Login Register

BYGONES: How we coped with victims of slaughter

By Herald Express  |  Posted: March 02, 2014

  • SHOW OF STRENGTH: The review of the Fleet in Tor Bay in 1911

Comments (0)

IT would not have escaped your notice that this year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One.

During my years as a South Devon reporter I had the privilege to interview the last survivors of that conflict, notably, former Paignton Winner Street barber William Stone who I met when he was 103 and who would become, along with Henry Allingham and Harry Patch, one of the last three British survivors of the First World War.

Then there was Winifred Deacon, an ambulance driver at the Battle of the Somme, who spent her last days at Fernham residential home in Paignton.

Even at 101 years old, her anti-war passion was undimmed. She recalled: "The shell-shocked, the gassed, the blind and men old enough to be my father, crying, waiting for the ambulance to take them down the line. All I could do was hold their hands as they were dying."

Local photographs of the war are limited mainly to pictures of casualties being cared for at many of the big houses in Torbay including Oldway Mansion, Stoodley Knowle and Lyncourt.

Torquay Town Hall provided 50 beds. It opened in August 1914 and did not close until 1919. Agatha Christie worked there as a dispensary nurse.

In 1915 a party of 300 wounded soldiers arrived in a motorcade of 100 vehicles from Exeter to be entertained at Torquay Pavilion and given a civic welcome on arrival.

Torquay Town Hall and Oldway Mansion would receive a visit by King George V and Queen Mary in September 1915.

South Devon saw more of the war at sea. The British Western Fleet was reviewed in Tor Bay in 1911 and during the conflict a small naval base was set up from which minesweepers and patrol boats operated. In December 1916, a U boat attacked a Brixham fishing fleet and sank two. Famously the Brixham trawler Provident rescued 71 survivors from HMS Formidable which had been torpedoed.

The war cast the longest of shadows, changing Britain forever and the slaughter would never be forgotten. War memorial were quickly established, like this temporary one in Paignton.

And there would be other reminders like the First World War tank which was given to the town in 1919 and stood on Daddyhole Plain until 1943 when it was melted down for munitions.

The most haunting set of photographs from the war years are of Oldway Mansion showing its marbled, mirrored rooms full of casualties. Initially there were 150 beds, but by the Battle of the Somme in 1916 they had risen to 250.

I can never visit Oldway without reflecting on its very different use during the Great War.

Read more from Torquay Herald Express

Do you have something to say? Leave your comment here...

max 4000 characters