Category Archives: WW2


On May 8th 1945 Nazi Germany surrendered and the Second World War in Europe came to an end. With the fighting over, there was no longer a requirement for hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers to be stationed abroad. This left military planners with another complex problem: how to get those soldiers back home. 

The logistical operation to bring British soldiers back home was a huge one, especially given the state of the roads and railways in Europe. With shipping also tied up, bringing the troops home by air was an option that had to be considered. This led to ‘Operation Dodge’ being instigated, part of which which involved an airlift of soldiers from the 8th Army, which had fought in North Africa.  

The biggest problem facing planners was a lack of civilian air transport. However, there were huge fleets of bombers available, as they no longer had to fulfil their design purpose.  Some of these aircraft were operated from the RAF station at Dunkeswell in Devon. 

The airfield at Dunkeswell, close to Honiton, was opened in 1943, during the Second World War, as RAF Dunkeswell. The station was originally planned as a RAF Fighter Command, then a RAF Coastal Command airfield, but was transferred for use by American units.

On 16th December 1945 an RAF Lancaster, with a crew of seven, took off from RAF Dunkeswell and headed toward Egypt. Unfortunately, while the aircraft was over Ilfracombe, one of its engines caught fire. The pilot decided to feather the engine, a procedure that involves shutting it down and turning the propeller blades to create minimal air resistance and thus less drag.

With three working engines the Lancaster carried on towards its destination. But then a second engine developed problems, resulting in the decision to turn the aircraft around and head for home. The engine problems resulted in the aircraft gradually losing height and when it was over Lee Bay it became obvious to the crew that a forced landing was going to be necessary. 

The Lancaster came down in Borough Valley, close to Borough Farm. The pilot was killed in the crash, but the other six crew members survived, even though some were seriously injured. Farm workers Thomas Huxtable and Cecil Marsh were among the first people on the scene, helping to pull the surviving six crew members from the wreckage.

One of the aircrew to be seriously injured was Warrant Officer Lawrence Moore, the co-pilot. The extent of his injuries resulted in him losing a leg and being hospitalised for three years. Following his recovery, he remained in contact with the people who had helped save his life and returned to the crash site several times. 

Mortehoe Heritage Museum have a collection of photographs and audio recollections from those who witnessesed the crash to the memoirs of Lawnrece Moore when he returned to the site some years late with his wife. More can be found online or by visiting the museum.


Woolacombe Girl Home from America – 1947

North Devon Journal

Thursday 14th August 1947

6000 Miles for visit

Woolacombe Girl home from America

“I am glad to have the opportunity of speaking for those English girls who have made happy marriages with Americans, as I have, for so much has been said of the unhappy ones” said Mrs. Robert E Morgan, in an interview with a “Journal-Herald” reporter on Thursday

Mrs Morgan, with her husband recently arrived on the “Queen Elizabeth” to spend six weeks with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Brown at Glenwood, Woolacombe.

She was formerly Miss Linda Brown, and met her husband when he was stationed at Mortehoe while serving in the American Army. Mr. Morgan is now a chemistry student in the University of California.
“The things that most impressed me in America were the skyscrapers of New York and the vast distances we had to travel” Mrs Morgan continued “When I arrived I was surprised to find that there were some shortages, but they have almost all gone. The average cost of living seems a little different from that in England. The reception I received from my husband’s relatives and friends, both on my arrival and during my visit to Chicago, overwhelmed me.

“I have hosts of friends and can not keep up with the numerous invitations, I prefer living in America to living in England, I cook by gas and have lots of labour-saving devices. The houses have more modern conveniences, including central heating. It is like a British housewife’s dream. I had very little difficulty in adapting myself to the American way of preparing food.”

Mr. and Mrs Morgan travelled 6,000 miles for this visit and came home via the Niagara Falls and Chicago. Their home address is 1,826 Yosemite Road, Berkeley, California.

Another American bride from Colchester lives quite close to Mrs Morgan.

Mr. and Mrs. Morgan will make the return crossing of the Atlantic on the “Queen Mary”


Mortehoe Solider in the Dardanelles Operations


Mr. A. H. Slee, Headmaster of Morte-Hoe School, has received an interesting letter from an “old boy” of the School – Sapper W. J. Cowler, Royal Engineers, who is with the Dardanelles Expeditionary Force. Sapper Cowler, who is the son of Mr. J. Cowler, of Holmesdale, Woolacombe prior to the outbreak of War held an appointment in the Post Office, being a clerk in the Central Office, Whitechapel, London. The letter is as follows:

Dear Mr. Slee;

Thanks very much for your’s, with kind wishes for my future welfare.

