OUR HISTORY - DARTMOOR, DEVON AND WORLD WAR TWO

In an effort to preserve precious heritage, in the form of the memories and first-hand experiences of the local wartime generation, MED Theatre’s ‘Dartmoor, Devon and World War Two’ project will offer the opportunity for younger members of the rural Devon communities to carry out research and oral history interviews that can be used in the creation of various creative outputs. On this page you will find some of the highlights of the interviews we have carried out so far with very special members of our community. 

May Ashford

May was born in 1923 and although her house in Plymouth was damaged, her family remained in the South West throughout the war, spending some time in Notter Bridge in a converted railway carriage. May also worked as a GPO telephonist during the war, receiving the warning calls for air raids.  Here are some of May’s memories:

“Our Anderson shelters were at the bottom of the garden and so were the others, so all the shelters were in a little group. And they used to say, as long as you can hear the bombs it means you’re okay, because they say you don’t hear when it’s… Well the shelter just at the back of us received a direct hit and I didn’t hear that bomb, but you can feel it, you can feel the air being compressed.”

“I was eighteen and there was a consignment of bananas and I was too old to get one. Mind you I did get one because what we had as a family we shared and I did have a banana, but I wasn’t supposed to”

“…We used to receive the air raid message yellow, and that was to say stand by. Air raid warning purple, that was to say it was imminent, and air raid warning red. And when it was air red warning red, we had several numbers we had to phone to tell them, to spread the word. We had to sit with the thing open, you know we weren’t shut off at all we had to keep the thing open so that we responded right away.  When it was air raid warning you weren’t supposed to talk at that time, but we did of course. And one of the operators said, oh air raid warning red, why don’t we have a change and said air raid warning magenta? She was told off like mad about that, oh yes.”

Kenneth Wheeler

Ken was born in July 1928 and remained in the Plymouth area throughout the war. He worked in a bakery and his favourite way to pass his free time was to go to the cinema and escape the world outside.

“We could hear the bombs coming, we could hear them whistling and coming towards us, and Father said, down, and I threw myself on the floor; on the concrete. And I laid there looking at this candle, directly in front of me and the first bomb dropped to just below us and I watched the candle go out and I watched the dust rise off the ground, about three inches, and then drop back down.

Then the second bomb landed at the top of our street and the same thing happened again, the candle went out and lit itself and the dust shoved up three inches and fell back down. And that happened four bombs in a row; as they exploded this occurrence happened and I was mesmerised to see this dust rise and go back down and to see this candle go out and light itself again. I was absolutely stunned.

 To me it was wonderful and I wasn’t afraid, I just thought it was so educational you know it was wonderful; it was something I hadn’t seen.”

“Where we lived was near the Naval hospital and it’s a great big long street with the wall on one side so all the buses lined up there every night, the Council put them on, and the people who wanted to go away on the moors could go down and get on the bus. And so they all came down there in their hundreds and went on the buses.

There was all sorts of people; rich, poor, they just went up in their hundreds onto the moors. Some of them had tents, some of them had just tarpaulins or something like that and they just made a rough shelter to get under.”

“And then on the 6th June it was my birthday. My mother always put a sixpence in my shoe on my birthday, now sixpence might not seem much to you but to me it was a fortune. And I was 14 and I left school on the Friday and I started work on the Monday. No that’s when I started work… I was 16 when D-Day started, it was my 16th, 16 years old, and I went out to put my shoes on and looking for sixpence, a tanner it was called, and I was looking for my tanner and I said, Mum there’s no sixpence here. And she said no I’ve got a better birthday present for you, and I said what’s that? She said, our troops have landed in Normandy. And then she said, that’s the best present you’ll have this day and it was.”

Ron ZAPLE

Ron was born in 1934 and was evacuated for a short period to Stoke Climsland but was otherwise in the Plymouth area.

“The war really, we weren’t afraid of the war because we didn’t… Oh yes you knew some bombs dropped, and you lost some of your school friends but it didn’t affect you like that, not as a child. We just went out playing and then you picked up some shrapnel and who had the biggest piece of shrapnel, oh that was something worth looking for in the gutters. In those days, you played out in the street. Played ball, football, skipping, no problem at all. You didn’t worry about cars because there was no cars about; very few anyway.”

“…near St. Budeaux they had an encampment up there of American soldiers. And we used to go up there and say, any gum chum? I can remember saying it to them, got any gum chum? And they would toss you out a packet of chewing gum. Until the dockyard copper came around and chased you all away.”

“The biggest part of it was poor mother was on her own and I can realise now she had five children to look after. It was a bit of a problem for the poor girl and father was… Of course the Repulse was sunk and luckily father was a survivor and I can’t remember the next ship he went on but that one was sunk as well.”