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15 October 2014
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A country schoolboy during WW2

by cornwallcsv

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
cornwallcsv
People in story: 
martin Wills
Location of story: 
Launceston
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A4202722
Contributed on: 
16 June 2005

This story has been added to the People's War Website by Nina Davey on behalf of the author Martin Wills who fully understands the sites rules and regulations

I was born in 1931 and was attending Boyton Council School Nr Launceston, Cornwall when war was declared in 1939.The headmaster was Mr RS Best and his wife was the `infant` teacher. From day one of the war Mr Best would give us a daily update in the war. In the summer months all the pupils would go into the woods to collect Foxglove leaves (Digitalis), these were dried in the school shed and were later collected for use in the drug industry. In the 1940`s we made grass shelters in which we could hide from enemy aircraft if the pupils were caught out in the open. At that time there were Searchlight & Sound detector sites every few miles, there was one site a few hundred yard for the school at Bradridge Farm so we soon got use to the military in our midst. I remember have our gasmasks issued and having to go into the `tear gas van` to ensue that the masks fitted correctly.Mine did not fit too good resulting in `stinging eyes`, not pleasent.
My parents farmed at Hessacott on the Cornwall & Devon border. Father was in the Home Guard, I remember going with him to Peppers Hill Farm to collect his Ross rifle and other equipment. I believe that the rifles came from Canada, these were packed in grease, thick, smelly stuff. My father, Tom Wills was in the Werrington Home Guard. They would man a post at Peppers Hill.
When I was 11yo I attended Launceston College where the only PE I remember was `Square Bashing` every day. And doing so for 3 years. Now Launceston College was interesting for other reasons, in 1943 the Americans arrivied, there were 2 camps at Launceston, one each side the College. One White, one Black. We lived with the Yanks for nearly 2 years. The US troops would take thier trucks, jeeps & other vehicles down to Newport which is the lower part of the town to wash the vehicles in the River Kensey. During that time a tank transporter with a Sherman tank on board was stuck in Southgate Arch, the gouges in the walls can still be seen today.The US also had a Military hospital in the Castle Grounds that is where I saw Joe Louis the boxer who was visiting the troops. The Blacks & Whites had a `firefight` in the town one night, there were bullet holes through the shop windows, Hicks drapers shop and Mules the hairdresser as well as chips off the War Mamorial.
In 1943 the whole area around Launceston was an ammunition dump. Strips of farm land adjoining public roads were taken over by the military. Fences were erected to contain the farm animals , numerious gaps were made in the Cornish hedges and small `half round` shelters weere erected. these were filled with all manner of ammunition. shells by the 1`000`s, bombs etc etc. The interesting thing was that none of any of these dumps were guarded.
The only thing that was sited every few hundred yard was a empty shell hanging on a chain with a piece of metal alongside to raise the alarm if needed, fire or whatever.
There were plane crashes in various places so it was not uncommon for youngsters like myself to go to school with a pocketful of live .303 machinegun bullets, but thing s got better because if there was a downed US plane that had .5 bullets. The .5 ammunition was something we all wanted and most eventualy had. I don`t remember anyone being injured with the lethal contents of our pockets.
Although Launceston is over 20 miles from the sea, gunfire could be heard frequently from out in the Channel or the Atlantic.
I realise that being in a rural area and living on a farm that did not have to endure the hardships that many others had to go through, we had plenty to eat, we were safe from bombing but we were very aware of the conflict.
At times there were Britsh troops train in the area, roadblock etc etc. I had a great interest in everything `military`, plane spotting, seeing the occasional enemy plane which we assumed was on a photographic mission. Talking to the Yanks, life for a youngster like myself was EXCITING. Sad to say WW2 was the most exciting time of my life, being of that age, 8 to 14yo we had no real thought of the horrors of war.

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