We’ve had a very hot time out here, and there’s plenty of fighting in front of us, but we are here to stay.

When one looks at the cliffs and splendid natural cover here for defensive purposes, one wonders how a landing was ever effected. The only answer to a question as to how it was done would be to say that the landing was forced by the finest then existing regiments in the world. The Infantry fought splendidly, marvellously.

Our Company was split up for the landing, and I, with four others, was transferred to the “River Clyde” which as you have read was purposely run aground to facilitate the landing of the troops. This landing- V Beach- was truly termed the most terrible of all. As we were only about 20 years from the foreshores we had an excellent view of everything that occurred.

Perhaps you would be interested to hear our general mode of living. Being under sheld fire every day more or less, we have to live in dug-outs with a bomb proof roof, if possible. We get plenty of wholesome grub. Menu for day: Breakfast- Bacon, bread, and tea; dinner-Bully beef stew (a mixture of bully beef, dried potatoes and carrots boiled up); tea- Biscuits, jam and tea; Suppoer-Cheese and biscuits. A daily repetition of this gets a bit monotonous, although it is possible to vary it a triffle. For instance, instead of biscuits and cheese for supper we are allowed to have cheese and biscuits.

After describing the voyage out, Sapper Cowler goes on to say: “Would take too long to give a detailed account of our stay at Alexandria. Even by the time I’ve finished this, you will require an occasional reviver to wade through it.”

Sailed on April 8th. We were established in the gymnasium, sleeping on deck. Reached the Island of Lemnos in the Aegean sea on 12th. We lay anchored in a splendid natural harbour there until the 23rd. Was lucky enough about a dozen times, and had a chance of going through one or two of the villages near. The people were dressed like Greeks. The climate there was something similar to that of North Devon. All the wild flowers could have been found in the hedges and fields around Morte-Hoe.

Made out first appearance with Sengalese troops on the Island.

Fire broke out in the Gymnasium on the 14th. Four of our fellows had caught German measles, so bedding had to be fumigated to prevent the disease from spreading. Fumigation candle set light to a blanket, and the whole room was soon blazing away right merrily. Several fellows’ kits were destroyed. Reached Tenedos on the 24th, and were transferred to the “River Clyde”. Landing took place on 25th April, Sunday morning. Shall never forget it.

Please remember to all friends at Morte-Hoe

Sincerely yours,



Homecoming of Woolacombe Soldier – Driver Richard Tossell 1943

Grand to be Back

Homecoming of Woolacombe Repatriated Soldier


Ambulance Driver Richard G. Tossell, of Glen Villa, Woolacombe was one of the service men repatriated from Italy who reached England recently. He has a wife and two children. He is the son of Mr. George Tossell, of Church Cottages, Shirwell, and before the war was employed as a bus driver on the Barnstaple-Ilfracombe route. On Good Friday Mrs. Tossell received the news of the safe arrival of her husband in the country, and he reached Woolacombe on Tuesday of last week. He was taken prisoner during the enemy’s Libyan attack in the Spring of 1941. He was lavish is his praise of the Red Cross Prisoners of War Fund Committee.


“After we had been taken prisoner,” Driver Tossell told a “Journal-Herald” representative, “we were put into a compound fenced with barbed wire and left there for six days and we were fed on half a tin of English bully beef and half a pint of water each per day. The bully beef was taken from the supplies that the enemy had captured, and the water was terrible stuff to drink, because the Italians had poured diesel oil into the wells.

Driver Tossell said that the prisoners embarked from Tripoli for Italy in small cargo boats. “We were battened down in the holds with little room to move. The bottom of the hold was covered with old mattresses on which we could lie down best we could. There was a tub of water into which we could dip our drinking cups. We were kept below until the boat reached Naples, where we disembarked and marched through the streets to the railway state.” “At Naples” Driver Tossell remarked “the people were really hostile and threw rotten eggs and apples at us. Our ultimate destination was a pleasant place among the Alps. It was well known for winter sports, and near the Brenner Pass. The people were quite friendly, and tried to talk to us through the barbed wire fence. They used to cycle from villages for miles around to see us. The good thing at this camp was that we used to receive plenty of Red Cross parcels.”

