Three military airfields were built in the Blackdown Hills around Hemyock. This page contains memories of these airfields, aircraft, airmen and bombs. It is an extract from the book Memories of War. Other pages in this series:
Hemyock was a small and peaceful village. Most people were employed in the local area, in agriculture. Everyone knew everyone else, practically anything could be bought or mended in the village. With the outbreak of war, life began to change. Daily work and life still continued despite the fact that Hemyock was surrounded by airfields and army camps. Everyone tried to work together for a common aim — the defeat of Fascism and the defence of freedom.
At the start of the war Hemyock soon became a very noisy village. With the building of the three airfields, lorry after lorry came through the centre of the village on their way to Culmhead, Smeatharpe, and Dunkeswell. They carried loads of ballast and tarmac. These three airfields were within a 6 miles radius of Hemyock.
Culmhead, East of Hemyock, was a fighter base for Spitfires and Hurricanes. Polish, Czechs and English pilots were based there. These airplanes protected our bombers crossing the channel. They also intercepted and shot down enemy aircraft over our country.
Dunkeswell, South of Hemyock, was an American base for the large Liberators of Fleet Air Wing 7 of the United States Navy. These were able to travel long distances. With their long range they took part in the anti-submarine patrols hunting down and bombing the enemy submarines that blockaded the United Kingdom.
183 of the Officers and Men based at Dunkeswell, including one of the Kennedy brothers, were killed whilst on active service. Their names are recorded on the memorial tablet by the doorway of Dunkeswell Parish Church. Ex servicemen from America still return for the annual memorial service held in Dunkeswell Church.
"May their sacrifice be a perpetual reminder to us that Christian principles need courageous support in times of trial....Let us remember them with love and gratitude." (Extract from Annual Memorial Service held in the Parish Church of St Nicholas, Dunkeswell 28/5/95.)
Smeatharpe, South-east of Hemyock, was another American base, for Dakotas and gliders. Dakotas could each tow three gliders and were used for transporting troops across the Channel. On D Day and on that morning as dawn was breaking the sky became full with planes and gliders a sight that will never be forgotten.
The American airmen were far from home. Like the Land Army girls and the evacuees they must have felt very homesick. Many Hemyock families welcomed them into their homes on their days off and longer leaves. Many of them were Baptists and Methodists and the local congregations from these churches welcomed them to their services and in their families. For example several would visit the Clist family farm and after shooting rabbits with Mr. Clist would return to delicious Hemyock home cooking at Mrs. Clist's table.
Brian Redwood can remember his father going for a Christmas drink at the pub where he met two American Airmen whom he hospitably brought back to share the Redwood family's Christmas dinner. This thrilled the Redwood children to see real live Americans although it must have caused his mother some misgivings as to how she could make the war time rations stretch to feed two unexpected extra mouths!
The airfields brought many civilian workers from other parts of the UK to work as mechanics on the planes. Many of these were women, some of whom stayed on in the area after the war. For example Mr Cyril Tancock's wife originated from Maltby in Yorkshire. During the war, in company with many other young women, she trained as an aircraft mechanic maintaining and fitting the aircraft. (With the women working in these occupations that had up until then been associated only as men's jobs more men could be released to fight.)
With all the airfields and army camps around our village we were very lucky to go through the war without a bomb being dropped actually on the village. The only ones nearby were about six around the Madford area, and one at Symonsburrow which hit the road.
Mr Leonard Manley was about nine at the time and living up at Symonsburrow. He still vividly remembers this Symonsburrow bomb. It was the evening. His Uncle and Aunt had come over for the evening. This was just before his Uncle went into the Army. They were all talking, when all of a sudden, they heard a whistling noise. His mother shouted:
"Duck down! Put your hands over your head!"
There was a great blue flash and a blast. All the windows and doors blew outwards and the roof was blown in.
Fortunately no one was hurt, but the house was very badly damaged. - They were later awarded £25 compensation.
Soon after this, several residents remember that early one morning Mr George Franks' lorry landed in the crater in the road caused by this bomb.
Searchlights swept around the sky as enemy raider planes penetrated the coastal defences. Hemyock was sited on the way to several West Country and Welsh targets - Plymouth, Exeter, Bristol, Cardiff and South Wales, and of course the many West Country airfields to name but a few. Many people remember the drone of the enemy aircraft passing overhead on their bombing raids. Their drone was very different from that of the Allied planes. They remember too, warning sirens howling in the distance across the night air. Members of the Hemyock Home Guard helped to man the local searchlights up at the top of Pencross and above Tedburrow, these formed part of the national chain that swept through the night skies to pick out any enemy aircraft or parachutists for the anti-aircraft guns to target.
When the Germans started to bomb Exeter, Plymouth and towns in Wales, Hemyock was in the flight path of the enemy bombers. The drone of the enemy engines was unmistakable. It was a night in March 1941 that Plymouth was blitzed. Exeter's turn came on April 24th 1942. Several Hemyockians observed both these raids. For example Mrs. Pamela Dowson was stationed in Plymouth on the night it was destroyed. Mrs Sanders was working in Exeter Post Office when it was bombed. Messrs. Gerald Pring and Edgar Lowman observed the terrible devastation of Exeter when they were returning to Totnes after a weekend leave. Mr. Fred Payne who served in the Pioneers, was engaged in clearing away the rubble following these raids.
The memories were published originally in 1995 as a 65 page, A4 booklet, illustrated with many photographs. All profits went to the Royal British Legion.
The text has been extensively re-edited and republished in Amazon Kindle format, in aid of Hemyock's Blackdown Support Group charity, it is equivalent to about 115 A5 pages. The photographs have been made into online slideshows.
For convenience, the photos have been arranged in four groups, forming four slide shows, each lasting about four minutes. The slide shows have been uploaded as 1080p HD. This means that they can be viewed using most types of computer or mobile devices and at any of the resolutions supported by YouTube. Contact us for a DVD version of these slideshows, or versions in other formats.
Hemyock Castle, Hemyock, CULLOMPTON, Devon, EX15 3RJ, UK.
© 2001–2015. Prepared and published by Curlew Communications Ltd