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March 2024

Glynn House seen from the River Fowey

Glynn House stands majestic above the Fowey Valley overlooking the road bridge that takes the A38 from the valley floor to its winding ascent to the town of Bodmin. The house has a prestigious history with the manor dating back to the Domesday Book. With various connections to medieval royalty the estate was first occupied by the Glynn family in the mid fifteenth century. The house saw much rebuilding in the early nineteenth century, was restored after a fire in 1819 and remodelled in 1833 for the hero cavalry leader from Waterloo Sir Richard Hussey Vivian. The seat of the Vivian family saw various members of the family serve as M.P.s, Lord Lieutenants of Cornwall, diplomats, Privy Councillors, Barons and Baronets and with various distinguished military careers. A daughter of the third Baron married Field Marshall Douglas Haig, who was the Commander of the British Expeditionary Force for much of the First World War.

The estate was in the hands of George Crespigny Brabazon Vivian, 4th Baron Vivian DSO TD DL, who had seen distinguished service in both the Second Anglo-Boer War and the First World War, when war was declared on 3rd September 1939. Lady Vivian gave permission for the house to be used as an Evacuees Clothing Centre sorting and sending donated clothes to thousands of evacuees in the county.

When George Vivian died on 28th December 1940 his sons Anthony Crespigny Claude Vivian, the 5th Baron Vivian, and Hon Douglas David Edward Vivian jointly inherited Glynn. Douglas Vivian was already a Commander in the Royal Navy having been sent off to Dartmouth at the age of 13 in 1928. It was these two events that were to largely shape the wartime history of Glynn.

The summer of 1940, with the fall of France, saw the imminent threat of invasion. It was felt that Devonport Naval Dockyard was a likely target for aerial bombardment and so the Royal Navy took steps to disperse its resources. The china clay dry just south of Bodmin Road Station (now called Parkway) had ceased producing china clay just before the war. As it had its own siding it was commandeered by the Navy and used to store uniforms and shoes. A similar dry at Wenfordbridge was also taken over for storage purposes.

The Navy also requisitioned Glynn House, allowing the family to live in one wing of the large 19 bedroom house. The rest was to be home to a group of 80 Wrens who were engaged in confidential book correcting. The house was guarded by Royal Marines.

This secret work continued throughout the war only disturbed by the Luftwaffe planes who had bombed Bodmin on 7th August 1942 machine gunning a group of Wrens on their bikes cycling up the drive as they made their escape.

Glynn House Lady Vivian and helpers at The Evacuees Clothing Centre 21 Jan 1941

It was thought that because of the good and secret work carried out by the Wrens at Glynn that as the preparations for D-Day were stepped up at the end of 1943, some of their work turned to the preparation of documents and orders for the numerous naval vessels that would be involved in the invasion of Normandy. It was this work that made Glynn a suitable location for its most secret contribution to the war.

Glynn House was to play host to a number of top level secret conferences in the run up to D-Day. I am still piecing together the evidence for them but believe the meetings included on occasion Prime Minister Winston Churchill, His Majesty King George VI, General Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, and General Montgomery, Commander of the Allied Ground Forces in Normandy.

Michael Lyne joined the Royal Tank Regiment later in the war

Michael Lyne joined the Bodmin Fire Brigade at the age of 15 by lying about his age. One needed to be 16 to join but as his father was the Fire Chief for Cornwall few questioned the lad. His father was kept in the dark for some months! Michael told the BBC People’s War Project in September 2005: “In January or February 1944, outside Bodmin Railway Station I was testing hydrants. There were military personnel coming and going and then a staff car stopped. Out got the driver followed by General Eisenhower and General Montgomery. Eisenhower spoke to me saying, ‘Good morning lad,’ to which I replied ‘Good morning sir.’ Montgomery said nothing. The Station Master, Mr Wenmouth, came out and said to me, ‘Sonny, don’t tell anybody who you have seen today, because if you do we will have the whole German air force on top of us!’ I went home and naturally told my father who looked at me and said, ‘Don’t be silly!’”

However, it turned out his father was aware of the visit and just concerned at how his son had come across such classified information. In fact, Fire Chief Lyne would be instructed to provide a fire pump and crew to be at Glynn House between such and such a date as VIPs were meeting at the house.

Michael later wrote in his book of his wartime experiences ‘From Bodmin to Belsen’, “That’s all we knew, we didn’t know who was coming or anything. Well, one day it was my watch and we were in the stable block just standing by. We slept there overnight. One morning Frank Wherry said to me, ‘There you are, boy, look at that – bit of history for you.’ Winston Churchill was standing on the veranda smoking a cigar looking down the valley. I shall never forget that. The King actually came there on another occasion and a special siding (I have found no evidence of a siding – probably just a halt at what is now known as Charlie’s Gate) was put in on the Bodmin branch line under the trees to park the Royal Train. Other VIPs would arrive in the same way – they could go right across to Glynn House under cover of the trees without being seen from the air.”

