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15 October 2014
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The Ladder which saved my life and other stories

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Contributed by 
People in story: 
Michael Lyne
Location of story: 
Bodmin, Cornwall
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
07 September 2005

My Fire engine

This story has been submitted to the People's War site by Ann Toomey on behalf of the author, Michael Lyne, who fully understands the terms and conditions of the site.

When I was about 15 years of age I joined the Fire Brigade. I should have been 16 but I lied about my age. I was involved in the first and only air raid which Bodmin had, it was on August 7, 1942 and it was a tip and run raid. The first bomb fell on the Primrose Dairy Warehouse, which was full of butter, margarine and other foods - the fire was just one big red glow. 100 yards down the road was the gas works and there were canon shells like hail stones - we heard no siren. Some of the firemen ran in to George Smith's Garage - I was going to jump but Frank caught me and said "my boy if you go out there you will be killed - stay here". I saw the second aircraft 200 feet above, I clearly saw the pilot and saw the bombs fall from the aircraft right into the gas retort. Shrapnel punctured the gasometer, which immediately caught fire. The explosion blew a big stone wall on to our vehicle, the only thing that saved us was the ladder on the top of the fire engine. We got out of the fire engine and then heard the siren, by this time the planes were 50 miles away. We were there day and night putting out the fire on the gasometer - Bodmin had no gas for 6 months.

Whilst in the fire service we went to a lot of plane crashes, one of the last big ones was at St. Columb, Castle An Dynas, it was a twin engined Warwick, coming back from U-Boat Patrol. one engine failed and it was trying to get to St. Eval - it crashed on a farm and all the barns caught light, together with the crops. We were there for three days and whilst we were trying to put the fires out the ammunitiion was still going off in the plane - this was Christmas 1944.

We also did training at St. Germans - this was with the RAF - we were shown how to get crews out of aircrafts.

The Americans arrived in Bodmin in late 1942, they were camped under canvas all over Cornwall and one camp was at Fraddon, where Vincent's Garage is now. We were required to go round damming all streams so that if we had to attend a fire we had a good head of water. We arrived at Fraddon and for the first time in our lives we saw black Americans. We went down the valley and damned up the stream with sandbags and when we were coming back up a big black American about 7ft tall, shouted to us "chow time you guys" - we looked at each other amazed and were lead under canvas to a big table, we were handed an aluminium platter with two sections and went along the line being given a dollop of this and a dollop of that - when we got to the last two personnel we were first given two huge Californian peaches and then a dollop of some kind of cream. I looked down at the peaches and was asked "do you want some more" - I said "no thank you I have enough". Obviously they did not realise that we had not seen peaches for ages and that rationing in England was meagre to say the least.

As we left we were told to go to the gate as there was something for us - on arrival we were handed six large cardboard boxes containing all kinds of tinned produce - there was probably enough to supply half of Bodmin. On arriving back at the Fire Station we told my father what had happened and he said that we would have to distribute the treasure amongst the other crews, and I think that some of it went to Dr. Barnardo's Home.

In talking with the Americans, they said that they enjoyed their stay in Cornwall but that they felt so sorry for us because our rations were so meagre. They said that they found the Cornish people very friendly and welcoming.

I can remember the American tanks on the roads in Bodmin and my father saying to a Colonel that the tanks were ripping up our roads- the Colonel replied saying "don't worry, Uncle Sam's got plenty of dough"!

In January or February 1944, outside Bodmin Railway Station (now Bodmin and Wenford) I was testing hydrants, there were military personnel coming and going and then a staff car stopped - out got the driver followed by General Eisenhower and Montgomery - General Eisenhower spoke to me saying "good morning lad" to which I replied "good morning sir". Montgomery said nothing. The Station Master, Mr Wenouth came out and said to me "sonny - don't tell anybody who you have seen today, because if you do we will have the whole German Air Force on top of us". I went home and naturally told my father who looked at me and said "don't be so silly".

My father was friendly with the Colonel in Chief of the 29th Infantry Division USA and one night came home saying that he had been given tickets to go to a band concert at the Barracks given by the Glen Miller Band - I thought it was something like the Bodmin Town Band and said that I didn't want to go - however, he insisted - and I will never forget going into the Gym at the Barracks and seeing this massive great band playing.

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