New film reveals personal tales of war in UK's most militarised county
At no point since humans colonised these islands has the appearance of Britain changed more abruptly than it did during the Second World War – and many parts of Devon changed more than most.
During the six-year-long conflict Devon was reputedly the most militarised county in the UK.
It might be difficult to imagine now, but this otherwise quiet rural backwater was roaring with military preparation, especially in the build up to D-Day in June 1944.
And what about this for a little-known fact: Teignmouth was the most bombed community for a town of its size anywhere in England. The small port suffered 21 air raids in which no fewer than 79 people lost their lives.
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These and other little-known facts have been collated in a remarkable new film called Devon at War. The 95-minute production, which is now available as a DVD, interlaces interviewees, archive footage and modern imagery to tell the tale of Devonshire's part in Hitler's downfall.
"Devon became particularly militarised in the lead up to June 6, 1944, when just about every town and village was bursting with American troops preparing to take part in the liberation of occupied Europe," said producer David Rogers, of Bristol-based 1st Take Productions.
"The film shows how Plymouth and Exeter experienced some of the most devastating air attacks outside London; while even smaller communities along the south coast, such as Exmouth and Teignmouth, suffered from the shock tactics of tip and run raids.
"We started filming in Plymouth – indeed, about a quarter of the entire film is based on Plymouth and Davenport because it was the most heavily bombed place in the county," Mr Rogers told the Western Morning News.
"A lady called Kathleen Dooley was a young office worker during the war and she remembers how her house was bombed and how she had to seek alternative accommodation. One particularly moving part is where she remembers a daytime attack with bombs falling all around her. She was late for work – and her bosses wondered what had happened – so she lifted her skirt and showed them all the scratches she'd got from escaping the explosions.
"We also went to Exeter to see a woman called Helen Harris who was at school at the time – she had to be moved out in the middle of the night during the Blitz. Again it was devastating. We also filmed at what is now Exeter International Airport which – as the original RAF Exeter – was crucial to the war effort. One of the region's principal fighter bases during the Battle of Britain.
"The big thing in North Devon was the Americans," said Mr Rogers. "They were in the Woolacombe-Saunton area training. Woolacombe apparently bore an uncanny resemblance to Omaha beach.
"We have a really good interview with a man called Arnold Huxtable who was a young boy during the war – his dad was a policeman based at Braunton. He tells a funny story – in 1944 some of the Americans were in high spirits and smuggled a typical British Bobby on the train to take with them to Normandy.
"When they got to Barnstaple the train was stopped and the authorities went aboard to get the policeman off. But he didn't want to leave – he was telling them his own stories about the previous war…"
Devon at War shows the crucial part that the county's ports and harbours played and visit some of the many airfields which once played host to fighters and bombers.
Mr Rogers spent more than three months filming in the county and the production was researched, scripted and presented by author and historian Henry Buckton.
Readers can purchase the DVD at a special price of £12.95 – a saving of £3 including p&p.
The telephone order line is 01454 321614 quoting WMN DAW for credit card orders. All types of card accepted.
Those who wish to order by cheque or postal order please send payment to: 1st Take Ltd, PO BOX 1840, Yate, Bristol, BS37 4WB.
Cheques made payable to 1st Take Ltd.