In October, 1941, Driver Tossell said the prisoners were removed to a camp at Sulmona, situated among the mountains. The camp was surrounded by barren country and there they met Allies from South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

“From the few words we could exchange with guards and civilians the impressions the Italians had was the the British had got all the food and all the money and the Italians themselves had very little. That was often their complaint.

“ I think the Italian civilians were getting less food than we were. I remember an Italian workman who came to our camp, and all he had to eat was a dry and very poor looking loaf. He had nothing to eat with it. If it had not been for the Red Cross parcels things would have been in a terrible state for us, both as regards food and clothing. Until we received army kit sent out by the Red Cross we were wearing anything we could get.

“in the prison camps we received a large number of books from the Red Cross. When I left the Sulmona Camp the library consisted of 3,000 books, some fiction, and there was also a good collection of technical books. The libraries were made up of books sent by the Red Cross and those received by individuals from their relatives and friends, and were run by men who had been librarians in civvy street.

“We were glad when we entrained for Lucca, where we were transferred to a hospital train. There were Italian Red Cross orderlies on that train to look after us. We arrived at Spezia, in Northern Italy, when the port was bombed. The train was travelling with lights on without the blinds drawn. The Red Cross could not have been discernible from the air. The train made an extra spurt and pulled up in a tunnel. Three sticks of bombs fell near the entrance to the tunnel and the blast shook the train. We remained in that tunnel till daylight and next morning we could see several big fires in the port and near the centre of the city. People came to the tunnel for shelter and we could hear them talking in a very disturbed way.

“When we reached Lisbon the people gave us a great welcome and literally showered cigarettes, fruit, sweets and food on us. It was a great moment when we boarded the boat for England. Red Cross nurses looked after us, and to meet these brave and good women was like a touch of home. We were well fed on the boat and all the way home to England. We hardly knew what to do with ourselves, so excited were we at arriving home again, and it is grand to be back in Woolacombe.

Corpl Walter Brown of Resthaven, Woolacombe PoW – 1943

PoW.jpgNorth Devon Journal – Thursday 21st January 1943



Corpl. Walter Brown, of Resthaven, Woolacombe formerly of Georgeham who is a prisoner of war in Germany. Corpl, Brown was captured during the campaign in Greece and is in the same prison camp as Sergt. Frank Hunkin of Barnstaple, and a MR Geen of Georgeham. Corpl. Brown’s wife has recently raised £16 for the Prisoner of War Fund by a whist drive.

Gunner A. F. Bidgood writes from Italy 1944

Thursday 31st August 1944 – North Devon Journal


Gunner A. F. Bidgood of Woolacombe, who is serving with the 8th Army in Italy has written in high praise of the work of the medical corps. He states: “ This morning I had my first ride in an ambulance: I went to a casualty clearing station about six miles back for dental treatment. The officer took great care, and did the job properly, and as painlessly as possible. The size, organisation, and efficiency of the C.C.S and the cleanliness of everything astonished me. There were lines of dazzling white tents pitched in a shallow depression, and on the surrounding rising ground were huge Red Cross flags about fifteen feet across. There was no attempt at dispersing or camouflaging the vehicles of tents – there were dozens of both – packed closely together.

“ The first marquee was a reception and enquiry one, and here the ambulances dropped their stretcher cases, which were directed to the different sections dealing with that particular injury or illness. Near this tent was the mobile X-ray apparatus and developing room, and also a mobile blood transfusion centre with orderlies in constant attendance.

“ The dental tent was equipped with the familiar chair, treadle drill and all the usual paraphernalia of a dental surgery. The surgeon took 35 minutes over my case, gave the rest of my teeth a good overhaul, and tendered some good advice. The operating theatres (I saw at least three) were well fitted out. Orderlies were dashing here and there with anti-germ masks over mouths and noses and the camp had a splendid staff of medical officers. The actual wards were cool, well ventilated tents. About a quarter of a mile further along that valley was a small auxiliary hospital – a safe – guard against enemy actions destroying everything at once.

