These are personal memories of some of our members who lived during the war years. Many thanks to all the contributors who shared these with us. Thanks also to Brian Lownds Pateman for permission to use some of of his photographs.
WW2 did have quite an effect on Babbacombe and St Marychurch. The RAF was posted in hotels on Babbacombe Downs and used the Concert Hall (now Babbacombe Theatre) for all the war years.
The old Royal Marble works was used as a munitions factory.
Babbacombe Garage was used for the Equipment Section.
They strolled around the corner and across the Downs to the shelter where they could sit in privacy and out of the early autumn breeze. They knew their lives were about to change and that they would soon be separated. He proposed and she accepted. They were married a year later aged only 18 and 20. The Downs and the shelter were always spoken about with much affection and the story passed on to me, their daughter.
I was 7 years old when World War II broke out. I can remember walking over Babbacombe Downs with my grandmother when a man spoke to her in a state of excitement to say “it’s started”. That meant nothing to me at the time, but my grandmother rushed me home and sensed it was very important.
We would frequently have gas mask drill. We carried the masks around all the time in a case. We hated these practice sessions, the visors would mist up and the rubbery smell made one feel sick. We dreaded the thought that one day we might hear the football rattle to signify a gas attack was imminent.
I was evacuated to Torquay from Bristol in 1941 as a seven year old. My Mum had asked me if I wanted to be evacuated and I said yes although I didn’t understand what it was. The next thing I knew I was waving to her from the train trying very hard not to cry. On arrival I was taken to a hall with other children I didn’t know and people coming in to take one of us at a time. It was very confusing and I was the last to be collected by a young mother with a baby. She was very nice but I had to sleep in a cot with my feet out through the bars while her baby slept in her bed. It was obviously not an ideal solution so other accommodation had to be found. The next day I was taken to Park Road, St Marychurch to a lovely family, Mr and Mrs Hockin and their daughter Phyllis. I had an enjoyable stay, going to school, visiting their friends, going to the cinema and to the beach albeit with barbed wire further out in the sea. I was still able to play in the water though. I collected the eggs from their chickens every morning for my breakfast. I think I was only there for four months because Mum came to take me home. She must have missed me and, who knows, at the back of her mind thought if we were going to be bombed then we would all go together, her, my sister and myself. My Dad was away fighting and tragically never returned. Life was so different in Bristol to Torquay where the sirens seemed constant having to leave a nice warm bed to go to the shelter. I managed to have two holidays with them after the war and kept in touch by letter through their lifetimes. I know their house is still there as I saw it on Google street videos a little while ago but with new windows and front door. I did enjoy my trip around the area when I was on Google, brought back many happy memories.
The Troops at the Town Hall
Many troops were stationed in the area and for them dances were held throughout the war years. First came the RAF, then the mericans, jitterbugging their way over that fine sprung ballroom floor, and finally, in 1946, came the Canadians, awaiting ships to take them home. I particularly remember them. First, because they had a splendid Canadian Air Force dance band and then because they brought trays of chocolate cake to serve in the interval which was left over at the end of the dance(!!)
The sea was calm and blue-grey stretching far in the distance to the horizon, the rose red cliffs towered high towards the sky. Seagulls flew overhead, their resounding cry echoed as they dipped to seize scraps to satisfy their hearty appetites. There were other families visiting the beach at that time, walking along the sea shore, enjoying the fresh air and relaxation. At the age of six years it was such an adventure for me to paddle in the sea and throw pebbles into the water, splashing, one after the other.
Suddenly it was quiet, barely a sound, except for ….. the drone of aircraft engines hummed in the distance.
At the Norcliffe the bomb bounced through the back of the hotel and exploded in the road. One of the concrete pillars from the front entrance was eventually found fully intact on Oddicombe Beach.
Our next door neighbours had an Anderson shelter in their garden to go to when the sirens sounded. We hid in the cupboard under the stairs.
That awful day
It was a Sunday afternoon in May, my friend and I often walked to Babbacombe Downs and had not long left our homes in Hele Road. Then from nowhere it seemed, a plane, or planes were screaming above us, and shooting along the road with machine guns.
Instinctively we opened the front door of the nearest house and lay in the passage. As it happened we did know the people living there, and we can laugh at the thought of how we “broke” into their house now!
It was some time before I discovered that so many of my schoolmates had been killed when St Mary’s Church took a directhit. More would have been killed but as it was a lovely sunny day a number had gone to Oddicombe Beach instead of going to church. After the attack I thought my brother was dead. He was so still and although we were lying fairly close to each other, a piece of hot shrapnel had landed between us. However, I think the noise of the attack had stunned him and he soon recovered.
A plane hit the cross of the Catholic Church with its wing and jettisoned its bomb which hit the Church of England Church, a few hundred yards away. Children were in there at Sunday School at the time and 21 children and several teachers were killed. Mother said, with the force of the explosion, the gate of the church ended up in her front garden in Barewell Road.
