Oral History is an important way for the Museum to collect memories and ensure that there is a living history of the events, cultural heritage and social life of Torbay.
In 2003 the Oral History Group was formed to undertake an Oral History project, initially funded by the Heritage Lottery. The aim of the project was to increase awareness of the effects of the Second World War on the cultural heritage, customs and traditions of the people who lived and worked in the Torbay area with the first phase of the project concentrating on the events of D-Day on 6 June 1944. Other outputs from the project included a permanent oral history archive, stored and publicly available in the Museum and a CD resource available through local museums and libraries and through the Museum’s website and the Local Heritage Initiative website. The project identified five key areas of interest in the war locally:
At the beginning of the War nearly three million people, most of whom were school children, were transported from towns and cities to places of safety in the countryside. The exodus from the cities was largely successful, however, many of the receiving areas were overwhelmed and in some cases there were insufficient rations or even beds.
In Torbay evacuees were made as welcome as possible. Local schools swelled from the huge influx of children, older children helped with the war effort, for example by working on the allotments and at Christmas time parties were held in such places as St Marychurch Town Hall.
The first raids hit Torbay in the summer of 1940, and the last in late 1944. Most were carried out by small fighter aircraft such as the Focke-Wulf 190 that would fly in low over the sea. Their firepower wasn’t great, but over the course of the war a great deal of damage was done in Torbay. Some 168 people lost their lives, 158 were seriously wounded and 332 injured. A total of 137 buildings were destroyed and over 13,000 damaged.
The Home Front
At home, rationing encouraged ingenious cooking, e.g. mock pineapple made from cooked turnip! Many people would supplement their diet with home grown vegetables and once the Americans arrived there was always the chance of a ration pack! In 1940 Lord Beaverbrook became Minister for Aircraft Production and he mobilised the public to collect money and materials to build more airplanes. Pots and pans from houses all around Torbay as they were collected in to stores located in Paignton and Vaughan Parade, Torquay.
The RAF in Torbay
Over the course of the war some 50,000 cadets passed through basic training in Torbay. Local hotels provided accommodation and sites across the Bay became offices and classrooms with the Spanish barn at Torre Abbey becoming a gym!
In spring 1944 preparations for the invasion of France began. More than 60,000 US infantrymen and 35,000 seamen moved into Devon. In Torbay, huge convoys began to arrive, directed by white helmeted military police, known as “snowdrops”. Many of the men were quickly billeted in local homes while others remained in camps in the local parks. Communal canteens were also set up on open ground such as on the Green at Chelston.
Generally the Americans were known to be better off than their English counterparts, with plentiful rations and they even had their own supermarket in the old coach station in Torwood Road. Most Americans spread their good fortune, handing out chocolate and gum to local children and helping others with spare rations.
Since the completion of the initial project the Oral History Group have gone on to make additional recordings such as Seaside Memories. All of these recordings are available to purchase in the Museum shop. Below are some excerpts from the many recordings made.
- Sound clip 1: Betty Bouda: Betty was a WREN at the time of the D-Day Landings and saw the troops leave for Normandy. These are her memories of that momentus day
- Sound clip 2: Ron Jackson: Ron worked for many years at the Longpark Pottery. Here he describes how he first got work there.
- Sound clip 3: Mr Badcott: Mr Badcott tells a story from his life as a boatman working off Oddicombe Beach.
- Sound clip 4: Roland de Vey: Roland de Vey talks about running the Anderton and Rowlands Fair, a popular event that is held each summer in Torbay.