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July 2021

With thousands of holidaymakers pouring into Cornwall each week since the May half term, Cornwall has seen a marked increase in the number of cases of Covid 19 and especially of the Delta variant. Amongst those visitors were the world leaders, their entourages and security, the royal family, the police and armed forces, the media and the protestors that comprised the G7 Summit. Cornwall’s economy depends on tourism and many businesses and families have struggled and continue to do so in these uncertain times and while the county welcomes the visitors there is concern its one hospital could easily be overwhelmed.

So for this month, I thought I’d look at some of the photos in my collection which depict holidays in wartime, again a time of uncertainty and restriction. In 1939 most people had holidayed as usual with the declaration of war not coming until September. Over 11 million workers had benefited from the Holiday With Pay Act of 1938 and Cornwall saw a large number of visitors that summer.

The next summer was entirely different. With fear of imminent invasion and many beaches closed as they saw scaffolding and barbed wire stretch across the sands and some were mined, most people stayed at home. In 1941 there were a few visitors but the government pushed the message to holiday at home and encouraged local councils to put on entertainments in their local parks.

By 1942 however, the people had had enough of government restrictions and largely ignored the stay at home message. They were ready to take a break from war work and those that could afford to travelled to Cornwall for a week at the coast. A number of beaches had seen their defences cleared and the public given access, although that was more often on the north coast where the risk of an invasion or raiding party landing was considered less.

In 1943 holidays picked up and thousands could be seen enjoying Cornwall’s fantastic scenery and bathing on its golden beaches. In 1944 early holidays were curtailed by the D-Day restricted areas. In Cornwall a line was drawn across the county from Mawgan Porth near Newquay to Lezant near Launceston and below it was a Restricted Area. No one who wasn’t resident within the restricted area was allowed to travel into it from 5th April and this remained in force until the 12th July 1944. August did see a surge in visitors to the county.

The first photo shows three surfer girls at Towan Beach in Newquay on 6th September 1943. Only the swimming costumes date the picture. It was taken by James Jarché the Fleet Street photographer famed for getting the first photos of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. The girls’ wooden bodyboards are making a comeback as being more environmentally friendly than the stack of polystyrene boards that get left littering Cornwall’s beaches every year.

The second photo shows a busy beach behind the foreground conversation at Newquay in September 1943, again taken by James Jarché who had just returned to the UK after photographing a Chindit mission in Burma for Life Magazine. His job gave him access to rare colour film. These photos have not been colourised by computer. Several of Newquay’s hotels were taken over as convalescent homes for wounded service personnel and they were easily distinguished around the town by their blue jackets and trousers. In this photo, two men from the Hotel Victoria are talking to some RAF chaps from one of the Initial Training Units based in the town.

The third photo illustrates that service personnel also used their leave to visit Cornwall. In this case, the photographer is an American – Staff Sargeant Robert Astrella of the 7th Photographic Reconnaissance Group with the USAAF at Mount Farm in Oxfordshire. He visited two places in 1943. One was London and the other the far west of Cornwall where he photographed Land’s End, Sennen Cove, Penzance, Marazion and here St Nicholas’ Chapel on the Island at St Ives leaving us a unique photographic record in original colour.

The fourth photo shows some Canadian personnel climbing through the gap in the beach scaffolding at Crackington Haven in 1944. 404 Squadron was the second Royal Canadian Air Force Squadron to be formed overseas and it served in Coastal Command. On 10th May 1944, the squadron moved to RAF Davidstow on Bodmin Moor in preparation for anti-shipping missions protecting the D-Day invasion. The Squadron left on 5th July although a detachment returned to Cornwall between 5th and 31st August, so this photo and the one below were taken sometime that summer.

The final photo shows Canadian airmen pulling children in the surf in a rubber rescue dinghy which they have brought with them to the beach from the airfield. On May 29th they did practice dinghy rescue drill at Boscastle, but these airmen at Crackington Haven are dressed for a swim, not an aircraft ditching drill.

Wherever you take your 2021 holiday, stay safe, and if you’re heading to Cornwall make sure you swim at a lifeguarded beach and take notice of the tide times and be aware of the sea conditions including rip currents. We don’t want your stay in Cornwall to be in our casualty department. Enjoy your holiday.

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