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15 October 2014
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The Calstock Boat Yard

by csvdevon

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Contributed by 
People in story: 
John T R Snell
Location of story: 
Gunnislake, Calstock
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
07 December 2005

In 1943 a boat yard was built for the US navy. My uncle Richard Veal who was employed in the Devonport Dockyard worked in the yard. He was seconded from the dockyard to work at Calstock, this suited him as he lived at Gunnislake. On the 8th November 1943 the US Naval Advance Base at Plymouth was commissioned. The 29th and the 81st US Naval Contruction Battalions were engaged in this work. Two months after formal commissioning all facilities were fully operational.
Maintenance and repair departments were located at Queens Annes Battery with Lt Commander Charles L Pieace USNR as officer in charge, at Saltash with Lieut John F Derry USNR as officer in charge and at Calstock with Lieut F Walcutt USNR as officer in charge. Saltash and Calstock were repair sub bases servicing small craft and yard mine sweepers. Hull repairs, engine repairs, billeting and supplying craft were done at these bases. Lieut Walcutt's HQ was at Kelly House, Calstock near the yard. In the book Devon at War i read that the famous film star Tyrone Power was in charge of a landing craft that visited the Calstock yard.
After D Day (6th June 1944) Saltash operated with a greatly reduced personnel and the Calstock yard was closed completely.
On D Day troops of the 4th and 29th Infantry Divisions landed in France. As a foothold was secured in Europe the need for the base at Plymouth declined. In August 1945 a decommisioning officer was appointed to bring matters to an end and in September 1945 Plymouth and Saltash departments closed.

The Americans in the near by area. At Bere Alston on their arrival in 1943 many were billeted in the village Parish Hall. They immediately raised their national flag. This brought a rebuke from the Parish council. Peace and harmony was soon restored when our national flag was flown side by side the American flag.
In Tavistock US soldiers were camped all around the town. In 1943 Abbotsfield house became the HQ of the American 29th Infantry Division and the focus for the planning of D Day by Generals Montgomery and Eisenhower.

Plaister Down just outside of Tavistock becme the site of the United States 115th Hospital. The Hospital was up and running by the end of July 1943. Famous visitors to this post were the Haevyweight Boxing Champion Joe Louis and on one occasion Virginia born Lady Astor came to 'Talk Southern' with the officer in charge Lt Col Fourrier of Louisiana. The somewhat wacky Spike Jones band gave a concert. The hospital started with 750 beds but eventually this was extended to 1487 beds. After D Day casualties came by train to Tavistocks Southern Railway station en route to Plaister Down. There was a USO club on West Street Tavistock for the US troops. In May 1945 the Hospital moved to France. Then the Plaister Down camp stood empty.At Yelverton Aerodrome the famous Glenn Miller orchestra landed on 28th August 1944. The band gave two concerts in Plymouth.
On the 2nd August 1945 a strange chain of events really put Yelverton Aerodrome on the map. It all started in Gatow when Heads of State, who had attended the world shaping Potsdam Conference in Berlin, were making their ways home. President H Truman of the United States was routed Gatow to RAF St Mawgan, the principal transit base for UK-USA transatlantic flights. His aircraft a DC4 called the Sacred Cow, departed at 0805 ten minutes after the first aircraft carrying of the party following on. Fog now took a hand in the procedures and St Mawgan was closed so the party of VIPS were diverted to Yelverton, which was clear, and so the President touched down at 0940. All the top brass was at St Mawgan and it was left to the poor duty officer to turn out the guard to welcome Mr Truman.
Prior to D Day American lorries stretched from Rock above Morwellham to Gulworthy cross roads and then to the cross roads to Long Cross near Brentor all were manned by black soldiers.
There were no doubt momentous times and it is a period i shall never forget.

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