lf only Redruth station could speakl It had seen so many comings and goings during its history; mass migration to the cotton and woollen mills in the north in the 1870s and the exodus of miners to many parts of the world looking for work and using their expertise underground in many a foreign land. During the 1939 to 1945 war a continuous stream of men left for unknown destinations to fight for their freedoms, some sadly never to retum and the down platform saw the arrival of many hundreds of evacuees from more vulnerable parts of the country. The Marylebone Grammar School came and shared accommodation with Redruth County School and also used the premises of the Fore Street Methodist Church. Young children came from the East End of London, scared and bemused and wanting to go home as soon as possible. Many were more used to sleeping under the bed and found the new way of life very different. Many relatives of local people also came for security, having already been bombed out of their homes.
Through enemy action the station was twice attacked, once with tragic results. On March 20th, 1942, a stick of bombs was dropped over the town from Trewirgie to East End. Captain Arthur Carkeek and his wife were killed, trees were brought down in Mr Pearce Jenkin’s garden and Mr. Harris’ wood store was hit. One landed on the down plattbrm of rhe station killing Mr. Murton. Wouding Trevor Parkyn (who later died of his injuries) and Mr. Bealey, Mr Matthews and a young girl were hurt. The next one landed near Mr. Bartle’s house, killing the maid, but fortunately one in the East End did not explode. There was further damage on December l5th when a bomb dropped in Sea View Terrace outside Channon’s Bakery. On each of these occasions the First Aid post, which was in the Wesley Church school room, had to cope with emergency lighting as the electricity supply was cut.
Families in the town showed generous hospitality and made their homes available to those who needed them and many friendships resulted. Before 1939, not many strangers were seen in Redruth during the winter but all that changed dramatically as Poles, French, Italians, Spanish, Australians and others came. Tabbs Hotel saw a change of use when it became a hostel for children, who for various reasons could not be billeted in private homes because of behavioural or medical problems. These children received wonderful caring with marked improvement in their health. They were given a chance to enjoy Cornish air and walks to look at wild flowers, thanks to the devoted staff and local volunteers.
From June 1940 until February l94l the town clock was silenced so that the children would not be disturbed in the night. All the church bells were also silenced but if they had rung it would have been a warning of an imminent invasion. To our great relief the only time that they were rung was in 1912 for the Allies’ vicrory in Egypt and aaain on Chistmas Day – by this time the war was gradually being won. On January 29th, 1942, Winston Churchill won a vote of confidence in Parliament by 464 to 1.
Penventon became the Air Raid Precaution Centre with a network of telephones linking up with a general warning system and the police so that the siren could be sounded as a warning of the approach of enemy planes. Also, in West End a nissen hut did service as a British Restaurant supplying hot, basic meals – and very welcome they were.
A wonderful communiry spirit prevailed in spite of all the anxieties, responsibilities, double work and duties, nights up and tiredness. Neighbour helped neighbour, shared produce from the garden when available, helped with the blackout and generally made themselves available. The only un-neighbourly words exchanged were if anyone showed a light from their house, that really caused words to fly in a tense situation.
Lord Woolton who was then Minister of Food had a difficult task sharing commodities across the country and as German U-boats continued to sink more and more supply boats the situation became desperate. At one time the South West was one cargo boat away from starvation and there was general thanksgiving when it arrived safely. Wholesale grocers met frequently to organise distributions as fairly as possible. Bread was fortified with extra minerals and vitamins but the greatest shortage was of meat and fresh fruit. Any garden plot was fully utilised to produce vegetables. As there was double summertime during most of the war it was quite common to be gardening at midnight if not on duty elsewhere.
Although people were very tired, anxious, often working during the day and carrying out some extra duty during the night, most kept fairly well, in spite of bitterly cold houses during the winter, especially after enemy activity had removed doors and windows into the street and garden! Colds were frequent and often became complicated with chest infections (no antibiotics then). There were some diphtheria cases and scabies was a problem. No blood bank existed so if a relative required a transfusion the family was asked to supply the blood. Dr. Rivers in Green Lane would do the necessary grouping while you waited and demonstrated how it was done. Two local G.P.s also staffed the hospital; Dr. O’Donnell was one of the surgeons; Dr. Macdonald was the anaesthetist and was also in charge of the work at the First Aid Post.
Just before D-Day in 1944, military and airbome manoeuvres increased and we became used to the sight of large numbers of Flying Fortresses flying out, often accompanied by Spitfires and Hurricanes. Occasionally, with no warning we would see enemy aircraft flying quite low over the town. We were often aware of action at Nancekuke and Portreath and it was always a comfort to hear the sound of friendly aircraft. There were various incidents, one unfortunately between two of our own aircraft that crashed just on the Portreath Road, causing severe burns to a young Redruth boy who happened to be cycling that way. Many of the R.A.F. boys and girls were adopted by local families who gave them some semblance of home life, hot baths, relaxation, sharing parties etc.
Early in the war a metal collection was made in the area and gates, railings and anything which could usefully be converted into armaments was removed. Families would come home and find their gardens and property open to all comers! All the churches gave as much support as they were able with their reduced manpower. There were several National Days of Prayer which were well supported. ln 1944, large numbers of service men and women came into the area and because the Y.M.C.A. did not open until after lunch the Fore Street MIethodist Church arranged a canteen opening at 8am. The minister who was then the Rev. F. Ross, and members of the church would meet any early trains and invite any service person back for breakfast. warmth and rest. They were free to join in the moming service or just rest.
At this time large numbers of black American troops were stationed nearby and they would take a big share in the evening services, often singing their Negro spirituals.
As the news from the fronts became more hopeful, the casualty lists grew and iamilies were receiving the dreaded telegram notifying of a dear one’s death, wounds, or of being “missing”. These telegrams brought a great deal of sadness to those concerned and general sympathy from the town’s people.
With the exception some of the younger people in reserved occupations, most men and girls were either called for military service. the Land Army or for making munitions. This put a big strain on the rest of the community who would serve in a variety of ways as an extra to the day’s work. Many nights were spent on duty at the First Aid Post, in the Home Guard, fire fighting and fire watching. in the A.R.P. or helping out in the hospital. Going on duty on moonlight nights was a mixed blessing. It was easy to find your way there, but there was a distinct feeling that Jerry also might be making the most of better visibility. Number two platoon of the Home Guard was responsible for guarding Portreath and a lonely cold and bleak watch it was on the end of the pier with water on three sides and in complete darknessl
There were several incidents in Fore Street during the war including an accident with a gun carriage and lorry crashing into the shop fronts of Opie’s and Simpson’s shops. It caused serious damage but fortunately the men were not badly hurt. In May 1942. during their journey through Cornwall. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth came through Redruth which gave evenyone much pleasure.
But at last the days came with victory of the Allies and the gradual return of men and women. On V.E. Day and V.J. Day hundreds of local families climbed Carn Brea amidst great rejoicing and with lifting of blackout precautions celebrated around a magnificent bonfire which could be seen for milesl
Redruth can be proud of its war record.