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February 2021

Over the past month while much of the UK has ‘enjoyed’ snow, most of Cornwall has looked on jealously. We don’t get snow very often, but when it does arrive, it has the capacity to cause major disruption, especially on the roads, due to the steep hills and narrow lanes.

So for this month I have dug out a couple of snow photographs from the war. The first shows the scene on the A30 just east of Bodmin. This crossroads now no longer exists due to the recent dualling of this section of the A30. It was taken on Tuesday 23rd January 1945. It had been a cold winter across Europe – most people are familiar with snow scenes from the Battle of the Bulge – and this was one of several significant falls of snow to impact Cornwall during that January.

It was taken by George Ellis, the photographer based in Bodmin. He had gone out to Temple to photograph an RAF lorry that had to be dug out of the snow and on his way back decided this scene would make for a good photograph. Incidentally, road signs had been replaced in March 1944 as the threat of invasion had passed and the need to help direct the Americans grew!

I can remember going into George Ellis’ shop in Bodmin as a boy prior to his retirement in 1975. It was at the bottom of St Nicholas Street, just as it opened out on to Mount Folly. He sold records and stationery as well all things photographic. My father was a regular customer of the printing service he offered. I remember him visiting our family home as well to discuss with my father the potential merger of the churches in which both of them were elders. George’s Congregational Church had a building, the Lady Huntingdon Connexion Chapel in Higher Bore Street, but only a small elderly congregation while my father’s New Testament Church had no building (they rented the Girl Guide Hall on a Sunday) but a young lively congregation. George’s proposal to combine the two made a lot of sense, but unfortunately the chapel was too small with no facilities and only on-road parking, so the merger didn’t take place. My father went on to build the Gospel Hall in Berrycombe Road in 1981 which is now the home of the Bodmin Christian Fellowship. Sadly the Congregational Church closed in the autumn of 1985 and its half a dozen members found fellowship elsewhere. George went to be with his Lord in October 1985.

George Ellis had arrived in Cornwall with his wife and family on September 3rd 1939 working first for the Cornish Guardian and then, when wartime paper restrictions led to his redundancy, working as a freelance photographer whose images were used by the local press, the regional Western Morning News and, on occasion, national newspapers and magazines. His vast collection of wartime photographs of mainly mid Cornwall is a superb resource chronicling life on the Home Front. The glass plate negatives are now held by Kresen Kernow at Redruth.

The second photo, also by George Ellis, shows Harry Tregilgas and his two sisters in the snow on Bodmin General Station. It was taken on Monday 8th January 1945 as Harry was about to return to his unit after a spell of leave. In fact, he was the only Bodmin boy to receive New Year leave that year. The coats, scarves and gloves give an indication of how cold it was. Weather forecasting was not broadcast or published in the papers during the war as it was considered information that could be useful to the enemy. Thus sudden bad weather, like snow, often caught people out. Let me tell you of a blizzard and cold spell that caused all manner of problems for the county in 1941. The railway details come from my eBook “Cornwall Railways War Diary” and the RAF details from my eBook “Gorran Haven War Diary” (see the eBooks page of the website for more details).

On Thursday 30th January 1941 it was thought that the weather conditions contributed to a railway accident where a coupling on a goods truck on a train heading up the incline out of Par towards St Austell broke. Nineteen trucks ran backwards and came off the rails near Par Signal Box. Both main lines were blocked. The Guard was, fortunately, only slightly injured. It took until the late afternoon of Monday 3rd February to get both lines open again. This was at a time when the county’s roads were covered in three inches of snow with many hills only passable with chains. The snow had fallen on 16th January when the police reported “snow falling over practically the whole of the county”.

The blizzard on Thursday 16th January 1941 had severe consequences for the RAF. William Lionel Beech of 234 Squadron took off from RAF St Eval in Spitfire N3191 at 1030 hours for a patrol over Dodman Point. He was returning at 1048 hours when in a dive the plane lost its wings and the aircraft crashed in a field adjoining the Rectory at Ruan Lanihorne. The machine was a total wreck and Beech was killed. A military guard was kept on the plane until the wreckage was taken to AST Ltd at Hamble on 14th February for inspection to determine the cause of the accident. Beech was buried in St Eval Churchyard. He was aged 21 and from Vancouver in Canada.

It was the second loss that morning for 234 Squadron as Sergeant George Wade Rodgers was lost whilst engaging a Junkers 88 20 miles off South East Cornwall. No trace of plane or pilot was found. Visibility was poor due to the snow storm and clouds. Rodgers was from Falmouth.

On the 4th February the Cornwall Constabulary War Diary records that “roads west of St Austell are passable without chains except for certain small patches. East of St Austell the roads are treacherous but passable with chains and great care in some places.” By Monday 6th February the snow had melted and the roads returned to normal.

So while the snow may look pretty in scenes like the first photo, it can be a killer to those having to venture out in it to keep the nation safe. So if Cornwall does get snow this year, stay safe. In the meantime as I type this the rain continues to pour down! Until next month, all the best!

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