Bodmin in the Second World War

Bodmin, like all towns was hugely affected by the impact of the Second World War, both from a military and civilian perspective. This photography exhibition gives an insight into life at this time.

From the departure of the Regiment for military service to the arrival of the Americans at Bodmin Keep, and the devastating bombing of Bodmin to the celebration of victory in 1945, and the granting of the Freedom of the Town in 1946.

5th Battalion, leaving for their first posting at Scarsden Fort on the Rame Peninsula.

In August 1939, one territorial battalion (men who were not full time soldiers) of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry (DCLI), the 4/5th Battalion had grown in size and been split in to the 4th and 5th Battalions. The 4th Battalion, were based at Falmouth, with the 5th Battalion being based at Bodmin. On the 29th August 1939, the 5th Battalion was mobilised, which means they were put in to service.

This image shows the 5th Battalion, leaving for their first posting which was to be fairly close to home, at Scarsden Fort on the Rame Peninsula. The 5th Battalion did not see overseas service until 1944, providing additional support after the invasion of Normandy and going on to be involved in some of the defining battles of the Second World War.

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Last moments of a family together

Pictures taken at the time by photographer George Ellis, capture the last moments of a family together. With war declared, and men leaving to fight for their country, precious moments captured on film, give a glimpse in to how it must have felt to watch your love ones heading off to do their duty.

The 5th Battalion would return to Cornwall once during the war, in May 1943, in order to bring the numbers of soldiers up in the battalion up, with the addition of soldiers drafted from other regiments.

Women's Voluntary Service (WVS) taking part in a parade as part of War Weapons Week

The residents of Cornwall and the local area, were not untouched by service. Members of the Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS) were recruited to fulfil civil defence and support roles, from helping with evacuation of children, to setting up mobile canteens for those effect by bombing and in need to food. 

In this photograph from 1940, members of the WVS are taking part in a parade as part of War Weapons Week, a national campaign to encourage people to save money in bonds and other schemes, in order to support the government in being able to fund the war effort.

The Bombing of Bodmin

On August 7th 1942, the town of Bodmin was bombed by two German Focke Wulf 190 aircraft, which dropped a succession of bombs and cannon fire over the town. The bombs hit the gasworks, a food depot and many family homes.  

“Among the fatalities, eight people were from the Sargent family, whose home was wrecked. Few, if any, families in Britain could have been so cruelly hit as the Sargents.”

In total nine people were killed in the attack, with a further 18 injured. The Retort House at the Gas Works and the food depot in Mill Street were demolished. Several houses in Mill Street and Berrycoombe Road were destroyed or badly damaged. This was not the only raid to have happened in Cornwall at this time, with a similar raid happening on the Lizard Peninsula.

Over the course of the war a number of bombs would fall on Cornwall, many thought to be the result of German planes wanting to lighten their load before flying home!

Learn more about the bombing of Bodmin

The American Troops Being Entertained at Victoria Barracks

In 1942, the depot at Bodmin Keep had been serving as a Training Centre for new recruits, before being closed in April 1942. By the end of that year, the depot became home to a different army entirely. 

Victoria Barracks was handed over to the United States Army and occupied by the 115th Infantry Regiment. This became home for the Americans whilst preparations were underway for the invasion of Normandy, with the Regiment leaving for Omaha Beach in 1944.

Learn more about the Americans in Bodmin

GI's on Parade

For the residents of Bodmin, the arrival of the Americans would have been quite a change. With their modern ways, new music, new foods and new accents. With friendships and relationships formed during this period, there would be a lasting legacy of the ‘American invasion’, with a number of GI babies being born to local women.

Bob Hope Entertains the Troops

For the American soldiers based at the barracks, famous faces of the day visited to keep the troops entertained. From performances by Bob Hope, to fights with boxer Joe Louis, there was plenty to keep the men occupied, even in the grim Cornish weather; with Bob Hope donning a British tin hat to keep the rain off!

Victory in Europe is Declared and Bodmin Celebrates!

At the declaration of the “ceasing of hostilities” in May 1945, the 5th Battalion DCLI were in Germany, celebrating with a group of British Merchant Navy officers who had recently been released from a nearby Prisoner of War camp. The news was met with much celebration, after a year in an almost continual battle, and an extended war.

Back at home in Bodmin, the streets were decorated, music was played and fireworks were set off. The YMCA opened until 11pm for free refreshments and it was estimated that 4000 drinks, 5000 sandwiches and around 22 kilograms of biscuits were given out!

But this was not the end, merely Victory in Europe. The war would continue until 15th August 1945, with the declaration of Victory in Japan (VJ Day), and with the final declarations of peace signed in September 1945. In August 1945, a victory parade was held in Bodmin, with all local war services represented, including members of the Home Guard.

The DCLI Granted Freedom of the Town

In 1946, in recognition of the service of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry (DCLI) during the Second World War and in many earlier campaigns, the regiment were granted the Freedom of Bodmin. A recognition of the trust in a regiment, and the freedom to parade through the town!

Images Credit:

From George Ellis Collection held at Kresen Kernow