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History & CommunityDerek Stevens 11/10

Derek Stevens 11/10

One of the memorable events of the early part of the victory year of 1945 for the children of Uplyme primary school was the start of a daily delivery of hot lunches. Cooked in the canteen of Axminster secondary school the food was ferried over by van in stainless steel containers. One problem, I can remember, was that the vegetables had a distinctly metallic flavour, but it was certainly an improvement on the tin oven on top of the large classroom heater in which pasties could be heated or, if the wind was in the right direction, potatoes could be baked. Somehow it seemed to be part of the reward for the coming victory which was becoming an assured thing.

When victory in Europe eventually came local newspapers ran headlines such as Cheers at Victory Parade in Honiton, Hi Jinks in Ilminster, Colyton Goes Gay. In my village of Rousdon a VE-Day celebration was held on the playing fields of Alhallows School. I remember I won a black rabbit in the raffle which I named ‘Victory’. Four months later we were to celebrate VJ-Day, the end of the war in the Far East. I was in Barnet, north of London, with my cousin Jean with whom I had been evacuated at the outbreak of war. We walked around the streets in and out of street parties and around bonfires. I remember being somewhat shocked as I heard crowds singing ‘Roll me over in the clover, lay me down and do it again’. Quite shocking I thought.

So the war was over, a war I had lived through as a small child, an experience with several memorable highlights along the way. Finding ourselves surrounded by parked up tanks one morning, the British army on manoeuvres. Wire wool patterns of con trails in the sky as RAF and Luftewaffe pilots fought it out in the blue. The sound of bagpipes as the Black Watch route marched around Devonshire lanes. Passing Czech soldiers on sentry duty as I passed the dower house on my way to school. A ‘Queen Mary’ aircraft recovery vehicle outside our front gates loading a Spitfire which had crash landed and capsized in the field opposite, and from which my mother had extracted the pilot from his inverted cockpit. The arrival of convoys of American GIs showering us with candy and chewing gum. The sight of 94 Lancaster bombers flying at treetop height along the valley of the river Axe on their way to a target on the Franco-Swiss border. Playing on the golf course at Seaton one summer’s day when two Focke Wulf 190s flew in from the channel on a hit-and-run attack, hitting the town’s gasometers and leaving a plume of orange smoke rising into the sunlit evening sky. The build up towards D-Day of long lines of US Army vehicles, so many that it was jokingly observed that the only thing stopping the UK from sinking into the sea was the number of barrage balloons keeping it aloft. The great armada of aircraft blackening the sky on D-Day as they flew soldiers off to war on the Normandy coast. Being driven home by a GI friend from Lyme Regis in a jeep with gifts of a baseball kit and a turkey, unwanted by soldiers of the 66th Division as they were being shipped off to war on that Christmas Eve of 1944. The surprise arrival of new evacuees crowding out the classroom as Nazi vengeance weapons, V1s and V2s, began to arrive in London and the home counties. Of another surprise arrival as, unexpectedly, my father came into view over the brow of the hill as I made by way to school one morning. I played truant that day.

Perhaps the most significant event marking the end of the war for us in the west was the surrender of the first Nazi submarine at Weymouth. The local press report ran:-

In Weymouth Bay on Thursday morning, only a mile out from the sea front, the first German submarine surrendered to the Royal Navy. She was the U249 and had on board 5 officers and 43 ratings. She is believed to have been at sea for 40 days, and her young looking commander was Ober-Leut, Kock.

The U-boat had surfaced west of the Lizard on Wednesday and two Plymouth sloops were ordered to escort her into Weymouth Bay for the surrender. The submarines was flying a black flag as she surfaced. When sighted off Portland she was seen to be flying the White Ensign over the German flag.

Commander Wier of the RN boarded the submarine. A Polish armed guard was also put aboard. They later escorted the U-Boat’s crew to a prison cage.

Receiving the signed declaration of surrender Rear-Admiral Scott commented “It seems appropriate to me that the first U-Boat to surrender after the war should do so at Weymouth, the spiritual home of the Royal Navy’s Anti-Submarne Service” The Admiral then ordered the following signal to be made: “The German Ensign is to be hauled down at sunset and is not to be hoisted again”. In a following item, as though to endorse the surrender, it was reported :- The Secretary of the Admiralty has announced that lighting restrictions in coastal areas are no longer needed for defence purposes and are to be removed from the whole country”.

A little later I was to learn that I had passed my scholarship to Lyme Regis Grammar School. I would be spending the following three years there before my return to London, so there is a little more to tell.

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