling and cleaning beside the fireplace, using a corded pull through to go through the barrel. The machine gun needed space, and this was placed behind the settee in our sitting room. I played on my tummy behind the machinegun, pretending to be a soldier.

Born myself on 12th June 1934, I was 5 years old when the war broke out, and then started to attend the C. of E. National School, where we were issued with gasmasks. I stayed for school dinners. This school, in St Thomas Road, was south of Launceston’s railway station the line between Exeter and Wadebridge / Padstow. From the road bridge, we watched the wartime steam trains passing under the bridge. The wagons then were loaded with army equipment, guns and tanks were of great interest to us children - war seemed an exciting time!

Soon afterwards, the London evacuees arrived by train in Launceston. Mum took on two girl evacuees, from Battersea, London - Elsie and Doris Bowman. We somehow managed in our crowded house, with Saturday night, the bath night, taken in turns beside our kitchen fire. Out came the bungalow-type metal bath. In those days, our terraced house had only an outdoors toilet, in the yard on a cold draughty corner (not very pleasant on rainy days).

In wartime, we had American troops billeted in, and near Launceston, at Werrington Park. On the outskirts of town were prisoner of war camps, which accommodated German and Italian P.O.Ws. P.O.Ws worked on the farms, like the land army girls, producing food and milk, and tending the farmyard animals.

The Jubilee Swimming Baths, at Underlane, Launceston, were used by the pupils of Launceston’s National School. The water supply came from an adjoining leat, which drove the big mill wheel of the Town Mills Corn mill. I remember, on one occasion, seeing the Italian P.O.Ws cleaning out this mill leat and they had to drain it of water and remove the fish there. They were using long handled shovels and wheelbarrows, which could well have been made in F. Hoskin’s local iron foundry.

In wartime Christmas's, I remember American troops treating us children to parties in their Nissen huts at Scarne, Launceston, their camp. They treated us children to delights, like creamy ice-cream, candy, pop and packets of bubble gum. The Yanks laid on transport to their camp - my brother chose to travel there and back in a jeep, waving in delight to passers by, but I chose to climb into the back of a truck. The Yanks were such good entertainers, and their uniforms were so smart, compared to the drab khaki of dad’s Home Guard uniform.

Although wartime was a time of shortages (with food rationing), my mum kept us fed. She improvised and no food was wasted - scraps were saved to feed our chickens. We had fresh eggs, as well as dried egg powder. We worked an allotment plot, growing vegetables and potatoes. Mum bottled things to keep.

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