Listening to the excellent coverage on BBC Radio Cornwall of the Plymouth / Cornwall Blitz material over the last few days, I was interested to hear that a Saltash or local SE Cornish fire crew had been killed attending the Plymouth Blitz, as this also happened to the Newquay AFS (Auxiliary Fire Service) crew despatched to help Plymouth crews on 23 April 1941.
An up-country fire crew was despatched to replace them in Newquay afterwards. It is briefly mentioned in the late Bettye Grey’s book Oh Get On! http://www.narehotel.co.uk/about/book all about Newquay tourism / life in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. I’m told by veteran BBC journalist (reired), Newquay Voice columnist and local boy Chris Blount that Bettye died only a couple of weeks ago but her memories live on in this lively little paperback.
I believe there is a memorial fire bell to the lost crew at Newquay Fire station.
I came across this Newquay fire crew story researching more for the World War Zoo project gardens here at Newquay Zoo. We’re busy preparing for our wartime garden display week in May half term (beginning 28th May for the half term week 2011) which will feature amongst other areas this aspect of zoos, botanic gardens in wartime and their fire watch / fire training.
Fire is still something to be planned for in today’s zoo, with stores of hay and straw. Natural and man-made disasters affecting zoos and aquariums are not unknown, and many zoo keepers thoughts are with their collegues in Japan at the moment: http://http://www.waza.org/en/site/pressnews-events/press-releases/zoos-and-aquariums-affected-by-earthquake-and-tsunami-in-japan gives more details. The response to wartime difficulties in Japanese zoos is described in the recently published book by Ms. Mayumi Itoh, Japanese Wartime Zoo Policy: The Silent Victims of World War II, 2010, Palgrave MacMillan, New York (available via Amazon).
Ironically, the entire Newquay Zoo staff have just done our fire extinguisher and fire awareness training, so it is still something we think about.
We have for the future ‘wartime zoo’ schools workshops and illustrations for the wartime zoo book and events displays an old stirrup pump (used post war by gardeners for watering and pest control), incendiary bomb and shrapnel, fireman’s tunic, helmet, axe, canvas bucket and other material. All this kit zoo staff would have used in their wartime role or part time work as firemen. Much of the material will be displayed at our May half term wartime garden week (May 28th to June 5th 2011) – see the Newquay Zoo website for details (blog roll / links opposite) .
The details of the 5 casualties are from the Commonwealth War Graves site http://www.cwgc.org/search
GUY IVOR CAMERON FEATHERSTONE, Age: 40 Date of Death: 23/04/1941 Additional information: Fireman, Newquay A.F.S. Son of Mrs. Featherstone, of Green Gables, Pentire, Newquay, Cornwall. Injured at Plymouth; died same day at Swilly Hospital.
ERNEST STANLEY OLD, Age: 37 Date of Death: 23/04/1941 Additional information: Fireman, Newquay A.F.S. Son of Mrs. Old, of 9 Trenance Road, Newquay, Cornwall, and of the late J. Old; husband of V. Old, of Endberry House, Berry Road, Newquay. Injured at Plymouth; died same day at Swilly Hospital.
BENJAMIN ARTHUR PHILLIPS, Age: 32 Date of Death: 24/04/1941 Additional information: Fireman, Newquay A.F.S. Son of Mrs. C. Phillips husband of Amy Phillips, of 63 Ulalia Road Newquay, Cornwall. Injured 23 April 1941, at Plymouth; died at Prince of Wales Hospital, Greenbank.
STANLEY VINEER, Age: 38 Date of Death: 23/04/1941 Additional information: Fireman, Newquay A.F.S. Husband of Gladys I. Vineer, of 9 Robartes Road, Newquay, Cornwall. Died at Market Street.
FREDERICK ROBERT ELFORD WHITING, (‘Bob’ Whiting) Age: 28 Date of Death: 23/04/1941 Additional information: Fireman, Newquay A.F.S. Son of Mrs. R. M. Whiting, of Chumley, Porth Way, Newquay, Cornwall. Injured at Plymouth; died same day at Swilly Hospital.
Pathe Newsreel 27 June 1940 ID No. 1290.27 features film of a ‘Robert Whiting’ of Newquay making puppet caricatures of topical personalities: http://www.britishpathe.com/video/puppets-2/query/smith
Lest we forget …
Two weeks ago the Newquay Voice newspaper and columnist Chris Blount produced a whole page feature on the lost 1941 Newquay Fire Crew. I also turned up more information from Cornwall At War 1939-1945, Peter Hancock, Halsgrove, 2002:
“From December 1940 Plymouth became one of the targets for so called Baedeker Raids, cathedral cities listed in the German’s pre-war Baedeker Tourist Guides. These reached their most devastating in March and April 1941. In towns as far away as St. Austell and Newquay people looked to the east to the glow of the blazing city lighting up the night sky. To help deal with the infernos, fire crews were dispatched to Plymouth from stations throughout Cornwall, as well as from the South of England. After a cold journey riding on the sides of the fire tenders, exposed to the elements, the men stayed as long as a week before they were stood down. The crews ate and slept when they could. They were assisted by the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS), though they might not have been considered equals. These volunteers, men and women, worked either full time or part time. In Mid 1941 the AFS was combined with the regular fire service to form the National Fire Service under the Fire Services (Emergency Provision) Bill. The problem of incompatible hoses and standpipes was also addressed, as Cornish brigades had found themselves impotent when their hoses would not connect to some Plymouth water mains.”
“Tragically on 21 April 1941 five volunteer firemen from Newquay were killed, while two others lost limbs. One of the survivors is recorded as saying, ‘It was strange, because nine of us were there and the explosion killed every other one in the line. Each alternate person was all right.” [Quote from the late Albert Trembath, quoted in The Cornish Guardian, 26 April 2001, p.28.]
“On the same night, an underground shelter in Portland Square, Plymouth received a direct hit from a high explosive bomb. 72 people were killed, with only two survivors. Six Saltash AFS men were killed whilst fighting a fire in King Street, Devonport … Between 21-25 April, during what became known as the ‘Five-Night blitz’ on Plymouth, 590 people including 17 firemen were killed. On 23 April 1941 Mount Edgcumbe House was gutted when it was struck by incendiary bombs. The fire brigades were hampered through a lack of water, as well as by a UXB [Unexploded Bomb] that was reported at the Torpoint Ferry Entrance, causing all traffic to be stopped, proving to be a “serious handicap for Fire Brigades from Cornwall many of whom were stopped at Liskeard and diverted to Saltash”
[Quote from History of Incidents, S.E. Cornwall (Incident No. 61), Cornwall Record Office, Truro.]
An up country fire crew was despatched to replace the AFS crew in Newquay afterwards. It is briefly mentioned in the late Bettye Grey’s book Oh Get On! http://www.narehotel.co.uk/about/book all about Newquay tourism / life in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
Bettye Grey’s book excerpt, from pages 91 -92; this is taken from the first hardback edition known as Oh My Dear Life!, 2000, privately published, now available in paperback as: Oh Get On!
“In April 1941 with the blitz at its height the Newquay detachment of the AFS was sent for. By the time they arrived the city was ablaze and they had not even reached the pumps before their fire tender received a direct hit and five Newquay members of the crew were killed … The whole of Newquay grieved for those five brave local chaps. That night 1000 bombs incendiary bombs rained on Plymouth. The whole city burned. In all 17 firemen were killed and the centre of Plymouth had finally been completely destroyed.”