From the Archive: Visitors Books

A Recent Find From Our Archive

Archival items at Bodmin Keep are many and varied, and generally relate to individuals or groups from the regiments we represent. Occasionally our records touch a larger community and can even brush world events. There are surprises and many items yet to be fully appreciated.

One recent discovery from our archive is a collection of visitor books dating back to the time when the Keep was an operational base. Looking through the pages, one of these books reveals significant moments at which the world visited Bodmin.

Take for example archive number 4556: a visitor book for the Serjeants Mess at Bodmin Keep. The first entry from 8 February 1930 records a visit from Major Buckley who came from Bodmin. He was followed by many from all over Cornwall during the next few months as well as some out of area visitors including from Southern Area Command in Wiltshire and others from Royal Navy ships. On 2 January 1931, the Barracks hosted four individuals from various local newspapers. What they were reporting on, we don’t currently know. For the most part, visits to the Keep remained relatively unsurprising.

In hindsight, the most momentous event recorded in this book was the arrival of 29 sailors from the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein on 28 February 1939. During their visit, the sailors played a football match against the men of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, with the German team winning. Yet just six months after their seemingly genial stay, the battleship on which these men served played a central role in the outbreak of War. On 1 September 1939, the Schleswig-Holstein moored off Poland’s Westerplatte Peninsula, bombarded Polish defensive positions coinciding with Germany’s invasion. Two days later, Britain declared war on Germany.

The entries which followed the visit by the sailors are perhaps a little less dramatic. Between 1939 and 1942, there were only 16 signatures. Although curiously one of these was from a Pilot Officer R Armstrong of the Royal Australian Air Force based in Tamworth, Australia. Who was Pilot Officer Armstrong? Why was he here in Cornwall? From this point, there are no entries until 1948, after which most visitors came from the local area until the final entry in this book on 12 May 1965.

While the archives at Bodmin Keep have demonstrated that history can literally be at your fingertips, invariably fascinating items such as our historic visitor books tend to throw up more questions as they answer.