Updated: Mar 12
I have forgotten how many veterans, both military and civilian, I have asked as I have been interviewing them about their World War Two experiences, “How did you feel when you heard the news that Hitler had invaded Poland?” Many spoke of the sense that the period of uncertainty over the summer had come to an end, that they now knew where they stood and what they had to do, and a sense of sadness that just 21 years after the end of “the war to end all wars” Europe was plunged once again into conflict.
I guess for many of us the last week of February as we watched on our screens the events unfold in Ukraine has given us a small sense of just how our forbears must have felt in 1939. Not that my country has yet gone to war, and apart from some economic hardship, the war is unlikely to impact me personally in the same way as Chamberlain’s declaration of war against Nazi Germany on Sunday 3rd September 1939 would impact the lives of my parents and grandparents. I have had one or two tell me that by focusing on World War Two I glorify war. I respond that I tell the story of that monumental struggle against the evils of fascism and Nazism to honour the price that generation paid for my freedom and to teach the current generation that we should never allow evil men to get us into such a situation again.
As I watched the breaking news of Russia’s unprovoked aggression my thoughts were taken to a small Cornish link with Ukraine that still stands on a hedgerow at Restronguet Barton near Mylor. On Thursday I posted some of the photographs seen
with this article on my church’s WhatsApp group. They show a small white cross with a plaque that reads “This symbol of faith in God was erected by Ukrainians who escaping from Russian Communists found refuge in England 7 June 1948.” As Stalin’s Iron Curtain fell across eastern Europe in the aftermath
of the Second World War, many had fled
their country or were servicemen who had served in the Allied forces that defeated Hitler and were unable to return to their homeland as it fell under a new dictator. Accommodation in the form of a disused Prisoner of War camp was offered and occupied for about a year until the Ukrainians were either assimilated into the local community (several married Cornish folk) or moved to continue life elsewhere.
The photographs show the dedication of the cross outside the Nissen Hut which was their chapel and a service inside the chapel. Many of the Ukrainians were believers in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and their strong faith was lived out even in the most difficult of circumstances. They were helped by local Catholic priests and befriended by the local community across all denominations and none. When the site was finally cleared and returned to farmland the farmer moved the cross to the hedgerow where it still stands. Indeed, in the last week of February, locals have come and laid blue and yellow flowers at the monument, and on Sunday 27th February a short prayer service was held remembering those suffering again in Ukraine at the hands of the Russians.
The Prisoner of War Camp had housed Italians during the second half of 1944 and into 1945. They worked on the local farms and lived in the huts at the camp.
The camp itself had been built on the site of one of the Heavy Anti-Aircraft Batteries that defended Falmouth. The site was chosen as it sits on a high ridge between the Mylor and Restronguet creeks to the north of Falmouth and was part of a ring of five HAA Batteries that were controlled from Penhale House hear Trelissick which housed the Gun Control Room. By 6th August 1940, the site had two 3-inch 20c S/M guns. In April 1941 378 Battery of 119 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment took over the manning of the guns.
On 14th June 1941 378 Battery handed over to G battery, 4 HAA, Royal Marines. On 8th July 1941, the site received two more guns that had come from HAA 1, the site at Pennance Point, which had been upgraded with new, bigger guns. In late 1941 the site was upgraded to four 3.7 inch mobile guns with GL Mark II radar which were ready for action on 2nd December, manned by 158 Battery of 53 Heavy Anti Aircraft Regiment. . The remains that can be seen today are from the 1941 upgrade. The Command Post and part of one of the gun pits remain showing the ready use lockers and gunner’s shelter. The bolts that secured the guns can still be seen in the concrete. Please note this is on private farmland and should only be viewed with permission.
By 1941 the five HAA gun sites around Falmouth, aided by radar, could fire a predicted concentration to try and hit an enemy aircraft, or they could be set to create a box concentration which meant that whichever direction the aircraft turned it would be flying into flak. They could also fire a Geographical Concentration which would put a lot of flak over a particular location (such as the docks) which might be the target for the enemy bombers.
The site at Mylor did see some success. During an air raid of Sunday 18th May 1941 when a house in Restronguet was damaged by machine-gun fire and bombs fell in Mylor Creek, the Battery was credited with shooting down an enemy aircraft using their Light Anti-Aircraft Machine Guns. The Falmouth Batteries were credited with downing a number of enemy aircraft between 1940 and 1944. They last fired in anger during the final raid in the early hours of Tuesday 30th May 1944 when the fuel tanks at Swanvale were set alight.
So a past generation of Cornish folk knew what it was to cower in their basements and air raid shelters as the enemy bombers rained down death and destruction and the deafening roar of the defending guns put up their lethal resistance. So today’s generation of Cornish folk have felt deep sympathy as they have prayed for the people of Ukraine as they stand against the might of a ruthless invader who for too long had been appeased by western economies blinded by Russian money and gas. May our nation do the right thing in supporting the aggrieved and helping them swiftly repel the invader so that peace may once again return to their land, before the conflict grows and the whole continent is plunged into turmoil and destruction.
Christian poet Steve Turner once wrote: “History repeats itself. Has to. No one listens.”