I have never forgotten that fateful day or my friends and the children who were lost. I was living in the Erskine Home on Babbacombe Downs (now part of the Sefton Hotel). We were at St Marychurch Parish Church for Sunday School. One minute we were sitting in our usual place on the left hand side of the nave when suddenly one of the teachers shouted “Get under the Pews”
When the bomb was dropped on the parish church of St Marychurch we were getting ready to go out and my father was worried about my aunt who lived in Princes Street. We found the place in chaos, but luckily my aunt was alright, although several houses in Princes Street were destroyed. It was a very sad day as we knew a lot of the children who were killed in the church.
On 30 May 1943 Eddy called as usual and we left the house for Church. At the end of the road I told Eddy that I was not going to church, but intended to go to the beach for a swim. Eddy refused to swap the comics and walked off to Sunday School whilst I enjoyed myself on the beach.
I was suddenly aware of three planes approaching the beach, so low that they almost skimmed the water. To protect me a man pushed me down on the beach and lay on top of me, and I recall that he had a very hairy chest. It was evident that a bomb had dropped nearby in St Marychurch.
On my way home I walked up through St Marychurch and came upon the devastation at the church, and saw my father digging feverishly in the rubble.
He had found the body of a young boy holding a Champion comic and assumed it was me thinking we had swapped comics as usual. I approached him to ask what was going on and he slapped me around the face saying “don’t ever frighten me like that again”
Eddy was one of the victims and his name is on the memorial to the 21 children who died on that terrible day.
We lived almost opposite the Perrett family and my best friend at school was David Perrett who had a twin brother and sister who were two years younger than him. I used to take Mary to Brownies with me. On the day of the bombing I was allowed to stay at home as my mother thought I had worked too hard during the week. I saw a German plane pass across the dining room window, presumably after the bomb had been dropped. Unfortunately the twin brother and sister were both killed in this raid, but David was in Exeter at the time and so escaped.
June Rallison nee Lang
My father Robert Pate is now 96 years was stationed with the RAF at Babbacombe in 1943 and was one of the rescuers when the church was bombed. He rescued an injured young girl from the rubble and carried her to the first aid post. He thinks she was about 9/10 years and remembers her weeping through her brown eyes and tried to comfort her but does not know her name. He has kept newspaper articles. He was with D Flight, No.3 Squadron and they stayed at the Downs Hotel. He has a photograph of his Squadron taken a month or so before the bombing. His memories of the event are clear but in other ways he is becoming more frail. It will shortly be another anniversary of the event and, as there may not be many rescuers still alive, I thought you might be interested. He now lives in South West Scotland. He was a Glider Pilot and after the war served for many years with the Royal Observer Corps, becoming Observer Commander with responsibility for 45 underground bunkers and their teams. He often wonders what became of the child he rescued, as do we. She was able to tell him where the
pain was. He became a Primary School Head Teacher. He plays his part in the rescue down, saying that – if he hadn’t found her, hopefully somebody else would have. It is now in his latter years that we are learning more of the event and his part in it. I wondered whether anyone might know who the child survivor was? My father was 19 years old when he faced this tragic situation.
On the corner of Warbro Road and St Marychurch Road there now stands a block of flats. Pre-war this was a courtyard, with shops facing the main road and small cottages at the rear….. there was a raid and tragically the courtyard had a direct hit. Sadly one gentleman in a wheelchair was killed but no trace of the body was ever found.
Recollections of the St Marychurch Home Guard 1941
Within a week of joining I was part of the St Marychurch Platoon, kitted out from the main Quartermaster’s Store in Rock Road behind Fleet Street, with uniform, rifle and 200 rounds of 300 ammunition and told to report to St Marychurch Town Hall, which was our headquarters. We all took our turn with the neighbouring platoon in standing night guards on Oddicombe and Babbacombe beaches, using the Beach Café as our guard room, and in pairs we patrolled the beaches on a two hour stretch. One of my first tasks that summer was to ensure that no civilian remained on Oddicombe Beach after 6pm, so with a very senior companion we made ourselves unpopular by requesting that the sunbathers should start to wend their way up the hill – no Cliff Railway running in those days. RD
Food was in short supply. Like most families we had a pet – a cat – but I also had a pet of my own, a grey and white Dutch rabbit. One day when the butcher called he took particular notice of my rabbit and said that if I no longer wanted it, he would buy it from me for half a crown and give it a good home. Reluctantly, I agreed. It was a long time before I realised that the good home was another family’s dinner table!
Rationing was in force and anything not on ration was very scarce. I know that my mother spent a large amount of time queuing. Most people grew their own vegetables and many in Babbacombe kept chickens, to preserve the eggs for when the chickens went off the lay, the eggs were kept in a jelly like liquid called isinglass. ML
We kept chickens in the kitchen garden, eggs of course were rationed so we were allowed to keep our ration but the remaining eggs had to be taken to the Town Hall. I can’t remember if the chickens laid everyday! Probably not!
If you would like to read these stories in full and more; our booklet ” Memories of life during World War II in Babbacombe and St Marychurch” is for sale at £4.50 collected from the society.
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