Updated: Nov 3
November is the time of year for remembrance, whether that be the celebrations of Bonfire Night for deliverance from the threat of a Catholic autocratic monarchy in 1605, or the commemorations on the 11th of the ceasefire at the end of the Great War in 1918, or the reflections on the casualties of war that mark Remembrance Sunday.
So as a contribution to the remembrance of the fallen from World War Two in Cornwall we visit the graves of six of the people who made the ultimate sacrifice.
In the churchyard of the beautiful St Olaf’s Church, Poughill near Bude stands the headstone of Lieutenant Godfrey Cox, aged 39, of the Royal Naval Reserve. He was killed when HMS Registan was attacked off Cape Cornwall on the night of 27th/28th May 1941. He came from Pentwynmawr, near Newport in south Wales. He had joined the Merchant Navy as a cadet in 1917 and survived being torpedoed. He rose to be a Chief Engineer, and then on receiving his RNR commission became a Navigating Officer. Godfrey survived the initial bombing attacks and the fire that ensued. He was amongst the survivors that gathered with the Captain on the foredeck. He was one of three officers who climbed through the horrendous fire on board and managed to release the only surviving lifeboat into the water. They got the wounded from the stern into the lifeboat & collected some men in the water. They brought the lifeboat round to the fore where on loading more wounded into the boat Lt Cox gave up his place in the lifeboat and clambered back aboard the burning ship. Under repeated machine gun attack the lifeboat pulled away from the ship so it wouldn’t be hit. On board Registan the officers & crew made rafts from the damage control timber and lowered the remaining wounded into the water on the rafts. As the ship listed further, the order to abandon ship was given at 0030 hours on the 28th. Pay Sub Lt Sayer who survived, reported swimming up to a piece of wood that Lt Cox was clinging onto. They were joined by Lt Muir. Sayer lost consciousness and only came round when he had been rescued by the destroyer HMS Wild Swan. Lt Muir died of exhaustion in the water but his body was recovered. Lt Cox’s body eventually washed up on the north Cornish coast near Bude and he was buried on 7th July 1941 at Poughill. He left behind a wife, Elizabeth Mary Cox, and two daughters, Joan & Margaret. Joan, who died in 2000, is buried with her father. The story of the attack on HMS Registan is told in my historical novel A Place And A Name.
In Paul Churchyard, near Newlyn, stands the headstone of 17-year-old George Basil Chiffers, a member of the Home Guard. He died from shrapnel wounds received as the result of a dogfight involving one of the German planes that had attacked HMS Registan on 27th May 1941. Four Spitfires returning from patrol further up the north Cornish coast saw the fire on the Registan & went to investigate. They encountered several Heinkel 111s and engaged them. One was shot down and crashed into the sea off Gurnard’s Head killing all the crew. Another was damaged and seen with its wheels down. This was chased from St Ives to Mousehole by Flying Officer Geoffrey Cox of 152 Squadron based at Portreath who broke off as his guns were unserviceable and returned to base. The Heinkel was then seen to glide down onto the water and after a while to sink. The crew were rescued by a German boat from the Seenotdienst. A rubber dinghy and wireless transmitter were recovered from the scene of the ditching by HM Trawler Chiltern under its skipper A.J. Drake, RNR. It seems the planes that had attacked the Registan had strafed Newlyn as they returned south and one had dropped a bomb in the harbour. During one of the strafing runs Basil Chiffers had been injured severely in the leg whilst on patrol with the Home Guard. The local policeman applied a tourniquet before Basil was removed to hospital pleading that his mother not be told of his injury. He died of his wounds overnight. Mr Arthur Tonkin, on Home Guard duty with him, was injured in the face but survived. A Belgian fisherman was also hospitalised and a naval rating received minor injuries. The planes had been sent out to attack shipping off the Cornish coast to avenge the sinking of the Bismarck earlier in the day. Basil was buried with a guard of honour from a military firing party. He left behind his widowed mother and a sister. The story of the dogfight with the attackers of HMS Registan is told in my eBook RAF Portreath War Diary and the death of the young Home Guardsman is mentioned in A Place And A Name.
