THE HOME GUARD GUNNERY SITE TRAGEDY AT

CORBYNS HEAD

 

 
 
Map showing Corbyn's Head

 

 

Corbyn's Head in Torquay is a small promontory at the left hand end of Tor Abbey Sands, passed on the way to Paignton.

In the days of Torquay's Rifle Volunteers  a gun had been placed here to give the Volunteers a place to learn the art of Gunnery - a place removed from the town where the men could practise firing over the sea. The same spot was being used when the tragedy described below occurred 11 August 1944, ironically just a few weeks before the Home Guard was finally stood down.

 

The incident  was first described by Captain Charles Fursdon of the Devonshire Regiment in this moving account:

 

"The evening of 11 August 1944 was clear. A cool breeze whispered through the trees around the Corbyn's Head battery of coastal artillery. We were there to witness another practice shoot, as was the Brigadier, Royal Artillery, Southern Command  and the Commander. Coastal Artillery, South West District.

 

The Spectators gazed seaward. We were proud of this detachment attached to a Regular Coastal Artillery Unit. They had earned praise for consistently good work and fine shooting and we wished them luck.

 

The guns had fired and were ranging: then a delay occurred on one of them. Orders and acknowledgments snapped out. We raised our binoculars in expectation.

 

We heard the command "Fire!" This was followed by a muffled explosion.

 

The guns were firing at over three thousand yards, but the round had plunged into the sea one thousand yards away. Looking towards the offending gun, we observed a sheet of flame creeping outside the gun emplacement, devouring grass and camouflage and though the situation had not dawned upon the majority, tragedy was being enacted before our eyes.

 

And then realisation came. The breech of the gun had blown and men had died. Others were seriously injured or badly burned. Only the very lucky ones would escape.

 

And with this knowledge, things began to move. Our medical officer took charge of the lecture hut, which was rapidly turned into a dressing station, and in his quiet, efficient manner, proceeded to do his best for the injured. An ambulance was soon on the scene and other doctors came to our aid. The flames too were soon under control.

 

The casualties were hurried to the Torbay Hospital and a hush of horror descended on those left behind. Four Home Guards had been killed instantaneously and one Regular Artilleryman and another Home Guard later died of their injuries.

 

After a roll call and a few words of encouragement from the Brigadier, men manned another gun and fired it to break the spell and then we all went on our way.

 

To Captain Grant, the officer in command of the Home Guard detachment and Adjutant fell the duty of breaking the sad news to the relatives of the casualties."

CASUALTY LIST AT CORBYN'S HEAD  11 AUGUST 1944

 

KILLED OR DIED LATER OF INJURIES
F.W.J.BLACKETT
Warrant Officer (Regimental Sergeant Major) Frederick William John  Blackett of the Royal Artillery.  Son of Frederick and Hilda Blackett; husband of Julia Blackett of Dunfermline, Fife. Died 14 August 1944 aged 38 of extensive burns and shock in Torbay Hospital. Buried in Torbay Cemetery.
F.G.WELLINGTON
Lance Bombardier, of the 10th (Torbay) Battalion of Devonshire Home Guard. Husband of Edith Wellington of Chelston, Torquay. Died 11 August 1944 aged 48. Died instantaneously of shock accelerated by burns. Buried in Torbay Cemetery.
J.H.FISHWICK
Lance Bombardier, of the 10th (Torbay) Battalion of Devonshire Home Guard. Son of George and Harriet Fishwick; husband of Hannah Fishwick of Torquay. Died instantaneously of shock accelerated by burns. 11 August 1944 aged 60. Buried in Torbay Cemetery.
G.J.BUCKINGHAM
Gunner George James Duke Buckingham  of the 10th (Torbay) Battalion of Devonshire Home Guard. Son of William and Emma Buckingham.  Died instantaneously of shock accelerated by burns 11 August 1944 aged 17. Buried in Torbay Cemetery.
W.S.KINCH

Gunner Wilfred Sydney Kinch of the 10th (Torbay) Battalion of Devonshire Home Guard. Son of James and Charlotte Kinch; husband of Matilda Kinch of London. Died of extensive burns and shock in Torbay Hospital 11 August 1944 aged 44. Buried in Torbay Cemetery.

