Constantine Cornwall

Wartime in our Area

Ivor Corkell, a long term resident of Camborne, provided members of the group with a comprehensive history of the impact of the Second World War on Cornwall and particularly in the areas of Falmouth and Camborne.

Ivor pointed out that tensions were already high in Europe in the late 1920s and that two Royal Naval vessels were sunk by the Japanese. Following Churchill’s plea for preparations to be made for war in 1935, gun emplacements were constructed along the north coast as this was the anticipated location for an invasion. Members were interested to see that the line of pill boxes encircling Falmouth faced west and north-west to protect the port from this expected direction of invasion.

Once war was declared Anderson and Morrison shelters were made available and the latter were free if your income was less than £250. In the towns community shelters were constructed, proving useful for courting couples and businesses built shelters for their employees, at East Pool mine a Cornish stamp was converted. Oil tanks were placed under the surface in Swanpool (now being removed to enable house construction) whilst gas masks and ration cards were distributed and train loads of children began to arrive in Cornwall from the cities. Homed by the Women’s Institute most were well treated but some were not. One child being punished by being lowered into a well!

On 3rd September 1939 Falmouth was commissioned as HMS Forte and defence booms, and barrage balloons were soon in place accompanied by restrictions on access to the beaches. The Fal was to see much activity during the war including departure of the St Nazaire raiding party and preparations for D day, whilst in the Helford SOE established a base for clandestine visits to France.

A variety of new organisations were established including the LDV (nicknamed Look, Duck and Vanish, later to become the Home Guard), Women’s Voluntary Service, Land Army and Air Raid Wardens.

Local factories such as Holman’s, Climax and Bickford Smiths changed production from equipment for mining to support the war effort.

Cornish airspace became busy as the airfields at Portreath (commissioned in 1941), St Mawgan and Predannack became increasingly active. Ivor showed a map of allied aircraft crashes, which showed concentrations around each of the airfields. Some air crews were lucky to survive, one plane despatched to challenge an enemy aircraft off the north coast had to ditch and resort to the inflatable dinghy. After attempting to swim it ashore, paddles and clothing made a sail. On arrival on the beach a 300 foot cliff then had to be scaled to obtain help for the injured crew member. Pilot and crew both survived.

Preparations for D Day saw large numbers of American troops arrive who were constantly on the move for practice. Communities found themselves subject to access controls to their own villages and became aware of segregation between black and white Americans, some witnessed racial fights in Camborne, whilst in Falmouth the Canadians sought a fight with their north American colleagues!

The talk reminded many of their experiences in their childhood and teenage years. Chairman Geoff Roberts thanked Ivor for his detailed account and anecdotes. The group will meet on Friday 20 March at 19.15 in the WI Hall Constantine when local residents Suzanna and Dougal Jeffries will speak about the “The Isles of Scilly”.

Don Garman