Last night out advanced dressing station was heavily shelled by the enemy, who followed it up shortly after, when casualties were en route for safer quarters, with a strafing” of the adjoining road by aircraft. I take my had off to the Red Cross every time. They do some great valuable work.”

Gunner Bidgood is an old boy of Ilfracombe Grammer School, and before enlisting he was on the staff of Lloyds Bank Ilfracombe.

Woolacombe & World War 2

“I recall we could count nine rows of breaking surf, and would be lulled to sleep by the sound of that magnificent surf, the clouds would sweep up over Lundy Island, and the Devon sun set behind it. I’ll remember Devon as it was when we had that war to flight” Paul W. Thompson 1989

Woolacombe, and the North Devon coastline played a significant role in the events that took place during the D-Day landings in World War 2. Woolacombe today is best known by many as a beautiful seaside resort, it is difficult to imagine it as a home to thousands of American Soldiers, but that is exactly how this area would have looked leading up to events that took place in Normandy in 1944. D-Day, the 6th June 1944, saw 156,00 troops land on five beaches along a 50 mile stretch of France’s Normandy coastline, the aim, to gain a foothold in Europe and ultimately to defeat Adolf Hitler. This ambitious plan, required training and planning. On the 1st September 1943 the Assault Training Centre (ATC) officially opened. The U.S Army located in Woolacombe, taking over this town with their Assault Training Centre. Many of the troops bound for the centre, believed they were going to Wales. Information they had been told as a ploy to keep this large training operation from enemy ears. The headquarters of the ATC were based at The Woolacombe Bay Hotel, and soon this picturesque coastal area saw thousands of troops and tanks move in. Over ten thousand troops were reported to have passed through the ATC during its six months based in the area. Woolacombe beach was altered into a training base, with demolition training areas designated and billets created. The northern part of the beach was designated as a demolition training site, and the billeting area of tents stretched towards Mortehoe. Morte Point, itself was used as a target by anti-tank guns and seaborne artillery. Paul W. Thompson an Engineer Lieutenant Colonel, who ran the training centre, reflected later on the decision to use Woolacombe Beach for the Normandy training.

“It turned out we were lucky beyond measure, the surf, the tides, firmness of sand and flatness of beach of those northern Devon beaches bore an uncanny similarity to the same qualities of the Normandy beaches over which we would ultimately launch the invasion. I never think of my Assault Training Centre without feeling thankful to the British for giving us that wonderful Woolacombe Site, ideal for realistic training” Woolacombe was considered ideal, due to its resemblance to Omaha beach in Normandy. Initial ideas for Thompson to evacuate the whole area giving him free rein, were soon disregarded and the process of integrating such a mass influx of soldiers on a small coastal community began. The beaches and sand dunes were soon occupied by soldiers, and with them came the construction of camps to accommodate so many people, and the make shift fortifications and pill boxes that were required for training. The infrastructure to accommodate the practical needs of so many people started to take place, the construction of roads, sewerage facilities and even the diversion of water from the River Caen to provide fresh water into a concrete reservoir.

The influx of so many people to the area caused both excitment and reluctance from local residents. Mr. Cotton, a local resident felt that: “The confusion and explosion noises of almost constant maneuvers are turning Woolacombe into a nightmare for residents” Others fondly recall adventourous play as children in the area, or the American Troops bringing them sweets and other luxury items that were difficult to obtain during the war. The Red Barn, known then as the Bungalow Cafe, hosted evenings of entertainment for the soldiers, whilst the ballroom at The Woolacombe Bay Hotel would host Saturday morning film shows, put on by soldiers for the local children. Local farm land was soon acquired for training, and houses and hotels in the town soon became requistioned by the War Department, with The Pandora Hotel becoming the U.S forces military hospital. The troops left, as quickly as they had arrived, but their time in Woolacombe will never be forgotten by those who lived in the area at the time. The granite stone memorial, on the Esplanade looking over the beach, is dedicated to the American Soldiers who were based in the area. Take a moment, to imagine this beautiful landscape with aircraft flying overhead, the sound of machine gun fire, mortars going off and landing craft coming along the sands. Soldiers in full kit, where today you see sunbathers, families playing and dog walkers strolling along the waters edge. Woolacombe played a significant part in the events of World War 2, we are hoping to develop a website containing information about the events that took place during these years. If you have any information you would like to add or share with us, we would love to hear from you.