In Gorran Churchyard stands the headstone of Ernest Oliver, who was killed on Thursday 15th May 1941. At 2.40 am, 8 bombs fell at Hemmick Beach killing Pte Gerard Moran of the 8th Btn Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment. He was the husband of Kathleen Mary Moran of Shibden, Halifax. Seriously injured was Pte Leonard Wilson, also of 8th Btn Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment, and Coast Watcher Ernest John Oliver of Gorran Haven. Both were rushed to the Emergency Hospital in the Kendall Building of St Lawrence’s Hospital, Bodmin but both died of their wounds within 24 hours. Ernest left a pregnant widow Dora at Rice Farm. His father John had lost two brothers and a sister’s fiancé in the First World War and he along with Ernest's mother Elsie and sister Peggy were devastated. John had handed over Rice Farm to his son, the last remaining Oliver, in order to save him going off to war and preserve the family line. Although farming was a reserved occupation, Ernest still had to do some voluntary war work and so chose the Coastwatch. It was that duty that had led to his death. Nearly 500 attended Ernest’s funeral which was conducted by the Rev CW Phillips. Among those present were Sir John and Lady Williams of Caerhays Castle. The bearers were fellow members of the Auxiliary Coastguard. Ernest was known in the village as a good bass singer. He was also skilful with his hands and had made a model of the Queen Mary out of tobacco tins and match sticks which he exhibited for charity. The soldiers, according to their Regimental War Diary, were guarding the anti-aircraft post at Hemmick. There was serious damage to one house & one bungalow. One cow was killed. Leonard Billing of Gorran Haven escaped uninjured. The German plane of II./KG55 had taken off from Chartres. It was a single Heinkel 111 and, due to it not finding ships to attack, dropped its bombs on the anti-aircraft post. The pilot reported dropping 1 x SC500 and 4 x SC250 from 60 metres above sea level. Ernest Oliver, aged 27, was buried in St Goran Churchyard, Pte Wilson, aged 23, in the Fairpark Cemetery, Newquay, where his regiment was based, and Pte Moran, aged 29, back in the Stoney Royd Cemetery in Halifax. The son Ernest never saw grew up to be an artist and art teacher at Dartington Hall. He is survived by his wife Gahan & two daughters Amy & Talwyn. The story of the bombing of Hemmick Beach is told in my eBook The Gorran Haven & District War Diary.
In St Wenn Churchyard stands the memorial stone for Jimmy Tippett, aged 16, who died on Friday 7th August 1942. He was the messenger boy for Primrose Dairy in Bodmin. He had just enjoyed his lunch break in the town centre. Hunger satisfied, Jimmy made his way back down Crockwell Street, stopping at the house by the ope to Pool Street to call for his workmate Ronald Hugo who had returned home for his lunch with his parents, Reg, aged 56, and Edith, aged 51. Ron came to the door and explained he had not quite finished and would catch up with Jimmy back at the Dairy. Jimmy nodded and turned tail. It was 1.30 pm. He passed the dairy manager on his way to get some water from St Guron’s Well. He then called in at Helson’s shop to buy a packet of cigarettes and was stood in the ground floor doorway of the dairy building in Mill Street waiting for his colleagues to return when it took a direct hit from a 500kg bomb from a Focke Wulf 190 on a tip and run raid on the county town. Jimmy was blown to pieces dying instantly. Edward James Tippett came from Tregonetha. He was an only child. His parents Edward and Lily led the mourners at a funeral at St Wenn Church where the Reverend Neville Grenon conducted the service. Jimmy was then buried in the churchyard. A small slate faced headstone gives his age as 16 years and 7 months. The story of Jimmy Tippett and the raid on Bodmin is told in my eBook The Bombing Of Bodmin.