W.G.HOUGHTON
Gunner Walter George Houghton of the 10th (Torbay) Battalion of Devonshire Home Guard. Son of Thomas and Alice Houghton; husband of Agnes Houghton of Torquay. Died of extensive burns and shock 19 August 1944 aged 46 in Gloucester City Hospital where he had been sent for specialist treatment. 

 

THE INJURED

Gunner W. Gammon

Warrant officer (Acting Company Sergeant Major)

Lt. S. C. Gorrell

Gunner F. M. Bailey of the Home Guard

Bombardier H, V. Grills of the Home Guard

Lance Bombardier D. M. Fraser of the Home Guard

 

An inquest was held about a month later after a full military inquiry. The sole witness was Donald Mackenzie-Fraser, who was also the sole survivor of those who had been in the gunpit. After the incident, Donald, who lived in Chelston, left the Home Guard immediately and was accepted to work as a miner in Wales.

 

He began his evidence by telling how the order to fire had been given by the Battery Observation Post but the gun could not be fired owing to trouble with the striker. He added that another striker was inserted and three rounds were fired satisfactorily. A fourth cartridge was inserted and it was found that it would not go fully into the breach. Witness thought the shell was not properly rammed and the cartridge was extracted and the shell re-rammed. Again, the breach could not be closed and then Donald ordered the crew to stand clear, and turned to report the cause of the delay in firing the round. He had turned his back on the gun detachment, picked up the phone and begun to explain when the explosion occurred and he was thrown some seven or eight feet  from the gunpit.

 

Answering the Coroner (Mr. Ernest Hutchings), he said cordite could not explode in an over-heated gun.

A Major from the Royal Artillery said that among the possibilities the Military inquiry had considered, were that there was always the chance of something going wrong with the chemical combination of a charge; that it might become over-sensitive; that mere shutting of the breach might set off a defective cartridge.

 

Telling the relatives it was one of the saddest matters he had had to inquire into, the Coroner said nobody could say how the accident happened as nobody knew for sure. He returned a verdict of "Death from misadventure" in each case.

 

The Royal Artillery Major said the tragedy would seem all the deeper after the news of the proposal to stand-down the Home Guard on 3 December 1944 but the work of these men had been essential and was invaluable. Other men had been released by them for duties in France and their lives had been far from wasted.


TORQUAY HOME GUARD
Home Guard Memorial – Corbyn Head 
By Adrian Chan-Wyles

This a page within the www.staffshomeguard.co.uk website. To see full contents, go to SITE MAP.


"In memory of Britain's Volunteer Army 1939 - 1944 
10th Battalion Home Guard
Torbay"

This granite pyramid, military monument is situated on the green of Corbyn Head, Torquay, in the Livermead area of the famous seaside resort. It was unveiled on Thursday the 11th of August 2005, following a local campaign, and serves three distinct functions, all of which remember the sacrifice and bravery of this unique volunteer force. A force comprised of those too young to take their place in the regular armed forces, or of those mature people with much experience, who wanted to form a line of defence for Great Britain, should the brutal and ruthless invasion army of Nazi Germany land on the beaches or drop from the air. The contribution to the morale of this country during that war has sometimes been obscured by the broader events of that conflict.

Nevertheless, the Home Guard formed the backbone to the domestic frontline, and found themselves involved in all kinds of vital defensive duties. This monument is situated on the spot (looking out to sea) where an artillery gun exploded during a training exercise in August 1944 (killing six), and was unveiled on the 61st anniversary of that tragedy. The gun, believed to have been an old WW1, quick firing Japanese model, with a range of three to five miles, was being used in an exercise designed to repel a German invasion of Torquay, from the sea. One of its 50lb shells exploded in the breech causing the loss of life. Torquay was a military training area during World War Two, and as a consequence, suffered many German bombing raids (at least 40), that resulted in the deaths of 168 people – three of whom served in Torquay’s Home Guard.

The various beaches of Devon’s south coast were assigned to Home Guard artillery batteries, whose duties involved the protection of these beaches, and the defence of the air above. The 10th Devonshire Battalion whose area of responsibilty was Torbay was attached to 363 Royal Artillery Coastal Emergency Battery, serving Corbyn Head and with a nominal 'call out' roll of 300 men.

