Sidmouth's war days remembered

PUBLISHED: 11:21 11 July 2009 | UPDATED: 09:39 18 June 2010

AS thousands helped Sidmouth mark the first Armed Forces Day last month, the town s role as an evacuation outpost during the Second World War is well-remembered.

AS thousands helped Sidmouth mark the first Armed Forces Day last month, the town's role as an evacuation outpost during the Second World War is well-remembered.

In The Book of Sidmouth, Ted Gosling and Shiela Luxton tell of how by October 1940, the town had accepted almost 4,000 evacuees. The Sidmouth members of the voluntary organisation achieved wonders in finding accommodation for them all.

The town's air-raid-precautions committee was also busy. In Sidmouth there were more than 500 air-raid alerts sounded and the town was occasionally machine-gunned from the air with enemy pilots disposing of some bombs which had been intended for Exeter.

"People in Sidmouth who were alive at the time will well remember Churchill's speeches on the radio, which made listeners feel a part of that glorious time in history. His voice sent shivers down the spine and few will ever forget that experience," write the authors.

They add: "The voluntary services were quickly organised for the national emergency. An appeal broadcast in May 1940 for the Local Defence Volunteers had hardly ended before men from Sidmouth were queuing to be registered.

"The skilful dedication if the Sidmouth National Fire Service must never be forgotten, they played an heroic part in the defence of Exeter against enemy bombing."

The town's sea-front was barricaded with barbed wire, scaffolding with concrete 'tank trap' pyramids blocking access to the sea front from the market and Clifton slipway where a life-like imitation cottage housed a gun.

A coastal defence battery was established in the Connaught Gardens and the Army and RAF contingents were established in the town. The grounds of The Knowle were used as a training area for Commandos.

Peak Hill played host to an observer post and was manned by local volunteers. There was also a satellite post in Salcombe Hill. During July, 1962, the Peak Hill post was changed to an underground bunker, complete with instructions for monitoring nuclear radiation. In 1991, after 50 years of devoted service it was stood down and the underground post was filled in.

By the end of 1940, strict food rationing was introduced with people urged to 'dig for victory' by growing their own food. Black-out material was in great demand to cover the windows at night and strict control was exercised on householders by the ARP and special constabulary.

On May, 8, 1945, peace was declared in Europe. Free entertainment, communal lunches and tea parties were held in the streets of Sidmouth.

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