Updated: Mar 3, 2022
Many people are aware of the Americans in Cornwall prior to D-Day but few are aware of the presence of the Canadians. I first came across a reference to them while researching my Cornish wartime Christmas 1942 YouTube video when I found an advert in the Liskeard based Cornish Times for a dance the Royal Canadian Engineers held on Saturday 19th December 1942 in the Public Hall, Liskeard. The Royal Canadian Engineers had been involved in the Dieppe Raid earlier in the year but what were they doing in Cornwall? Despite appeals for information none was forthcoming.
I then visited a rather unusual site at Minions on Bodmin Moor. To the west of the Hurlers Stone Circle, you can find an area of reinforced concrete bases and earth embankments. Many have dismissed it as the remnants of the mining and quarrying activity that is evident all over that part of the moor. However, on closer inspection, you can find a date in the concrete which says 1942. Adjacent to that, set in the wartime concrete, are the letters RCE which stands for the Royal Canadian Engineers. The reason why the Canadians were in Liskeard at the end of 1942 is that they were constructing the site at Minions which would be used by both British and American forces in their training for D-Day.
The site is the firing base for the moorland artillery range that saw the big guns fire shells across the moor in a northerly direction. Their targets were in the vicinity of Brown Willy and High Moor (to the east of Brown Willy & Rough Tor) which means their live shells were projected over the A30 which, as far as I’m aware, was never closed to traffic! Apparently, commoners were advised when to move their livestock out of the danger zone. There were also firing positions at Penkestle Moor (near the Colliford Lakes which weren’t there during the war being of recent construction) and Berry Down (near St Neot). The firing distance from Minions was 13.5km and from Penkestle Moor 10km. Shell holes, now often water-filled, are found on Brown Willy’s eastern slope and the southern side of High Moor. One wonders what might have occurred on Cornwall’s main highway if the shells fell short! The 105mm howitzer had a range of 11km while the new American 155mm howitzer had a range of 14km. So they were firing at the top end of their range with little scope for error as the shells landing would have been visible from sections of the A30.
US General Patten stayed at Bolventor during a visit to Cornwall so he must have felt confident in his artillery’s abilities not to miss the mark! It was the Americans who dismantled the Moorswater – Caradon Railway bridge at Minions (on the lane from the village towards Upton Cross) to allow their equipment to get through. The 110 Field Artillery Battalion with their 105mm guns were based in Bodmin in the run-up to D-Day. The 190 Field Artillery Battalion with their 155mm guns were based in Bude. The 224 Field Artillery Battalion with 105mm guns were based in Perranporth.
It is believed the Americans put their infantry on the receiving end of the live firing in order to battle harden them and get them used to the noise of war and receiving incoming fire. This is supported by the number of one man slit trenches found in the target area at High Moor. I have not come across any stories or reports of casualties from this practice, only the loss of several American vehicles stuck in the bogs of the moor. One assumes there were various safety margins and procedures built into the practice.
The success of the Allied forces on D-Day and in the subsequent campaign to liberate north-west Europe would indicate the efforts of the Canadians on Bodmin Moor in the winter of 1942 proved worthwhile as well as those of the Americans practising throughout 1943 and the first five months of 1944. My third historical novel and the completion of the Trevennel trilogy is set in the period leading up to D-Day when the Americans were in Cornwall in large numbers. It currently has the working title of Enemy Without Cause. It is hoped to publish it later this year but just when still depends on a variety of factors and the date is as yet unknown. Keep reading the monthly blogs as you’ll find out here first.
Since the publication of this article it has generated further discussion and research on the concrete remains at Minions. With the help of Temujin, an expert on the Royal Canadian Engineers, on the WW2Talk forum, we are now satisfied that the RCE 1942 is engraved on the bed for the engine and compressor for the 1942 mining exploration work undertaken by 60 men of 1 Tunneling Company, Royal Canadian Engineers.
Details on the discussion on the forum can be found here: Royal Canadian Engineers in Cornwall 1942 | WW2Talk
It is not in doubt that the site was used for the artillery firing as described as 40 years of local oral history and testimony have shown. For example: English Heritage Archaeological Monographs: Bodmin Moor An archaeological survey Volume 2: The industrial and post-medieval landscapes (archaeologydataservice.ac.uk)
If anyone has any more detail on this topic, I am always willing to learn, so please leave a comment or send an email.