The monument sits in the place of the old artillery gun manned by the Corbyn Head Battery in a commanding position overlooking Torbay.

At the same time as remembering all of those who served in the Home Guard, it remembers specifically the sacrifice of 1,206 Home Guards who gave their lives throughout Great Britain during World War Two (1939-44).  Indeed, in this regard, it is designated a 'national' memorial.

Remembering the 1,206 Home Guards who gave their lives across the country

As a local monument of remembrance, important to the Torbay area, it further commemorates the loss of five Home Guards - transferred from normal Home Guard duties, to man the coastal defences - who together, with their Royal Artillery Regimental Sergeant Major, died in 1944 when their artillery gun exploded during a training exercise, and the loss of three other Home Guards who gave their lives during enemy bombing raids in Torquay in 1942.

Remembering those who died when their Artillery gun exploded on this spot.

"Killed on active service at Corbyn Head 
11th August 1944
Gnr. G. Buckingham
Gnr. W.G. Houghton
L/Bdr. J.H. Fishwick
L/Bdr. F.G. Wellington
Gnr. W.S. Kinch 
Royal Artillery

WO1 F.W.J. Blackett (RSM)"

Remembering those Home Guards who died in bombing raids over Torquay 

"Killed by enemy action
Gnr. C. R. Crocker
Barton Gas Works Bombing - June 1942
Pte. A Rowe and Pte. S.J. Weeks (Ginger)
Palace Hotel - October 25th 1942"

*********************

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
Grateful acknowledgement is made to 
Adrian Chan-Wyles
 for writing the above article and generously permitting its publication on this page.

Text and images © Adrian Chan-Wyles 2011.

St.Marychurch.May 30 1943

 

 Children killed on May 30 1943 in the parish church  of St. Marychurch, Torquay. Is well known  But the raiders who came that day created other incidents close by.  Further down the page, after the listing of the children who died, there is another casualty list which includes adults who were also in the church as well as those who were killed elsewhere in St.Marychurch.

 

St. Marychurch after the bombs fell

Would-be rescuers at work May 1943

 

 

copy of the newspaper page published in the Torquay Times June 4 1943. As this was wartime, the newspaper did not identify the actual place viz: St Marychurch and records only that the photo is "All that is left of the chancel of a Westcountry parish church when FW190s swept in from the sea to drop their bombs. Children attending a Rogation Sunday service were the chief victims of this, the most pathetic incident of the raid.

 

 

The church of St. Mary the Virgin which gave its name to St. Marychurch, a parish on the outskirts of Torquay, was destroyed by enemy action on Sunday May 30th 1943 in the early afternoon.

Children had begun to arrive for Sunday School and most of the girls were already inside the church, some with the woman who had brought them - the boys were still playing outside the door. Inside, the Sunday School teachers were waiting to  start their classes when aircraft flew in from the sea and bombs began to fall.

When the raid was over and the full enormity of the event was realised, would-be rescuers came from far and wide, making frantic attempts to move tons of masonry, metal, timber and glass with their bare hands but in spite of their heroic efforts, the last of the bodies was not recovered for another 48 hours. 

Different sources quote different numbers of casualties but below is the number killed as carved in stone over the doorway of the rebuilt church. This states that 26 children and teachers were killed in the church itself. Sadly, we have so far traced only 21 children and 3 adults so our search must continue.  

 

Inscription
 over the church doorway

The inscription above the church doorway

©Richard J. Brine

 

A memorial was erected in Torquay's Cemetery to 21 of the children, 8 of whom were buried close to the Memorial. Its corner in the cemetery looks sad and lonely today and small wonder, for who remains to visit it? 

This event occurred 63 years ago and the dead commemorated here were children - they left no descendents to mourn them and the girls who came from the Erskine Home in Babbacombe would have been in that place because they had already lost one or both of their parents. 

Perhaps someone still visits the graves of those children who are not  buried here. Adults who died in the same raid are listed on this page below the names of the children.

