During the war in Torpoint Mr Peacock was the ARP controller and my father
was the Transport Officer. Because I was deferred twice from being called
up, if there was an Air raid & I was at home, then we had to report to the
headquarters in St James Road. I was an ambulance driver and it was a
(gate change) Austin which carried 4 stretchers, the whole lot being
covered in a green canvas tilt.
Now I think I should talk about my time as a civy working for the ARP in Torpoint. I will not be able to remember everything in the right order, but I will try. My father was the transport officer for the ARP in Torpoint and I was an ambulance driver but of course it was only when I was home from work. I was once detailed to go down the ferry because there were casualties from a bomb drop. I picked up 4 bodies and took them up to St James HQ, I shall never forget because blood & other stuff was dripping out the back of this lorry converted into an ambulance with steel racks fitted to carry four stretchers which slid in on steel runners, the whole lot being covered in a large green canvas cover. The vehicle did not have any doors. ANOTHER THING I REMEMBER IS. The time when a stick of bombs fell in Ferry Street. Killing a good friend of our family, a Mr Leach. Bill Knot and I helped to carry him up Fore Street, of course he was already dead.
When the war started I was a dustman working for the Torpoint Urban District Council and my mother just like a lot of people started to take in lodgers who were working for the war effort. We had a London man who was Forman of steel erectors working at HMS Fishgard and HMS Raleigh. He wanted a reliable man to train as a steel erector. (I was that man) so I changed jobs and one day while working up aloft I fell about 55 feet, fortunately I landed on a pile of sand that had been delivered the day before, even so, I was off work for two weeks with concussion, another tine I heard gunfire and looked up just in time to see a lone German bomber pop out of the clouds and saw two bombs leave the aircraft. Those bombs hit and blocked the main road on the top bend of Thancks hill. They were the first bombs ever dropped on Torpoint. We could see the air raid flags at Mount Wise in those days and kept a sharp eye for any air raid warnings but usually the planes were over before the correct flags were hoisted. There were three flags.
Of course I was still there when the Dunkirk evacuation took place and Trevol Road was packed with hundreds of survivors of all countries and they were in a shocking state. When all the steel erecting was finished I got a job as a carpenter with the contractors WIMPY and the first job of work was laying the screed boards for the road at a gun site just before Millbrook. I was in charge of six gypsies. I donít mind telling you it was a real test of wills.
When that job was finished we moved to Radford Dip vally, I was laying the foundations for the fuel storage tanks. While working in the rain and in deep water I trod on a piece of wood stuck in the mud and a nail entered my foot, needless to say my foot became poisoned, off work again. I remember one of the days off sick that I was up at my fathers garden tending the poultry and his two incubators, it was a Wednesday afternoon and a lovely clear day. Suddenly ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE every gun around Plymouth was banging away and the next thing there was a terrific roar. There must have been two squadrons of German aircraft coming right down the river from the north. They were SO low that I could see the men inside. Strangely enough I felt no fear, just stared in wonder and surprise. While working at Plymstock I had to cycle six miles each way every day including weekends. After finishing that job I got one in the Tamar Brewery which was just off the ferry beach at Devonport I was a drayman, of course all this tine we were burdened with many heavy air raids. I remember once before my brother Arthur got called up, we were both asleep in the back bedroom of 40 Fore Street and our mother came into the room shouting wake up, we were having an air raid, we woke up to find the whole window blown in and the ceiling covering our bed. A stick of bombs had landed at the bottom end of Carew Terrace. The Pucky family were killed along with several others I think it was 1941 and all our windows at the back of our house had been blown in. Dad had a full time job putting them all back in after he had repaired them; he was good at that sort of work.