When I interviewed Michael at his home in Rejarrah in 1995 he said that there were four or five of these top level meetings held at Glynn in the first half of 1944 and that he was in the fire crew on duty at three of them. He wasn’t the only witness I found to these top brass comings and goings.

Bob Jones in 1995

Bob Jones was a young Bodmin boy during the war. In 1995, when we were on the same teaching staff, he told me of one day in March 1944 he was at Bodmin Railway Station peering through the railings watching the activity of the station staff when an unscheduled train pulled into the station. Whilst he was intent on studying the locomotive he was suddenly aware of a small party of men in military uniform walking out of the station and up the road towards the DCLI Depot at the Barracks. As he turned and looked at them the leading man, General Eisenhower, smiled at him and said in his American accent, “Remember this day laddy. It’s part of history.” The only other figure Bob recognised in the small party was British war hero General Montgomery. Montgomery didn’t speak.

Sgt Frank F Sampa of the US 29th Division was based in Camborne prior to D-Day. As well as playing Father Christmas at a party the Americans gave for local children, he also wrote letters home to his parents and brother. These form the basis for the book “Somewhere in France, Somewhere in Germany: A Combat Soldier’s Journey Through The Second World War'' that was published in 2011. In it one of his letters records that on Saturday 15th January 1944 British General Bernard Montgomery visited the 29th Division. It provides evidence that Monty was in Cornwall. Was he here for one of the meetings at Glynn?

Eisenhower visited the 29th Infantry Division in Tavistock in February 1944 and was photographed in Bedford Square in the town centre. Major General Gerhardt, Commander of the 29th, had his headquarters at Abbotsfield House, Tavistock. Did he then come into Cornwall?

Churchill and Eisenhower inspected the 101st US Airborne Division at Lambourn, Bucks on 23rd/24th March 1944. They moved on to view the 2nd Armoured Division (US) on Salisbury Plain. Did they continue westwards for a weekend conference at Glynn?

Monty with junior King's School boys Carlyon Bay March 1944

General Montgomery was certainly here. Although Montgomery would be Commander of all the Allied Land Forces on D-Day and after which obviously included American troops, if he was regularly popping up in Cornwall, which had been designated as an American training and embarkation area for D-Day, people would start to ask questions. As the Allies wanted to make the Germans think the invasion was coming at the Pas de Calais his frequent appearance in Cornwall at top level meetings might give the game away that the landings would be made further west. Fortunately for Monty his old school came to the rescue. As a boy he had attended King’s School in Canterbury and in 1940 they had been evacuated to Cornwall and had taken over the Carlyon Bay Hotel. So it was arranged that Monty would visit his old school, attend Sunday service with the boys, inspect the local Home Guard while he was at it and the local press photographer would be invited along to capture the occasion. This would provide the perfect cover for him being in Cornwall on the weekend of the 25th/26th March 1944.

I have also come across anecdotes claiming that Churchill stayed at Treverbyn Vean, a few miles up the Fowey Valley from Glynn, when coming to the wartime conferences at Glynn House. This is entirely possible as the house had been acquired by Lord Beaverbrook, the press baron and friend of Churchill who served in various roles in Churchill’s wartime cabinet. Beaverbrook sold the house to his daughter, Mrs Janet Kidd, in 1947.

Eisenhower and Monty met with Major General Gerhardt at Abbotsfield House, Tavistock just before D-Day. Peter Newman, whose family owned the ten room cottage at Tolverne on the River Fal that was turned into the control post for Embarkation Hard PF5, has testified, “General Eisenhower came here in the days before the embarkation along with Omar N. Bradley, the Commander of the American forces, to see the troops. Senior American officers lived in the front half of our cottage with one of the rooms used as an office with 13 phone lines.” There are also claims that Eisenhower stayed at Tullimaar, the house at Perranarworthal that was the headquarters of the marshalling area and in May 1944 was home to the 69 Finance Distribution Section, although I doubt the claims he was resident for a fortnight prior to D-Day.

Eisenhower in Bodmin 26 June 1944 inspects troops of 137th Infantry Regiment on the Coldharbour football pitch

The most public visit Eisenhower made to Cornwall actually came after D-Day as he visited troops that were about to be thrown into the battle for Normandy. On 26th June 1944 he visited troops of the 137th Infantry Regiment at Bodmin, Hayle and Penzance where he took the salute from the 1st Battalion, 134th Infantry Regiment at a Beating The Retreat ceremony in the Mennaye Field. He was accompanied on this visit to troops of the 35th Infantry Division by General Patton.

If you have any information that documents the visits of the VIPs to Cornwall during 1944 then please get in touch by leaving a comment. Until next month, go well. Shalom.

Glynn House on an old postcard

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Mar 30

Thank you Phil for writing, once again, such an interesting piece. Fascinating facts and locations. Kind regards. Richard Austen.

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