 

The memorial in Torquay Cemetery

The memorial to the children killed 30 May 1943 in Torquay Cemetery

©Richard J. Brine

 

Three granite slabs are mounted on a double layer of the same stone. The central and largest slab is topped by a cross cut in relief. It bears the words

IN LOVING AND ENDURING MEMORY OF TWENTY-ONE CHILDREN WHO LOST THEIR LIVES IN THE PARISH CHURCH O F ST. MARYCHURCH IN THE AIR RAID OF MAY 30 1943.

BLESSED ARE THE PURE IN HEART FOR THEY SHALL SEE GOD

Matthew 5. 8

 

NAMES ON THE LEFT SIDE MEMORIAL STONE

 

 

 

CHARLES COLLINGS

Civilian. Charles Henry Collings of 18 Princess Street, Babbacombe. Son of John and Ann Collings, of Boston Fields and husband of Emma Louisa Collings (née Cribbett) (see also William Henry Cribbett in the TORQUAY  victims list). Born in the December Quarter of 1868 in Torquay. Died 30 May 1943 at 18 Princess Street aged 75.

GLADYS BEALE

Gladys Hilda Beale aged 12, of 10, The Downs, Babbacombe. Daughter of the late Seaman Beale.
PHOEBE LOUISA COOK
Phoebe Lousia Cook aged 12, of 10, The Downs, Babbacombe. Daughter of Ralph Cook of 120 Leesland Rd., Gosport, Hants.
MARGARET COOKE
Margaret Cook aged 11, of 10, The Downs, Babbacombe.
IRENE DAVIS
Irene Davies aged 9, of 10, The Downs, Babbacombe. Daughter of Frank Davies of 137 Riverside Mansions, Shadwell, London.
JOYCE SYLVIA GIFFORD
Joyce Sylvia Gifford aged 11, of 10, The Downs, Babbacombe. Daughter of Driver Perch Henry Ralph Gifford of the Royal Army Service Corps.
EILEEN FLORENCE HARE
Eileen Florence hare aged 10 of 10, the Downs, Babbacombe. Daughter of the late Arthur James Hare.
JOAN MARGARET LOVEDAY
Joan Margaret Loveday aged 13, of 10, The Downs, Babbacombe. Daughter of Harold Nelson Loveday of 33, Ivybridge Way, Stonebridge, London.
KATHLEEN McDONALD
Kathleen McDonald aged 11, of 10, The Downs, Babbacombe. Daughter of the late Patrick McDonald.
FROM THE ERSKINE HOME, BABBACOMBE, WHO LIE HERE

AND

GERALD BABBAGE
Gerald Babbage aged 9  of 16, Park Rd., St. Marychurch. Son of Cyril and A. Babbage.
PETER BARBER
(Harold) Peter Barber aged 9 of 200, Teignmouth Road. Son of Sgt. Harold Barber of the Royal Army Service Corps and Elizabeth Grace Barber.

 

NAMES ON THE RIGHT SIDE MEMORIAL STONE
AUBREY HAROLD BROWN
Aubrey Harold Brown aged 10 of 18 Haytor Rd.,Westhill, St. Marychurch. Son of Mr. and Mrs. Harold Arthur Brown.
EDWARD CHARLES W. BURN
Edward Charles William Burn aged 10 of33, East Pafford Avenue, Watcombe. Son of William Henry and Dorothy Eva Burn.
SYLVIA MARY DANIEL
Sylvia Mary Daniel aged 9 of 36 Park Rd., St. Marychurch. Daughter of L. A. C. William Richard Daniel of the RAF and D. E. Daniel.
KENNETH NORMAN HELLIER
Kenneth Norman Hellier aged 12 of 11 Daison Crescent, Westhill, St. Marychurch. Son of Herbert Harry and Beatrice Mabel Hellier.
DONALD THOMAS J. HEXT
Donald Thomas John Hext aged 10 of 19, Daison Crescent, Westhill, St. Marychurch. Son of Thomas and Frances Hext.
GEORGE HORACE LAVERS
George Horace Lavers aged 13, of 13, Empire Rd., Westhill.  Son of James Wheeler Lavers and Florence Edith Mabel Lavers. Injured at the church; died the same day at Torbay Emergency Hospital.
MARY LILIAN PERROTT
Mary Lilian Perrottt aged 12 of 25 First Avenue, Westhill. Daughter of Frank Burt Perrott and Lilian S. Perrott and twin sister of Michael (see below).
MICHAEL FRANK PERROTT
(Harold) Frank Michael Perrott aged 12 of 25 First Avenue, Westhill. Son of Frank Burt Perrott and Lilian S. Perrot and twin brother of Mary (see above). Injured at the church; died the same day at Torbay Hospital
BETTY EDWINA REES
Betty Edwina Rees aged 13 of "Bellner", Shirburn Rd. Daughter of Thomas Edwin Rees.
PAULINE CYNTHIA RYDER

