RAF St Eval
RAF St Eval was the only fighter airfield in Cornwall in 1940. It was targeted on numerous occasions by the Luftwaffe and in this photograph from November 1941 the lines of bomb craters can easily be seen in the surrounding fields. Elizabeth was caught in an air raid here at the start of the book. St Eval is a top secret wireless site today but the parish church with its RAF memorials is worth a visit.
This beautiful beach on the south Cornish coast was targeted by the Germans twice within a week in May 1941 with the loss of three lives. The anti-tank wall still survives although the anti-aircraft post does not. Elizabeth has to accompany one of the bodies from Bodmin to Newquay in a passage in the book. Hemmick is owned by the National Trust today.
The short branch line from St Erth to St Ives is one of the most scenic in Britain and well worth the ride. The narrow streets of St Ives around the harbour was the scene of the Major’s frantic search for Johann after their train ride to the town.
Ebenezer Hall, Falmouth
Ebenezer Hall in Falmouth was where Elizabeth and the Major attended an afternoon church service. Due to the blackout, many churches moved their evening service to the afternoon. The Hall is a private house today.
This is the view from one of the two control points for the flame fougasse that defended the beach at Porthcurno. Due to the cable station that connected Britain to its Empire and the rest of the world Porthcurno was a Category A – defended at all costs – location. The Major was inspecting the defences covering the beach when Johann’s attempt to penetrate the defensive ring around the cable station was rumbled and a massive search ensued. The cable station is now a museum and with its wartime tunnels is well worth a visit. Several of the pillboxes are on open access land near the beach and can be viewed freely.
Hayle Power Station
Hayle Power Station was the only power station in Cornwall connected to the National Grid in 1940. This photograph shows the camouflage painted on the roofs of its various buildings. This was the scene of the Major’s inspection when his men from an Auxiliary Unit planted dummy limpet mines across the plant to the horror of the plant manager and the officer tasked with its defence. The parking area used by the Major is clearly visible. The power station has been replaced by the Wave Hub for Renewable Energy, but a walk out along North Quay to the beach is worth doing.
St Erth RSS Station Field
This was the field that housed the Radio Security Service’s top secret wireless listening station. From here the wireless traffic of the German Abwehr was monitored and sent to Arkley and then Bletchley for decoding. The field stands empty today and is private land. The wireless station was the scene of an inspection by the Major and his first encounter with Johann as he chased him through the fields and lanes to the village railway station.
Concert at Bodmin Public Rooms
The concert attended by Elizabeth in the book was based on a real event held at the Public Rooms in Bodmin. This photo shows Major Mills in drag with the concert party that includes his daughter in the long dress and Jamaican dancer Stanley Coleman. Today the Public Rooms house Bodmin’s cinema which in wartime was on the corner between Honey Street and Crockwell Street.
HMS Registan Graves
The HMS Registan plot in Falmouth Cemetery never fails to move me. I first visited it as a child with my father and the tale of the tragic loss of life that night in May 1941 is told by the Major’s naval officer school friend in the book. If you enter the cemetery by the gate down by the Swanpool, the plot is off to the right past the other World War Two graves and memorials.
The small harbour village of Gorran Haven is the scene of the dramatic climax of the book. I won’t put any spoilers here but the village is well worth a visit and its fish and chip shop is superb. To find out what really did happen in Gorran Haven in the war check out my eBook The Gorran Haven & District War Diary.