In St Euny Churchyard in Redruth lies the grave of Captain Leslie Carkeek, aged 52, and his wife Barbara, aged 46. They were killed during an air raid on Redruth on Thursday 20th March 1941. At 2141 hours Redruth suffered an air raid when a plane that had been circling as if looking for its target and which according to some locals is thought to have followed a train into the station. At least 13 High Explosive bombs fell in a line from Copper Hill Farm on Buller Hill, the Helston road out of Redruth to West Trewirgie Road, Bond Street, Bassett Street, the station, Sea View Terrace with the last bomb at East End. Two houses were demolished and considerable damage resulted to many houses and business premises. Six people were killed and five seriously injured and taken to hospital and seven slightly. The dead were Great War veteran Captain Leslie Carkeek and his wife Mrs Barbara Carkeek, Mrs Blewett, the wife of an evacuated teacher who was one of the injured, Mr Jack Murton, aged 17, Miss Opie, aged 40, a maid who had gone to bed when the alert sounded. The fatality from the railway station was Mr Trevor Parkyn, who with Mr Edgar Holway were using the station toilet when the bomb hit. They were dug out. Mr Parkyn died from his wounds in hospital. Mr Holway lost his leg. They had just seen Mrs Holway & another girl off on the Newquay train before answering the call of nature. Dick Matthews, a porter, was one of the seriously injured. Ernie Beeley, who also worked at Redruth railway station, lost his hand. He had calmly walked from the railway station to the casualty post at the Methodist Church carrying his virtually severed hand. The others seriously injured were Mr Blewett the teacher and Mr A Reed. The Carkeek’s neighbour had a miraculous escape. Mr. C.H. Parker, a bank manager, lived in the adjoining house. He had heard some explosions in the vicinity a few minutes before and he went next door to see Mr. and Mrs. Carkeek. After a short visit, he left their house by the back door and as he did so, the bomb crashed down on the front of the Carkeek’s house, practically demolishing it. Mr. Parker was in the garden on the way back to his own home and he flung himself flat, escaping uninjured. He told a Cornish Post reporter that, although he saw the flash, he did not hear the explosion of the bomb. At the time there were five people in Mr. Parker’s own house, including his wife but the only one injured was his sister-in-law who received slight cuts. The story of the Carkeeks' death and the bombing of Redruth is told in my eBooks Cornish Railways War Diary and RAF Portreath War Diary.
In the beautiful Mylor Churchyard lies the gravestone to Leonard John Tallack, aged 38, who died on Wednesday 10th July 1940. Leonard lived at Elmsleigh in Mylor Bridge with his wife Eileen and daughter Ruth. He was a dock worker at the docks in Falmouth and was working on the tanker British Chancellor on that sunny summer’s afternoon when a lone German Heinkel bomber snaked its way down the Penryn River and dropped a stick of bombs across the docks. Two bombs hit the British Chancellor which caught fire fore and aft but didn’t sink. The Tascalusa was hit in the fuel tank, caught fire and sank. The Marie Chandris, loaded with cotton, caught fire & burned fiercely. The Tiara was hit by the fourth bomb. The fire engulfed the wharf. Among many heroic acts of bravery, undamaged ships were towed away from the fire. A tug rescued 240 men from the blazing wharf. The fires on the ships took several days to burn out. Leonard was one of ten who was killed on the British Chancellor, four crew and six dock workers. At the time of the attack each year, the dockyard sounds its hooter. Often there will be those who gather on Pendennis Rise to remember their loved ones lost in 1940, and even a bugler to sound the Last Post. For years they included Ruth Andrew, Leonard’s daughter, who also placed flowers on her father’s grave every 10th July. The story of this bombing of Falmouth Docks is told in my historical novel No Small Stir.
So, wherever you are this Remembrance Day, why not take a few minutes to visit your local graveyard or cemetery and pay your respects to those who gave their lives in the struggle for our freedom and peace. As Jesus, who made the ultimate sacrifice to provide our salvation, said, “Greater love has no one than this, that they lay down their lives for their friends.” As Laurence Binyon wrote in The Times in September 1914 his poem ‘For The Fallen’, composed on the north Cornish coast at Pentire Point, “At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.”