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Cliff rescue sparks memories of reader's life-changing fall

By Herald Express  |  Posted: September 24, 2012

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A STORY in the Herald Express which retold a dramatic cliff rescue at Sharkham Point many years ago has stirred memories for one reader.

Peter Merritt was just 20 when he suffered a life-changing fall onto the rocks in Brixham in 1946.

His 50ft crash landing should have killed him but thanks to the efforts of doctors and the emergency services, his life was saved and his wounds healed.

But it was only when he read a story in the paper about David Williams who suffered a similar fall in 1954 that he felt moved to recall the incident.

Like Mr Williams, he remembers the fall every time he hears of a young person crashing down from rocks.

He thinks Sharkham Point itself probably holds many hidden or long-forgotten stories like his.

Mr Merritt remembers one day in the summer of 1946 when he was clambering about the rocks with his friend Keith Chittenden.

The pair decided to take a short cut up to the Dolphin Holiday Camp, where young Peter's father was the managing director.

"I was some 50ft above the rocks at the bottom and Keith was some 10ft directly above me.

"Keith lost his foothold and fell on top of me. We both fell together on to the rocks below, which were a few feet above sea level.

"I clearly remember falling and being convinced I would be killed."

Landing flat on his back, the impact was made worse by the fact that Keith fell on top of him.

Other friends called for help and Brixham lifeboat was called out to make the rescue.

The incident was so serious that it was reported in The Times.

"I fractured several vertebrae, and the bones in one ankle were shattered by being caught in a fissure of the cliff face on the way down. I could not move. Keith had bounced off me and was lying close, also unable to move.

"The whole of my trunk was in a plaster cast for six months."

Mr Merritt recovered and enjoyed a successful career as a civil engineer and surveyor in London before moving back to Torbay to run the Berry Court holiday flatlets.

He also gave his time to several charities, working as a volunteer for the Citizens' Advice Bureau, Relate and Devon In Sight among others.

Keith, who was less injured, recovered and became a surgeon.

"I am 86 now, and have lived in Torquay since 1978. My back mended and my ankle mended too but left me with less ankle movement.

"I have been a strong walker most of my life, but not for a good many years now because the other leg became bowed, and my walking is now reduced because of that.

"But I made a remarkable recovery that lasted almost six decades."

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