One evening my dad & I were going over to see my auntie Pollie at St Levens Road when we were caught in an air raid, while walking up Pottery Road there was an almighty bang and we were blown back about 180 yards, when I picked myself up I could not see dad because he had caught the full force of the blast and was a good 58 yards back from me. It had been a aerial parachute mine which had landed at the bottom of Devonport Park. That was the first time I had been blown up and we were badly shaken. It took a while for us to recover
enough to carry on. While walking past some houses that had collapsed, we could hear faint cries of HELP! so my dad poked his head into a black space where the door had been, he turned to me and said it is coming from in here, as he stepped inside he just disappeared, he had fallen into the basement but he did find a man and woman who were not hurt, he helped them up to me and off they went somewhere, by this time the bombs were going off every where and dad said I think we had better go home boy, so we did & never got to see Aunt Polly. He went straight to the A R P headquarters because he was the Transport Officer.
I went home and told mum what had happened, then went up to the headquarters. I remember that as I walked past the church there were dozens of incendiary bombs burning in St James road, of course lots of people were trying to cover them with sand bags, but I reported first and was told to take my ambulance out of Torpoint and wait for the (all clear) so I parked opposite the old filter bed just past Antony House entrance, just in the field opposite were 4 anti aircraft guns, after a few minutes standing a listening to all the noise. All 4 guns fired together and I literally jumped a foot clear of the ground. (Gosh, what a fright.) Driving back, the tar on Thanks hill was on fire, the flames were about 4 inches high, of course it stuck to my tyres and when I got back to H Q, several people told me that my ambulance was on fire. I knew of course that it was the hot tar, some sand & water soon put the smoulder out. Then I was sent down to the ferry to collect casualties, there were 4 bodies which were loaded and the canvas curtain at the back was fastened tight. It was not a nice job especially as when because the ambulance was on a slight slope; blood was running out the back & on to the road. War is a dreadful business and so cruel.
I remember another night when I was sent to where a bomb had landed in Coryton Terrace now York Road, the private Anderson shelter had been hit and the whole family killed. I think they were called Conning. While climbing over the rubble in the semi darkness I fell and put my hands out to save myself, I felt something slimy. It upset me to find out that it was a squashed head. (Itís a an awful memory.) During one night time raid I came home from work late, it was dark and almost immediately the warning sounded so I started to walk up to HO, on rounding Grangers corner there was a terrific bang and I woke up inside of Mr Grangers passage, feeling very unwell. In the half light I could see where the front door had been, so I crawled out to the street but could not stand up. Someone came along and said are you hurt? I said where am I and then was picked up, it was quite a shock to be able to stand although a bit shaky, somehow I got to HQ and my dad said do you know that our house has been hit and that a bomb has also dropped on the bake house? Actually it just missed the bake house and that was the one that nearly got me. I asked dad if I could go home and see how things were. Yes lad you do that and report to me. A bomb had struck the dividing wall between number 39 and 38, so the top floor of both houses was gone, plus all the doors and windows.
I shouted and my mother shouted back, we are all right, is your dad OK? I said we were and could I leave them for the time being. Mum shouted back come hone when it is daylight. (Dad was relieved 1 can tell you.) That raid lasted until 4 oíclock in the morning. Then dad & I went home and dug our way into our family. Dad being a shipwright had made a very strong shelter under the stairs & it stood the test but of course if the house had caught fire it would have been another story, because, it was all wood. From then on it was a case of saving all that we could. All the large furniture was taken along with other peoples to Antony House stables for war storage even the beds, we all transferred up to my sisterís flat in Shambally Terrace, now a part or the renamed Anthony Road. Eleven of us slept the first night on the kitchen floor. On top of that my brother who was training at Blerrick camp in the Royal Marine Commandoes, broke his leg in two places and was sent hone on sick leave of course he could not climb stairs with his leg in plaster so he had the front room with 5 other people who slept on the floor. Everyone of our family were still living there when I got called to the colours.
Mum had to find another shop in which to sell her rationed goods from and that was not easy, in the end I think she found one in Harvey Street where the flats are now, just behind the news agents opposite the ironmongers. When one of the big blitz's was on the whole of Torpoint was emptied and even we were out as far as Crafthole, people were every where sleeping in hedges, gate ways, fields and in the road. Plymouth was hammered and fire bombed. When we got back I remember standing in front of The Queens Pub and looking at the dockyard. It was on fire from the coal heap all the way down south yard and further. It was a terrible sight and we had mixed feelings.