Nostalgic look at Sidmouth’s preparations for war

Scaffold defences, Bren guns and Royal Observer Corps as Sidmouth prepared for World War Two

IN a week’s time, Sidmouth war veterans, service groups, local organisations, councillors and residents will participate in this year’s Remembrance Sunday parade and wreath laying.

How many remember what was it like for Sidmouth during those war years?

Sidmouth author John Ankins brings those memories to life in Sidmouth The War Years 1939-1945.

“In case of an invasion all information from the members’ reports and plans were compiled into a War Book,” he writes.

“On Thursday, May 30, 1940, the Government ordered the removal of all signposts and street names as well as signs on the main buildings, such as the Post Office, Banks, Fire Station, Bus and Rail stations.

“By the end of 1942, most of the iron railings from parks and private gardens were collected for The War Effort.”

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Church bells were only to be rung in the event of an invasion.

The Sidmouth Herald reported, after the first night air raid alert: ‘black-out of house lights was very good but traffic on the road was much too bright’.

Women made black-out roller blinds of dark green and blue in Sanders upholstery rooms at the back of Old Fore Street and Sanders offered black-out paper for one shilling a yard.

In October 1939 fishermen’s wives were asked to make camouflage nets and that year girls from the Convent School were making garments for the Forces. Scaffolding defences were erected along the beach and under Alma Bridge.

“The Esplanade was covered in expanded coils of barbed wire…Two gaps in the wire were left open during the day for getting onto to the beach, these were closed at night.

“A sandbagged anti-aircraft gun emplacement was by the Bedford Steps and Bren gun positions on the cricket field overlooking the seafront.”

Connaught Gardens was closed and became The Battery.

“There were two 138mm swivel guns overlooking the seafront, which were salvaged, together with the ammunition, from the French Battleship Paris.”

A gun emplacement at the gardens (still visible) housed a Petters engine that ran electric generators.

Practice times for when the gun was to be fired were posted in the local paper.

Mr Ankins writes: “Bert Trivett, a local man, was one of the men manning the guns. I was told that on one of the test firings, one of the shells went across the seafront and hit the cliffs by Alma Bridge.”

A torpedo chute, set to hit the centre of the Esplanade, was among other armament in the gardens, as well as camouflaged buildings and Nissan huts.

Peak Hill had an Observation Post, manned full time in the day by the Royal Observer Corps and at night by the Home Guard.

It started in a caravan and later an underground building with observation platform and sleeping accommodation was built.

Maroons and a siren – for imminent attack – were at the post, but there was no radar equipment “only powerful binoculars for spotting anything that flew over.

“Mr Govier was one of the observers and later he was put in charge of the Salcombe Hill Station.”

Clifton beach slipway was closed off and a machine gun post, made to look like an unfinished cottage, was built, while a gun emplacement at the corner of Peak Hill Road and Manor Road, was made to look like a garage.

The pebble beach, from east of the River Sid to Weston beach was mined. Sadly a girl of 15 was killed in 1941 by a mine under Salcombe Cliffs, writes Mr Ankins.

Bedford car park was a drill square and road blocks, made from filled concrete pipes, were set up around the town.

“Sidmouth had many air raid warnings. At first people took cover, but after a while they did not take much notice.”