“Here we are on the anniversary of that fateful Sunday, Sept 3, when we the 4th Devons, here’s to us, none like us, listened to the radio announcement by the then P.M. Neville Chamberlain, that Great Britain was at war with Germany…
“Heard it as we stood grouped on the cycle track at the County Ground, Exeter, on a warmish morning two days after (for some it was more). We’d left our offices, banks and shops, discarding, for daytime wear at any rate, our civilian clothes, and assumed the khaki which had known, only a week or two before, the mud of Corfe Castle Camp, and begun our training.
“Now really in RSM Freddy Ireland’s power; our drillings, and fatigues and airport guards, our route marches to Haldon, and our early schemes there…
“Shan’t forget that attack, a long bayonet charge, a run across a moorland ‘road’, a stumble, and our inability to rise for a minute or so, leave alone speak, as our wind was knocked out as our respirator (at the alert) hit the road…
“Then there was Roy Newcombe’s wedding, and our gay march up to Southernhay West, there to form an escort. No 4 platoon, all of them but two (Roy Pearce and Bill Lisle, the former carrier sergeant of the 4th Devons when I last saw them in England not long before coming out here) since commissioned. Roy and Bill didn’t go for it…
“One recalls the early risings at Ashwood Rd, after spending the whole of what remained of the evening, after finishing parades on the rugby ground toiling over web equipment with blanco brush and Brasso: the sweat that used to pour off us and the backaches as we worked to get our turnout fit to stand the acid test of RSM’s parades…
“The warm September sun, the weapon training on the banked up track…Tubby Greenslade, Leslie Hill, Slick Hustin, Roy Newcombe, Peake, Fry, Copp, (the last named is out here somewhere). Dick Godfrey, was telling me he’d met him recently, and that he’d asked for me, Jim (Mann), Ted Cottingham, Forrest (killed by a Jap bullet after running a position by a “brilliant” movement according to a letter Jim had from Parle, bushy handlebarred moustachiod carrier officer with the 4th Devons in Gib, and later to become a major in India), and Alan Handick, dapper, dark, rather Mongolian cast in countenance – a prisoner earlier on in Japanese hands.
“…and Harry Coombes (“Oh my word!”) and Bill Cann (now in Burma…where he later died) and Theo Vickery (who came out here, on the Gold Coast but who has since been home on leave), and his half section: Walter Dea, as dark as Theo was blonde…”
“And mists rising off the turf and shrouding the rugger posts…and dew and frost sparkling on track and grass, And rides in a Devon General bus, our regular means of transport in those days to Haldon, and trench digging on Dunsford Hill.
“Filling sandbags there in the September sun, and at Maynard School digging PAD trenches…and Handick and Peacock turning up on parade in civilian clothes and the ire of the RSM thereat. And potato peeling fatigues there, and fire picquets, air picquets and guards at the County Ground.
“Greycing and rugger on Saturdays…and Major our mascot, a scrawny little runt of a pup he was when he first adopted us and our football in dinner hours and after parade kickabouts.
“How he grew his non-stop exertions and yelpings increased his muscle and his voice, which later was to make him known in Gibraltar and La Livea when he broke loose from his statble at Jones’ Battery and got us on charges because he’d been away into Spain…
“Our first essay at rugger, too, came during our six weeks or so at Exeter. We played in P.T. kit and shoes.
“Then came the move to Paignton, South Devon Holiday Camp, on King’s Ash Hill. Good days, too, though we used not to think so at the time, and to “Dev 12” in a lorry in which milk had spilled making the floorboards greasy.
“Cold winter mornings, it was the coldest winter for a century and more: snow and frozen-up water supply. And intakes and NCO’s courses, lying on the hard tennis court with Bob Walsher (now in Burma, major and a DSO) as our first instructor.
“Hops in the canteen on Tuesday night, often after long route marches, and weekends at home, every other, or every third, weekend. Occasional visits to Marm and Fred. There to savour the delights of a real and an easy chair and a feed, comfort indeed after the frugalities of our chalets (summer dwellings at very best) with their oil stoves and ill-fitting doors and windows. Blackout boards that used to funnel the cold winter air down on to one’s bed.
“Hut 56 and the Three Musketeers, Ted Cotty (Cottingham), Jim and me. Trips for some to Exeter on the ration truck, a coveted fatigue. Dining hall corporal that was me.
“Picture shows in the old recreation hut, with its recalcitrant stoves. They took some lighting but once they got going how hot that place became.
“Thirty mile route marches. Snow on one of them. Wearing respirators on route. Seeing the Devon countryside and coast as we marched. Good days!
“And now, as I write, I’m duty dog, sitting in the orderly room with a hurricane lamp, its broken globe all smeached as the flame flickers in the night breeze. My tent, my bed with its mosquito net suspended from our roof, awaits me. I’m tired.
“It’s a wonderful, full moonlight night. Just outside a border around the orderly room, plants inside it and some flowers. Whitewashed stones, the flag pole similarly surrounded…gleam of car at the gate to the camp…” Halt, name?” Bayonet outthrust by the Askari on guard. The C.O returning.
“In the next camp, mostly tented, the white canvas is bathed in moonlight, triangles of shadow face me. Great white clouds drift across the blue night sky. “Crickets provide a ceaseless background of sound. A door creaks in the breeze…no glass windows here, all open doors and windows Warm writing by the lamp. Tired. So to bed.”
Philip, Eric's son, remembers a number of the people mentioned. They were playing cricket in an around the city in the 1950s and 1960s and remained firm friends of the family.
"I had many 'uncles and aunts' and their comradeship during wartime endured. That, and a real community spirit in and around St Thomas's generally, gave many of us a good start in life."
FORMER Express and Echo sports editor
Eric Hoare wrote
a series of war diaries when on service in Gibraltar with the
Devonshire Regiment and later in Kenya where he served as an officer in
the King's African Rifles. The following is an extract written on Sept
3, 1944, on the fifith anniversary of the outbreak of war.
Eric, who died in 1977, worked for the Echo for 50 years, as did his brother, Cecil (known as Bob) and the extract was sent to me by his son Philip, a former reporter with the paper, now living in Norfolk. He has recently deposited a copy of his father's Devonshire Regiment memoirs of service on Gibraltar in the Westcountry Studies Library in Exeter.
Philip was born in Ashwood Road, St Thomas and attended St Wilfrid's and Exeter Schools before joining the Express and Echo in 1960
Eric Hoare photographed in Gibraltar, 1941.
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