Pauline Cynthia Ryder aged 12 of 14, St. Margaret's Avenue, Westhill. Daughter of Samuel and Edith Ryder. Injured at the church; died the same day at Torbay Emergency Hospital.

We have since learnt that Pauline attended Torquay Grammar School for Girls. At the time of her death, she was in Form IIIA.

VALERIE GRACE TAYLOR
Valerie Grace Taylor aged 14 of 5, Third Avenue, Daison. Daughter of George and Lucy Taylor.
(followed by the words "Who were laid to rest elsewhere")

 

The destruction of the parish church and the people inside it was not the only incident in St. Marychurch on 30 May 1943. The large detached houses in Petitor Rd. were targeted and two people unlucky enough to be caught out in the open at Babbacombe were machine-gunned and killed. As the raiders turned to leave, one of the enemy aircraft clipped the spire of the nearby Roman Catholic church, immediately losing height and crashing into houses in Teignmouth Rd., killing the pilot and injuring at least one other person who later died.  During the same raid, there were casualties in the vicinity of Torquay sea front; these are included in the separate Torquay casualty list.

 

CHARLES COLLINGS
Charles Henry Collings of 18 Princess St., Babbacombe. The son of the late John and Ann Collings of Boston Fields and husband of Emma Louisa Collings. A Londoner, he was previously a photographer. Died at 18 Princess  Street 30 May 1943 aged 75. 
CLIFFORD  COOKSLEY
Clifford Reginald R. Cooksley of 11 Princess St., Babbacombe. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. C. H. Cooksley and was born in the March Quarter of 1927 in Torquay. He had volunteered to be an ARP Messenger and died at 22 Princess Street aged 16.
WILLIAM CRIBBETT
William Henry Cribbett of 8 Silver St., Ipplepen, Nr. Newton Abbot. He was the son of Cpl. William Henry Cribbett of the RAF and Olive Mary Cribbett and was born in the December Quarter of 1928. He died at Princess Street aged 14.
EDITH ELSON
Edith Kathleen Elson of 294 Teignmouth Rd., St. Marychurch. She was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Cyril Elson of 12, Millais Rd, Bush Hill Park, Enfield, Middlesex. She was injured in the raid of 30 May 1943 and died 5 June 1943 at Torbay Hospital aged 18. She lost her life while warning others to take cover.
EDITH FOX
Edith Rebecca Fox of "Westroyd", Ketley Bank, Oakengates, Salop. Daughter of the late Edward and Bertha Fox. She died at "Courtfields", Petitor Rd., St. Marychurch 30 May 1943 aged 58.
MARSHALL GABBETT-MULHALLEN
Marshall Gabbett-Mulhallen of "Ashton Lodge", Petitor Rd., St. Marychurch. Husband of Martha Gabbett-Mulhallen of St. Mary's. Teigngrace, Newton Abbot. He died at "Ashton Lodge" 30 May 1943 aged 80.
ALICE JAMIESON
Alice Gertrude Jamieson of the Women's Land Army. She was the daughter of Horace and Mabelle Jamieson of 37, Alleyn Park, Southall, Middlesex. She was injured while walking on Babbacombe Downs on 30 May 1943 and died the same day at Torbay Emergency Hospital aged 26.
HERBERT  MARSHALL
Herbert Stewart Marshall of "Courtfield", Petitor Rd., St. Marychurch. He was the son of Thomas and Emily Marshall of The Larches, Wigan, Lancs and the husband of Marie Marshall (see below) and had been a colliery owner in the north of England. He died at "Courtfield" 30 May 1943 aged 77.
LETITIA MARSHALL
Letitia Marshall of "Courtfield", Petitor Rd., St. Marychurch. She was the daughter of Herbert Marshall (see above) and Marie Marshall (see below).She died at "Courtfield" 30 May 1943 aged 41.
MARIE MARSHALL
Marie Marshall of "Courtfield", Petitor Rd., St. Marychurch. She was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Cotton, the wife of Herbert Marshall (see above) who she married in 1899, and the mother of Letitia (see above). She died at "Courtfield" 30 May 1943 aged 70.
THERESA SCANES
Theresa Ann Scanes of 25 Cary Park Rd., Babbacombe. Daughter of the late Alfred and Lucy Scanes formerly of St. Marychurch and widow of William Scanes. Injured on Babbacombe Downs 30 May 1943 and died the same day at Torbay Emergency Hospital aged 67.
VIOLET  SCOTT
Violet Victoria Blanche Scott of "Shrublands", St. Margaret's Rd., St. Marychurch. Also known as Ottewell. Born in Greenwich in 1880. She was a member of the WVS and is believed to have been a Sunday School teacher. She died at the church 30 May 1943 aged 62.
AUDREY SHARKEY
Audrey Daisy Sharkey of 90, Hartop Rd., St. Marychurch. Daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Rowe and wife of LAC Jack Sharkey of the RAF, Injured at Babbacombe  30 May 1943 and died the same day at Torbay Hospital aged 21.
ELSIE SHEPHERD
Elsie Sheppard of 10 Orgreave Lane, Handsworth, Sheffield. Believed to be a Church Army Sister who had accompanied the eight girls to church from the Erskine Home. Died at the church with the children 30 May 1943 aged 30.
RUBY TREEBY
Ruby Muriel Treeby of 23 Third Avenue, Daison Heights, St. Marychurch. Daughter of John and Mary Treeby. (John Treeby was a Corporation Rate collector for Torquay). Ruby is believed to be the other Sunday School teacher in the church that day. She died there 30 May 1943 aged 56.

 

The rebuilt St. Marychurch in 2006

The rebuilt St. Marychurch in 2006

©Richard J. Brine

Captain Fursdon had the last word:

"In recognition of the great sacrifice the dead had made, a full military funeral was ordered and this took place on 15 August 1944, the bodies being interred in the Hero's Corner of Torquay Cemetery. "

The grave of

The grave of Warrant Officer Blackett in Torquay Cemetery

© Richard J. Brine

  

The WW2 surprise raid that shocked Torbay.

Brixham in pictures's photo.
Brixham in pictures's photo.
 
 These pictures of U Boat U-1023 which surrendered at Weymouth at the end of the war. Under Operation Deadlight all German U-Boats captured or surrenered were ordered to be destoyed but prior to that 2 of them - U-1023 and U-776 were toured around Britain to raise money for the Charity King George Fund for Sailors. The U Boat was at Brixham in June 1945 and attracted a great deal of attention. Interesting to note the scaffolding still in place on the hard from the D-Day embarkations and the Nissen Huts on Berry Head Road were a house had been demolished to enlarge the turning circle down to the breakwater hard".
The second photo is U-1023 at Brixham.

The Palace Hotel Torquay

 Torquay History, History of Torquay, Torquay Hotels History | The Palace Hotel, Torquay

 

The Palace at War

With the outbreak of hostilities in 1939, many hotels found themselves commandeered for military use. With its excellent communications and equable climate, Torquay was an obvious place for the War Ministry to look for a building suitable for conversion to a military hospital. The Palace was selected as a hospital for RAF Officers. 

On the 25th October 1942, a German bomber scored a direct hit on the East Wing, severing it almost completely from the rest of the building. Tragically, the hotel was full at the time with 203 patients. The result was that 64 people were killed, including nurses, with one person missing. The hospital was evacuated and a care and maintenance party installed while a decision was made regarding the building's future. However, on the 8th January 1943 there was another raid resulting in a direct hit and so the Palace was abandoned for the remainder of the war.

Torbay June 1944

327th Glider Infantry Regiment -Torbay - 02/06/1944 - DDay-Overlord

US soldiers of 4th Infantry Division receive supplies in Torquay prior to D-Day

Little Belguim Brixham

Over 2000 Belgians were refugees in the fishing port of Brixham - even having their own school